Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Libyan National Army going DIY: AK-230 naval guns mounted on trucks

Libya under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi was once considered as one massive arms depot. In fact, the amount of weaponry in store far surpassed Libya's own needs. This allowed Gaddafi to use a part of this weaponry to supply various groups throughout the world opposing the West, or to donate it to countries in the Middle East and Africa. The donation of arms to the latter was mainly a sweetener in the hope that these counties would later support his idea for a United States of Africa, of which Gaddafi would 'of course' have been the leader.

The many arms depots found in Libya have provided the many forces now fighting for control over Libya easy access to sophisticated weaponry. The lack of spare parts and technical personnel has meant that only a portion of such heavy weaponry re-entered service however. The imposed arms embargo on Libya's internationally recognised government prevents the acquisition of new arms and spare parts for Libya's Armed Forces. This while one of the many opposing factions, Libya Dawn, is known to receive arms from several countries in the MENA region.

This forced the Libyan National Army (LNA) to look for creative solutions to provide the required amount of firepower for its troops. And while the Libyan Conflict has seen the birth of many outright strange vehicle conversions over the years, the LNA in Benghazi took the contest to a whole new level by installing 30mm naval guns on trucks.

The first product of this limited series (seen above) combined a recently delivered Kamaz 6x6 with a double-barreled 30mm AK-230 naval gun originally found on Soviet fast attack craft, minesweepers and frigates. The AK-230's original task was to shoot down incoming missiles and aircraft while guided by a MR-104 Drum Tilt radar.

To allow for easier access to the guns and munition, the turret was removed. The two 30mm NN-30 cannons are belt-fed, with each belt holding five-hundred rounds. Reloading the two cannons is extremely time-consuming, even for an experienced crew.

The Libyan National Army is currently fighting Libya Dawn in Benghazi, where the latter is currently entrenched in the hope to hold the city. Libya Dawn was in control of most of Benghazi, but never managed to capture the port, which also serves as a base to to the Libyan Navy.

Benghazi's Naval Base was home to the Koni-class frigate 212 Al Hani, the Nanuchka-class corvette 416 Tariq-Ibn Ziyad, one of the few remaining Natya-class minesweepers and an inoperational Foxtrot-class submarine. However, the Al Hani left Benghazi a couple of years ago and the Tariq-Ibn Ziyad was set on fire by artillery and subsequently sunk.

The single Natya-class minesweeper already sunk close to a year before due a lack of maintenance, but not before it was deprived of both of its AK-230 gun emplacements, which were subsequently installed on the Kamaz and Scania trucks. The remains of the unfortunate Natya-class minesweeper can be seen below.

Both trucks are operated by the 309 Battalion, part of the Libyan National Army. The text seen on the front of the AK-230 armed Scania seen below reads: 'Board of the General Staff - The National Army K 309'.

Wether or not this design is more practical than a 23mm ZU-23 or 30mm M1980 installed on a technical remains to be seen as both can achieve more or less the same fire rate and impact on the target, but the AK-230 is far harder to aim.

With no ceasefire or end of the arms embargo on Libya's National Army in sight, more interesting conversions are sure to see the light of day as the conflict continues.

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

From Russia with Love, Syria's AK-74Ms

The AK-74M has slowly earned its place as the most popular assault rifle currently in use with the various factions fighting for control over Syria. While originally acquired only in small numbers by Syria, recent deliveries ensured a now solid presence of this rifle in the war-torn country. The AK-74M is not only popular with forces of the Syrian Arab Army and the Republican Guard, but also with various other groups fighting for control of the country.

Syia acquired its first batch of AK-74Ms in the late 90s, albeit in very small numbers. This very first batch was believed to have been part of a deal struck with Russia in 1996, which would renew the military and technological cooperation with Russia after this had dwindled due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The deal envisaged the delivery of a wide selection of small arms, anti-tank missiles, night vision equipment and ammunition for weaponry already in use by Syria. Included in the package were large numbers of AKS-74Us, smaller numbers of AK-74Ms, RPG-29s, PG-7VR warheads for the RPG-7 but also 9M113M Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and even 9M117M Bastion gun-launched anti-tank guided missiles for use by Syria's at that point recently upgraded T-55MVs.

