Mar 18, 2014

Richard Lloyd's Trajectory Analysis

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

Richard Lloyd of Tesla, who previously published a widely-reported estimate of 2 km for the UMLACA/Volcano's range, and confirmed the Syrian Army's report of a rebel CW store in Jobar, has recently published an analysis of the sarin rocket trajectories.

The analysis reaches very similar results to those published here and in other blogs, indicating a launch source to the north.

However, Richard points to an interesting finding: A Syrian Air Force Intelligence facility located on this trajectory, at a distance of 2.8 km from the farthest impact site. (Note: For some reason, the diagrams show the base to be exactly on the trajectory. However, the impact sites provide an accuracy of only around 20 degrees, which covers the entire field west of Irbin).

This is of course a very important finding, since so far there was no evidence of government activity near the launch site (despite numerous reports of such activities all over Damascus).

However, there are a few obstacles before this could be used as evidence:

  1. The base is beyond the UMLACA/Volcano range. The report does not provide any explanation why a range beyond 2 km is considered (which was previously defined as the "upper possible range"). In any case, our more detailed model puts the upper limit at 2.5 km.
  2. Air force Intelligence is an Internal Security and Counter-Intelligence service. It is not involved in military operations, rocket artillery or chemical warfare. More specifically, this facility seems to have civilian cars parked outside and no military equipment.
Nevertheless, some scenarios could benefit from this new finding: For example, if we are to assume that the government had specific interest in targeting the civilian neighborhood of Zamalka, it is definitely conceivable that they brought the launcher and support truck to the facility, drove them after midnight to the nearby field to launch the attack and then retreated back.

The problem with this scenario is that it doesn't provide any significant military advantage over the alternative of driving the trucks directly from the nearby highway into the field. It of course still doesn't explain the many other discrepancies with such a scenario.

During the writing of this post, Mr. Lloyd published another report, which makes two claims:

  1. The wide distribution of impact sites could not have come from random dispersion around a single target, implying multiple launchers.
    The estimate of this blog is that a single launcher was used, each time rotated to a different azimuth. It is unclear why this simpler explanation is ignored.
  2. The range of the chemical Volcano is longer due its smaller mass.
    This blog's model has already examined this and found the difference to be negligible, since the lower mass also results in lower resistance to drag force, which in this case has significant effect on range.

Conclusion: The Air Force Intelligence facility near the launch location could have provided some cover to a government operation, but since it is beyond the Volcano range, its contribution is negligible compared to the alternatives. Therefore, this finding, while interesting, does not have significant implication on culpability.


  1. The Lloyd report is really nothing new and sadly inaccurate. The Airforce intelligence base was discussed as a possible launch site immediately after August 21. The issue then as now is that the base itself was not in Government hands at the time.

    Then the use of Eliot Higgins as an 'intelligence source' is completely ridiculous. For instance the Lloyd report shows the Jobar Qaboun Industrial area as completely Government controlled North of the Tora river. This is patently false as we have video of insurgents fighting on the day of August 21 in the Technical School; and multiple videos from the preceding days of attacks on the Army Base and Bus station strong-point in the area. - Technical school fighting uploaded August 22.

    Plus many more highly relevant videos from that time in

    The Brown Moses 'intelligence' on almost all the ground situation is provably wrong and appears to be mostly a result of wishful thinking.

    Overall the Lloyd report is strong on flashy but inaccurate graphics based on broken intelligence, and very short on critical thinking

    1. Interesting. I seemed to have forgotten this discussion. My bad.
      How do we know it was not in government control?

    2. They used a very rough map I sent them over, I've reviewed a lot of information since then and produced a more accurate map. For example, I've geolocated the 20+ ANNA News videos showing government forces in the area, here's some examples
      It's worth noting those videos also show the government capturing a number of tunnels and bases across that area that were being used by the opposition to enter the area, greatly reducing the oppositions future ability to re-enter the area.

