'All the Kings Horses...’ Russian Critical Mass in Syria

27 Dec 2017: "MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that main part of the battle with Islamic State in Syria was over, and the next key task in Syria now was to “destroy Jabhat al-Nusra"

11 Dec 2017: The Kremlin visits Syria, proclaims victory, and announces a drawdown of its combat forces. We shall see. If the Syrians can install a reconciliation regime as was done in South Africa, then it could go along way toward halting the bloodshed longer term.

Russian military intervention in Syria has completely altered the trajectory of the war to the displeasure of Western powers and their proxies.
[Above/Below] Su-33 during sorties in the Syrian theater in November 2016. The aircraft is equipped with "Khibiny" (DRFM) ECM pods on each wingtip, and R-27 class and R-73 class weapons in the inboard and outboard hardpoints respectively.

Though the R-27 is older technology, it is thought that the Khibiny pods reduce the effectiveness of Western radio-spectrum weaponry (radar and AIM-120 class missiles) to acceptable levels.

[Above/Below] 15-Nov 2016: Su-33 on the Admiral Kuznetsov being loaded with FAB-500 M-54s for strikes on Syria.
Photo: ACIG
04-Sept 2016: Pro-government forces have collapsed the rebel breakout around western Aleppo, and have again encircled the city. Russian air power pounded the area with reportedly over 70 airstrikes. There can be no victory for rebel armies in Syria the face of coordinated airpower. There are reports of Russian forces in Aleppo directing strikes.
Photo: ACIG
We have seen Russian airstrikes hit rebel re-supply routes over and over and over. After anti-Assad forces make a push, gains simply fizzle out without re-supply. No army can fight without fuel, weapons, food, and sleep. We would urge Russia to use whatever resources are required to maintain tactical-strategic inertia in Syria - to end this hellish war. Military incrementalism and other delaying tactics - simply buy time for your adversaries to counter you. Don't do it.

22-Aug 2016: Iran (publically) has publically reversed its decision to allow Russian aircraft to operate from TFB.3 at Hamedan, reportedly related to Iranian constitutional issues. We are not sure how Iran was planning on keeping this access a secret? We will wait to see how this develops.

We are no friend of the Assad regime, however, regime change orthodoxy in Syria should have been jettisoned long ago by the Pentagon and the CIA. After the outcomes of dictatorship regime change by Western intervention in Iraq and Libya - to continue to pursue this policy in Syria - shows a poor grasp of causality, and of history. Please see hyperlink.....this is a circus!

19-Aug 2016: We have a very troubling development in the Syrian city of Al-Hasakah. The United States could be on the precipice of losing control of its involvement in the Syrian Civil War – that is - US military forces actively fighting against the Assad government - not ISIS. Why US special forces were in the Syrian city of Hasakah rather than close to the Raqqa front - is a mystery. Some are reporting US personnel were withdrawn the next day. If true - smart move. We need the US civilian leadership and the Whitehouse to own, define, and drive US policy - not the Pentagon and CIA.

Due to events in Hasakah and now Turkish intervention - out of an abundance of caution -, this is the Air Tasking Order from the Pentagon and the UN Security Council - that should be issued immediately: 

"Because the United States and its coalition partners have neither been invited into Syria nor has war been declared against Syria or its partners, all aircraft in Syrian airspace other than those of the:

1.    Syrian Arab Air Force
2.    Russian Air Force
3.    Iraqi Air Force
4.    Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force

are prohibited from carrying air-to-air missiles over Syrian airspace.

Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) has no air force in Syria; therefore air-to-air missiles carried by US-coalition aircraft have no legitimate purpose except to employ them against ‘1’ through ‘4.’

US-coalition aircraft may retain an internal gun, electronic countermeasures, and flare/chaff dispensers for self-defense. All air-to-air weapons are prohibited.

Violators will be photographed, national origin and tail number recorded and escorted out of Syrian airspace.

Repeat offenders could be shot down and its aircrew returned to the nation of origin.

Aircraft that can carry air-to-air missile rounds in internal weapon bays - are prohibited."

16-Aug 2016: In a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense "On August 16, 2016, Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 tactical bombers took off from the “Hamedan” airbase (the Islamic Republic of Iran) and carried out a concentrated airstrike on objects of the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groupings in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib."

