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Favorite hawk of the house of Assad. How to fight air force Syria
Material posted: Publication date: 29-04-2016
The civil war in Syria, which lasted nearly five years, is still waiting for its detailed description. One of the most interesting sections of the future history of the fight against radical Islamists and their allies, of course, will be the analysis of the actions of the Syrian air force, determined the course of the war.

Power special attention

The Syrian air force has always been considered among the best in the Arab world — which is not surprising considering the flight past of Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country from 1971 to 2000, and his longtime defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, from 1972 to 2002, headed the war Department. Quality Arabic, the BBC is often perceived through the prism of the catastrophic defeat in the six day war with Israel in 1967, however, in the ensuing conflict, despite the obvious technical and operational superiority of the Israeli air force, the Syrians stood out against neighbors and best trained pilots, and high level of organization.

At the end of the 1980s, the progress the Syrian air force was suspended: after the collapse of the USSR, the country stopped receiving military equipment on concessional terms (and often free), and the economy of Syria is not allowed to buy new planes at commercial prices. However, concern about this in Damascus showed no relations with Israel, to stabilize the thin state of the world that suits both parties, not allowed to think about a possible war, and for the most likely internal conflicts would be enough, and previously set — especially that received in 1980-ies of the attack aircraft su-24МК, su-22M4, MiG-23BN, fighter force MiG-23ML and MiG-29 at that time was considered quite modern machines.

However, in the early 2000s, Syria has considered the possibility of updating its air force with the help of Russia — in particular, the Syrian military has shown interest in the su-27, but the information about the deliveries of these aircraft to Damascus remained unconfirmed. As far as we can tell, really the renewed cooperation in the field of aircraft was limited mainly to the repair of existing aircraft and helicopters. Opportunities also decreased military training, which subsequently affected the losses in the training of their pilots would be less.

In the fourth issue of the journal Moscow Defense Brief for 2012 was published an article by Michael Barabanov Russian Interests in Syria: Myths and Reality, in which it was reported that in 2007 there were signed two contracts: one of them was for the supply of 12 MiG-29M/M2, other — 8 fighter-interceptor MiG-31E. In early 2012 a contract was signed for the supply of 36 of the latest combat training aircraft Yak-130, which allows the equipment, in particular, to carry out objectives and drum machines, including the use of precision weapons. It was assumed that these contracts will be the first swallows, and in 2010-ies of the Park with the Syrian air force radically updated and at least radically reduce — at least through the withdrawal of obsolete MiG-21 and the earliest versions of the MiG-23.


The MiG-23 Syrian air force air force base "ham". Photo: Konstantin machulski / TASS

To implement these plans, however, failed: first, the financial problems of Damascus, and then the excitement began, grew into a civil war, did to the Syrian air force is far more urgent issues of maintaining of combat readiness of existing aircraft and helicopters, regardless of their obsolescence.

War to the last Moment

The fighting, which began in 2011 and has engulfed most part of the country in 2012-2013-m, forced Damascus to use all available resources including outdated equipment. Dozens of planes and helicopters have been lost over the captured anti-government forces bases, however, in the vast majority of those were worn-out aircraft, including in the ranks in name only. Almost all the machines that could fly pretty quickly concentrated in the center and West of Syria, mainly on the bases Mezze (Damascus), Shirt (HOMS), al-Tias (near Palmyra), Quares (near Aleppo), on the airfields near Latakia and Deir-ez-Zor.

During the fighting, is used in virtually all types of aircraft at the disposal of Damascus, except that the fighter-interceptor MiG-25P (the ability of which by 2011 already had big doubts, and goals in this war for them, wasn't sure). The Syrian air force has suffered heavy losses — according to some sources, was lost more than 130 planes and helicopters, but the reliability of this assessment is questionable.


