On April 20th 2017, The Islamic State’s “Amaq news agency” published a video report from the raging battle in western Mosul. The video, titled “An innovation enters the battlefield in Mosul”, began by showing footage of remotely-operated recoilless rifles, as well as drones dropping bomblets onto targets in the city. However, the purpose of the short video was to announce the introduction of the rocket-upgraded SVBIED. Shots from different angles showed a camouflaged SVBIED painted brown and fitted with five rocket pods on the car’s roof.
The video also featured a sequence filmed by an IS quadcopter drone, in which a rocket-upgraded SVBIED was seen racing toward an Iraqi army position in western Mosul, firing off a few rockets at the target before detonating the main charge.Each pod contained a (likely) 73mm recoilless rifle round, and the rocket pods were in turn connected to a firing mechanism operated by the SVBIED driver. The firing mechanism appeared visually similar to the standardised white box detonation mechanisms commonly seen in SVBIEDs used by IS. It consisted of five firing switches (each corresponding to a rocket) wired on separate firing circuits, with a safety mechanism that needed to be pressed before the rockets were primed.
For a visual explanation, see the below video that shows an Iraqi soldier testing the safety on a captured firing mechanism originally mounted to the interior of a rocket-upgraded SVBIED.
While most rocket-upgraded SVBIEDs were fitted with 5 rocket pods, the quantity and placement of the pods varied. Examples ranged from between 4 to 7, and even 10 rockets. One example had its 4 rocket pods fitted close together right above the driver’s seat, facilitating aiming and potentially increasing the accuracy of the rockets when fired.
The rocket-upgraded SVBIED was clearly oriented towards target suppression, and its advent can be viewed as an evolution to two-man SVBIEDs (consisting of both a driver and a rooftop gunner). The former packs a heavier punch than the latter, while only requiring a single operator for the vehicle. However, IS only ever manufactured around a dozen rocket-upgraded SVBIEDs. On top of that, they were introduced at such a late point in the battle that the majority of them were captured intact by Iraqi forces as the remaining IS enclave in western Mosul collapsed.
Its low usage coupled with the lack of recordings of its use also made it difficult to determine how successful rocket-upgraded SVBIEDs were compared to other SVBIED designs employed by IS during the battle of Mosul.
While an impressive SVBIED design innovation, its introduction was too late and too low in numbers in order for it to have had a military impact on the course of the battle. Rocket-upgraded SVBIEDs were only used during the late stages of the battle of Mosul, and have never seen use since then.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Islamic State’s development and use of SVBIEDs during the entire battle of Mosul, read my lengthy case study that I wrote for Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre. An excerpt is available here.
—– Update – September 13, 2020 —–
Interestingly, it appears that IS was not the first group to come up with this ‘innovation’. In December 2013, more than 3 years prior to IS announcing the introduction of their rocket-upgraded SVBIEDS, Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN) released a video detailing an SVBIED attack against Syrian loyalists in Hama province.
This type of heavy truck was characteristic for many covert SVBIED attacks conducted by JaN during this time across the countryside in Syria. In the video, workers were shown moving sacks in the rear bed covering the main charge, so that a wire could be put in place connecting the charge to the detonation mechanism in the driver’s cabin.
The final preparatory section was rather remarkable, and initially showed a worker preparing what appeared to be a home-made rocket.
The worker subsequently wired the rocket to and inserted it together with another one into metal tubes mounted to the frontal undercarriage of the truck. The improvised rocket pods were obscured by some form of cloth affixed to the vehicle’s bumper that draped down over them.
While very interesting, the use of a covert rocket-upgraded SVBIED in Syria in 2013 is far more questionable than what IS employed during the battle of Mosul. IS manufactured suppression-oriented variants because they fought openly in a more conventional manner. Most of the time, the point of using covert SVBIEDs is to avoid detection by hostile forces up until the point of detonation. However, the Arabic subtitle said “two rockets were placed in the front to clear the way”, which could imply detection was likely.
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