Guest Post: Analysis of the Sham R-3 RCWS of the Free Syrian Army

    This is Marawan M.’s second guest post for TFB. His first guest post is about the Istanbul Military Museum: Small Arms of the Ottoman Empire if readers are interested in reading more from him. In addition, we previously reported on the Sham R-3, but as promised Marawan will be doing an in-depth analysis of the RCWS.

    The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a moderate freedom fighters faction in Syria that opposes both Al-Assad’s regime and the so-called Islamic State at the same time. In order to continue fighting, the group has developed their own heavy weapons with the available resources at hand. Some of these are improvised such as the 23mm anti-materiel “Hand Cannon” which is a Soviet anti-aircraft barrel taken off its mount and remanufactured as a man-portable weapon system (there will be a future article concerning this topic). Other small arms technology has been observed that show a degree of sophistication that doesn’t usually emerge from such areas of conflict and financial backing.

    (FSA’s 23mm Anti-Material/Hand Cannon – made in Aleppo/Halab, Syria)


    Sham R-3 is a Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS) locally made by Free Syrian Army volunteers. The Sham R-3 was designed by a Syrian designer named Abu Malek. It is designed to work specifically with Soviet-era 12.7x108mm DShK heavy machine guns.

    The RCWS is taking on increasing importance worldwide due to features that give it multiple advantages in an urban theater of operations.

    (a side view of SHAM R-3 RCWS showing the system’s components)

    Current Use

    The Sham R-3 can be deployed by a team of 2-4 men. Installing the weapon on the base takes 2 men while the operation of the RCWS takes only one man (in the video the operator has his left arm amputated from a previous battlefield injury)

    The system shoots appears to fire very accurately in both single shot and fully automatic modes of fire. It is provided with a high-resolution sighting camera that has 44X magnification with a low blurring view (decent resolution). Also, it can be used as an anti-aircraft weapon for low flying targets such as helicopters.

    (Sham R-3 takes FPS games to a whole other level of virtual reality. Warning: this is not a toy, keep out of reach of children)

    In the video, the narrator says that it is incredible when it comes to ammunition saving. Instead of spraying 50 rounds to suppress a military convoy he can precisely shoot 5 rounds to take out an armored vehicle (such as Russian built BMPs). If lucky and placed in the right spot, the 12.7x108mm round could possibly make an effective mobility kill on an armored vehicle. Theoretically, it could even stop a Main Battle Tank if it took an accurate hit in a vulnerable spot (tracks, turret hinge/race ring, commander’s & gunner’s sights/portholes). It won’t destroy the tank like an ATGM (Anti Tank Guided Missile) but it will take it temporarily out of service. Once any armored vehicle becomes a mobility kill, dealing with the dismounts or follow on recovery vehicles puts the opposing force at a disadvantage.

    (Sham R-3 can be remotely charged in the off case of a malfunction which minimizes time exposing the operator to the enemy)

    Potential Use

    The RCWS system can be used on a 4×4 pickup truck for rapid deployment to such targets as raiding military aircraft on air base runways. Also shown in the video is a firing mission on a machine gun tower fortified in a presidential palace. The system’s power source can be recharged from a car battery, giving it a high degree of maneuverability when working from a vehicle system.

    For governments and conventional armies, Sham R-3 can be effective if adopted in border guard units, instead of building high walls a border force can deploy 5 devices for every 10 kilometers if we assume that the DShK’s effective range is 1 kilometer. Some would speculate that it has much more of a psychological effect on border crossings than a wall.

    Accurate long-range fire is necessary for eliminating high-value targets and an anti-materiel weapon system can be pretty effective for the destruction of an enemies strategic targets such as aircraft, missile launchers, radar installations, communications equipment, command centers, fuel storage facilities, heavy machine gun nests and even in the counter sniper role. Effective elimination of these targets is best carried out swiftly and precisely with a weapon that can fire armor-piercing projectiles with deadly accuracy.

    Although the Sham R-3 is specifically made to mount a DShK HMG, one wonders if anti-tank weapons such as the SPG-9 or multiple rocket launcher pods could be mounted instead. Obviously, it will lose the advantage of remote reloading (it would require a human to reload such heavy munitions) but if successfully mounted and employed such a use could be a definite tactical advantage to the user.

    (Fuel storage tanks are high-value targets, it costs an enemy hundreds of thousands of dollars with only a burst of fire)

    (This screen grab shows the Sham R-3 neutralizing a 14.5x114mm machine gun fortified on a presidential palace in Syria with a single shot makes it very valuable in tactical operations)


    Guerrilla warfare depends on “hit and run” tactics in which combatants don’t stand ground, much unlike the conventional forces they are opposing. Therefore, being in a stationary position may cause an insurgent force the loss of an RCWS weapon system by an air raid or artillery strike if enemy scouts spot the position. Mounting it on a well-protected and fast-moving vehicle can partially solve this problem by being able to quickly maneuver in and out of position.


    Considering the current state of the Syrian economy in addition to being in a brutal civil war, all of the Sham R-3 components come from local resources. The material used to build the chassis, civilian devices such as the electric motor (for elevating, depressing & rotating the mount 360 degrees), recoil dampening coil spring, batteries, cables, power banks, car batteries for recharging, TV screens, and even PlayStation joysticks are utilized in the construction of the Sham R-3.

    (cables, batteries, TV screen and a joystick are items that can be found anywhere)

    The Sham R-3 is a fascinating example of those who challenge their surrounding circumstances, lack of funds and resources to create innovate weapon systems that are relatively speaking, on par with technologically advanced versions in more developed countries.

    This is the translated video-


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]