Monday, 27 July 2015

From Russia with Love, Syria's OSV-96s

The OSV-96, the first type of anti-materiel rifle to ever have been acquired by Syria, continues to see service with numerous factions in the now four-year long Civil War. Although the presence of the OSV-96 before the start of the Syrian Civil War was very limited, it has by now become the Syrian Arab Army's (SyAA) second most popular anti-materiel rifle after the Iranian AM.50.

A limited number OSV-96s were acquired by the Syrian Arab Army shortly before the Civil War as part of the ambitious modernisation programme aimed at improving the protection and firepower of a portion of its infantry force at the time. This programme, cut short due to the outbreak of the civil war, also included the acquisition of various other types of Russian-made small arms such as the AK-74M, 9A-91 and the VSK-94, the latter two of which will be covered in seperate articles in the future.

Renewed interest in the OSV-96 was shown in early 2013, when the Army Supply Bureau of the High Command of the Syrian Arab Republic requested one-hundred 12.7mm sniper rifles along with 10000 12.7mm rounds and one-hundred night vision sights from Russia's Rosoboronexport in early 2013. This request was fulfilled by the delivery of not only the OSV-96s, but also by 6S8 anti-materiel rifles.

The OSV-96 was originally developed as the V-94 by the Tula Instrument Design Bureau in the early 1990s, and a limited number subsequently entered service with the Russian Army in the mid 1990s. The rifle then underwent a number of changes in the late 90s and was rebranded as the OSV-96 in 2000. Due to its length, the rifle can be folded to allow for easier transportation. The OSV-96's 12.7x108mm rounds, sharing the calibre with the 6S8, come in a five-round magazine.

Due to its range advantage over many other sniper rifles and relatively large calibre, the OSV-96 functions as an effective counter-sniper weapon in the marksmen-rich environment of the Syrian battlefield, capable of penetrating walls and engaging light armour.

As the OSV-96s came with night vision sights, the OSV-96 potentially has a great advantage over the popular Iranian HS.50, for which the SyAA and National Defence Force (NDF) mostly lack night vision sights. Although available to the regime, these night vision sights are often only handed out to specialised units or bought by individual soldiers.

With the recent introduction of the 6S8, it remains unknown if more batches of the OSV-96 will be acquired. But with new Russian-made weaponry reaching Syria nigh continuously, an increasing presence of the OSV-96 would be little surprising.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

From the Ukraine to Syria, Russian Orlan-10 and Eleron-3SV drones in Syria's skies

Recently published images of two drones that fell near the village of Ruveysli near Kasab and Arafit near Jisr al-Shughour in the Lattakia Governorate on the 20th of July 2015 reveal that either Russia has supplied the regime with state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or that Russia has embarked on a small-scale drone surveillance programme over Syria. If the latter turns out to be the case, it could be part of their greater intelligence programme to provide the Syrian regime with up-to-date information on the rebels' status and strength, which first became known to the world after the capture of the Центр С - المركز س - Center S SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) facility near al-Hara, Daraa Governorate.

The UAV that crashed near Ruveysli, believed to be a yet unnamed variant of the Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone, is nearly identical to a previously seen type in the Ukraine, were at least one crashed in Ukrainian-held territory in May 2014. The basic Orlan-10 was also seen over the Ukraine, and several other types  were also recovered after having crashed. The new variant of the Orlan-10 drone found in the Ukraine was sighted for the first time, and its technical details therefore remain yet unknown.

While the introduction of this type of UAV and its subsequent crash is noteworthy by itself, stunning coincidence has it that another recently acquired type of UAV crashed nearly forty-kilometers away just moments later. The second UAV, a Russian-made Eleron-3SV reconnaissance drone, was damaged by an onboard fire and crashed near the JaN-held town of Arafit, and despite the fire-damage was still relatively intact.

The sudden appearance of two types of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles shows the extent of support from the Russians to the Syrian regime, and is likely a result of the loss of Idlib Governorate to the rebels and the city of Tadmur (Palmyra) and its surroundings to the fighters of the Islamic State in the past months, after which many Pro-Assadists already claimed that the recent setbacks would herald a new chapter of Russian and Iranian support to the regime.

