Syrian Ambitions to develop a Strategic Missile Potential
The evaluations were based on an examination of pieces of a Scud D missile that went off course after a test launch and landed in southern Turkey. Although the launch took place a few months ago, it took some time to evaluate the debris to establish technical details on the missile. Two of the three Syrian missiles, which were launched from a site north of Haleb, were of the advanced D model, which has a range of 650 kilometers.
According to western experts, who examined the missile parts found, the warhead of the Scud D separates from its body on its way to the target. Course deviations in the warhead can be corrected with the addition of small wings of the same type found on SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, making the improved Scud much more accurate and allowing it to be aimed at smaller targets.
Although this years Scud-D launch was not the first, it may nevertheless underscore the strategic importance that Syrian decision-makers attribute to medium-range ballistic missiles as a viable deterrent against Israel’s military supremacy.
The Syrian Missile Development Program
For several decades, Israeli intelligence have monitored Syria's clandestine efforts to reachstrategic parity with Israel's military potential. Fully aware of Israel's unchallenged air superiority, Syria opted for missiles, but while these could reach into Israel, strategic effect could only be achieved by weapons of mass destruction, arming ballistic missile warheads. Realistic assessment ruled out Syria's potential in developing nuclear capability in forseen time, and although efforts were made to develop bio-weapons, Syria's national emphasis during the last two decades has been devoted to chemical weapons.
The first to start this trend, was Abdullah Watiq Shahid, a nuclear physicist, who founded the government funded Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in 1971, ostensibly a civilian science agency, but soon operating under the cloak of high secrecy in developing weaponised chemical substances. The first facility, which started producing such material was named the Borosilicate Glass Project, established with aid from a German company. The facility produced dual-purpose chemicals, such as dichloro ( 2- chlorovinyl) arsine, a substance which is the main source of the GB Sarin-A nerve agent. Another company named Setma sprung up in the outskirts of Damascus, which imported trimethyl phosphate from India, under the pretense to produce organophosphate insecticide for Syrian agriculture purposes. This substance, experts know, is a precursor for the weaponisation of nerve agents.
A more ambitious program was started during the eighties, when Syria's military patrons, the Soviet Union rendered vital information over the production process of advanced chemical warfare weapons. This brought about the development of aerial bombs containing binary sarin gas. On 23 September 2000, then IDF Chief of Staff General Shaul Mofaz revealed, that Arrow's highly sophisticated long-range radar system Green Pine detected the launch of a Syrian Scud-D missile from its base outside Halab in northern Syria, tracking its full trajectory until its impact point, some 700km in the southern desert.
The Scud-D, formerly known as the SS-1E in the Soviet Union missile arsenal, was developed from the Scud-C (SS-1D), with a reduced warhead which separates from the motor and fuel tank assembly following burnout phase. The original idea was to enhance accuracy on impact to around 50m Circulat Error of Probability (CEP), using stabilisation and guidance computer, to refine the aim point as the missile approaches its target. According to western intelligence reports, Syria has received deliveries from North Korea which included modified Scud-D type missiles (Nodong).For several years, Syria has been trying to increase the range of its missile arsenal, so that they could reach all targets within Israel, including the highly sensitive Dimona nuclear reactor site, which was out of range to the Scud-B and Scud-C ballistic missiles, the bulk of Syria's strategic missile arsenal.
But not only increasing missile range was in Syria's interest: to achieve solid fuel missile technology became a prime issue.
As the development of VX entered production capability, the Syrians modified their new Scud-C missile. The warhead of the missile underwent experimental adaptation to carry the large nozzles and dispersal mechanism required for chemical warfare agents, especially to spray a persistant agent such as VX, which has to be dispersed at certain altitudes to be effective over the target area. Intelligence sources estimate that at least one Scud-C missile tipped VX agent test firing took place near Damascus in May 1998.
The bulk of Syria's missile arsenal comprised of liquid fuel weapons, which require not only substantial time for the launch preparation, but highly hazardous handling of the toxic fuel substance during the process. This can last up to 90 minutes, giving adequate time for detection and attack while the missile is still on its Transporter Elevator Launcher vehicle (TEL), and thus prone to destruction ( especially lethal to handlers if mounting chemical or biological warheads!). By using solid fuel propellants, the missile can be launched from underground silos, or by quickly moving the TEL out of the bunker to a pre-surveyed site close by and fire.
Syrian Missile Deployment
The Syrian Missile Command is located in Aleppo and controls three mobile- surface-to-surface missile brigades, each with one FROG-7 battalion, one SS-21 Scarab and one SS-1 Scud-B battalion. According to Israeli sources at least two brigades were deployed south towards Damascus in July 2001 wether they returned to their permanent locations since, is unknown.
The Scud-C/D units do not come under command of the Aleppo Corps structure, but are maintained as strategic element with first strike capability under direct command of the presidential palace in Damascus. Syria has two large underground missile production and maintenance facilities near Aleppo and Hamah.
Though the bulk of the Syrian missile arsenal contains conventional explosive warheads intelligence sources estimate that at least 150 warheads have been modified to include non-conventional weapons, but these would be used only under the most extreme circumstances.
A major, highly secret production VX facility has ben identified in an isolated location north of Damascus, other plants may be dispersed for safety, carefully camouflaged near Hama and Homs. This last one is at the huge Al-Safir complex, which was photographed by satellite last July. (the entire satellite photo series can be viewed at: the Global-Security website).
Ronen Bergman described the complex in his article, engaging experts identify the various sites, such as special cooling towers, typical in chemical production facilities. The satellite pictures clearly indicate huge exit doors to underground tunnels, allowing the giant Russian-made MAZ-543 missile launcher vehicles to move in and out fast.