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Foreign Policy: Just How Deadly Is Assad's Arsenal?

Syria's arsenal

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Syria's government has been moving its stockpile of chemical weapons — thought to be the world's largest. As Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned American lawmakers in March: "We need to be especially alert to the fate of Syria's chemical weapons. " Syria has been pummeling civilian centers with tanks, artillery, mortars and aircraft.

Chemical weapons

The latest estimates say that the Assad regime has hundreds of tons of mustard gas, a blister agent, and large stockpiles of sarin and possibly VX, both of which are nerve agents — all of which can be launched by Scud missiles, artillery or aircraft, according to Charles Blair, a specialist in chemical and biological weapons at the Federation of American Scientists. Although the U.S. government has released only vague estimates as to the size of Syria's chemical and biological weapons stockpile, Dempsey told lawmakers in March that the arsenal was "100 times the magnitude we experienced in Libya."


M240 "Tulip": While the Syrian government may not be using its heaviest rockets against the rebels yet, it has been using the world's largest mortar system, the Soviet-made M240 "Tulip" breech-loading mortar system. Originally designed to take out NATO bunkers during the Cold War, the Tulip has been used to lob massive, 5-foot-long, 240mm mortar rounds onto civilian populations, including in the Syrian city of Homs.

Howitzers: The U.S. State Department has posted photos suggesting that the Syrian army has positioned its Soviet-built D-30 122mm towed howitzers outside of several cities.

Rocket launchers: Assad's army may have also parked Soviet-designed BM-21 Grad rocket launchers around Homs, according to the State Department. The Grad dates to the 1960s and consists of 40 launch tubes sitting in the back of a six-wheeled truck that can fire two 120mm unguided rockets per second up to 20 miles. Its name, Grad, means "hail" in Russian.


Helicopters: The regime has reportedly used its Soviet-built, Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters, along with Mi-8 and Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters outfitted as gunships. The Mi-24 is armed with a 23mm main auto-cannon and a mix of dozens of rockets and up to 2,000 pounds of bombs carried on its stub wings.

Fighter jets: So far, Syria is not thought to have used its Soviet- and Russian-made fighter jets. Of these, the most advanced are the newly purchased Mig-29 Fulcrums, a Mach 2 fighter first fielded by the Soviets in the 1980s to achieve air superiority against U.S. jets like the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Viper. Although the MiG-29 is a relatively new airplane, the Fulcrum did not perform well against NATO fighters in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy: Just How Deadly Is Assad's Arsenal? 07/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:12pm]
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