The extent of involvement of the Russians in this new Syrian drone programme is open to debate. Although one could argue that the Syrian Armed Forces or one of the Syrian Intelligence Agencies are operating these drones, Russian involvement in operating these UAVs should not be ruled out. First and foremost, it seems implausible the regime would acquire two completely new and expensive platforms, requiring extensive training to operate them and to process the acquired data into useful information for the forces on the ground, when they can already deploy Iranian-delivered and operated Mohajer, Yasir and Shahed 129 drones currently present in Syria to the Lattakia Governorate with little effort. Secondly, Russia's involvement in the Syrian intelligence field continues to be greatly underestimated, the sudden discovery of Center S last year serving as a testament to that fact. Thirdly, the fact that both drones have been produced post-2010 for the Russian military and subsequently used over the Ukraine makes it seem unlikely they were exported to Syria this quickly, not in the least because it would mean exposing some of their newest technologies in the UAV field.

Center S, jointly operated by the Russian Osnaz GRU radio electronic intelligence agency, Iranian and Syrian Intelligence Agencies, was to provide Syria and Iran with situational awareness of the Middle East and Israel in particular, but focussed increasingly on Syrian domestic affairs shortly after the revolution and start of the Civil War. Center S became responsible for recording and decrypting radio communications from rebel groups inside Syria, providing the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) with up-to-date information on the strength and upcoming offensives of rebels, and the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) with information on rebel meetings. Center S was thus at least partially responsible for the series of killings of rebel leaders by SyAAF airstrikes. Unsurprisingly, its loss to the fighters of the Free Syrian Army served the regime a heavy blow.

It is therefore highly likely that Russians are involved one way or the other in operating the recently delivered Orlan-10s and Eleron-3SVs in Syria. The establishment of an UAV unit with Russian equipment and specialists as opposed to the Iranian-led UAV units might have been offered to the regime after the recent loss of Idlib Governorate, which if progressed further, could seriously have threatened the regime's heartland: Lattakia.

The new variant of the Orlan-10 has a set of twelve cameras located in its fuselage, identical to the example that crashed in the Ukraine. With these cameras, the Oran-10 can create 3D maps of the battlefront to provide extremely detailed information on enemy movements and strongholds. It is believed that the equipment used on the Orlan-10 can be changed depending on the mission, for instance to accommodate a night vision apparatus.

The cover of the camera was blown off on the example found near Ruveysli in Syria but still intact on the one recovered in the Ukraine seen below:

A civilian Olympus camera was among the equipment found onboard the crashed Eleron-3SV.

Piloted by Russians or not, the presence of even a limited number of Oran-10s and Eleron-3SVs could turn out to be a true asset on top of the already operated drones for the regime forces fighting in the Lattakia Governorate, or if deployed elsewhere, in Syria as a whole.

The ever rising death toll and the indiscriminate use of banned weaponry including chemical ordnance evidently serves as no deterrent for Russia to continue delivering anything from small arms to tanks, multiple rocket launchers, spare parts for the SyAAF's fleet of fighter-bombers and now unmanned aerial vehicles.

Special thanks to Green lemon.

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Monday, 13 July 2015

Libya Dawn going DIY: S-125 SAMs used as surface-to-surface missiles and mounted on T-62 tanks

The ever demanding combat environment of the Libyan battlefield has forced parties on all sides to resort to using their creativity to find new use for once abandoned and neglected systems, and in so doing spawned a host of interesting contraptions already, such as those that resulted from the Libyan National Army and Libya Dawn mounting AK-230 and Oerlikon GDF naval cannons on trucks. As the conflict still appears to be far from reaching a conclusion, such DIY continue to see the light of day, as is witnessed by the inception of another improvised mobile surface-to-surface missile system by Libya Dawn.

Libya Dawn, which has put effort into basing 2K12 SAMs converted to the surface-to-surface role on Italian Puma 6x6s as well as adapting S-125 SAMs to do the same from towed launchers in April this year, now appears to have continued this path of development, despite little positive results on the capabilities of these systems. The new mobile system, using a T-62 Model 1972 as Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) as a basis and a single modified S-125 mounted on top of the cupola as its main ordnance. The conversion of 2K12 SAMs to the surface-to-surface role on an Italian Puma 6x6 can be seen pictured below.

