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An Anatomy of a Grad Attack: The Report

This report explores the Grad MLRS through the prism of a single attack, and offers up a wider analysis of what that attack tells us about the predictable harm such a weapon might cause. By examining both Grad MLRS attacks through a single case study and globally, AOAV aims to draw conclusions on the typical patterns of harm this weapon produces when deployed in populated areas.

The devastating consequences of Grad MLRS attacks played out in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine in 2015. Early in the morning on the 24th of January, four Russian-made Grad systems fired at least 154 rockets into the Vostochny district causing death, injury and widespread destruction. The suspected target was a Ukrainian military checkpoint located on the main road to the north-east of the district. Due to the inherent inaccuracy of the Grad MLRS, not one rocket hit the target. 31 people were killed – two of them children aged 5 and 15 – and 117 people were injured. Houses, apartments, schools, kindergartens, shops and a medical centre were all damaged to varying degrees. This attack is analysed in-depth to illustrate the devastation caused by Grads when used in populated areas.

Key facts:

  • Action on Armed Violence has recorded at least 44 distinct incidents involving Grad systems between 2011 and 2020, resulting in 1,223 casualties, 779 (64%) of which were civilians.
  • When Grads were used in populated areas, 80% of the casualties recorded were civilians; when used in lesser populated areas, AOAV did not record a single civilian casualty in the past ten years.
  • Data shows that Grad attacks are particularly deadly. On average, incidents where Grads were used cause 18 civilian casualties – double the average for all incidents of explosive violence recorded by AOAV’s EVM. 
  • All of the incidents recorded by AOAV between 2011 and 2020 took place in four countries: Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan.
  • Ukraine has been the country worst-affected by Grads, with AOAV recording 24 explosive incidents, killing or injuring 312 civilians.
  • AOAV found that 27% of all civilian deaths recorded in Ukraine between 2011 and 2020 were perpetrated by this one weapon system.

The Report

Structured using UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators, this report combines an in-depth examination of a Grad attack with wider research into this weapon’s global use. For each indicator, analysis is provided both for the case study, and for global patterns more generally.

Grad Attacks Globally
Case Study – Mariupol, Ukraine, 24th January 2015
SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
SDG 4 – Quality Education

What is a Grad?

A convoy of BM-21 Grad MLRSs. Vitaly V. Kuzmin (cc by-SA 4.0).

The BM-21 Grad – first developed in the USSR in the 1960s – is the most common and widely-deployed MLRS in the world. Capable of launching a salvo of 40 high-explosive fragmentation rockets a distance of 20km in less than 20 seconds, it is not hard to see why this weapon takes its name from the Russian word for ‘hail’. A single BM-21 Grad system cannot reliably impact an area smaller than 24 football pitches when fired from full range, meaning its use in populated areas typically results in extensive damage and high civilian casualties.

For an in-depth look at the history, use, and harm of grad attacks in modern warfare, read: What is a grad?

Other reports in AOAV’s ‘What is a’ series: Airstrike | Landmine | Mortar | Hand Grenade | Grad

Series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack

In support of the Government of Ireland’s ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas’, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has produced five reports examining the impacts of manufactured weapons with wide area effects commonly used in populated areas. Each report is presented as ‘An Anatomy’ of a specific weapon type.

Employing UNIDIR’s ‘Menu of Indicators to Measure the Reverberating Effects on Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’ (EWIPA indicators) as a framework for analysing the immediate and long-term impacts from explosive weapons, AOAV looks to investigate the typical patterns of harm produced by specific manufactured weapons. 

The five reports examine, in turn, grenades, airstrikes, landmines, Grad multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and mortars to draw out comparative conclusions about the impacts of these weapons in populated areas.

Read the full report: An Anatomy of a Grad Attack

Reports in this series: An Anatomy of an Airstrike | An Anatomy of a Landmine | An Anatomy of a Hand Grenade | An Anatomy of a Mortar Attack