      I've also come across a series of videos showing opposition forces attacking a checkpoint next to an underpass before and after August 21st
      Based on the videos it appears the attacks were being filmed from a position several hundred meters south of that checkpoint
      Government checkpoints were also in position to the north, east, and south of the ring road area on August 21st, based on videos posted by opposition and government groups. Based off that information this seems to be my best estimate for government control on August 21st
      I've marked the distance for the two rockets that landed furthest away from that area. The green circle is the 2.5km mark, yellow is 2.2km, and red 2km. All other reported impact sites are closer. Richard Lloyd recently told me their most recent calculations indicate the range of the Volcano rockets is likely 2.2km-2.4km.

      Tohme checkpoint is also interesting, as it was quite far south, and targeted by a VBIED on August 22nd. There was also a municipal building in the northeast that was repeatedly attacked by the opposition before and after August 21st, and filmed from positions several hundred meters south of the building.

      I'll be publishing a much more thorough analysis of the ANNA News videos and other videos related to government position on August 21st in a few weeks.

    3. Thank you Elliot. Looking forward to your analysis.

  2. The new Brown Moses map of Government control is still plain wrong.

    - It includes the Technical School which is literally right next to the Army base - definitely occupied by insurgents -

    - It doesn't show the insurgent tunnel networks and fighting positions dotted around the East Jobar/Qaboun Industrial area that were subject to multiple Government attacks after August 21 - again documented by ANNA. In particular in the electricity yards and South of Kenzi near the big cloverleaf.

    - It shows a wide band of Government control to the East of the Southern Bypass when in fact Government control only existed at pickets on major intersections with no feet-on-the-ground extension beyond that,

    - It shows the main part of Jobar Qaboun Industrial Area as under Government control when there were actually only two strong-points in the area (army base and central bus-station) and both were under continuous mortar and sniper interdiction as documented in

    However the glimmer of joy in the the Brown Moses comment above is the acknowledgement the Insurgents had feet on ground control of the most likely launching area for the missiles.

    1. "It includes the Technical School which is literally right next to the Army base - definitely occupied by insurgents -"
      The position this video is filmed from is several hundred meters to the south of the underpass check point, I've geolocated it and confirmed the position, so I don't know why you say this had anything to do with the technical school.

      "It doesn't show the insurgent tunnel networks and fighting positions dotted around the East Jobar/Qaboun Industrial area that were subject to multiple Government attacks after August 21 - again documented by ANNA. In particular in the electricity yards and South of Kenzi near the big cloverleaf."
      Maybe you can link to those, and show how you've geolocated them?

      "It shows a wide band of Government control to the East of the Southern Bypass when in fact Government control only existed at pickets on major intersections with no feet-on-the-ground extension beyond that,"
      Again, you should evidence this if you have proof.

      "- It shows the main part of Jobar Qaboun Industrial Area as under Government control when there were actually only two strong-points in the area (army base and central bus-station) and both were under continuous mortar and sniper interdiction as documented in"
      But that just goes to show that government forces were present in the area, there's no evidence of opposition forces being inside those areas after government forces cleared them out. There's no evidence that on August 21st opposition forces had boots on the ground in those areas, and as you demonstrate, they were reduced to firing mortars into the area. I'm not sure how you can imply there was "continuous" mortar and sniper fire from a handful of videos posted over a series of days.

    2. Charles, you're right, one of the vertexes was a few meters out, I've adjusted it accordingly
      As you can see, it totally redefines our understanding of the August 21st attack, well spotted.

  3. RE Intelligence Compound.

    Possession wasn't discussed here. The ACLOS guys looked at it back in August/September and dug up videos and reports showing the compound changing hands at least once.

    There are also no videos of it being attacked despite it being well within mortar and sniper range of known Ghouta insurgent positions.

    1. I did a quick search on ACLOS and couldn't find evidence of it changing hands. Do you remember where it was?

      I actually found two videos showing rebel attacks on the branch, from March and April 2013:

      In general, it seems the SAA does not retreat from government/army facilities. They may suffer raids (like we've seen in Qadam station), but will always return.

