Sunday, 27 March 2016

R-40 AAMs used as makeshift SAMs by Islamic State in a desperate attempt to combat coalition airpower

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Starting in June 2014, Coalition airstrikes conducted on positions, vehicles and high-ranking members of the Islamic State have taken a heavy toll on the group. These airstrikes combined with increased bombardements conducted by the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) and the Russian Air Force (RuAF) have made a significant difference during several battles already, most notably in Kobanî. The Islamic State has so far been unable to come up with an answer against the many air forces now threatening them in both Syria and Iraq. Although it has tried to better camouflage its forces in order to prevent them from being spotted and hit, it has so far failed to directly hit any of the aircraft conducting these strikes.

Tadmur, captured on the 20th of May 2015 and the third airbase to fell in the hands of the Islamic State in Syria, provided the Islamic State with R-40 air-to-air missiles but also large numbers of Kh-28 anti-radiation missiles, likely intended for use on Su-22s and Su-24s stationed at T4 but never transported to this airbase. While it was extremely unlikely that the Islamic State could turn the Kh-28s and its 140kg heavy warhead, intended to be launched against radar systems of SAM sites, into anything useful other than an IED or DIY surface-to-surface rocket, it did found a role for the R-40 missiles also found at the airbase.


Two variants of the R-40 were captured: The semi-active radar homing guided R-40RD and the infrared-guided R-40TD. As the R-40RD requires an onboard radar to lock on to the targeted aircraft, it was useless for the Islamic State in its intended role. The R-40TD on the other hand is guided by its infrared warhead, and does not require guidance by an onboard radar. Several similar modifications of the R-3S, the R-13M, the R-60 and the R-73 were seen in Yugoslavia in an attempt to counter the Coalition airpower here. All mounted on trucks, none ever scored a hit. The SyAAF took it one step further and experimented with launching R-40TDs at ground targets in 2014, unsuprisingly to no avail.

When regime forces entered one of the recently captured Hardened Aircraft Shelters at Tadmur, they encountered a dump truck armed with no less than an R-40TD! The missile, installed on a newly erased platform, can be aimed by using the dump truck's tipper mechanism. As the R-40 was designed to hit large and fast flying targets, it comes with a 70kg heavy warhead, enabling the missile to destroy most targets by only exploding in the vicinity of the targeted aircraft. The heavy warhead also makes using the R-40 as a DIY surface-to-surface rocket an attractive option. Although such a conversion will be in no way accurate, neither are the hundreds of much lighter DIY rockets still assembled and used by the fighters of the Islamic State each day. While the R-40TD looks to be mounted the wrong way around, the attachment points that connects the missile with the MiG-25's pylons are located on the top of the missile, creating the false image the missile sits inverted.

As no aircraft or helicopters were reported to have been shot down over Tadmur, nor did anyone witness the impact of an R-40, it will probably always remain unknown what the intended role of this contraption was, or if it was ever used in the first place. It does however once again prove that whatever falls in the hands of the Islamic State, you're always sure they come up with an inventive way to put it to use.


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