After expending much of their precision-guided missiles in Ukraine during the first and second months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Syrian experts and technicians linked to Syria’s barrel bombs have come to Russia, potentially helping the Kremlin to build their own versions of these barrel bombs.

Intel claims that Putin had drafted some 50 Syrian experts to help him and his military researchers to create these barrel bombs, explosives that have been widely used in the 10-year Syrian Civil War.

Many of you might be familiar with the barrel bomb, especially if you’ve followed the conflict in Syria over the past ten years. However, if you’re not too familiar with these explosives, barrel bombs are essentially improvised explosive devices (a flying IED) or improvised bombs, which are very much unguided munitions.

The anatomy of a Syrian barrel bomb (@Sheriff234). Source: https://twitter.com/sheriff234/status/633804950561230848
The anatomy of a Syrian barrel bomb (Brown Moses Blog via Syrian Coalition/Twitter)

These bombs are created from normal large, metal barrels that are literally filled with high explosives of the maker’s preference and may also include shrapnel. Barrel bombs are as crude as it gets; these barrel bombs are dropped from a helicopter or aircraft, with those deploying it relying on a bunch of hail Marys and hallelujahs, hoping that it would hit the target somehow. To nobody’s surprise, they usually don’t hit the intended accuracy and usually blow up civilian areas surrounding the intended target. What’s worse is these barrel bombs are deployed in bulk to increase the chances that one of them would hit the military target it was intended for.

So why would Russia build such a bomb? Surely with their “large” war chest and an “advanced” and “modernized” military, they wouldn’t need such bombs from the last century, right? Well, you know what they say, war is also very much economics, and Russia’s economy is as bad as it gets for a 1st world country at the moment.

With all the sanctions hitting its economy right now, its military-industrial complex is slowly bleeding out. Sanctions mean that they cannot import foreign-made components from their suppliers (ironically, one of them is Ukraine), and no money means they can’t pay their workers to stay as there is no active production. SOFREP has previously reported that the Kremlin’s main tank manufacturer, one of its shipbuilders, and one of its surface-to-air missile factories have shut down because they simply do not have the money to operate anymore, nor do they have the parts to make new munitions, vehicles, and ships.

This leaves Russia in a vulnerable spot, so their only choice is to make do with what they have, and apparently, they don’t have much anymore if they’re building barrel bombs. That’s precisely the point, though, barrel bombs are notoriously cheap. For as little as $200, you could practically build a barrel bomb with some fertilizer and diesel (and no, we do not recommend doing that). Reports have said that the Syrian versions were made for less than $50. Attach a fuse on it or a timer for the more complex ones. But if you choose to go with the former, you would have to carefully time lighting the fuse, or else it would not explode, explode too early, or just break apart. Syrians would use a lit fuse and an impact fuse, adding some fins to the barrel so that it would be somewhat aerodynamic.

This is what actually happened with Syria. They ran out of precision-guided missiles pretty quickly fightng the Israelis, which are famous for their air defense systems and good aircraft. After they ran out, the Syrians needed a cheap alternative to bombing their enemies on the ground, and thus, the barrel bombs were used yet again. The idea for the more modern barrel bombs loaded with nails and metal fragments is credited to Syrian General Suheil Salman al-Hassan, who is known as “The Tiger” of the elite Tiger Forces.

The al-Assad regime was reported to have used some 82,000 barrel bombs in 9 years. This killed 11,087 civilians, where 1,821 of those were children and 1,780 women. Since 2012, they have also used barrel bombs which were filled with poison gas in 93 attacks. Provinces such as Damascus, Aleppo, Daara, and Idlib were targeted, with the bombs being used as a tool to displace civilians. This makes the weapon a “chemical weapon” and is in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (which Syria signed).

Assad has categorically denied these barrel bombs being used, saying that they had bombs, missiles, and bullets, but they did not and were not using barrel bombs. Despite his denial, photographic and video evidence collected throughout the years show barrel bombs being used by pro-Assad forces. In fact, they have been caught red-handed by Al Jazeera as they uncovered a mobile phone video of Assad forces lighting a barrel bomb with his cigarette before pushing it out of a helicopter. In the video the bombs are made from lengths of cut irrigation pipe

As to their employment in Ukraine, they will probably be launched by helicopter as well.  The ones we have seen so far do not have hardpoint attachments on them that would allow them to be dropped from aircraft and to do so would require some testing by the Russians first.  At aircraft speeds, the bomb would produce a lot of aerodynamic drag and when you cut it loose the slipstream from the wing could result in it hitting the aircraft.

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In uncontested airspace like Syria had, Assad’s forces could drop these bombs with relative impunity, but this is not the case in Ukraine which is awash with MANPADS like the Stinger missile.  Helicopters flying at anything above 500ft are just inviting someone to take a shot at them, so we suspect they might be used in rear areas that Russia controls to fight Ukrainian militia forces behind the lines.

It does not surprise us that the al-Assad regime is helping Putin as the Russians have intervened in Syria after Assad had first requested air support from the Kremlin. They will continue to play a vital role in propping up the al-Assad regime and will possibly continue to do so as it is globally isolated, leaving just a few countries to support it (that is, if Putin still has arms to give to Syria and men to deploy).