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Ukraine: Russians Employing Guided Cluster Rocket Rounds to Target Civilians

Rakieta BM-30 Smersh
Cluster warhead rocket artillery round. The nose section stabilizers are clearly visible here, along with the submunitions frame.

Wreckage of the Russian missiles found in Pokrovsk (Donetsk district), among other locations, shows that the Russians are using the latest Tornado-S rocket artillery systems, employing guided 300 mm rocket rounds. These are not used in the role of PGM against military targets. They are utilized to attack cities, with cluster munitions.

The Russian forces have used cluster munitions in Ukraine multiple times - dispersing dozens of small submunitions creating destructions across vast areas. Often, the detonation of those submunitions is delayed. The Russian media claim that the shelling of civil areas is accidental. However, there is evidence to the contrary - such as the example from the town of Pokrovsk. There, remains of the 300 mm rocket rounds launched by the BM-30 system have been found. The unmistakable layout of the rocket point to the 9M55K round with a cluster warhead, that contains 72 small 9N235 or 9N210 submunitions. Hence the peculiar latticework in the central section of the projectile.

The 9B706 designation on the nose and small stabilizers suggest that the rocket is one of the latest Russian weapons systems. 9B706 is a guidance module that makes it possible to adjust the trajectory of the rocket, based on GLONASS/INS input. This is a simple method of transforming an unguided 300 mm rocket round into a guided munition. The stabilizers located within the front section of the round change the rocket trajectory, while the ones in the rear only serve stabilization purposes. Thanks to the above, the rocket offers circular accuracy of a couple of meters, even when launched at the maximum distance. The NPO “Splav” company is the manufacturer (part of the Technodinamika holding company, a part of Rostec). The entity has announced a launch of series manufacturing of 300 mm guided rocket rounds as such in 2021. The guided rockets featuring the 9B706 guidance module can be fired solely by the Russian Tornado-S system - an in-depth upgrade of the BM-30 Smerch. The system is similar to the Ukrainian Vilkha solution. As the Ukrainians utilize the Vilkha system for precision strikes against critical assets, the Russian Tornado-S systems are employed to precisely attack cities and civil targets. Importantly, if Ukraine decides to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes as such - use of cluster munitions against the civilians - then they may be indicated with a high degree of certainty. Briefly, before the attack in the Ukrainian territory, Smerch launcher columns were spotted and filmed in the Rostov region. The assets belonged to the 439th Guards Rocket Artillery Brigade from the Southern Military District. The unit, most probably, can be designated as the perpetrator of the Pokrovsk attack, since it uses the Tornado-S MLRSs that - in the case of the modernized platforms - are difficult to distinguish from the standard BM-30 Smerch.