Disagreements over Syria's insistence on lower prices and extended payment schemes for future purchases and its debt to Russia led to the failure of a deepened relationship between the two countries. Nonetheless, much of the ordered weaponry did ultimately reach Syria.

The first public appearance of the AK-74M in was in 2000, when it was spotted being carried by a guard in front of the National Progressive Front (NPF) headquarters in Damascus. This AK-74M belonged to the first batch, and these along with AKS-74Us were mainly distributed to special units and personnel guarding places of high value. The amount of AK-74Ms was still too small to allow a wider distribution.

The second attempt to acquire AK-74Ms (at a more ambitious scale this time) took place in the years leading up to the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched an ambitious modernisation programme aimed at improving the protection and firepower of a part of its infantry force during this time.

The SAA tested two assault rifles as part of this future soldier programme in 2008, the AK-74M and the Iranian KH-2002 'Kheybar', chambered in 5.45×39mm and 5.56×45mm respectively. For this purpose, the Iranian Defense Industries Organisation (IDIO or DIO) sent ten KH-2002s along with several representatives to Syria.

All but two of the ten KH-2002s malfunctioned during the tests, resulting in a chuckle from the Syrian side at the expense of the ashamed Iranian representatives. Unsurprisingly, the AK-74M was thus declared the winner of the 'competition'.

After Uruguay's interest in the KH-2002 also vanished, the programme was cancelled in 2012. The failure to attract any export orders and a lack of interest from the Iranian Army to purchase the rifle doomed one of the few serious attempts to design and produce an indigenous assault rifle in Iran.

The programme also saw the manufacturing of two types of 'new' camouflage patterns, both exact copies of the US M81 woodland camouflage pattern, which is also worn by fighters of Hizbullah. Furthermore, large numbers of bulletproof vests and helmets were ordered and delivered from China, and a limited number of night vision devices for special forces were received from an unknown source. The soldier seen below depicts how the final product would have looked like. Note that his AK-74M comes equipped with an Alpha-7115 night laser sight and a GP-30M under-barrel grenade launcher.

Russia continues to prove it's a staunch and reliable supporter of the Assad regime, and the Civil War evidently serves as no deterrent for Russia to continue delivering anything from small arms to tanks, multiple rocket launchers and even spare parts for the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF). To no one's surprise, several large batches of AK-74Ms also found their way onboard Russian Navy Ropucha-class landing ships to Syria in the past years.

Once arrived in Syria, these batches allowed for a wide distribution of the AK-74M within the Syrian Arab Army and, to a lesser extent, the Republican Guard. The National Defence Force (NDF) still has to make do with the old AK-47, Type-56 and AKM however, although Western firearms or 'pimped' AKs acquired via the black market in Lebanon are also available.

The Republican Guard's 104th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Issam Zahreddine, received a sizeable batch of AK-74Ms and AKS-74Us when heading off to Deir ez-Zor to take on the fighters of the Islamic State.

The AK-74M is also the weapon of choice of Saqr al-Harath (seen below on the left), who serves as Issam Zahreddine's personal bodyguard in Deir ez-Zor. Although Zahreddine's personal firearm is the AKS-74U, he has also been seen using the AK-74M on more than one occassion.

The Islamic State is the largest AK-74M operator of the groups fighting for control over Syria. Surprisingly, and contrary to the usual weapons flow which mainly sees captured M16s and M4 rifles and carbines transferred to Syria from Iraq, numerous AK-74Ms also ended up with fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq.

The AK-74M itself is a modernised variant of the AK-74, and entered production in 1991. It not only provides more versatility compared to the AK-74, but is also lighter and features a new synthetic side-folding stock. This opposed to the earlier AKS and AKMS, which both use the typical under-folding stock.