It is presently unclear if Tu-22M3 aircraft returned to Hamedan AB in Iran - or to their home base in Russia. We will not update our current assessment until more information is available. Current assessment based on Russian Tu-22M3 bombers being launched and recovered for missions in Syrian theater from TFB.3 at Hamedan.
15-Aug 2016: Russian Air Force strategic Tu-22M3 "Backfire" bombers have been forward deployed to TFB.3 (Tactical Fighter Base 3) at Hamedan Air Base in western Iran. Runway lengths was almost certainly the determining factor and are ~ 4,359 m, (14,300 ft) long. This basing will dramatically increase the Backfire sortie rate and payload capacity against targets in the region. From TFB.3, each Tu-22M could carry in excess of sixty 500 lbs bombs for targets in Syria. Operation 'Arc Light' comes to mind. This should also dispel any illusions about what the outcome of the Syrian Civil War will be. With Backfire bombers now based in theater (?? developing story) expect recent gains by anti-government forces in Aleppo to be pounded and rolled back, together with a corresponding worsening (already appalling) humanitarian situation there. In a cruel twist of irony, most (if not all) Iranian military air bases were built by the Americans to power-project into the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The relationship between Moscow and Tehran is evolving rapidly - be it a bit unevenly - and doing so increasingly outside the sphere of the United States.
[Below] Red 57 with what appears to be a 'shark-mouth' painted on the starboard intake.
07-Aug2016: This piece appeared on the front page of the New Your Times. We're pleased the NYT has seen fit to publish what we have assessed - back in March 2016. In a very real sense, it is Saudi Arabia that thinks it can win a proxy war against the Russian military - in Syria.
[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 the Iraqi Air Force flew many of its aircraft to Iran. The aircraft was since overhauled in Iran and then supplied to the Syria Air Force.
08-August 2016: [Above/below] Rebel elements have opened a corridor through the government siege of Aleppo - attacking from both sides. So there is still some seesawing back and forth in the final chapter of this horrific war. WW1-style tunnel bombs were also used to start the attack. Operating in daylight means airpower is not a deciding factor currently - so the rebels may have achieved surprise for now. This could mean two things: 1) the rest of the surrounding Aleppo pocket shrinks and 2) government and Russian airpower will appear shortly in mass to attrit the rebel breakout/push. Most believe if you can take Aleppo is war can effectively be ended. Even with this success by rebels - the inertia is still with pro-government forces. Civilians caught in the middle of this kind of heavy weapons fighting are in for a very bad time.

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 policymakers 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 stop fighting - 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 airpower, appears to be a growing capability in the Russian military - that could exceed the delineation proficiency of the West.

10-July 2016: [Below] Video of a SyAAF Mi-35M helicopter experiencing explosions east of Palmyra - that takes off a portion of the tail, crew KIA. Details still emerging. The SyAAF Mi-35M has non-retractable landing gear vs the RuAF retracting gear of the Mi-24P in Syria. A second RuAF Mi-24P Hind is unscathed. There appears to be a smoke trail from the 7o'clock position that hits the tail.
The audio is poor (there is no sound of AAA fire) and witnesses appear confused about what they are seeing.  Something appears to happen on both sides of the aircraft alternating back and forth near the primary weapons. As if rockets are being fired. This could also be consistent with a rocket pod malfunction?  There are flashes on the starboard side but no heavy gunfire heard. Our best guess currently is MANPAD.
Graphic: CTI
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 and SA-18) as well as smuggled out from Libyan stocks after the ouster of Gadaffi. There could be other sources as well.

[ACIG] As of 01-July 2016 SyAAF losses:
2016-06-27 Helicopter hit by SA-8 over Eastern Ghouta, crew are safe.
2016-06-27 MiG-23BN from Seen AB crashed in Qalamoon mounts pilot Col. Nader Ramadan KIA
2016-07-02 Su-22M-3 from Dmeir AB crashed near Jeirood, pilot Maj. Nawras Hasan, POW then executed.
2016-07-02 Mi-25 from Blai AB downed by MANPAD Qalamoon area, both pilots General Mohammad Badr Mahmoud Hasan and Cap. Zein Nayef Khalloof KIA in addition to a third crew technician Col. Adnan Munir Al-Salem.
2016-07-07 SyAAF Mi-35 crashes after an explosion east of Palmyra, crew KIA.

Finite battery life of MANPADs could be the only factor (currently?) mitigating their wide employment by non-state actors. This could change.

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 actorez-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.

Since our above assessment in March 2016 it appears now the flood of weapons arriving by actors supporting anti-Assad forces - will drag the war on into 2017. Its too bad because the US should have pulled back (or out) of Syria when Russa, Iran, Iraq entered the war to bolster Assad. Not because we have any love for the Syrian regime - but to avoid total failed state in Syria. We already know what will result - a very real jihadists transnational-threat, fueled with petrol-dollars, starting a Second Syrian Civil War, and attacking all infidels inside and outside Syria. A threat Assad never posed. The Pentagon and the CIA really need to be reeled in.

