WASHINGTON — The mobile, medium-range Scud missile, which US officials say Syria’s embattled regime has fired on rebels, is a fearful, indiscriminate weapon with a bloody history in the region.
The Soviet-designed missiles can carry a warhead of up to 1,000 kilogrammes but, owing to their relative inaccuracy, have more often been used to sow terror in cities than to scatter armies in the field.
The missiles can be equipped with conventional, chemical or nuclear warheads and their arrival on the battlefield will increase fears that Bashar Assad’s increasingly beleaguered regime could turn to desperate measures.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein famously lobbed dozens of the relatively unsophisticated Scuds at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War as US-led troops expelled his forces from Kuwait, but he caused few casualties.
Allied aircraft — along with US and British special forces on the ground — struggled to take out Saddam’s mobile Scuds, which were hidden in gullies and culverts and quickly shifted out of sight after night launches.
The Scud missile was originally developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s with help from captured German scientists, and was based on the Nazi V-2 rocket fired on London during World War II, according to Jane’s Defence Review.
Other countries, including North Korea, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Syria are believed to have developed their own versions of the ballistic missile — which can be transported by and fired from trucks — after the end of the Cold War.
The rockets were first used in combat during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s both sides rained Scud missiles down on civilian targets in the so-called “War of the Cities”.
Smaller numbers were used during wars in Afghanistan, Yemen and Chechnya in the 1990s, and Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi’s forces fired at least two Scud missiles last year during the NATO-backed rebellion that overthrew him.
Scud-type missiles are usually about 11 metres long and have a range of roughly 300 kilometres, though some versions can strike beyond 500 kilometres. However, they lack the accuracy of so-called smart bombs.
North Korea is believed to have developed more modern versions of the Soviet Scud missile and to have exported hundreds of the so-called Scud-C and Scud-D rockets to the Middle East and Africa.
Syria is believed to possess the so-called Scud-D or Hwasong-7, the latest North Korean model, which carries a smaller payload of 500 kilogrammes but can travel farther, up to 800 kilometres, according to Jane’s.
The Scuds would be of little use troops battling rebels in the streets of major cities like Damascus or Aleppo, but could be used to target military bases seized by rebels or to sow panic in towns or neighbourhoods.