Posted May 25, 2016
[Above] A rather spectacular photo of a SyAAF Su-22M-4K during the fighting to eject Daesh (ISIL) from the ancient Roman city of Palmyra. We can certify this image as authentic (see video below). The city was largely retaken by Syrian forces with the help of Russian strikes. Palmyra a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in central Syria. Qatar has now supplied opposition forces with Chinese FN-6 MANPADs despite deep concern by the international community of these weapons being acquired by Jihadists. This Su-22M-4K is almost certainly an ex-Iranian machine acquired from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi Air Force flew many of its aircraft to Iran.
We had not planned on writing more on Syria, but after the gains made by government forces and the continued impressive execution by the Russian military (one of the few times in history that direct observation of actual Russian combat operations is possible), it was time for another post. Most Western assessments of Russian capabilities have been completely off the mark, (and unfortunately nothing new). Assessments Western policy makers need to start seriously revisiting. The Soviet military that entered Afghanistan in 1979 is not the same military we are seeing in Syria. Too many observers have omitted the mounting evidence of increasing combat effectiveness displayed during the Second Chechen War, the 2008 campaign against Georgia, and a hand in the encirclement of Ukrainian forces (collapse of the Debaltseve pocket) in the Donbass in February 2015.
We had a suspicion that Russia would manipulate (read: simplify) the battlefield in Syria as to force the various rebel groups to either give up or join with jihadists groups. Indeed, this is exactly what appears to be occurring. Either way, all those opposing Assad become fair game.
The war in Georgia in 2008 should have been a teachable moment for the global defense press – it was not. 2008 was revealing in that the Russian military was able to prevail while operating under impossible IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) conditions. Opposing forces in Georgia employed the same aircraft, helicopters, and armor/vehicle types. There is a high probability that losses suffered by the Russians (and the disarray displayed by Georgians) was partly a result of IFF issues – something totally missed by both Western and Russian defense analysts.
Part of this is a function of Russia being forced to confront the vast proliferation of its own machinery around the globe.
The Syrian war has many of the same IFF dimensions as the Georgian campaign. Though accidents can occur, this type of IFF delineation proficiency (who the good guys are, who the bad guys are – while all sides using the same equipment) especially in engaging ground elements with air power, appears to be a growing capability in the Russian military – that could exceed the delineation proficiency of the West.
As of 2016, there is little doubt that Man Portable Air Defense (MANPADs) missile are in the hands of Syrian opposition forces despite Western intelligence concerns. Most believe functional weapons were supplied by Qatar (Chinese FN-6) as well as smuggled out from Libyan stocks after the ouster of Gadaffi. There could be other sources as well. Finite battery life of MANPADs could be the only factor (currently?) mitigating their wide employment by nonstate actors. Expect the Russians to counter this new MANPAD threat by employing weapon location radar to suppress-destroy MANPAD teams after they fire their weapons at aircraft.
[Above] This is the first time in memory we have seen SyAAF SA.342L Gazelles operating and using their (HOT) antitank missiles no less.
Kremlin support has enabled the Syrian Army and SyAAF to reconstitute their fighting abilities. This included sending Syrian Army officers back to Russia for retraining. Having said that, this is an all Russian show. We predicted after assessing the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 and in particular – after the impressive display of RuAF Mi-24P employment proficiency – operating through hails of ground fire – that the gig was up – and the Syrian war could effectively be concluded by the summer of 2016. The taking of Palmyra this week (late March 2016) would support that assessment. There is no actor or proxy in Syria that can take on Russian military strength, inertia, or employment doctrine. Government forces are now moving east on the M20 highway towards Deir ez-Zor. Russian airstrikes are already occurring there. We expect Deir ez-Zor to fall to government forces and Russian airpower within the 2nd to 3rd weeks in April 2016 (new update). If nothing changes – thankfully the Daesh in Syria – it appears it will be routed. Given the state of affairs the region, this is not an unimpressive feat.
Government forces appear to now be concentrating on Aleppo rather than Deir ez-Zor. Given that most of the population centers in Syria are in the west – retaking allepo would largily win the war for Assad and pro-Assad forces. Expect civilian casualties to be very high in any Aleppo campaign
8-Mar 2016: The Syrian Army has entered Palmyra Deash had held the city and had ravaged the antiquities there. Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. PHOTOS: Ancient City Of Palmyra After ISIS Was Driven Out
[Above] Russian flown Mi-24P helicopters showing proper employment of the Hind type.
[Below] Let us take a closer look at the Russian flown Mil Mi-24 Hind-P rotary-wing operations and employment doctrine in Syria. They work in pairs and groups, at extremely low level (nap of the earth), in daytime, using expendables. The very low altitude in daytime helps mask the helicopters hot exhaust (its IR signature) and make locking onto on with a MANPAD difficult. IR-masking is effective because objects and terrain in the foreground/background of the aircraft heat up during the day allowing the aircraft to blend into the IR picture. As of the time of this writing the Russian Mil Mi-24 Hind-P appear impervious to the large variety of ground fire encountered in Syria. The Russians are also employing their Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters.
Most Western observers (smugly) assured themselves (and those who would listen) that the Russians would take helicopter losses almost immediately.