Photo: Mohammed Al-khatieb / AFP / East News

Some officers of the Russian air force, already in the fighting had been on mission in Syria within the framework of military-technical cooperation, analyzing some cases of loss of the Syrian aircraft, primarily helicopters, claimed that the terrorists uploaded the videos showed the defeat of the same machines, the destruction of which was recorded by several cameras from different distances and directions, and in the subsequent processing of the video "sold" several times. "Sold" in the literal sense: the main groups of anti-government forces, whether moderate or radical opposition, established a system of awards for successes in battle, and destroyed the planes and helicopters were evaluated very highly.

Trying to bring all the topics together, you can come to the conclusion that the combat losses of the Syrian air force, that is, cars that never returned from a mission for all the reasons of defeat of enemy air defenses, before the accident, and written off due to battle damage, without regard to captured or shot on the bases of machinery, account for more than 40 helicopters, most of which — transport and multi-purpose Mi-8/Mi-17 in different embodiments, as well as two units of the combat Mi-25 (export version of the Mi-24D) and 25-30 combat aircraft. This number includes about ten MiG-21 of different series, six or seven combat training aircraft L-39, including an L-39ZA adapted for assault tasks, four fighter-bomber MiG-23BN (including one downed Turkish air force on March 23, 2014), one fighter air force MiG-23ML, five fighter-bombers su-22M and three Sukhoi su-24МК (including downed by the Israeli air defense forces on September 23, 2014).

Currently there is no reliable information on the losses of helicopters SA-342 Gazelle, which Syria bought in the late 1970-1980-ies in France. Perhaps their use due to the lack of spare parts due to the introduction of the West sanctions are extremely limited and, most likely, a single "Gazelle" did not have time to fly enough to get under effective enemy fire.

Suffered no casualties and the MiG-29 — probably because their use for impact tasks was fairly limited, and fighter jets engaged in air policing and escorting strike machines near the border with Turkey, the militants just could not get it.

Anyway, the total losses are large enough: Syria has lost about half in existence prior to the war of the Park of helicopters Mi-8/17 and about 15 percent of the airworthy fleet of combat aircraft.

Unnoticed feat

Press in recent years have become ashamed of the harsh words, but what did the Syrian air force (without belittling the merits of a number of army units and militia), can without exaggeration be called a feat. Suffering from lack of spare parts and modern ammunition, fuel, planes, often flying the assigned resource, with the pilots, who lacked the necessary flight hours for testing of counteracting means of air defense, Syrian military aircraft continued to carry out their tasks. Sometimes in unthinkable conditions, as in a besieged Deir ezzor, where the MiG-21 going up in the air are actually under mortar fire, attacking the enemy entrenched within a few hundred meters from the runway. The chance to survive "if something happens" to a minimum: air rescue service in the Syrian air force is not very well developed, and at hit in hands of terrorists shooting was the easiest fate that threatened the pilot.


The Syrian air force helicopter overflying the suburbs of the city of Hama. Photo: Dmitry Vinogradov / RIA Novosti

The lack of spare parts was solved "cannibalization" previously salvaged vehicles, lack of ammunition — manufacturing artisanal bombs, but indefinitely so could not continue: a modern aircraft, even with the simplicity and maintainability of the Soviet planes of the second and third generations, still very sensitive to the supply of necessary equipment, and without external aid once the Syrian air force would have crossed the line beyond which would be followed by a precipitous crash of combat readiness and the transition to episodic departures single "survivor".

The transition for this line was delayed by several factors. First, problems with the equipment and training of the enemy — the terrorist group, having enough weapons, and has not received a modern portable air defense systems (apparently, the sponsors and the radicals and the moderate opposition knew about the possible consequences for themselves). The primary means of air defense fighters remained small arms and small-caliber antiaircraft artillery with a very limited number of MANPADS old types. Preparation of calculations of this improvised air defense also left much to be desired that often saved the Syrian pilots, allowing them to compensate for the lack of preparation by multiple visits to the target, which would not forgive any professional calculation anti-aircraft guns.

Another significant factor was the outside help, primarily from Russia. Which began in 2012 and expanded in the next two years, it is possible to slow the rate of decline in combat potential, and then stop it. The key role played by the supply of spare parts, which allowed us to maintain the technical readiness of the fleet, and organizational support in the form of military advisers in place and running re-training of flight, technical and command staff of the air force in Russia.

