BENGHAZI, LIBYA 5/31/2011 – Continuing with our coverage of improvised weapons in the Libyan civil war, this week Alive in Libya looks at the modified GRAD rocket launchers in use by rebel forces.

Originally designed by the Soviet military, GRAD launchers have around 30 cylinders for rockets mounted on heavy trucks. Rebels will find damaged or destroyed launchers belonging to Gaddafi forces and salvage or repair them, putting them back into service.

The rebels take the 30 cylinder launchers and cut them down to 4, then mount them on their own cars and trucks using trusses designed for anti-aircraft weapons. Each launcher has 3 supporting units; a scout for locating targets, an engineer to calculate the firing angle, and a driver to operate the vehicle itself.

The GRAD launchers used by the rebels are capable of firing two different types of rockets, varying in range from 20km – 40km (12 – 25 miles).

Use of the launchers is controversial under international law, as the weapon system is far from precise. While GRAD systems are not officially banned, their use may still violate international law if used outside the principals of distinction and proportionality. For example, the Gaddafi regime has previously come under heavy criticism for deploying GRAD rockets against civilian targets in Misrata, Ajdabiya, and elsewhere.

In today’s episode, Alive in Libya headed out to the front lines to speak with the driver of one of these modified GRAD launchers, to find out how they work, where they come from, and what the implications are for the rebel military efforts.

War Time Inventions Pt 1 – C5 Missile Launchers

Need is the mother of invention, and survival is the greatest need of all. The revolutionaries’ lack of weaponry versus Gaddafi’s heavily armed troops forces them to look for innovative ways to modify old arms into weapons capable of fighting back Gaddafi’s war machine.


The BM-21 launch vehicle (Russian: БМ-21 “Град”), a Soviet truck-mounted 122 mm multiple rocket launcher[1], and a M-21OF rocket[2] were developed in the early 1960s. BM stands for boyevaya mashina, ‘combat vehicle’, and the nickname grad means ‘hail’. The complete system with the BM-21 launch vehicle and the M-21OF rocket has designation as M-21 Field Rocket System. The complete system is more known as Grad multiple rocket launcher system. In NATO countries, the system (either the complete system or the launch vehicle only) was initially known as M1964. Several other countries have copied it or developed similar systems.

Action on Armed Violence Report – Libya

On 14 April, HRW documented the use of GRAD rockets in residential areas of Misrata, fired by forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi. The use of 122mm GRAD rockets in eastern Libya had previously been confirmed by UNMAS. The three-meter long GRAD rockets are notoriously imprecise due to their lack of a guidance system, and have a range of up to 40km. There are also reports from refugees that GRAD rockets have been used in Nalut, Takut, and Zintan in the west of Libya.

Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are illegal under international law. Given the poor accuracy of GRAD rockets, their use in areas known to be populated with civilians is potentially unlawful.