In control of Libya's capital Tripoli as well as Misrata, Libya Dawn is the largest operator of T-62s in Libya, having used the tanks in various battles, including those near Tripoli. The mainstay of Libya's T-62 fleet was operated by the Hamza battalion in Misrata before the revolution, during which the base it was operating from was struck by the NATO-led coalition. It now provides Libya Dawn with tens of T-62s in operational condition and a host of others in various states of decay that can be cannibalised for spare parts.

As could be observed from photos of Libya Dawn's previous projects to convert S-125 SAMs to the surface-to-surface role, the frontal fins have been removed in an attempt to increase the stability of the missile during its unguided flight. Similarly, the nosecone was lenthened, possibly to increase the payload (which ordinarily is just 60 kilograms) or to swap the standard high explosive fragmentational warhead designed to wreck aircraft for a more conventional high explosive one. While not easily discernible in the new imagery, it is likely the standard proximity fuse has once again been replaced with one designed for surface-to-surface use.

Libya Dawn is not the first to meddle with converting surface-to-air missiles for other roles; Ba'athist Iraq experimented with the same concept near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, with unsatisfactory results. More on this project can be read here.

The conversion of S-125s to the surface-to-surface role will, despite being placed on a mobile launcher, remain of limited value, and rather serves a psychological purpose than a tactical one.

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Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Syrian Arab Army going DIY, 57mm AZP S-60 anti-aircraft guns mounted on 2K12 SAM launchers

The ongoing Civil War in Syria has led to plenty of DIY projects in a bid to enhance the firepower of the involved factions. The infamous rebel Hell Cannon, the regime's IRAMs and barrel bombs are perfect examples of DIY projects that have become 'succesful' enough to be produced in significant numbers. The latter two of these projects, along with the armour modifications applied to a part of the Republican Guard's armour fleet, are in fact so popular that they might be classified more fittingly as factory standardised upgrades rather than DIY modifications.

DIY projects often depend on the ingenuity and motivation of the local commander, the crew and available resources. These conditions differ greatly throughout Syria, considering some factions and regions have sufficient weaponry and ammunition while others are forced to go DIY to ensure they have enough firepower available to gain the edge over their opponents, or even to just prevent their downfall.

The installment of 57mm AZP S-60 anti-aircraft guns on trucks is a DIY modification that has become extremely popular in Syria, being relatively easy to perform yet providing troops with a fast-firing support gun for long distances. The only drawback of this conversion is the limited firing arc of the gun, which due to obstruction by the truck cabin is blocked in the front. The truck of choice for such conversions is often a garbage truck, as these provide the operators some degree of cover against small arms fire.

Installing the same gun on the GM-578 chassis of the 2K12 Kub mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) system solves this problem, and allows the gunner to swing the gun fully around. A limited number of such conversions have recently been produced for the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA), and more vehicles might be converted in the near future.

At least one of the converted 2K12s is currently participating in the offensive for the strategically located Qalamoun region, which is jointly conducted by Hizbullah and the Syrian regime. The Syrian Arab Army and Republican Guard provide the bulk of the fire-support to infantry forces mainly composed of Hizbullah fighters.

The vulnerability of lone SAM sites scattered throughout Syria led to the decision to redeploy the most vulnerable of them to safer and stronger regime-held positions, where most SAM batteries were reactivated. For some, the reactivation was short lived however, as a lack of spares and the need to deploy the personnel for other roles meant the batteries are either minimally staffed or abandoned all together. A number of 2K12 batteries underwent the same fate, such as the launchers below, reading: الجيش - ١٠٦٠٥٥٨ ''The Army - 1060558''. The converted 2K12s were among the abandoned examples, and converting them into fire-support platforms rather than letting them collect dust makes sense.

Although this cost-effective conversion is mobile and therefore capable of advancing alongside regime fighters, the limited amount of ammunition that can be carried in the steel construction which protects the crew against small-arms fire will likely limit its role to just a fire-support platform. However, another DIY project initiated by Libya Dawn in Libya shows the 2K12 SAM system can be converted for use in other roles as well. With some relatively simple modifications, the 600kg 3M9 can be repurposed to surface-to-surface role, albeit to highly unreliable effect. Wether such a modification might soon also see use on the Syrian battlefield remains to be seen.

