If I Had a Rocket Launcher
March 25, 2008 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Did insurgents really fire Katyusha rockets into Baghdad's Green Zone?

I've seen several news reports of insurgents firing Katyusha rockets in Iraq, and I'm not sure how that could be true after five years of occupation and total US control of Iraqi airspace. Are the insurgents really driving truck-mounted multiple-tube rocket launchers around, or are journalists being loosey-goosey with their military terminology? Do they mean RPGs?
posted by kirkaracha to Human Relations (11 answers total)
The rockets don't require the truck mounted rail launcher. From what I understand, the rockets can be aimed and launched just fine by leaning them against a boulder at the right angle and lighting them off.

Nowhere near as accurate of course, but they're not trying to do damage -- they're trying to scare people.
posted by SpecialK at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2008

From my understanding of Katyusha rockets, there are the big truck-fire rigs, like you see on the wikipedia page, and then there are the much smaller installs. There's one on this page (scroll down a good bit), which also details a lot of home-grown weaponry used by Palestinian terrorists. Note also in that photo of the truck that the vast majority of the launch platform is not the missile. The missile itself is only a few feet long. I think that they can be ground launched or launched from the back of a jeep like a mortar. I can't seem to find anything about whether a single-tube launch config is common, or the more common 6/10/whatever-the-fuck is on the back of that truck.

You don't need much "airspace" for these rockets. I think they're being fired from only a couple of kms away(so there's not a lot of arc on them) -- not like the 30 kms used by Lebanese and Palestinian forces against Israel.
posted by zpousman at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2008

So I think the answer to your question is yes, it's definitely possible that those were Katyusha rockets.
posted by zpousman at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: A lot of artillery rockets, particularly as used by Palestinian fighters are called Katyushas even though they're not the big truck mounted types.
posted by Authorized User at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2008

Global Security is better than Wikipedia on this score:
References now to the Katyusha mean not just one type of rocket, but a whole range of different artillery rockets, whether from old Soviet or other-nation stock, most frequently the 122mm rocket. The Katyusha rockets have little guidance and are not lethal enough to defeat Israel militarily, but are used by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, operating out of Lebanon, to cause terror among the Israeli population.

From googling around, the word "Katyusha" (Russian for "little Kate") is somewhat generically used nowadays. Hezbollah makes much use of the Iranian Fajr-3 (which they remanufacture and call the Khaibar 1) or derivatives of the BM-21 Grad. Like the AK-47, these original Russian designs were engineered for poorly-regulated manufacturing of the Soviet era, and are thus suitable for modern armies with limited funds and manufacturing capabilities. Additionally, part of their usefulness as weapons of terror is, in fact, their imprecision.

Here's a YouTube showing the low-tech capability (useful summary starts around 0:30 or so; lengthy anti-American opening may be skipped).

The technique, infamously, was encouraged among the mujahideen by the CIA and Pakistan's ISI did much of the instruction. Most of the weapons came from China with Saudi money. One of the best features is the use of disposable tubes and props with long detonator fuses that allow a guerrilla force (I believe the minimum is usually about three guys, but if you have a bunch of rockets you can spread out the load some) to set them off and disappear into the woodwork by the time whoever you're firing at can derive your position and sent out a raid. Generally all they find is easily replaced discards.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 PM on March 25, 2008

The "brand" association with a Soviet made weapon has more emotional impact.

Of course, it also should be kept in mind that the Palestinians are, for the most part, basing their designs on Soviet weapons. Their Katyushas are based on Russian rocket-artillery.
posted by Netzapper at 2:55 PM on March 25, 2008

Response by poster: So basically it just means "a rocket."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:07 PM on March 25, 2008

I wouldn't go that far, kirkaracha. In practice it apparently means any light generally antipersonnel rocket without much accuracy usually fired in a barrage. Aerospaceweb turns out to have a pretty good article (although like many I've found primarily focuses on Israel and the smaller Qassam homebrew rockets of the Gaza strip).

Just don't expect a random press account to have done any forensics. A lot of them actually just say generic things like "rockets or mortars". If you were close I'd think you'd be able to tell the difference, but most of the journalism happens after there's a cloud of smoke in the sky off in the distance.

One of the early Sharpe's adventures has a Congreve rocket company show up in the Peninsular War with some rail-launched artillery that has a range measured in the hundreds of yards, an impressive lightshow, and dismal accuracy. (The Congreve is, in fact, the namesake for Key's the rockets' red glare.) It looks like about the only thing that's really changed in 200 years is range!
posted by dhartung at 1:59 AM on March 26, 2008

Here's an account from last fall of a 240mm Iranian-type rocket attack on Camp Victory near the airport. From the description it's clear this is a Fajr-3 or better. The article makes it pretty apparent that this was out of the ordinary -- the Fajrs were only used by one Shi'ite militia and had only been used a few times against explicitly American targets. So there are "non-Katyusha" rockets in the mix. I'd still expect the word to be used for the "ordinary" rockets that they deal with in Baghdad and elsewhere.
posted by dhartung at 2:06 AM on March 26, 2008

dhartung: The promised YouTube video is where?
posted by themel at 9:39 AM on March 26, 2008

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