We would urge the Russians to steer clear of Western-style military-incrementalism. It gives your adversary too much time to adapt - and can cause your desired outcomes to either move out of reach or result in defeat. Military-incrementalism is lethal to victory. Don't do it.
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 Aleppo would largely win the war for government forces. Expect civilian casualties to be very high in any Aleppo campaign. A major push into Raqqa also appears underway?
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: null City Of Palmyra After ISIS Was Driven Out

[Above/Below] Russian flown Mi-24P helicopters showing proper employment of the Hind type.

"Syrian forces pursue campaign against Islamic State after retaking Palmyra"

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 more difficult. 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 an expectation of safety during a heavy weapons offensive. During the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes during WWII, towns caught in the fighting were leveled by both sides. Civilians living there must not expect that they can go to the market, send kids to school, and live normal lives during this type of fighting. Civilians and medical staff alike must heed leaflet drops and use common sense – and get out if possible.
It is a near certainty that after the Russian arrival, what looks like the indiscriminate bombing of civilians areas – is actuality attempts to collapse opposition tunnel networks that have arisen 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 need 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 kills all "infidels." Anyone who says they are conducting a "martyrdom operation" - is a jihadist.

19-June 2016: Major push in southern Aleppo countryside. Some of the clearest images of the fighting we've so far. Terrain consistent with this area. Purportedly it is pro-government IRGC engaged with the ‘JAF’ collection known as the “Army of Conquest.”

Map shows another push to 'Al Tabqah' closer to Raqqa. Note the terrain in the VBIED attack video below This thrust by pro-government forces has since been repelled by Daesh. The SAA need air cover - no exceptions. No excuses.  Assertions that Assad is working with the Daesh is another complete fairytale as the liberation of Palmyra and the SAA push Raqqa attests.
18-June 2016: A Deash vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks government advance somewhere east of Palmyra (earlier report incorrect). The T-62 tank shots miss the approaching VBIED. The confusion, rattled nerves, fear, shaking hands, and terror of war - is on full display. This in not some video game. There appears to be a Russian soldier in a light brown uniform near the bonnet of the technical. It appears he was killed. Video has disappeared.

17-June 2016: An issue we have repeatedly been warning about - and discussed at length on this blog - please see link. There is little doubt that some Russian decisions being made in Syria (and elsewhere) are based on a weakened and weakening America. We would strongly urge the reader to study this hyperlink closely.

09-June 2016: Government forces and the Russians continue to move on Raqqa from the south. These images are not being shown on Western media outlets - and so we provide them here:

08-June 2016: Smartly, the Russian have stepped up airstrikes. There are continued hits on hospitals however since international watchdog groups cannot determine where opposition tunnel networks are located - there is a legitimate problem making a categorical assertion of deliberate targeting (of hospitals and civilians) by Russia or anyone else. There is no reasonable expectation of safety in the insanity of war. International watchdog groups need to be a lot smarter about this issue.

[Below] Aleppo, use of thermite munitions, most likely Russian. The composition of combat power now being brought to bear in Syria by the Russian Federation (and also CENTCOM near Raqqa) will produce only one outcome. All opposition forces including Deash - effectively crushed. Battlefield victory in Syria will be heralded by the start of an insurgency for a period of time. We say a period of time because dictators can be very good at crushing dissent (aka Egypt), and Syria is already through its rebellion-to-civil war political cycle.

05-June 2016: "[Syrian] Government troops backed by Russian airstrikes cross into Raqqa province for the first time since August 2014." This is in combination with Kurdish/US special forces advancing on Raqqa from the north. It would appear that Washington and the Kremlin can work together when enough interest overlap. This idea should be strongly nurtured for the future. An abbreviated Russian airpower assessment has appeared by Tom Cooper.

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.
[Above/Below] Where are the rotor-blade shadows in these SAT images? We also notice some strange discoloration on the "before" MiG-25 image below. Shadows clearly visible in the second "damaged" Foxbat image. If this can not be explained away easily - then we smell a rat.
[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.

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.

16-May 2016: Pantsir S-1 deployment in Palmyra to kill hostile aerial reconnaissance drones-quadcopters including those of the Daesh. ISIS has 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...

#Aleppo, #Syria
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  1. Hi obrescia, I beleive the Syrian Gazellers were used during the 70s against isreali armoured divisions in lebenon. I cant find where iv read the article but il link it when iv found it.

  2. Sorry it was 1982. Just found the link. http://www.acig.info/CMS/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=207&Itemid=62


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