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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Fortress T4: An Airbase at War

The Islamic State's offensive in Central Syria has not only allowed the fighters of the Islamic State to expand their operations into areas previously out of reach, but it now also threatens the regime's gas supplies, its presence on numerous fronts, its control over the only road leading to the vitally important T4 airbase and the airbase itself, the largest of its kind in Syria.

T4, sharing its name with the nearby pumping station, is more commonly (yet incorrectly) known as Tiyas and a whole host of other names. After the fall of Tadmur airbase, it is now one of sixteen operational airbases under control of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), and its defence is essential to the SyAAF's ability to exercise control over the Syrian skies. No less than three fighter-bomber squadrons and one helicopter squadron are currently operating out of T4, including the pride of the SyAAF: its Su-24M2s. The airbase is also home to the now decommissioned MiG-25 fleet, largely phased out in the previous decade. Despite being Syria's largest airbase, T4 only has one runway, making the airbase extremely vulnerable in case this single runway gets taken out.

In anticipation of an Islamic State offensive on T4 after their lightning advance throughout Central and Eastern Syria in mid and late 2014, the airbase's assets were heavily reinforced by a temporarily detachment of L-39s, formerly deployed to the then recently overrun Tabqa airbase and by one detachment of at least four Mi-8/17s.

Fully aware of the high military value of T4, the regime has made extensive efforts to defend the airbase, making it come close to being an impenetrable fortress. 'Fortress T4' also serves as a barrier between the now Islamic State controlled Tadmur, and regime controlled Homs, further adding to its importance. The regime forces defending T4 have clashed with the fighters of the Islamic State on numerous occasions throughout the past year, with the latest offensive coming close to the officer's housing and T4 pumping station. According to various reports by Islamic State related Twitter accounts, T4 was targeted with artillery in late May 2015, although it remains unknown if this caused any damage to the airbase.

While the airbase itself is not in imminent danger of falling to the fighters of the Islamic State, the control over the only road leading to T4 is disputed, and will likely completely be under the control of the Islamic State if they continue their push towards Homs. This would isolate T4 and make access by road impossible, leading to significant problems in the long run. Resupplying the airbase would then be in the hands of the SyAAF's transport aircraft and helicopters, but such an airlift would have serious drawbacks as it would be unable to bring in any heavy weaponry and fuel, not to mention the fact that it would also cost the regime loads of precious resources.

The resident fleet of aircraft and helicopters has the potential of being a major eyesore to the fighters of the Islamic State, and has the ability to thwart the Islamic State in any of its future offensives undertaken in the Homs Governorate. But as the SyAAF remains largely unable to respond to actual developments, and often only joins the fray after the battle on the ground has been fought, better coordination between regime forces on the ground and SyAAF aircraft and helicopters in the sky is required to fully optimise the assests available at T4. Furthermore, the desperate revenge strikes flown by the SyAAF on recently lost towns could be stopped to spare not only the life of the many innocent civilians killed during these sorties, but also the precious airframes used in these useless sorties, with the wasted flight-hours instead allocated to supporting the regime's ground forces.

For example, only one symbolic sortie from T4 was flown in aid of the defenders of Hulayhilah, while the defenders of al-Sukhna, al-Hail, Arak and the numerous other towns and gasfields recently captured by the fighters of the Islamic State received no aerial support whatsoever. The SyAAF also largely stood by when Tadmur was captured, only flying some aimless sorties to boost moral of the regime forces on the ground. The town was heavily hit only after it was captured by the Islamic State, with the ordnance used randomly dropped on residential areas.

The huge weapons depots and airbase present at Tadmur provided the fighters of the Islamic State with large amounts of weaponry and associated ammunition, a logical target for the SyAAF's fighter-bombers, which can be equipped with sophisticated precision guided weaponry. However, none of the depots were targeted by the SyAAF, and it was the US-led coalition that had to step in to destroy six anti-aircraft guns captured at Tadmur.[1] This while the majority of the aircraft capable of deploying precision guided munitions is stationed at T4, located only sixty kilometers from Tadmur.