Various types of Russian optical sights can be fitted to the AK-74M to ensure more precise targeting. These sights are fitted to the standard mounting rail on the left side of the receiver. In Syria, AK-74Ms equipped with such sights are more common than AK-74Ms using the standard iron sight.

The quantity of optical sights and under-barrel grenade launchers received by Syria in the past years was large enough to allow installment on numerous AK-47s, Type-56s and AKMs. 

A number of AK-74Ms were also equipped with NSPU night vision sights. Only a limited number of such sights are available in Syria, and they have seen sporadic use throughout the course of the Civil War.

The AK-74M can also be equipped with a single-shot 40mm under-barrel grenade launcher, two types of which were acquired by the Syrian Arab Army to date: the GP-25 and the GP-30M. The first is intended for use on older generation rifles while the GP-30M was designed for more modern assault rifles such as the AK-74M or AK-103.

The GP-30M can engage targets in a range of 100m to 400m and is capable of firing fragmentation grenades and smoke grenades. It is aimed by the means of a quadrant sight.

The AK-74M: A rifle both dreaded and loved on the Syrian battlefield, and sure to continue to play a large role in the course of the war now that peace seems ever more distant.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Libyan Air Force, refurbishing its old Su-22 fighter-bombers?

An Echorouk News TV report on the Libyan Air Force's (LAF) activities in Al Watiya airbase confirmed that work has been put into reintroducing the Su-22 into the arsenal of the Libyan Air Force, a rumour that had been floating around since early December 2014.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) and LAF almost unanimously sided with General Khalifa Haftar, who is part of the internationally recognised government currently residing in Tobruk. Haftar strives to eliminate any Islamist terrorist organisation within Libya as part of Operation Dignity. He is opposed by Libya Dawn, which is fighting for Libya's unrecognised parliament and currently in control of Benghazi and the capital Tripoli, together with various other Islamist factions, Ansar al-Sharia and even the Islamic State. A complicated matter to say the least.

Libya Dawn can be considered the strongest opponent to Khalifa Haftar, and its forces even succeeded in establishing their very own air force. At least four Soko G-2 Galebs are currently present at Misrata and one or two MiG-23s should have been made operational at Mitiga, but were reported to have left the airbase some time later.[1] Libya Dawn also claimed to have an operational MiG-23 at Misrata and, even though the base doesn't house any aircraft of the type, even claimed to be working on a MiG-25 here.[2] It remains unknown if the operational MiG-23 is actually one of the examples formerly based at Mitiga. To add to all this, Libya Dawn is also in control of Tripoli International Airport (IAP) and Benina airbase/IAP.

The almost complete annihilation of the Libyan Air Force by the NATO-led airstrikes and heavy attrition in the past years has diminished the Libyan Air Force's firepower to an all time low. However, it continues to operate several MiG-23MLs and MiG-23UBs, three MiG-21MFs donated by Egypt, several MiG-21bis and L-39s and numerous helicopters. Amongst these are numerous Mi-8s, at least three of which donated by Egypt, and several Mi-25s and Mi-35s, some of the latter originally acquired from Sudan. The LAF was also reported to have acquired four Su-27s from Russia, although this rumour was quickly dismissed as misinformation.[3]

A lack of sufficient operational airframes, which are already spread thin throughout Libya, forced the LAF to look for other solutions to acquire aircraft and helicopters to support the Libyan National Army from the air. While Egypt delivered three MiG-21s and three Mi-8s, this wasn't enough, and these aircraft are unable to cover the whole of Libya.

The LNA is currently fighting against Libya Dawn, Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State on multiple fronts. The heaviest battles take place in Benghazi, where they are fighting with Libya Dawn for control of the city. The LNA is also poised to retake Libya's capital, Tripoli, where the next offensive will surely take place soon.