    2. The Air Force Intelligence Branch being attacked by the opposition on
      September 9th
      September 21st

    3. There's also various reports from the start of August of people escaping from the Air Force Intelligence Branch as well, supposedly through tunnels

  4. Re the chemical missile range. Lloyd has twigged the the chemical missile is lighter, but has failed to appreciate that:

    - The chemical missile is dimensionally different with a shorter motor.

    - The chemical motor is obviously different to the the Burkan motor because it burns for 1.6-1.8 seconds compared to the nearly 3 seconds for the Burkan.

    It looks very likely the Burkan uses a custom motor with extended burn-time, while the chemical missile uses a standard short Grad (122mm) motor which has a burn time of 1.6 - 1.8 seconds (depending on manufacturer)

    1. good points. i'll add to the post.

    2. Charles, why do you think the chemical missile has a shorter motor? Can you evidence this claim?

    3. He means relative to the HE version. I think you were the first to identify they have different lengths.

    4. Well there's the 122mm type used on August 21st, which also comes in an explosive version, and the type based on a larger rocket motor, possibly 220mm, and that appears to have a range of at least 2.7km based on a recent video of one being launched in Yabroud.

    5. And the 122mm incendiary/chemical version is shorter than the 122mm HE version. Right?

    6. Not based off the images I've seen, I'll double check though. Here's the videos of the one I just mentioned with the likely 2.7km range
      I've been told that some of the Scud attacks were actually these larger types in action, they've an equivalent payload.

    7. Don't you remember that the unexploded HE version found in Yarmouk was longer than those found in Adra and Zamalka?

    8. This is a bit rough and ready, but I've taken a photo of the remains of an explosive 122mm type, and copy and pasted the width of the warhead (36cm) over the length of the barrel
      It's approximately 36cm*3.75 = 135cm, which is the approximate length recorded in this image of the remains of the chemical 122mm type
      Here's the unedited picture if you want a go

    9. Agree, but the HE warhead is longer, which should mean a longer motor. I also assume the booster charge takes additional space.

      Charles is also correct to note that the burn time in the Qadam video sounds longer than the Liwa Al Islam videos.

    10. That's not necessarily true, the explosive warhead looks about 100cm long, and we know the internal structure of the chemical warhead is 70cm. In the video where the Yarmouk opposition group is taking an explosive Volcano apart it looks like they've dug about 20cm into the front of it without coming across the end of the rocket motor, just the detonator, so best case scenario it's only going to be about 10cm longer, if at all.

    11. Good point.
      Removed it from the post until the issue is cleared up.

  5. I made an error in the link. The video should have been

    اشتباكات عنيفة جدا في المدرسة الصناعية في حي القابون وإفشال محاولة تسلل للشبيحة 22-8-2013

    (Technical school fighting)

    Regarding ground dominance in the Jobar Qaboun Industrial area, this ANNA video is very informative.

    Операция в Аль Кабуне. Сирия. Часть 10. Осмотр освобождённых кварталов

    It's labelled Qaboun in the video but it's obviously the East end of the Jobar Qaboun Industrial area - there is a lot of confusion over where Qaboun stops and Jobar starts, Google and wikimapia disagree strongly. It's far safer to reference roads and features.

    In the very first seconds they say moving in the area is very dangerous as it is raked by fire from Jobar and they need tanks for protection. They then show a number of the tunnels and fighting locations. They discuss insurgents still being in the power station (power yards South of the area and also very near the location of the chemical weapons IED on August 24). The video shows a number of tunnel exits they have discovered and also shows some tunnels are still dangerous. At 15:16 they discuss capturing a network of tunnels between Irbin and Jobar and between Qaboun (industial area) and Jobar.

    The conclusion from the video is that the East Jobar Qaboun Industrial area was occupied by SAA but that it was still under fire from Jobar on August 20. This is quite relevant for the purposes of August 21.

    It is also conclusive that the insurgents had tunnels under the Southern Bypass, so clearly they controlled the Irbin areas around the tunnel entrances.