In these circumstances, the Syrian air force to perform almost all the tasks from the blocked database to support precision strikes. According to some reports,in March 2014, the departure of the su-24МК received from Russia-controlled bomb decided the fate of the ancient stronghold of the Hospitallers — the Krak des Chevaliers near HOMS, which in 2013 was captured by terrorists. Precision-guided munition has a hole in the fortifications, which was used by the Syrian special forces broke into the castle and destroy the militants. This step will preserve the historical fortress: the regular Syrian army for many days the shelling would turn it into ruins. The Syrian air force was the only force at the disposal of Damascus, is able to effectively support their own troops in defence and in attack, however, the number of cars in readiness strength loss and physical deterioration were steadily decreased and was forced to think about the prospects of this support and the war in General.

The main problem of the Syrian air force was reconnaissance and target designation. Where the enemy was able to quickly identify and "snap to place" air strikes have had a devastating effect, but the lack of modern means of intelligence did such success is rare. The terrorists, adhering to the tactics of maneuver warfare with the active use of small mobile units, learned to go out of bumps, and a small group of Syrian UAVs and reconnaissance aircraft did not allow timely tracking of their movement. To change this situation was only with the emergence in the region of the Russian air group.

The war went on with varying success, and reflecting the terrorist attacks in some places, the Syrians were forced to retreat in the other — by the summer of 2015, the situation became critical. At this point, however, has already begun on the Russian operation, soon radically changed the situation.

New conditions

The operation of the Russian air and space forces in Syria, nakasanayan September 30, 2015, would give the Syrian air force holidays — almost all modern cars were brought for repairs and upgrades. According to available information, Syrian su-24МК got a new sighting and navigation system SVP-24 and other equipment that expanded the range of munitions used and allowed to sharply raise the accuracy of bombing unguided bombs. This dramatically increased the efficiency of their actions — now, every time a Syrian su-24 thanks to the new equipment and past training the pilots could hit multiple targets, as the upgraded Russian bombers of the same type.


Preparation of the MiG-21 of the Syrian air force to fly. Photo: Konstantin machulski / TASS

According to some, modernization has also affected at least parts of the Syrian MiG-29, but some experts believe that under the modernization disguised still held the supply of MiG-29M, which were ordered by Damascus in the 2000s.

As far as can be judged, currently, it is the grouping of the su-24 is the fighting core of the Syrian air force, and aircraft of this type make up to 30 departures per day. At the same time and used on other aircraft types: fighter-bombers su-22M4, whose number is estimated at about 25-30 serviceable machines, MiG-23BN, of which there are approximately the same fighter force MiG-23ML/MLD and MiG-21, which, according to various estimates, remained at about 50-60 serviceable machines for each type. The number of departures of old cars it is difficult to assess, due to lack of information, but they are mainly used to support troops on the battlefield.

The deployment of Russian air group and the renewal of percussion machines of the Syrian air force has drastically reduced the use of over the battlefield combat training aircraft L-39. Burden on the Syrian army aircraft also declined over the battlefield there was a Russian Mi-24P, which were quickly identified in the video not so much on the external differences from the Syrian Mi-25, as in handwriting: flying at extremely low altitudes and high speeds with intense maneuvering before allowed himself very few Syrian helicopter pilots.

To speak about a victory in the Syrian war sooner, despite the growing volume of aid to Damascus from Moscow and Tehran — as well as to suggest what in principle it could end. But the most important thing has already happened: it is obvious that neither the moderate opposition, neither the radicals in different directions failed to achieve the collapse of the Syrian state and to win over his army. Reporting Bashar al-Assad's troops and militias ceased to retreat, moreover, began to sweep insurgents from strategically important areas of Latakia and Aleppo, going to the border with Turkey. How will the fighting continue, especially given the declared ceasefire is difficult to say, but a fracture already evident as a significant contribution to the success of the Syrian air force.

Ilya Kramnik



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