While extensive in terms of types, Syria's numerically limited stock of precision guided missiles has seen little use throughout the Civil War, making it likely that the majority is still being withheld for a possible future conflict with the U.S. or Israel. But as the war has now entered its fourth year, one would question if such weaponry wouldn't be better off used in this conflict instead. While the SyAAF's current arsenal of precision guided weaponry would be quickly depleted, it could be quickly replenished by Russia; the continuous flow of Russian-made weaponry that reaches Syria on a regular basis is a testament to that fact.

When examining T4 using the latest (public) satellite imagery available one can spot a large number of seemingly inoperational aircraft spread around the airbase, with as much as thirty-two decommissioned MiG-25s visible at T4 in October 2014. While certainly an impressive sight, it marks the end of an era for the once mighty 'Foxbat' fleet. The fleet of MiG-25s was slowly decommissioned throughout the previous decade, with only a few examples remaining operational by the turn of the century.

The exact number of MiG-25s Syria received is thought to be around forty. Versions are believed to include MiG-25P (later upgraded to MiG-25PDS) and MiG-25PD interceptors, MiG-25R and RB reconnaissance aircraft and MiG-25PU conversion trainers. A reason for the retirement of the MiG-25 fleet might not only be its age and the increasing costs to keep the aircraft operational that come with it, but also the type's vulnerability to Israeli jamming.

The career of some MiG-25s appeared to have been revived on several occasions throughout the Syrian Civil War; the last confirmed sorties were flown in March and April 2014, during which a MiG-25PD(S) launched R-40 air-to-air missiles at ground targets. These sorties, to no one's surprise, yielded no beneficial results.

The last to operate the MiG-25s was an unknown squadron at Tadmur, sporting three MiG-25PD(S) and one MiG-25PU in its ranks until late 2013. These aircraft were then likely flown to T4, where they joined the remainder of the MiG-25 fleet already stored here.

The majority of the active aircraft operating out of T4 are housed in the airbase's fifty-eight Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS), including the SyAAF's Su-24M2s. T4 has traditionally been the home of Syria's Su-24s, with most located in the South-Eastern part of the airbase. A few examples are also detached to Seen at any given time. The Su-24s are undoubtedly the most important assets of the SyAAF, and have seen heavy usage in the past four years.

Although T4 is located closely to Islamic State held territory, 819 Squadron flying the Su-24s rarely participates in sorties flown against the fighters of the Islamic State. Instead, the Su-24 serves as the SyAAF's long arm, mostly striking villages throughout all of Syria. From Deir ez-Zor to Quneitra and even testing the reaction time of the Royal Air Force based at Akrotiri, Cyprus, the Su-24s done it all.

Contrary to earlier reports, the transfer of one Su-24MK and one Su-24MR by Libya to Syria in the mid 1990s might have not taken place, and has been disclaimed by several SyAAF pilots and the former base commander of T4. This means that the number of Su-24s Syria received stands at just twenty. However, nineteen of these Su-24MKs were upgraded to M2 standard by the 514 ARZ Aircraft Repair Plant in Rzhev in Russia between 2010 and 2013. Just in time to participate in the Civil War, all aircraft returned to Syria relatively unnoticed.

The upgrade provides for improved targeting, navigation and fire control systems by replacing the plane's old control systems. The plane is also made compatible with newer versions of the KAB-500/1500 and with Kh-31As, Kh-31Ps, Kh-59s and R-73s, adding to the FAB, OFAB and RBK bombs, Kh-25s, Kh-28s, Kh-29Ls, Kh-29Ts and Kh-58s guided missiles, KAB-500s and KAB-1500s guided bombs, S-24 and S-25 air to ground rockets, rocket pods and R-60 air-to-air missiles it can already carry. In Syrian service, all but the R-73 are available to the Su-24M2s, which are reserved for the SyAAF's MiG-29SMs instead.