Al Watiya airbase, also known as al-Watya or al-Zintan, remains the only airbase in Libyan Air Force hands located near Tripoli, and is thus vital for any future offensive aimed at recapturing the capital. Al Watiya itself was recaptured by the Libyan National Army on the 9th of August 2014. The airbase was originally constructed by the French, and housed a part of Libya's  Mirage fleet before their gradual withdrawal due to a lack of spares, caused by the imposed arms embargo. Al Watiya was also home to a squadron of Su-22s (S-32MK) and a part of the Su-22M-3 fleet. All of Libya's Su-22M-3s were destroyed by the NATO-led airstrikes during the Libyan Civil War, which also targeted Al Watiya airbase. Two Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) housing Su-22M-3s as well as several munition depots were targeted here. Libya's Su-22s (S-32MK), stored in some of the remaining forty-three Hardened Aircraft Shelters were already decommissioned long before the revolution, and thus escaped unharmed as they were not on the NATO's target list.

Only one operational aircraft is currently stationed at Al Watiya, and this MiG-23UB has already been busy targeting munition depots and other targets of interest in and around Tripoli. Just a single MiG-23UB is completely insufficient to provide the much needed fire support for the Libyan National Army in any future offensive around Tripoli however.

Although the MiG-23UB is originally a twin-seat training variant, it can be armed with UB-16 and UB-32 rocket pods for the 57mm S-5 rocket and various types of bombs, all carried on the MiG-23UB's four hardpoints.

The only other type of aircraft available in larger numbers at Al Watiya are ten to twelve Su-22s decommissioned at least two decades ago, none of which are in flying condition. But as overhauling older aircraft is the LAF's only chance to regain some of the firepower it lost over the years, these old Su-22s have to do for the time being. Libya is believed to have received two squadrons of Su-22s, and even more Su-22M-3s in the late seventies and early eighties, some of which were even sent to the Gulf of Sidra to take on U.S. F-14 Tomcats in 1981.

An interview with Colonel Muhammad Abdul Hamid Al-Satni (3:44) revealed the Libyan Air Force's plans for the Su-22s:

''We … [inaudible] Su-22 aircraft, they were almost non-functional, but thanks to Libyan military personnel, all Libyans, no foreigners, we have been trying to put one or two of the ten to twelve aircraft back into service. This is the first one we managed to repair and it will be deployed in a week or ten days in the battle to liberate Tripoli.''

One or two Su-22s are thus supposedly being made operational again, likely by cannibalising the other Su-22s. But while the Colonel says the operational Su-22 is right behind him, both of the aircraft are covered in a thick layer of dust, and still have their green Jamahiriya roundel and flag applied to their fuselage and tail, creating some confusion about their supposed overhaul.

This however doesn't mean the Libyan Air Force is not working on getting one or two examples operational again, and might be related to the security situation instead. The activities of the Echorouk News TV team were strictly monitored by LAF personnel, as it is forbidden to take images in the airbase so as not to reveal the exact location of the precious aircraft on the airfield. While this might seem exaggerated with forty-three Hardened Aircraft Shelters to hide them in, Libya Dawn is poised to destroy the MiG-23UB, and even tried to find its exact location by sending a Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV over Al Watiya, which was subsequently shot down by personnel of the airbase.[4]

Therefore the actual overhaul of the Su-22(s) is likely taking place elsewhere in the airbase, with the two Su-22s in the video acting as the examples worked upon to hide the real location of the supposed operational Su-22(s).

Opposed to the MiG-21s and MiG-23s, which are actually fighters, the Su-22s are true fighter-bombers. Equipped with six hardpoints instead of the four seen on the MiG-21 and MiG-23, they can carry their ordnance over a longer range.

Getting these Su-22s back into service will surely prove to be a big challenge, even for the experienced mechanics of the LAF. However, should they succeed the aircraft will be of great value during any upcoming offensive to recapture Tripoli. Only time will tell wether the engineers' efforts are in vain or whether they're just what's needed to tip the balance in the LNA's favour.

Special thanks to ACIG and Hassan Hassani.

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Who upgraded Syria's Mi-17s?

Syria's battered Mi-17s have been on the forefront on the Syrian Arab Air Force's aerial campaign against the rebels for pretty much the entire duration of the now almost four-year long Civil War. Together with the Mi-8s, these versatile platforms perform every task from supplying besieged Syrian Arab Army garrisons, dropping barrel bombs over towns and even flying attack sorties against rebel positions. This while under threat of MANPADS, heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft guns and even your occasional TOW ATGM targeting helicopters while landing.

It now appears several Mi-17s have been upgraded with armour plates and even a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera, allowing for even greater flexibility while flying attack sorties. The Mi-17 seen in the header, armed with a UPK-23 gun pod, is one of examples to have been upgraded in this fashion. The image, taken at the 20th of May 2013 at Mezze, likely features a Mi-17 from the resident 909 Squadron.

Although one would expect more examples are slated to be upgraded in this way, just a couple of Mi-17s were seen equipped with armour plates and FLIR.

It is unclear if this Mi-17 was upgraded by 'The Factory', the SyAAF's overhaul and maintenance center at Neyrab/Aleppo IAP. 'The Factory' is responsible for maintaining and upgrading most of the SyAAF's inventory of aircraft and helicopters, including its Mi-8s and Mi-17s. If the armour plates and FLIR were installed before the Civil War, this would have taken place at 'The Factory', and their logo would definitely be present on the cockpit of the Mi-17. A puzzle impossible to solve without a clear view of the other side of the cockpit.

To add to the confusion: a large part of the Mi-17 fleet also underwent periodic maintenance at 'The Factory', so the logo could instead refer to just a regular overhaul.

Alternatively, a limited amount of Mi-17s were upgraded early in the Civil War by Russian or Iranian experts based here. The Mezze-based examples are generally in a better condition than the rest of the Mi-17 fleet, so it makes sense they were chosen to be upgraded.

Mezze is also home to much of the Iranian and Russian activity inside Syria. It serves as the main base for UAV operations undertaken by Iran's Revolutionary Guards inside Syria, and the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG just opened an office blocks away from Mezze's runway.

The armour plates (designed and produced by Russia) aligned around the cockpit were thus likely provided by Russia to the SyAAF in the past years. The same armour plates but on a Serbian operated Mi-17 can be seen here.

The origin of the FLIR remains unknown, but could have been acquired via Russia or Iran, or on the civilian market via several front companies. Its unusual placement to the back of the fuselage clearly distinguishes it of many production variants with FLIR cameras usually mounted to the front.

An additional insight into the upgrade was provided by the Free Syrian Army when they captured Taftanaz heliport on the 11th of January 2013. One FLIR along with its control console fell in the hands of the FSA here. At least fifteen Mi-8s and Mi-17s were captured at Taftanaz, of which at least one was an upgraded example, which can be seen here. This Mi-17 comes with the logo of 'The Factory'.

The Mi-17 has not been upgraded with new flare and chaff dispensers to counter the threat of MANPADS. This might indicate the SyAAF is still satisfied with the current dispensers already in use on the Mi-17 fleet, and does not deem the rebels' anti-air capabilities to be significant enough to spend valuable resources on. These indigenously designed dispensers were installed on the Mi-17s well before the start of the Civil War, and can be seen on the tail boom of every SyAAF operated Mi-17.

The addition of armour plates and a FLIR camera to the already present flare and chaff dispensers turns the Mi-17 into an even more proficient attack platform, with the means to continue operations at night with largely undiminished capabilities. One could argue their new outfit makes them better suited for a range of combat roles in this conflict than other rotorcraft like the Mi-25.

Special thanks to Luftwaffe A.S.

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Friday, 30 January 2015

The Republican Guard's armour upgrades: Products of a Four Year War

Following local experiments with spaced and slat armour on T-72AVs and BMP-2s, the Republican Guard initiated a small-scale upgrade programme for its armour in the summer of 2014. After upgrading several of its T-72M1s and bulldozers with additional armour, the Republican Guard is now also operating at least one ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) upgraded in the same fashion.

