The Rebels' Secret Weapons

The SA-7 shoulder-fired missile and BM-21 Grad MLRS played crucial roles in routing the Ukrainian Army
Tue, Oct 21, 2014 | 7608 Comments

Shellback is the pseudonym of someone who started working for a NATO military structure in the Brezhnev years.  He does not think that the Cold War was so much fun that we should try to repeat it.

The two decisive weapons of this war that have given victory to the rebels are the MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defence System) and the Grad (“hail” in Russian).

Kiev had, at the beginning, complete air superiority; it may not have had very many helicopters and ground-attack fixed wing, but it had all that there were. Against these the rebels had stocks of the SA-7 shoulder-fired missile. Like many Soviet weapons it was modified and improved in incremental steps over its service life since the 1970s and produced in quite large numbers. It has an infra-red guidance system and is shoulder-fired. Like most weapons of this type, it is most effective against aircraft that are actually attacking the firer, ie when the angular momentum of the aircraft is low. According to this site, quoting the Kiev Post, Kiev lost ten helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft. The true number is likely higher but the point is that this weapon system effectively nullified the air superiority that the Kiev regime had; they either destroyed the aircraft or forced them to fly higher and faster and therefore be less effective. These weapons made the war into a ground war.

The real destruction of the Kiev forces – Ukraine President Poroshenko says two thirds of Ukraine’s military equipment was lost – was carried out by the BM-21 Grad MLRS. Another weapon system from decades ago, the Grad is a truck with 40 122mm rockets tubes at the rear. Not particularly accurate – it is what is known as an “area weapon” – the fact that all 40 rockets can be fired in 20 seconds means that after a few ranging rounds a terrifying amount of explosive can be delivered very quickly. Here are a lot of them firing in a demonstration. Here are some videos from the fighting in Ukraine. Grads firing at night – we see the ranging rounds and then the full salvo from two. Grad hits on the horizon. Ditto. This is what remains after a strike.

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There are dozens of videos showing the destruction of Kiev forces trapped in a “cauldron” or котёл by Grads. As I've written previously, the bulk of the rebel forces are men who knew the area: the back roads, where this forest trail comes out, where that hill is and how to get there without being seen. The Kiev forces did not know the area and had ludicrously inadequate maps (one report spoke of maps from the 1920s) and bad information; thanks to their reliance on heavy equipment they stuck to the main roads. Their commanders were spectacularly incompetent, they themselves were either poorly motivated untrained forced conscripts unwilling to advance or gung-ho “volunteer” forces, pumped up with warrior fantasies, who charged down the road and got trapped. In either case, rebel spotter forces easily pinpointed their locations and called in the target. A few adjustment rounds, then a hundred or more rockets. This is what would happen, over and over and over and over again. All done by discreet spotter teams (here’s some film of “Motorola’s” group) and a few Grads within twenty kilometres or so. 

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