In a video posted to YouTube Friday, Syrian rebels appear to have filmed themselves firing for the first time a U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missile at a Russian T-90 tank.
According to the video’s caption, the TOW strike occurred in the Syrian town of Sheikh Aqil, a suburb just northwest of Aleppo.
The BGM-71 TOW is an aging wire-guided anti-tank missile system that the United States has been supplying to CIA-vetted Syrian rebels. Since their first appearance in 2014, the missiles have popped up throughout the war-torn country, often in videos showing rebels attacking Syrian troops and government-backed militias.
Friday’s video is significant because there is very little footage, if any, of a U.S. TOW going up against one of Russia’s most modern battle tanks. In this case, it is unclear if the T-90 in the video was crewed by Russian or Syrian troops. When Russia first began pumping equipment and personnel into northern Syria in September 2015, there were confirmed reports of the T-90s at Russia’s airfield in Latakia, though they were likely only there to defend the airfield. Russia has supplied various other types of tanks to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s military. However, the arrival of the T-90s in September was the first shipment of its kind in the almost five year-old war.
In November 2015, the tanks appeared well to the east of Latakia, near Aleppo. Around the same time, a report from Al-Masdar Al-‘Arabi news indicated that a small detachment of T-90s was given to a Syrian Army mechanized unit to help with current offensive operations in the region. In recent weeks, the advanced battle tanks were filmed during a CNN segment on the outskirts of Raqqa.
In the video, the missile appears to strike the turret of the tank. As mentioned on other blogs, the T-90 appears to be equipped with a Shtora–a device designed to disrupt incoming wired-guided and infrared guided missiles, much like the TOW. In this case, it appears the system failed or wasn’t active. Though the video shows the tank’s crew member bailing out, it looks like the strike did not penetrate the turret and potentially glanced off. T-90 tanks are covered in what is called “reactive armor.” The armor serves an outer shell to the tank’s hull that, when struck, counter-detonates to disrupt the flight of the incoming enemy missile. Reactive armor can be mounted on various other tanks and is not unique to the T-90. However, the T-90’s reactive armor is likely a more advanced version of the types found on older Russian and Syrian tanks.
Read more about weapons in Syria on Checkpoint: