Thursday, 21 May 2015

World War II era German howitzers continue to see use in the Syrian Civil War

The Syrian Civil War has presented itself as a perfect opportunity for nations to test their newest weaponry in an unforgiving combat environment, and this large influence of modern weaponry has seen everything from assault rifles to laser-guided bombs and drones undergoing their combat debut. Nonetheless, it has also seen the return of weapons once presumed to have found their final resting place, but which are now brought out to fight once more.

One of these weapons is the German 10.5 cm leFH 18M light field howitzer, which already made a brief appearance earlier in the conflict, but is now seen again in use with Ahrar al-Sham targeting regime-held positions near Ariha, South of Idlib. This ancient piece of weaponry, an improvement of the earlier 10.5 cm leFH 18, mostly saw use on the Eastern Front during the Second World War but was also exported to Syria by Czechoslovakia after the war had ended. Other German weaponry that also reached Syria included the 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, StuG III and Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers, the 15cm Hummel self-propelled howitzer, the Panzer IV and even large numbers of StG-44 assault rifles.

Indeed, the 10.5 cm artillery piece is not the first weapon originally produced in Nazi Germany to see action in the Syrian Civil War. In Aleppo, August 2012, a batch of some 5000 StG-44 assault rifles and associated ammunition was captured by Liwa al-Tawhid, which went on to use them in limited quantities, even hooking one up to a remote controlled weapon station.[1]

The extremely wide range of weaponry originating from a plethora of sources and dates currently in use in Syria and Iraq make the international conflict one of the most diverse ever, with factions simultaneously using post-2000s and World War II vintage weaponry. A prime example of the fact that when times are dire and munition is rare, every bullet counts.

Special thanks to PFC_Joker.

Islamic State captures Tadmur (Palmyra) in new sudden streak of offensives

In a surprising new streak of offensives launched at targets in both Iraq in Syria, the Islamic State has managed to capture the ancient city of Palmyra, known today as Tadmur. With the strategically important town of al-Sukhna falling just over a week before, and the Iraqi city of Ramadi just days before Tadmur, it appears the Islamic State is far from being under control, and possibly attempting to revive the seemingly unstoppable upmarch of last summer.

Tadmur, which is also home to Tadmur airbase, is of high strategic importance due to its position at the base of the vital M20 highway, which leads through the recently fallen al-Sukhna to the regime's last holdout in the East of the country: Deir ez-Zor. Without access to this highway and with little prospect of retaking both of the Islamic State's newest gains, the Assad-regime will face extreme difficulty in keeping its troops in Deir ez-Zor supplied, and the fall of the city and associated airbase might soon become inevitable.

The town of Tadmur is best known for the ancient Roman monuments and ruins, which, given the Islamic State's history with the destruction of historical sites, is now feared to be a target for vandalism. Although this aspect will likely incite a lot of coverage from Western media, it should not be forgotten that there are also thousands of lives at stake, with hundreds of casualties reported so far and many dead, despite earlier reporting from Syrian State Media that citizens were being evacuated. Of course, with mainstream media eager to find new stories that might interest a diverse public, events such as renewed poison gas attacks and the current offensive are less likely to be covered than a story on ancient Roman ruins in danger of destruction.

Also of great importance are the massive weapon depots located in Tadmur, one of the largest in Syria. While the exact contents of the depots remain unknown, there are reports of ballistic missiles being stored here. Should this be the case, it is likely images of such missiles in Islamic State's hands will surface again soon, even though it is unlikely that they will get any to work. Perhaps more of interest is the fact that many other types of weaponry captured by the fighters of Islamic State as Ghaneema (spoils of war) will provide the means for future offensives, allowing the Islamic State to exert pressure on fronts throughout the region.

Hundreds of ammunition boxes captured during the early phase of the Islamic State's offensive on the town just a few days ago give a clear indication of the amount of weaponry that is still likely to be present in the many storage bunkers littered around Tadmur.

Tadmur also serves as an important link in the production and distribution of a large portion of Syria's gas supplies. Whoever is in control of Tadmur has easy access to the numerous gas fields and pipelines running through the area, all of which now also under control of the Islamic State. And without access to gas fields, the Assad-led regime could face a huge problem in keeping Damascus, Lattakia and Tartus supplied with enough gas.

