Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Syrian Adventures of Buratino: The ’Shams MRL’

By Stijn Mitzer

The Syrian Arab Army's 4th Armoured Division is well known for operating several types of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles upgraded with additional armour throughout the Damascus theatre of operations. Having performed these armour upgrades on a range of armoured fighting and support vehicles, the 4th Armoured Division (4th AD) has expanded its arsenal once more by introducing a one of a kind type of multiple rocket launcher (MRL), popularly known as 'Shams', meaning Sun in Arabic. It's thought its nickname was derived from that of the aesthetically similar Russian TOS-1A 'Solntsepyok, which has been referred to as 'Sun' during its deployment in Syria.

This vehicle continues the trend of highly professional upgrades performed on the armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) of the 4th AD. The first of such upgraded vehicles appeared in late 2014, when at least two of the up-armoured T-72M1s were shown destroyed shortly after their deployment to Jobar. This however did not deter the 4th AD from pressing on with the programme and in the years that followed, several types of up-armoured AFVs would be sighted on the battlefield.

Elsewhere in Syria, factions fighting for control over the country have begun upgrading several of their armoured fighting vehicles to better suit the type of warfare encountered on the battlefield. This has included everything from implementing measures to reduce visibility from the air to converting tanks to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The BMP serves as the basis for many of these DIY modifications, and has proven a popular platform despite its obvious limitations and weaknesses.


While many DIY modifications of this vehicle thus exist, the conversion from an infantry fighting vehicle to an MRL is the first of its kind in Syria, and arguably the most sophisticated fire-support platform based on the chassis of a BMP in the entire world. Previous experiments throughout the world have included the installation of 23mm gun pods and 80mm B-8 rocket pods on the turrets of BMP-1s while Cuba even converted several of its BMPs to makeshift tank destroyers and artillery, fitting them with a 100mm anti-tank gun or a 122mm D-30 howitzer respectively.

The 'Shams' combines a launching unit for five large-calibre rockets with the chassis of a BMP-1. The rockets are of the popular 'Volcano' type, which pairs a standard artillery rocket with a much larger warhead. These rockets became widely known for their capability to destroy complete housing blocks with a direct hit during the battle for al-Qusayr in 2013. Syria's defence industry began mass-producing these Volcanoes around the same time, and are now in use on nearly every front in the Syrian theatre.

In Syria, three iterations of the Volcano are currently believed to be produced, further divided into several sub-variants each. The most widespread types in use are the 107mm and 122mm based variants, although a 220mm based variant also exists. Converting these rockets is a relatively easy process, as 107mm and 122mm (Grad) rockets are extremely common in Syria, and 220mm rockets known to be in production in Syria itself. The 'Shams' uses two variants of the 122mm based Volcanoes, both equipped with a massive 300mm warhead.

Interestingly, one of the two variants used with the 'Shams' is described as having a thermobaric warhead (reportedly weighing a whopping 350 kilograms), which makes use of the air's oxygen to create a more powerful explosion than conventional warheads can achieve and is ideally suited for usage in confined spaces. The other variant uses a 250kg conventional warhead (compared to some 65 kilograms for the original 122mm rocket) and can be discerned from the thermobaric variant by its shorter rocket booster. The range of these Volcanoes is claimed to be 3.4 kilometres for the thermobaric variant and 1.5 kilometres for the conventional variant. In addition to its five rounds ready to be fired, more rounds can possibly be carried in the BMP-1's infantry compartment, although doing so might be hazardous to the vehicle and crew itself.

Although images of the 'Shams' were first posted to the internet only a month ago, the system has already seen action during the battle for Deir Khabiya and Khan al-Sheeh, Rif Dimashq Governorate. The 4th Armoured Division is currently engaged with rebels for control over this higly strategic town and its encompassing landscape, completely surrounding the rebel-held area in late October. This event led to the redeployment of at least a part of the 4th AD, which is also believed to have included the 'Shams'.

The 'Shams' is a perfect example of wartime adaptation, turning an otherwise mediocre armoured fighting vehicle into a potent platform perfectly adapted to the type of warfare encountered on the Syrian battlefield today. It depends on the willingness and resources of the Syrian Arab Army to make more of such nifty modifications, and if flexibility in their armour upgrades is reflected in military strategy then that decision will have a large impact on the outcome of the Syrian Civil War. 

Special thanks to WithinSyria.


  1. any videos of them in action?

  2. This is 5 November.

  3. Those Vulcanos really look like modernized M-31s on steroids. Excellent reporting, thanks.