The goal of the upgrade programme was to increase the chances of survivability of armoured fighting vehicles by adding additional armour, which consists of spaced and slat armour, further reinforced by metal chaines. Altogether, it provides an impressive 360 degree coverage against regular RPGs. Heavier RPGs like the RPG-29, the M79 Osa or later generation RPG-7 warheads have less trouble penetrating such armour however.

The first vehicles upgraded as part of this programme were several T-72M1s, which were then deployed to Jobar in order to test the actual combat value of the new armour package. These first missions did not end well as one of the upgraded T-72M1s got stuck and was subsequently abandoned by its crew, while another was completely destroyed after entering Jobar: a tragic start for the ambitious programme.[1] [2]

This however did not deter the Republican Guard from pressing on with the upgrade programme, and several upgraded T-72M1s continued to join units in Jobar, Eastern Ghouta and even Aleppo in the months that followed. The factory responsible for the programme is located in Adra, north of Damascus.

A similar armour package, developed and produced by the same factory, was applied on bulldozers in use by the Republican Guard.

The bulldozer earned its position in most of the offensives taking place in the neighbourhoods of Damascus and Eastern Ghouta where they're used to transport soldiers to the frontline, clear obstacles, raise sand barriers to cover infantry and tanks and clear suspected minefields. When they were still operating without these armour packages, they were an easy prey for the rebels' anti-tank teams, anti-materiel rifles and even machine gun fire, even when equipped with locally applied DIY armour.

Apart from small factory differences or minor field modifications, two variations are known to exist. These variations give a clear indication of how the designs and production of these armour packages have progressed over time.

The example below was active in Jobar, where it was mainly used to transport troops and clear minefields. It was destroyed in late December 2014 after being caught in the open by fighters of Failaq al-Rahman, also known as the Rahman corps, while supposedly trying to clear a minefield.

The bulldozer was only immobilized after receiving multiple hits from an RPG-7 and being fired upon by an anti-materiel rifle. Failaq al-Rahman then dug a tunnel to the abandoned bulldozer, and placed a satchel charge underneath it to prevent the recovery of the vehicle. The subsequent explosion breached its hull and started a fire, rendering it useless for future use.[3] [4]

The next vehicle to receive the armour upgrade was the ZSU-23-4. Combat experience gained in Darayya showed the need for a vehicle capable of engaging high-located rebel positions in flats and apartments, almost always out of reach of the T-72s.

Following the lead of several other nations in the past, Syria began to use its large fleet of ZSU-23-4s to support tanks and infantry. The biggest weakness of the ZSU-23-4 in this role is its weak armour. Originally designed to engage aircraft and helicopters while operating behind tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) on the plains of Europe, the armour of the vehicle is anything but well suited for engaging enemy hideouts from up close. The recent capture of Brigade 82 near Sheikh Miskin serves as a heavy-handed reminder of this fact.[5]

The installation of the armour package will largely address the ZSU-23-4's vulnerability to a range of small arms and RPGs, and will allow the vehicle to provide fire-support closer to the battle than before. With its extremely high rate of fire, large calibre and a range of elevation that covers any potential target, it is the ideal city conquest support vehicle made perfect; a warmachine completely adapted to the hostile environment that has made up the Syrian battlefield for close to four years.

After the metal chaines on the front of the T-72M1s proved to be incapable of stopping RPGs, most of the upgraded T-72M1s saw their metal chaines replaced by additional spaced armour or simply a piece of metal. These conversions were done in the T-72's operational area, as the factory responsible for the armour packages strangely enough still produces them with metal chains on front of the T-72.

Since the active conflict provides a myriad of combat reports on weaknesses and strenths of various types of equipment, it is likely subsequent variants of the upgraded armour will address these issues and thus become increasingly effective.