The ease with which the Islamic State managed to capture Tadmur is a clear sign of the increasingly worn military force that has been spread thin over regime-controlled Syria, and is now slowly running out of men willing to give their lives for the regime. While the situation for the regime has been already been dire before, Iran's and Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian Civil War managed to stall the Free Syrian Army's advance throughout Syria, and eventually stabilised the situation for the regime early in the Civil War. However, this source of manpower is still finite, and Iran and the regime are increasingly forced to rely on other foreign fighters for their offensives, often Iranian jailed Afghan criminals and refugees, to carry the burden.

The offensive at Tadmur came as a surprise to many, and the quick victory must even have surprised the fighters of the Islamic State, which were until thus far unsuccessful in capturing any major towns, installations or army bases in Central and Eastern Syria since the fall of Tabqa in August 2014.

Tadmur was defended by the 18th Tank Batallion of the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA), the National Defence Force (NDF) and troops of Suqour al-Sahraa' (The Desert Falcons). No attack on the town or the region was expected, and as a result, the regime's miltary presence in Tadmur was minimal. With no reserves or reinforcements available, the regime's troops in Central Syria simply collapsed. Caught completely off-guard, the regime never had any real chance to hold the town against the fighters of the Islamic State, and Tadmur was thus lost as soon as the Islamic State attacked it.

Although the fighters of the Islamic State reportedly freed the remaining prisoners in Tadmur's prison, made infamous by the 1980 Massacre and after its reactivation in 2011 again one of the most notorious in Syria, it remains unknown how many of the prisoners actually survived. Executing any remaining prisoners before retreating has become a common practice for the regime, and Tadmur's prison is unlikely to be different.

Tadmur airbase, strategically located in Central Syria, has traditionally been home to an unknown squadron operating the iconic MiG-25PD(S) interceptor and MiG-25PU two-seat trainer. The airbase lost much of its value after the gradual retirement of the Syrian Arab Air Force's (SyAAF) MiG-25 fleet however, partially made-up by an increasing number of civilian flights. Nevertheless, the unknown squadron based at Tadmur was one of the last to continue flying the mighty MiG-25 'Foxbat'. A video released by the Free Syrian Army on the 8th of August 2012 confirmed some MiG-25s might still have been operational at Tadmur until 2013, or perhaps later. It is likely that the surviving aircraft remain stored in the sixteen Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) found at the airbase.

The airbase also served as an important link in the transfer of arms and munitions to Deir ez-Zor. This role will now have to be taken over by T.4 airbase, located West of Tadmur and likely the next target of the advancing fighters of the Islamic State. Three radar systems, a JY-27, a P-14 and a P-12/18, located at the airbase were responsible for guarding the airspace above Central Syria, a capability that is now lost. This means the SyAAF won't be able to detect any aircraft in Central and Eastern Syria, a serious blow to the already crippled air defences.

The central location of Tadmur makes the town an important link in Syria's road network, and the capture of the town opens the gates for the Islamic State to expand their base of operations deeper into Syria. The next targets for the Islamic State will undoubtedly be T.4 airbase and/or Deir ez-Zor. Although it is also possible that the fighters of the Islamic State will march in the direction of Homs, or even Damascus, capturing Syria's most important airbase or consolidating its grip on Deir ez-Zor would make more sense.

The fall of Tadmur paints a dire picture for the regime's grip on the Eastern half of the country, and should their last base in this area (Deir ez-Zor) also succumb to the increased pressure stemming from a lack of supplies and constant attacks from fighters of the Islamic State, the image of the regime's firm grip on the largest part of the country will be destroyed. Due to the strategical position of Tadmur the fall of the city also means the Islamic State now has direct road access to many of Syria's largest provinces, including the city of Homs and the capital of Damascus.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Are Yemen's Houthis still capable of launching ballistic missiles?

Recent footage coming out of Yemen's 'Amran Governorate indicate that despite the heavy bombing of Yemen's ballistic missile depots by the Saudi-led Coalition, the Houthis might still have the means to launch ballistic missiles at their disposal. The site housing the Group of Missile Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Yemen was heavily hit as part of Operation Decisive Storm, and the resulting explosions were thought to have resulted in the destruction of all of Yemen's ballistic missiles and associated launchers.

In fact, the Saudi Defense Ministry went as far to claim that it had ''successfully eliminated the threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries'', and was thus ending Operation Decisive Storm, replacing it by the more humanitarian-oriented Operation Restoring Hope.[1]

But now it appears that the threat, while however greatly diminished, is not yet completely eliminated. A video, depicting one of Yemen's Transporter Erector Launchers used for launching R-17 Elbrus (Scud-B) or Hwasŏng-5/6 ballistic missiles on a tank trailer underway in the 'Amran Governorate, North of Sana'a, during the Saudi-declared humanitarian truce leaves little doubt on that some launch systems have survived the Saudi-led bombing campaign, possibly while stored in residential areas if rumours prove to be true.

Jordanian security officials, one of the best, if not the best informed on security matters in the Middle East, recently claimed that Iran succeeded in supplying Yemen's Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles, reportedly of the Scud-B and Scud-C type.[2] This possible Iranian delivery in combination with the North Korean delivery of Hwasŏng-5 or Hwasŏng-6 missiles and launchers in the early 2000s means that the amount of ballistic missiles present in Yemen thus might have been much larger than originally thought, increasing the chances that at least some of the systems and missiles have indeed survived the bombing campaign, and may still be in operational condition.

Strangely enough, the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) seen in the video is missing two of its four wheels on the right sight of the MAZ-543, which would greatly hinder or even prevent the launch of a ballistic missile.

Getting a missile to the TEL undetected will surerly also pose a great challenge for the Houthis, and increased monitoring of Yemen's major roads might prevent transport in broad daylight. Alternatively, the TEL might actually be underway to a location holding one or more missiles, instead of the other way around.

Although it remains to be seen if the Houthis are indeed capable of transporting and mating a missile to the handicaped TEL, and have the technical personnel or Iranian 'advisors' to get it all to work, the sudden appearance of the TEL in broad daylight makes one wonder what other equipment still survives, and serves as an indication that this war is still far from over.

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Thursday, 14 May 2015

From Russia with Love, Syria's MTs-116Ms

No less than six different types of Russian marksman rifles, sniper rifles and anti-materiel rifles have reached the shores of Syria since the start of the Civil War, of which the MTs-116M is one. Due to the fact that the MTs-116M is poorly known throughout the world, the sniper rifle's combat debut in Syria has only received little attention.

The presence of the MTs-116M in Syria became publicly known after it was shown in use with a women battalion of the Republican Guard deployed to Jobar for propaganda purposes. Although the video shows the women engaged in an exchange of fire with rebels located just metres away from the frontline, the battalion does not participate in the Republican Guard's incursions into Jobar, and is instead used to guard a calm part of the Jobar front. As a result, the battalion suffered its first and only KIA in Darayya in mid-April 2015.

The first MTs-116M delivery to Syria occurred just months before it was first spotted, and was subsequently used to fill the gap between marksman rifles such as the SVD and G3, and anti-materiel rifles such as the 6S8, OSV-96 and AM-50. A steady supply of the sniper rifle has ensured a solid presence in the embattled nation, and it is mostly seen in use with high-tier units.

Unsurprisingly, the MTs-116M sniper rifle bears close resemblance to the design of its older brother on which it is based; the MTs-116. The inception of the MTs-116M came to be after the MTs-116's accuracy was deemed to be satisfactory to such a degree that a military version optimised for law-enforcement agencies for use during counter-terrorism operations was developed.

Chambered in 7.62x54, the MTs-116M accepts both a five-round magazine and a ten-round magazine (as opposed to the single-shot function of the MTs-116), the latter of which also used by the SVD 'Dragunov'.

The MTs-116M accepts a wide range of Russian optical sights, including night vision sights. When equipped with such sights, the rifle has an effective range of up to 800 metres. While this doesn't offer much improvement over the SVD, the MTs-116M's shots are much more likely to hit their intended targets.

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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Battlefront Syria: Kweres airbase

Kweres airbase, also known as Rasm al-Abboud, Quweires and a host of other names, has reportedly been under heavy pressure by the fighters of the Islamic State since early May 2015, which seek to capture the airbase. A social media censorship imposed by the Islamic State have caused its fighters to refrain from posting any images or information on the offensive, making it difficult to understand what is actually going on at Kweres. The censorship was a result of the painful lesson learned from the assault on Tabqa airbase, during which the defenders could pinpoint the location of the fighters of the Islamic State by the information they posted online, and is nowadays enforced during every major offensive undertaken by the Islamic State.

Kweres airbase is one of the seventeen airbases that remain active while under the control of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) and Syrian Arab Army (SyAA). Kweres has little value as an airbase however and has already been under constant siege since December 2012. But against all odds, the airbase remains operational. While originally completely surrounded by the Free Syrian Army, the siege was taken over by fighters of the Islamic State after their rapid expansion in Eastern Syria just shy of a year ago. The fighters of the Islamic State have stormed the base on a number of occasions, but these attacks were likely focused at probing the airbase's defences rather than capturing the base. Nonetheless, the SyAAF has flown plenty of sorties to protect the airbase and at least one Fateh 110 'Tishreen' surface-to-surface missile has been fired at the airbase's belligerants in order to boost morale.[1]

Despite the fact that the airbase remains fully operational, its military value is currently the lowest of the SyAAF's airbases. This and the fact that Kweres comes close to being an impenetrable fortress was apparently also understood by the Islamic State, which never made any serious attempt to capture the airbase even though they surround it completely. Although sporadic artillery, mortar and rocket fire frequently hit the base, this is not known to have caused any serious losses. Surprisingly, fighters of the Islamic State also utilise UAVs to spot targets for the U.S. made 155mm M198 howitzers captured in Iraq, which are being now used to shell the base and its surroundings.[2] The Islamic State's tactics for dealing with Kweres has until thus far largely been the same as those of the Free Syrian Army, which lacked the manpower to storm the base. A SANA TV crew was the last to have visited the airbase in February 2014, a video and images of which can be seen here, here and here. No TV crew has been sent to document the current offensive, as the last time SANA did such a thing, the airbase in question (Tabqa) fell just one day after it was proudly stated that the fighters of the Islamic State were held off.

Exactly why the Islamic State is now making a move on the airbase can be explained by the fact that IS is frantically looking for large propaganda stunts to retain the detterence it once boasted, and capturing an airbase provides exactly that. The Islamic State's offenses in Syria are currently not achieving their intended goals as the fighters of the Islamic State have so far proven unable to capture Deir ez-Zor and T.4 airbase, which are even more fortified than Kweres airbase. The summer of 2014 saw Division 17, Regiment 121, Brigade 93, Tabqa airbase and the Shaer gas field all falling for the then seemingly invincible fighters of the Islamic State, but apart from Shaer, all were already surrounded for a long time with the soldiers trapped inside waiting for the imminent final assault. Deir ez-Zor and T.4 are a whole different story, and their capture, if at all possible, would require such a large amount of manpower that it would present nothing more than a pyrrhic victory for the Islamic State.

Kweres, the entry sign of which can be seen above, was originally constructed by Poles in the early sixties to serve as the SyAAF's main training base. It officially remains home to the Aviation Academy of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), comprised of the Basic Flying School, using the MBB-SIAT 223K1 Flamingo and the PAC MFI-17 Mushshak, and the Advanced Flying School, using the L-39ZO and the L-39ZA. Most SyAAF pilots once got their wings here, which makes the airbase of high symbolic value.

The Basic Flying School quickly wound down operations after the start of the Civil War however, and its aircraft remain stored in various parts of the airbase. The SyAAF has thus been unable to train new pilots in Syria itself, further increasing the burden on the already tired and often depressed pilots, most of which are fully aware that more often than not civilians are on the receiving end of the rockets and (barrel) bombs. Another training facility; Mennegh, once home to the Helicopter Flying School, was already overrun on the 5th of August 2013. A limited form of advanced training was continued on L-39s and helicopters present elsewhere in Syria.

Kweres's resident L-39s had the dubious honour of being the first aircraft to become actively involved in suppressing the rebellion in the end of July 2012, when the Advanced Flying School deployed its L-39ZOs and L-39ZAs on bombing runs over Aleppo and its suburbs. These sorties resulted mostly in civilian targets such as hospitals and schools being hit, and unsurprisingly led to numerous civilian casualties. The number of L-39 sorties over Aleppo gradually decreased over time however, and completely came to a halt in May 2013.

As the number of L-39 sorties gradually decreased in number, so did the L-39 fleet in size, which suffered a heavy blow when Kshesh, nowadays known for being the site of Syria's first rebel air force, was captured on the 12th of February 2013. The surviving L-39s were then distributed between Hama, Tabqa and Aleppo International Airport/Neyrab, where some were overhauled and modified to carry 80mm B-8 rocket pods. The fleet of L-39s based at Kweres, originally numbered at around forty, remained mostly intact in terms of numbers, but was heavily affected by a lack of spare parts and mortar fire from both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State over the years, resulting in just over a dozen examples remaining operational in 2013.

However, when examining Kweres using satellite imagery taken on the 26th of May 2013 one can spot no less than 89 aircraft and 12 helicopters. If the base were captured, the endless rows of aircraft and helicopters will therefore still surely provide the propaganda pictures the Islamic State is craving. The condition of the impressive number of aircraft varies from operational to derelict, and the just over a dozen British-built Meteors also present at the base were abandoned here more than half a century ago. One of two MiG-23 fighters present at Kweres, both once used as instructional airframes, can be seen below.

Enough of Kweres' L-39s remained operational to aid in the defence of the airbase however, reportedly sometimes flying up to twenty sorties a day to strike Islamic State positions around the airbase. The town of Ayn al-Jamajimah, an Islamic State strongpoint, was heavily hit in particular. One L-39 crashed during one of these sorties on the 20th of April 2015.[3]

The defence of Kweres is in hands of an unknown number of SyAA, NDF and SyAAF soldiers, airmen and mechanics, most of which present at the airbase since the start of the revolution. It is believed that the garrison was reinforced in the summer of 2014 after the Free Syrian Army was forced to abandon its positions around the airbase in light of the Islamic State's advance.

An S-125 surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery located closely to Kweres evacuated all its equipment and personnel to Kweres to prevent being overrun by the Free Syrian Army somewhere in the 2012-2013 timeframe. Although the SAM battery was subsequently re-activated at Kweres and remained operational as of 2013, it is deemed unlikely that the battery currently remains active. No threat from the air is present and the personnel manning the battery would likely be of more value defending the airbase from ground attacks.

As Kweres is completely surrounded by the Islamic State, the only lifeline between the airbase and the rest of regime-controlled Syria is the SyAAF's helicopter fleet, which continuously supplies the airbase with anything ranging from food to weaponry and their munitions. One squadron of Mi-8s was permanently detached to Kweres in part to aid in this task.

The defenders of Kweres almost solely rely on light weapons in the defence of the airbase. The state of the SyAAF and the fact that large cargo planes present perfect targets for the fighters of the Islamic State surrounding the base has meant that no heavy weaponry could be flown in: The weapons that are available to the defenders were flown in by helicopter. This weaponry included SVD 'Dragunov' marksman rifles, Iranian 12.7mm AM.50 anti-materiel sniper rifles, (heavy) machine-guns, RPG-7s, ATGMs and a number of Russian night sights intended for the AKM to enable the defenders to better fight at night.

The twenty-six anti-aircraft guns present at the airbase (two from the nearby S-125 SAM site) provide the heavy firepower as no tanks or artillery are stationed at the airbase. This meant the defenders had to be creative, and the 14.5mm ZPU-4s, 23mm ZU-23s and 57mm AZP S-60s taken from four anti-aircraft emplacements were strategically placed throughout the airbase to attain the maximum amount of tactical value, sometimes even on top of Kweres' eleven Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). It is interesting to note that most of the ZPU-4s had two of their four barrels taken away, which were then put on DIY mounts so as to increase the amount of ground covered by heavy weaponry.

The flat terrain surrounding the airbase is greatly in favour of the defenders, a tactical advantage which forces the fighters of the Islamic State to run through empty fields without much cover in order to reach the airbase. This advantage is especially apparent in the North, East and South. Surprisingly, attacking the North-Eastern corner was exactly what the fighters of the Islamic State did. The fighters even succeeded in capturing two of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters, but were quickly driven out again. The photos of three 57mm AZP S-60 gun emplacements below give an idea of the flat terrain, and clearly show that any attempt to cross the vast empty fields would result in heavy losses.

To further strengthen the perimeter, the defenders have made great use of the eleven Hardened Aircraft Shelters located at the Northern and Eastern part of the airbase. These Hardened Aircraft Shelters have literally been turned into fortresses, and most have either one anti-aircraft gun or heavy machine-gun installed on top. They have also been designed to withstand large bombs dropped by aircraft, so the Islamic State has no chance to destroy them for instance by using artillery. Trenches on and surrounding the HAS provide cover for the garrisons of soldiers tasked with the protection of their assigned corridor. Plenty of ammunition present inside the Aircraft Shelters guarantee trying to capture one would prove to be an extremely arduous task. In addition, huge sand barricades erected throughout the base cover any movement by the defenders, which makes it easier to resupply each garrison. The defenders also operate a number of technicals armed with ZU-23s and heavy machine-guns, which are utilised as a quick-reaction force and can be deployed at any part of the base should the need arise.

It should not be forgotten that the airbase is already completely surrounded since two-and-a-half years, which gave the defenders plenty of time to perfect their defences. Numerous small attacks mostly carried out by the Islamic State will thus only have helped the defenders in learning to properly keep the airbase secured.

Heavy fighting has also been going on in the Military Housing Block, located West of the airbase and seen in the sattelite imagery below. Heavy artillery shelling by the Islamic State has destroyed much of the complex, and the remaining structures and trenches are subject to intense house-to-house fighting. As the Complex (pictured below) is an important key in the defence of the Western side of the airbase, the defenders will have to continue to allocate resources in order to hold the Housing Complex, or otherwise risk endangering the entire base.

If the Military Housing Block proves unable to hold, the second (and also last) defensive line will have to stop the fighters of the Islamic State to prevent the fighters from flooding into the airbase. This last line, satellite imagery of which can be seen below, too consists of heavily fortified buildings, trenches, anti-aircraft guns and heavy machine guns.

Although Kweres is completely surrounded, SyAA and NDF troops stationed on the Eastern side of Aleppo could theoretically mount an offensive in an effort to prevent the airbase being overrun. However, it is extremely unlikely that such an offensive would ever be carried out by the already overstretched troops based in Aleppo as Kweres simply doesn't have enough strategic value to justify the waste of precious manpower and resources.

It is more likely that if the situation at the airbase becomes too critical, the defenders will attempt to fight their way out in the direction of Aleppo, perhaps aided by the SyAAF's fighter-bombers and helicopters.

In an effort to convince the defenders of Kweres that they were indeed going to be overrun, the Islamic State made pamflets offering the defenders a chance to repent and thus supposedly escape the fate of mass execution. 

''Allah ruled that you must be killed by the sword. We swear that we will have no mercy for anyone of you, so repent and break with this infidel regime. We accept your repentance if you surrender before we come over to you, by then the tyrant (Assad) will not be able to help you. Keep in mind the fate your comrades in Tabqa Airbase met.

Contact the Islamic State's men on the following telephone numbers:
WhatsApp: 00905378489193''

It is highly unlikely that any of the defenders will seriously consider defecting to the Islamic State. The morale in the airbase remains high and the men, most of which have already living together for more than four years, will probably rather die than surrender to the Islamic State.

A photo collage of some of the fallen defenders was published on the 7th of May 2015 by one of the defenders, commemorating eleven KIAs so far, including the commander of Kweres: General al-Muhanna.

Of course, the Syrian Civil War has in its four years of fighting shown many a time how erroneous certain predictions about which party is going to win which battle can turn out to be. However, considering the extensive defences and other aspects in favour of the base's current occupants outlined in this article, it can be expected that Kweres airbase will not fall into the Islamic State's hands any time soon.

In conclusion, any move on Kweres by the Islamic State comes more out of the need for a symbolic victory than from military strategy. If the Islamic State's offensive on Kweres proves to be as large as is claimed by some sources, and should its fighters succeed in capturing the airbase, it will very likely provide the Islamic State with what they're looking for.

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Saturday, 2 May 2015

From Russia with Love, Syria's AK-104s

The delivery of AK-104 carbines to the war-thorn country of Syria remains largely unreported, and their impact on the ground so far has been negligible. Nonetheless, they represent the increasing flow of Russian-made weaponry that continues to reach Syria on a regular basis. Syria is believed to be the first export customer to have received the carbine, which has been in limited production since the 90s. The Syrian Civil War could thus very well be the combat deput of the AK-104.

