N.R. Jenzen-Jones & Patrick Senft
Editor’s Note: This article is based primarily on a previous ARES article documenting the use of the 9N24 submunition and the 9N123K cluster munition in Syria in 2018.
Photos posted on Facebook by the Mobile Rescue Centre of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (DSNS) show 9N24 submunitions employed by Russian forces (see Figure 1). The visible markings identify the munitions as Soviet 9N24 submunitions, indicate that the submunitions used in this attack were manufactured in 1985, and provide additional information that may be helpful in future analysis. Additional photos shared by the DSNS Mobile Rescue Centre show remnants of a Tochka (Точка; ‘Point’) series missile. The 9K79 Tochka tactical missile launcher and, in particular, the 9M79 missile with 9N123F high explosive warhead have been observed in Ukraine on numerous occasions since the commencement of the latest Russian invasion in February 2022 . Remnants of 9N123K cargo warheads (a cluster munition) have also been documented in Ukraine in recent weeks. However, this is the first time that 9N24 submunitions have been widely photographed and publicised since their use in Ukraine in 2014.
The images shared by the DSNSshow that the submunitions were delivered by a 9M79-series Tochka guided missile, fired by the 9K79 tactical ballistic missile launcher. The 9K79 is also referred to as the OTR-21 (OTR: оперативно-тактический ракетный комплекс, or ‘Tactical-operational Missile Complex’), or by its NATO reporting name, ‘SS-21 Scarab’. This Soviet-designed system has a maximum range of 70 km. An updated version, the 9K79-1 Tochka-U (Scarab-B), was introduced in the 1980s, and features a maximum range of 120 km. Based on the markings seen on the missile body (see Figure 2), it can be identified a 9M79-1 Tochka-U missile. This was most likely used to deliver the submunitions recorded in the incident in question.
The 9N24 is a high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) submunition weighing 7.45 kg. It contains 1.45 kg of A-IX-2 explosive composition (73% RDX, 23% powdered aluminium, 4% wax phlegmatiser) surrounded by 18 partially pre-fragmented fragmentation rings, generating approximately 316 fragments upon detonation. The 9N24 is fitted with the 9E237 impact fuze, which is armed as the submunitions are expelled from the warhead. The fuze is designed to function on impact with the ground or other hard surfaces, at any angle between 25 and 90 degrees. This fuze also features a self-destruct function, which should ensure that the submunition explodes 32–60 seconds after being deployed from the cargo warhead. 9N24 submunitions with an A-IX-20 (78% RDX, 19% powdered aluminium, 3% wax phlegmatiser) explosive fill have also been previously observed, but have not been documented in Ukraine. Note that these submunitions are sometimes described using the Russian initialism ‘ОБЭ’ (‘OBE’), referring to the term ‘осколочный боевой элемент’ (‘fragmentation combat element’). The companion term ‘КОБЭ’ (‘KOBE’), referring to the Russian term ‘кумулятивно-осколочный боевой элемент’, is sometimes applied to HEAT-FRAG (DPICM) submunitions.
Both iterations of the 9K79 Tochka are provisioned with two conventional types of conventional missiles: the 9M79F-series missiles, carrying 9N123F-series unitary HE-FRAG warheads; and the 9M79K, fitted with the 9N123K cargo (or cluster) warhead. The 9N123K cargo warhead is designed to function at an altitude of 2,250 m, using a simple low explosive burster charge to scatter 50 × 9N24 submunitions over the target area. Photo evidence shared by the DSNS shows a 9N123K warhead that failed to function as intended, embedded in the ground whilst still carrying the 9N24 submunitions (see Figure 3). The ribbon-type stabilisers are still coiled around the base of each submunition, covered in some cases by their protective caps (marked “9Н24”; ‘9N24’).
Total weight: 7.45 kg
Explosive weight: 1.45 kg
Explosive composition: А-IX-2
Approximate number of fragments: 316
Average fragment weight: 7 g
9M79-1 missile with 9N123K warhead
Range: 70 km / 120 km
Weight missile: 2,000 kg / 2,010 kg
Length: 6410 mm
Payload: 50 × 9N24 submunitions
ARES (Armament Research Services). n.d. Conflict Materiel (CONMAT) Database. Confidential. Perth: ARES.
Jenzen-Jones, N.R. 2013. ‘9K79 Tochka Tactical Ballistic Missile Launchers in Syria’. The Rogue Adventurer. 5 January. <https://rogueadventurer.com/2013/01/05/9k79-tochka-tactical-ballistic-missiles-in-syria/>.
Jenzen-Jones, N.R. & Yuri Lyamin. 2014. ‘9N123K cluster munition and 9N24 submunitions in Syria’. The Hoplite. 23 May. <https://armamentresearch.com/9n123k-cluster-munition-and-9n24-submunitions-in-syria/>.
Misslery.info. n.d‘Tactical missile system SS-21 “Scarab”’. <https://missilery.info/missile/tochka/>.
Remember, all arms and munitions are dangerous. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and all munitions as if they are live, until you have personally confirmed otherwise. If you do not have specialist knowledge, never assume that arms or munitions are safe to handle until they have been inspected by a subject matter specialist. You should not approach, handle, move, operate, or modify arms and munitions unless explicitly trained to do so. If you encounter any unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW), always remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:
AVOID the area
RECORD all relevant information
MARK the area from a safe distance to warn others
SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities