Whatever else one may say about the muddled involvement of the United States and the Russian Federation in the dreadful Syrian civil war it has certainly given the armed forces of both nations the opportunity to test out their military equipment in live-fire conditions. One of the latest examples of this proxy-contest between the world’s former superpowers is a minute and a half long video clip recorded in the embattled city of Aleppo, showing the impact of an American-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) on a Russian-made T-90 main battle tank, the country’s current front-line model. The missile, supplied by the CIA or through the allied, despotic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was fired by the Hawks Mountain Brigade (HMB), part of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), while the tank was in the service of the loyalist Syrian Arab Army (SAA), probably with local personnel rather than Russian ones.
The video gives us glimpses of the T-90 sitting on a crest between several buildings, where it is shortly hit by the wire-guided TOW missile (fifty seconds in), the detonation resulting in a tremendous flash followed by the crew bailing out with some speed. Since there is no subsequent explosion or signs of fire it seems likely that the vehicle’s reactive armour, which explodes outwards to counteract the explosive impact of an incoming missile, saved its occupants, though possibly at the price of bleeding eardrums and bruises. The British Forces in the north-east of Ireland briefly contemplated such armour in the 1990s, when the Irish Republican Army had perfected a series of horizontal-launch anti-vehicle mortars, before costs and practicality killed the idea.
It’s not the first time that the HMB has proven its abilities with ATGMs, taking out Russian-supplied tanks with the Assad regime, usually of the early T-72 vintage, with alarming regularity (or pleasing regularity, if you prefer). By all accounts the Damascus dictatorship has lost several hundred armoured behemoths since the start of the civil conflict, a remarkable achievement for the disparate insurgency, hence the delivery of newer models from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Given that each TOW missile costs around $50,000 dollars (or €45,000 euros) while the T-90 weighs in at a staggering $4.5 million dollars (€4 million euros) this has been a hefty “price-tag” to pay for the Russian Federation’s pursuit of a secure blue water port in the Mediterranean and some export orders for JSC Rosoboronexport.
Then again, the continued humiliation of the Obama administration probably adds another cherry on top, too.