In a place where heavy weaponry is scarce, yet war against a fairly well armed government has raged for years, there are bound to be some ingenious improvised arms. As is the case when it comes to the Hell Cannon, the Free Syrian Army's artillery piece not of choice, but of necessity.
In embattled Syrian cities, beyond small arms such as Ak-47s and light machine guns, much of what Syrian rebels fight with is homemade in nature. These include basement manufactured mortar rounds, rockets and artillery shells. Improvised methods of delivering these indirect fire projectiles is also nothing new to the Syrian conflict.
Not long after hostilities broke out, some fairly crude standoff explosive delivery methods began appearing, many of which were based on bombardment concepts from medieval times. The grenade chucking slingshot, the improvised explosive hurtling catapult and the classic Molotov cocktail fire bomb have all become front-line arms in Syria's near total war. Even crudely fashioned armored personnel carriers have shown up on the Syrian battlefield, some of them complete with a remote controlled machine gun turret directed by a PlayStation controller. Yet none of these do-it-yourself weapons have had the gravitas of the Free Syrian Army's 'Hell Cannon.'
The Hell Cannon is a towed, projectile launcher, that is roughly similar in dimensions to the US built 105mm M101A1 Howitzer. It can launch a plethora of improvised explosive projectiles, but its main ammunition of choice (or of necessity?) is a highly modified propane gas cylinder, complete with stabilizing fins and filled with a crude explosive mixture.
The range of the Hell Cannon is said to top out around a mile depending on the payload it is firing. Hell Cannons also feature a pair of rails for small Qassam-like rockets to be fired from in addition to the cannon's aforementioned primay and much larger ammunition.
What is interesting about the Hell Cannon is that it has become a source of pride for the organized Syrian resistance fighters who use it, with a detailed fact sheet and even a video showing these cannons being built under some pretty harsh conditions being posted online. One has to admit, that just the fact that an improvised piece of artillery like this can be put into serial production is impressive under the circumstances.
Seeing how crude the Hell Cannon's ammunition is, it is a doubtful as to how effective the whole system is beyond a psychological or area bombardment weapon, although precision fire has become an almost totally absent tactic from Syria's brutal civil war. The very government that the manufacturers of the Hell Cannon are fighting has resorted to even more morally bankrupt tactics and munitions, including firing lumbering Scud missiles that have incredibly poor accuracy and a massive warhead, launching rocket barrages on towns full of civilians, dropping shrapnel filled 'barrel bombs' indiscriminately and gassing many of their own people.
For what the Hell Cannon lacks in punch and accuracy, it may make up for in symbolism, as it shows that the Free Syria Army forces are going to great lengths to strike back at the heart of the Assad regime, and sometimes a weapon that people can rally around is more important than its actual effectiveness on the battlefield.
It will be interesting to see how Syrian rebels, armed with these crude weapons, will fair against a rapidly growing ISIS that is now equipped with US military grade combat vehicles and flush with cash from plundering Iraq's banks and selling seized oil on the black market.
See what are supposedly ISIS fighters using an American Howitzer looted from Iraq stocks:
In the strange and incredibly complex web of allegiances, bitter enemies, power struggles and common foes that lay under the Syrian war's greater umbrella, it is fairly concerning that more moderate anti-Assad forces may not just have to face Assad's continuing wrath, but also possibly that of a growing terror super-state that is sitting on billions of dollars and is armed to the teeth.
In which case their Hell Cannon won't have a chance in hell.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com