    Regarding dominance of Irbin and Harasta, it's militarily obvious there was no continuous boots-on-ground SAA control East of the Southern bypass. Following conventional military practice any buildings close enough to the bypass to be a threat had been demolished to remove the cover and to provide a free-fire zone from the bypass. What we have video records of is occasional tanks driving up the road and firing into Irbin and Zamalka to maintain dominance. What we also have is the insurgents East of that free-fire zone firing back into it and onto the Southern bypass at pickets and tanks. So we have an obvious no-mans land. Not Government control. - illustrates the cleared buildings / fire zone. - shows the area immediately to the South of the operation - Occupied by Insurgents on August 21 and where Sarin IEDs were used on August 24. - attack on picket on Southern bypass from positions in Irbin - attack on tank - almost certainly on Southern bypass or feeder road - attack on BMP on Southern bypass from Irbin

    There are plenty of other videos of attacks on the Southern bypass showing Government control of it was very shaky up to and including August 2013.

    So to conclude. There were multiple tunnels under the Southern Bypass. The land East of the Southern Bypass was dominated by fire from both sides and occupied to a large extent by the Insurgents (tunnel entrances). Insurgents were operating West of the Bypass in the Jobar Qaboun Industrial area and in North-East Jobar - let alone the rest of Jobar.

    1. You haven't really answered the question of whether or not there's any opposition boots on the ground in those areas on August 21st. There's clearly government checkpoints in the area, because they're shown being attacked before and after August 21st, but no evidence the opposition were able to enter the area where the August 21st attacks could have been launched from. As you state, the government soldiers talk about capturing tunnels, so they've clearly limited the oppositions movements in the area. You'll also record the attacks were carried out at 2am, not in broad daylight, as shown in the videos you've posted. If the opposition is limited to firing into the area during the day then you really need to demonstrate how they could have stopped a night time operation, because nothing in those videos suggest they were operating at night.

    2. As for potential launch sites, the "underpass checkpoint" is featured in a number of videos before and after August 21st being attacked
      The launchers could have easily been parked to the north, giving it cover from opposition forces in the south, and would be in range for the latest Lloyd and Postol calculations. It's also easily accessible from the Air Force Intelligence Base, and easily accessible from the 6th Tishreen road and Kenzi road, linking it to any number of bases.

  6. "but no evidence the opposition were able to enter the area where the August 21st attacks could have been launched from."

    The video was filmed by Insurgents around 300m *closer* to the Bypass picket than the probable launch site deeper in the fields of Irbin - out of direct fire range from the pickets. If that's not proof of insurgent boots on ground I don't know what is.

    A launch site North of the underpass is beyond reasonable range and is in an area demonstrably under insurgent mortar and small-arms fire and under direct observation from high vantage points.

    These videos show all potential Government launch areas were under direct and indirect insurgent fire and observation (ignoring the missile range problem of course) - attack on picket on Southern bypass intersection from positions in Irbin - attacks on airforce intelligence branch inside the intersection cloverleaf - Note especially, the camera view shows insurgent positions overlooked the entire intersection area from a high vantage point. - direct small arms fire into East Jobar/Qaboun area from Jobar.

    So in conclusion:

    The Intersection was under direct observation from high vantage points in Insurgent territory. The high vantage points were obviously used to direct mortar and small arms fire into the intersection area. Ground positions in insurgent territory in Irbin had direct eyes-on to the intersection area and again were used to direct mortar and small-arms fire onto it. Ground positions in Jobar were firing small-arms into East Jobar/Qaboun so they had line of sight view of the area as well.

    Finally throw in that the insurgents placed chemical IEDs in North East Jobar just a tunnel's length away from the most likely launching point.

  7. I should add to my comment, as I realise you seem to be implying the missiles were fired from the intersection.

    No-one is suggesting the insurgents entered the intersection area to fire the missiles.

    What is very clear is that the intersection was under direct observation and fire and so would have been impossible to use as a launching area by the Government.

    The best guess for the launch site is deeper into the Irbin rural area - on a range basis, and a lack of battle basis, and on the relative proximity / access to the insurgent chemical IEDs.