We suggest one assign little utility to these observers in the future. The rockets used are also of a higher caliber (than SyAAF machines) and delayed fusing warheads appear to be employed as well. The Syrian war will rewrite the history of Hind.
There have been persistent reports of heavier than normal civilian casualties since the Russian intervention. This is consistent with war during any taking of territory. As uncomfortable as this is to point out – civilians do not (do not) have a legitimate expectation of safety if they are in places where a heavy weapon offensive is taking place. It would be akin to trying to live regular lives and sending your kids to school in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Budge. Not prudent. Towns caught in the fighting in the Ardennes were flattened – by both sides. Civilians and hospital staff must heed leaflet drops and other indicators – and get out of the area if possible.
It is a near certainty that after the Russian arrival, what looks like the indiscriminate bombing of civilians areas – is in actuality attempts to collapse opposition tunnel networks that have arisen after during years of civil war. Having said that, a depopulation strategy by Assad could still be in play?
After the West ‘cut the head off the snake’ in Iraq and Libya, we have changed policy. The US/Saudi are pursuing the same policy in Yemen – that Russia, Iran, and Iraq is pursuing in Syria. Everyone knows the Turks and Saudi (Qatar) only want Assad out so they can run a gas pipeline up from the Gulf into Europe. Neither Turkey or Saudi give a 2-cents about human rights or the Sunni, as beheadings in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft and sorcery testifies.
European capitals privately dislike Erdogan, and people everywhere increasingly detest the House of Saud Wahhabi-Salafist ideology. Assad is also – not some benevolent ruler. The entire region is up to its eyeballs in bad actors.
[Above] A SyAAF Su-22M4 landing in front of two MiG-25s (at T4?). Their large twin tails clearly visible in the background. [Below] The St. Petersburg Mariinsky orchestra hold a concert in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Palmyra on 05-May, 2016. This was the same place Daesh conducted their beheadings. Whatever one’s view on the Syrian Civil War and the Russian intervention, if there was ever a symbol of a clash of cultures – we cannot think of a greater one. No one said winning a war was a bloodless enterprise. We think Western criticisms of Russian behavior in Syria needs to be understood in its larger context. To pose more fundamental questions about what values we share?
It’s too bad the legitimate Syrian opposition became entangled with Jihadists (or was perceived to by the outside). This served to undermine their movement as it became too complicated for outside governments to figure out (apparently the CIA is still trying) – in essence, it became a geopolitical IFF problem. Then when ISIS arrived on the scene, the big powers just said: to hell with it – we’re going in – and Assad?…stick with the devil we know. Assad didn’t shoot up Copenhagen, Paris, or Brussels. A secular authoritarian regime (that kills its own) has been deemed ‘preferable’ over Salafi-Wahhabi Jihad that also kills “infidels.”
24-May, 2016: [Below] Images have appeared purporting to show Russian Air Force Mi-24s destroyed on the ground at T4 Air Base, between Homs and Palmyra. As more evidence comes in, it is unclear if it is due to hostile action. Stay tuned. The Russian Duma has asked the military to destroy ‘al-Nusra’ front. so perhaps al-Nusra was involved?
If hostile action: we would expect some aerial-denial sorties (aerial mining) by Russian fighter-bombers along the flanks of Russian supply routes, to keep hostile indirect-fire out of reach? We will likely see the relocation of weapon-location-radar combined with self-propelled artillery in forward areas, for hostile indirect-fire suppression. The Russian Federation should assume that all hostile forces in Syria have access to open-source satellite imagery. Forward deployments are inherently always (always) dangerous, and should deploy aerial-reconnaissance deception technologies (decoys) under these conditions.
[Below] Alas, Daesh jihadists have now militarily turned on the Turks (as opposed to just using suicide bombers inside Turkey) – and destroy an M-60T Sabra MBT using a 9M133 Kornet. Up to now Ankara had up to now been quite happy to watch Daesh attacking the Kurds:
In a possible related development [below] this video purports to show Daesh units being escorted away from Eastern Qalamoun by SyAAF gunships. Daesh command and control could be breaking down, however, there is presently no way to verify whom precisely is driving down this road. If accurate, dealings with the Vichy regime by the Allies in WWII come to mind.
[Below] More video claiming to be ISIS attacking Turkish self-propelled artillery with 9M133 ‘Kornet’ ATGM. Together with the shelling of Turkish towns in the south earlier, it is obvious that Daesh (or their supporters) are vigorously attempting to expand the war.
[Below] 16-May 2016: Pantsir S-1 deployment in Palmyra to kill hostile aerial reconnaissance drones-quadcopters including those of the Daesh. ISIS have been attempting a counter-attack in the area. Quadcopter drone reconnaissance has become a new norm of war, even for non-state actors.
Iraq will likely be Washingtons Humpty Dumpty, and time will tell if it can eject ISIL and put it back together again. Iraq was certainly an elective project the United States had no business destabilizing. The Americans need to remember that time is not infinite. CENTCOM has been tiptoeing with the Daesh for far (far) too long. Iraq’s future may already be out of Washington’s reach. The recent F-16 sale to the Iraqi Air Force and endless incremental additional advisors to Iraq indicates DC is at least still trying to hang on by its fingernails. We shall see…
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Many content in the article were also posted in this blog.
See related post below:
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