The combat value of the armour package was believed to be minimal after two of the upgraded T-72M1s were destroyed in Jobar. This however is in no way representative of the actual combat performance of the new armour. It is possible that the new armour package gave crews a feeling of invincibility, leading to the crews taking larger risks than normal and thus resulting in their vehicles being destroyed. One image from Eastern Ghouta confirms its effectiveness in combat however, showing one upgraded T-72M1s still intact after receiving several hits from an RPG.

While it is clear that single instances of the new armour pitted against unknown types of anti-tank weaponry hardly make a case for the up- and downsides of the armour package, it is obvious the Republican Guard deems it effective enough to allocate significant resources to it.

The upgrades performed on these vehicles prove the Syrian Arab Army and Republican Guard are not running out of steam just yet. Although the installation of this armour package is impossible on T-72 'Urals' due to the location of its rangefinder, it is expected more and more armoured fighting vehicles will be upgraded in the same way. The Republican Guard's BMP-2s may very well be next in line.

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

2K12 Kub surface-to-air missile system captured near Sheikh Miskin, valuable or not?

The continuing rebel offensive in Syria's Dara'a Governorate saw the capture of a 9K12 Kub ''SA-6 Gainful'' surface-to-air missile system and associated radars and equipment by Harakat al-Muthanna near the town of Sheikh Miskin, also known as Sheikh Maskin or Shaykh Maskin.

The town was originally surrounded by no less than six 9K12 SAM sites, of which five were still active at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. However, the Civil War saw the total disintegration of the Syrian Air Defense Force, and with it, much of its SAM sites. Just one of the five sites was still manned in early 2014, with all other SAM sites abandoned.

This follows a pattern seen everywhere in Syria. For example, three of the four 9K12 SAM sites present around Deir ez-Zor were forced to retreat for the then advancing rebels, and one of these was destroyed while en route to Syrian Arab Army held territory. Another 9K12 site abandoned one of its inoperational 9K12 launchers, which was later captured by fighters of the Islamic State. Numerous other SAM sites also fell in the hands of rebels throughout Syria, mainly in the vicinity of Damascus.

The disintegration of the Syrian Air Defense Force mainly effected the S-75s, S-200s, 9K12 Kubs and to a lesser extent the S-125s. All ageing, eating up precious manpower and unlikely to even detect Israeli aircraft flying over Syria, let alone firing at them, most were decommissioned with their personnel continuing their career as normal soldiers instead. Many of the mobile 9K12s were evacuated to safer territory and placed in reserve while most of the static S-75s, S-125s and S-200s are now simply collecting dust.

Two of the 9K12 sites surrounding Sheikh Maskin were moved to a nearby radar site at some point in the Civil War, and this might be the location where the 'lone' 9K12 was captured. To back up this claim, Google Earth footage reveals what appears to be six 9K12 launchers present here at 5-1-2014. Two other vehicles could be the associated SURN 1S91 "Straight Flush" mobile radar stations. Without these, the 9K12s are unable to operate.

If this radar site turns out to be the true location where the 9K12 was captured, the rebels operating in Southern Syria just captured two SAM sites. However, it is not even remotely likely that the rebels would be able to operate the battered 9K12s, which require specialized training for both the launchers and radar to succesfully operate.

This contrary to the single 9K33 Osa operated by Jaish al-Islam in Eastern Ghouta, which fortunately for the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) has now run out of missiles. The 9K33 combines both the radar and launcher in one vehicle, and is easier to operate. None are stationed in Syria's Dara'a Governorate however.

Fresh tracks in the ground possible indicate the crew was still planning on leaving, or that this 9K12, numbered 95703, was still partially active.

A video uploaded on the 27th of January 2015 confirmed the capture of at least one 1S91 mobile radar station, associated equipment and more than a dozen 3M9 missiles used by the 9K12.

It is yet to be seen if Harakat al-Muthanna indeed managed to capture all the equipment intact and in working order. Whatever the outcome may be, the 9K12s surely won't have any impact on the push on Damascus.