Friday, November 23, 2012

HAMAS' Evolving Offensive Rocket Capabilities

The offensive rocket capabilities of HAMAS, operating primarily from the GAZA strip, have expanded with respect to sheer numbers, range, and lethality since rocket technology became a favored offensive method for the organization in the early 21st century. The Qassam series rockets remain the most widely used rocket by HAMAS today, due to several factors including low cost, high volume of production, ease of use, and portability.  The Qassam series’ low-tech construction and common components have allowed for domestic manufacturing beginning in Gaza in 2001 following the Al-Aqsa intifada.   However, the range and destructive force of this series is relatively small with a maximum range of 17 km or roughly 6.5 miles carrying a max payload of 20kg or approximately 45 pounds (Capabilities of the Qassam-4 rocket).  Due to the nonstandard manufacture of the Qassam series it is difficult to rate the casualty producing effects of the rockets.

An M107 155mm projectile which is the standard high explosive projectile for American artillery may serve as a rough standard for comparison.  Carrying a payload of approximately 7kg of high explosive (either TNT or Composition B) the M107 shell produces a kill radius of 50m and a casualty radius of 150m against human targets over flat unobstructed terrain.  This rating means at 50m from the point of impact of the shell with nothing obstructing your line of sight (trees or buildings) there is a 50% chance that you will be killed, the percentage chance of your death rises to 100% as you get closer to the point of impact.    

Rocket staged atop impovised launching apparatus
The effectiveness of the Qassam series has prompted HAMAS to smuggle more advanced rockets that are beyond their own domestic manufacturing capabilities into Gaza.  The Grad series of rockets, originally a Russian design copied and manufactured primarily by the Iranians, has been smuggled into Gaza via the Sinai Peninsula and launched against the Israelis as early as 2006. A more technical manufacturing process, a larger size, and more sophisticated components yield greater range, accuracy and lethality.  However, the supply is limited due to dependence upon external procurement and illicit logistical methods rather than internal production.  This series, although larger than the Qassam series, is still capable of being employed by small teams of 3-4 operatives equipped with little more than a pickup truck and an improvised launching apparatus.  The most advanced models of the Grad series expanded the range capabilities of HAMAS’ rocket attacks to 40km with a payload capacity of 21kg slightly exceeding the Qassam series.

The most recent exchange of rocket fire between Gaza and Israel in November of this year witnessed HAMAS’ first employment of its most advanced series of rockets to date:  The Iranian designed Fadjr series.  The Iranians have denied supplying HAMAS with completed Fadjr series rockets but they have admitted to transferring the technology required for production of the series to the Palestinians.  The Fadjr series’ relatively advanced manufacturing process has prompted doubt into HAMAS’ ability to produce the series domestically leading many to point again to smuggling as the source.  With the fall of the Mubarak regime and resultant decrease in efforts by Egypt to police illicit arms smuggling across the Sinai Peninsula, HAMAS may have found a window of opportunity large enough to fit the 20 foot, 900 pound Fadjr-5 rocket whose size alone creates complicating logistical concerns for smugglers.  Either way, the employment of the Fadjr series nearly doubles the radius of the target fan emanating from Gaza to a distance of 75km.  However, the tactical use of this series is limited due to availability and required launch support.  As compared to the Qassam series, the Fadjr series rocket will require much more advanced production.  As compared to the Grad series, the Fadjr series rocket presents a more complex logistical support structure in order to deliver the series from external sources.  Both means will be easier to detect and target by Israeli intelligence and will greatly limit the supply of the series in Gaza.  Furthermore, the launching of the Fadjr series requires substantial construction of a fixed site platform. This exposes the successful employment of the Fadjr series to a host of vulnerabilities related to planning considerations and logistical liabilities which will prevent HAMAS from utilizing the Fadjr series on the same scale as the Qassam or Grad series rockets.

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