Contrary to the popular AK-74M, most of which are distributed to Syrian Arab Army and to a lesser extent the Republican Guard, the small numbers of AK-104s have largely been handed out to the so-called order keeping forces, once the Syrian equivalent of the riot police. While originally mostly a Sunni force armed with batons, shields and tear gas deployed to stadiums and during demonstrations, the leftovers were reorganized shortly after the outbreak of the revolution. Trusted elements were subsequently rearmed with more lethal weapons and now have a wide range of tasks involving maintaining order in regime-held terriority.

While the older AK-47, AKM and Type 56 would be perfectly suitable for these roles, the Syrian high command thought otherwise and allocated the carbines to the public order troops. As the size of the weapon makes it perfect for close-quarters combat, it can be expected that if larger numbers come available, they will be issued to combat troops.

Syria's interest in the AK-104 first came to light in 2012, when a Syrian military delegation was informed on the capabilities of the rifle during a visit to a Russian weapon expo. The visit resulted in particular interest in the carbine, and an undisclosed number were subsequently bought. A member of the Syrian delegation inspecting the AK-104 can be seen below.

The origin of the AK-104 can largely be traced back to the AK-74M, out of which the larger calibre AK-103 was developed. The AK-102, AK-104 and AK-105, chambered in 5.56×45mm, 7.62×39mm and 5.45×39mm respectively were then designed as compact versions of the AK-103, making them perfect for fighting in urban environments. The muzzle brake is similar to the one installed on the AKS-74U.

The AK-104 seen in the hands of the order keeping forces soldier uses the AKM's magazine instead of the plastic magazine usually associated with the AK-104. As seen with the AK-74M, the AK-104 features a new side-folding stock instead of the under-folding stock seen on the earlier AKS and AKMS.

Wether the continued supply of (heavy) weaponry to Syria will be enough to save a military that is increasingly dependent on foreign Shiite fighters remains to be seen. The small numbers of AK-104s will undoubtedly have little impact on the outcome of the civil war. However, these carbines represent the flow of Russian arms reaching Syria, a trade that will assuredly continue to fuel a war which has now entered its fourth year.

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Monday, 27 April 2015

Libya Dawn going DIY: 2K12 SAMs used as surface-to-surface missiles

The surprising move by Libya Dawn that resulted in the conversion of several S-125 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) into surface-to-surface missiles is not the only of its kind in Libya. Indeed, initiated at roughly the same time, Libya Dawn also worked on the conversion of 2K12 SAMs to the surface-to-surface role. The first contraption, seen above, combines an Italian produced Puma 6x6 APC with the launch section of a Soviet designed 2K12 SAM system.

The Puma had been part of a batch of at least twenty vehicles donated by Italy to the fledgling Libyan National Army back in 2013, but has now been modified for a wholely different role by its new owners. Unlike the S-125 conversion, the missiles have no apparant signs of modifications, although they will certainly be extremely ineffective when used with the original 59 kilograms heavy high-explosive fragmentational (HE-frag) warhead. Moreover, the missiles might not function at all if the original fuse and guidance system is not replaced by a more suitable alternative.

As mentioned in the previous article on Libya Dawn's SAM conversions, Iraq was the first to experiment with the idea of converting SAMs to the surface-to-surface role. Apart from converting several S-125s for this role, Iraq too modified 3M9 missiles from the 2K12 to serve as surface-to-surface missiles under the name of Kasir. Initiated in early 1989, the goal was to achieve a range of 100 kilometres.

The 2K12's 3M9 missiles proved, much like the S-125's V-600s, to be extremely difficult to modify for the surface-to-surface role. In addition to the problems encountered with the S-125 conversion such as the inability to modify the solid propellant booster of the missiles to achieve the desired range, the Iraqi engineers encountered several problems with modifying the 3M9's more complex guidance and control systems.

Despite this, two test flights took place throughout 1989, reaching a dissappointing range of 62 kilometres with a far too large circular error probable (CEP), resulting in the termination of the project by the end of 1989.

Libya Dawn's conversion of 2K12 SAMs will undoubtedly not fare any better than its Iraqi counterpart, and might only be of use when fired at a large target within direct sight of the operators. They do represent the increasing number of DIY projects in Libya however, and are certain not to be the last.

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