Monday, 1 November 2021

A Deterrent Undone: Tigray’s Last Missile Elements

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Tigray’s missile war with Ethiopia and Eritrea was a rare instance of a non-state actor capturing short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and long-range guided rockets and subsequently using them to attack targets in Ethiopia and the capital of a different country entirely: Eritrea. [1] Despite being a notable event in modern history, the Tigray missile war nonetheless received very little attention in international media. And as quickly as the attacks occurred, the threat subsided again, with Ethiopian and Eritrean forces apparently quickly destroying or recapturing the launchers and their missiles.
Tigray forces originally seized control over the entirety of Ethiopia's ballistic missile and guided rocket arsenal after overrunning ENDF bases in the Tigray Region in November 2020. It appears that enough of the systems' operators defected to the Tigray side to give its forces the opportunity to start using the launchers against their former owners. And indeed, soon Tigray forces did precisely that, launching ballistic missiles at two air bases in Ethiopia and even three missiles at the capital of Eritrea, the latter in response to Eritrea's involvement in the Tigray war. [2]

A recently released Tigrayan music video however shows that some elements of the missile and rocket unit managed to avoid Ethiopia and Eritrea's extensive efforts to find and neutralise the Chinese-made launching systems and associated equipment. [3] The video, which was released on the 21st of October 2021, depicts a single transloader used as the backdrop for rapping Tigrayan youth dressed in military camouflage uniforms.
While the exact date on which the video was shot can't be independently verified, the T-72UA1 tank that also features in the video was captured in late August (being the only T-72UA1 confirmed to have been captured by Tigray forces so far), confirming that the video was shot after the capture and destruction of the other launching systems and transloaders in December 2020. [4] However, no trace of M20 SRBMs and A200 guided rockets can be found in the video, and without a dedicated TEL the transloader is in effect completely useless.

A launching system equipped with eight A200 guided rockets soon after its recapture by Ethiopian forces.

Equipped with a crane installed on the rear of the truck, the transloader can carry either eight A200 guided rocket canisters or two M20 ballistic missiles, allowing it to swiftly reload the launching system so it can commence its next firing mission. The presence of the reloaders essentially doubles the firepower of each battery, with as much as sixteen A200 rockets or four M20 ballistic missiles at the ready for a launcher before the battery has to return to a location to stock up on munitions. 

In December 2020, Ethiopian government forces regained control of one of the missile bases in Tigray. [1] Found here were several M20 SBRMs along with at least four A200 canisters. [1] It is likely that these had been left behind by Tigray forces after they were ousted from the region, having had too little time or the proper equipment to attempt to bring them along. The fact that not all had been expended by the time the base was taken could also indicate that all launchers in the area had already been lost.

Also recaptured at the base was at least one of the loading systems associated with the M20 SRBM and A200 guided rocket launcher. A second loader was recaptured around the same time after having seemingly been abandoned in a hurry. Intriguingly, at least three of the A200's rocket canisters are empty yet appear to have been loaded back onto the loader. This is unlikely to have been an effort at saving the local area from pollution, and might instead have been an attempt at hiding traces of these systems being in operational use by Tigray forces.
The M20/A200 loader used as decor for Tigrayan hiphop might be the last of what's left of Ethiopia's once mighty ballistic missile and guided rocket force. Now presumably useless in its intended role, the vehicle appears to have found new use in this more benign role. While the TDF's force of deterrent might be gone, the TDF's strong resistance against recent ENDF offensives aimed at finally defeating them shows that they shouldn't be underestimated, and it is certain that they will have more surprises in store as the Tigray War continues to develop in unpredictable ways.

Special thanks to Saba.
[1] Go Ballistic: Tigray’s Forgotten Missile War With Ethiopia and Eritrea
[3] Yaru Makaveli x Narry x Yada sads x Ruta x Frew x danay x donat - CYPHER WEYN 2 / Tigray Music
[4] The Tigray Defence Forces - Documenting Its Heavy Weaponry

Recommended Articles: 
Go Ballistic: Tigray’s Forgotten Missile War With Ethiopia and Eritrea