What are 122mm rockets and how do they function?

A 122mm rocket is an unguided surface-to-surface artillery rocket delivered by a multiple rocket launcher (MRL). Different 122mm rockets have ranges of four to forty kilometers. The rockets vary in length from 1.9 to 3.3 meters and weigh 45 to 75 kilograms.

There are a number of different types of warheads available for 122mm rockets. The most common is a basic unitary high explosive type, which contains approximately 6.4 kilograms of high explosive and is designed to produce 3,150 fragments which can kill or injure for a radius of twenty-eight meters.

The rockets can also be fitted with cluster munition warheads that scatter between 39 and 98 explosive submunitions. The submunitions are usually “dual purpose,” meaning they have both anti-materiel (blast) and anti-personnel (fragmentation) effects. Additionally, enhanced fragmentation warheads on some types of 122mm rockets contain between 2,700 and 9,800 steel balls or ball bearings.

What kind of 122mm cluster munition rockets did Hezbollah fire into Israel?

Hezbollah fired Chinese-made Type-81 122mm cluster munition rockets into Israel. Each of these rockets has 39 Type-90 dual-purpose submunitions, which resemble small cylindrical bells with a ribbon at one end. The submunitions, sometimes designated MZD, contain an armor-piercing shaped charge and a large number of 3.5mm steel spheres. The rockets release the submunitions in mid-air, and the submunitions are designed to explode on impact (blast effect) and to spray the steel spheres over a wide area (fragmentation effect). The failure rate of the Type-90 submunition is not known. This was the first known use of the Type-81 cluster munition rocket anywhere in the world by any armed force.

Are these rockets also referred to as Katyushas?

While Katyusha was commonly used to describe any incoming rocket during the conflict, it is really a misnomer because Katyusha rockets are specific types of 82mm and 132mm rockets first used by the USSR in World War II. Almost of all of the rockets fired by Hezbollah into Israel during the conflict were unguided surface-to-surface artillery rockets. Several types were used, with 122mm rockets being the most common. The types mainly differed in size (diameter), which influenced range and payload amount.

How are these rockets aimed and targeted?

Due to the small size of 122mm rockets, any type of in-flight guidance capability is considered impracticable; too much of the blast/fragmentation effect would have to be sacrificed for any improvement in accuracy. Instead of trying to increase accuracy, manufacturers have put more effort into increasing the blast/fragmentation effect of the warhead (like adding submunitions or ball bearings) in order to increase the probability of hitting or damaging a target.

Thus, the laws of physics, as well as the known performance characteristics of the rocket, are all one has to “aim” these rockets. At its maximum range of some 20 kilometers, the most common rocket (9M22) with the basic high explosive/fragmentation (M-21-OF) warhead is only accurate within a rectangle of 336 meters by 160 meters. In other words, from its aim point, the rocket could land anywhere within a rectangle of approximately 54,000 square meters.

What are the humanitarian concerns about the use of 122mm cluster munition rockets?

The humanitarian concerns about 122mm cluster munition rockets are the same as those for any cluster munition. First, they spread their submunitions over a broad area; when used in places where civilians and combatants commingle, civilian casualties are virtually guaranteed. Second, the large numbers of submunitions used and their high failure rates result in large numbers of unexploded submunitions that function as de facto landmines. These explosive “duds” can and often do kill or injure civilians months, or even years, after the conflict has passed.

Are 122mm rockets with cluster munition warheads compliant with international humanitarian law (IHL)?

Human Rights Watch is unaware of any conflict where cluster munitions like the 122mm rockets with cluster munition warheads have been used uniformly in a manner fully consistent with IHL. The broad area effect of these weapons makes their use incompatible with the laws of war in areas where civilians or civilian objects (such as schools or hospitals) are located since they cannot be targeted effectively and accurately against military targets. Under international humanitarian law, any attack which employs a weapon which cannot be directed at a specific military objective is an indiscriminate attack, and therefore prohibited.

Human Rights Watch has concluded that existing IHL is not sufficient to address the humanitarian problems associated with use of cluster munitions like 122mm rockets with cluster munition warheads. This has been shown by the inconsistent interpretation of existing law by states and even more so by the lack of compliance with IHL demonstrated by users of cluster munitions to date. States continue to disagree about how to take “all feasible measures” to protect civilians with regard to cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch believes that the evidence from past use of cluster munitions shows that new international law specific to cluster munitions is needed to provide necessary protection to civilians.

Which countries produce 122mm cluster munition rockets?

There are nine different 122mm cluster munition rockets manufactured by five different countries.

- The State Research and Production Association, Splav, in Russia manufactures the 9M218 122mm cluster munition rocket which contains 45 dual-purpose submunitions.

- China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO), a Chinese state factory, manufactures the Type-81 122mm cluster munition rocket which contains 39 Type-90 dual-purpose submunitions. NORINCO also manufactures the Type-90A 122mm cluster munition rocket which contains 39 submunitions.

- Konstrukta Defense in the Slovak Republic manufactures two types of 122mm cluster munition rockets, the JRKK-G and the Trnovnik. The JRKK-G contains 56 dual-purpose submunitions with self-destruct fuzes, while the Trnovnik contains 63 dual-purpose submunitions.

- SAKR Industries in Egypt manufactures the SAKR-18 and the SAKR-36 122mm cluster munition rockets which contain, respectively, 72 and 98 dual-purpose submunitions.

- BPD Difesa e Spazio SpA in Italy manufactures the FIROS-25 and FIROS-30 122mm cluster munition rockets which contain 77 M-42 submunitions.

Which countries stockpile 122mm rockets?

Information regarding the complete composition of any country’s stockpile of 122mm rockets is generally not publicly available. However, at least 65 countries possess 122mm rockets.(1) At least six of these countries—China, Egypt, Russia, Slovakia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates—possess 122mm cluster munition rockets. In addition to Hezbollah, non-state armed groups in Afghanistan (Northern Alliance) and Croatia (Serb militia) have used cluster munition rockets.


[1]The following 65 countries possess 122mm rockets: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Congo, DR Congo, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, FYR Macedonia, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is not known how many of these have cluster munition warheads.