Out of the twenty Su-24s originally acquired by the SyAAF, eleven examples remain operational as of June 2015. All but one loss incurred during the Civil War, with one airframe damaged beyond repair after suffering an accident before it had commenced. One was shot down with a MANPADS by the Free Syrian Army above Daret Izzah on the 28th of November 2012, another was shot down by an Israeli Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) after having strayed into the airspace over the occupied Golan Heights on the 23th of September 2014 and another fell near Nahtah on the 11th of June 2015, likely due to premature detonation of its ordnance. One Su-24M2 was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire in May 2015, after which its pilot managed to guide the airframe to T4 despite the condition it was in. However, it crashed while on approach to the runway after it became apparent that the damage done to the aircraft would prevent a safe landing. Both the pilot and navigator ejected safely. An additional two Su-24s were believed to have been destroyed in an accident on the 28th of May 2015, during which an explosion occured while both aircraft were being rearmed for another sortie, resulting in the death of at least five and wounding another dozen. Additionally, two Su-24s are out of service after having been hit by ground fire. While the damage on both of these aircraft is minimal and can be repaired, the SyAAF currently lacks the resources to do so. The fleet of available airframes has thus almost been cut in half, and each loss is a heavy blow to the SyAAF.

A second fighter-bomber squadron based at T4 operates the Su-22M4, all of which are located in the North-Western and South-Western part of the airbase. 827 Squadron has seen heavy use against the fighters of the Islamic State in the past year, mainly flying in support of Suqour al-Sahraa' (Desert Falcons) units patrolling the Syrian desert.

The Su-22M4 is outfitted for the carriage of S-24 and S-25 air-to-ground rockets, unguided rocket pods, FAB, OFAB and RBK bombs, KMGU-2 munitions dispensers, Kh-25, Kh-28, Kh-29L, Kh-29T and Kh-58 air-to-ground missiles and R-60 air-to-air missiles. The Su-22M4 has almost exclusively been used to deliver unguided weaponry in the Syrian Civil War: its potential to deliver guided weaponry again being ignored.

Although its Su-22s are often targeted by anti-aircraft guns of the Islamic State, 827 Squadron has suffered relatively light losses in the past four years, with only one Su-22M4 shot down by the fighters of the Islamic State near the Shaer gas field on the 30th of November 2014. As seen with the Su-24M2s, a couple of airframes are awaiting repair after having suffered some form of combat damage.

In the mid to end of 2014, T4's aerial assests were further strengthened by the deployment of a detachment of L-39s. Although nowadays rarely sighted in Syria's skies, the remainder of the SyAAF's L-39 fleet remains active on nearly every front, the L-39ZOs and L-39ZAs almost exclusively flying their sorties in the night in the Aleppo and Damascus region.

The L-39s based at T4 were among the examples overhauled at 'The Factory', the SyAAF's repair and maintenance center located at Neyrab/Aleppo International Airport. The overhauled examples were distributed between Syria's remaining operational airbases, including Tabqa before it fell to the fighters of the Islamic State on the 24th of August 2014. The L-39s now present at T4 are believed to have been formerly based at Tabqa. These aircraft have thus followed the fighters of the Islamic State as they carried out their offensives in Syria.

In an effort to boost the firepower of the L-39s, all of the overhauled airframes were rewired for the carriage of 80mm B-8 rocket pods, a weapon originally not destined to be used on the L-39. A B-8 equipped L-39ZO now stationed at T4 airbase can be seen below. The carriage of B-8 rocket pods greatly enchances the L-39's capabilities, which previously could only be armed with 57mm rocket pods and bombs.

Recent satellite imagery of T4 shows the presence of at least five L-39s at any given time, most sitting on the tarmac formerly used by the SyAAF's MiG-25s or by the double HAS, now acting as a support facility for the L-39s.

A detachment of Mi-8/17s now based at T4 act in support of the remaining regime forces in the region, and as a liaison between the airbase and the rest of regime-controlled Syria.

Four Mi-8/17s can be spotted on recent satellite imagery, stationed right next to the L-39s.

Many of the HAS's now empty after the decommissioning of the MiG-25 fleet have been turned into barracks, weapon depots and defensive strongholds. Two HAS's located on the North-Eastern side of the airbase and one HAS located on the South-Eastern part of the airbase have seen specifically much activity around them, with several trucks present in or near the HAS's at any given time.

A tank company, now stationed in the centre of T4, further strengthens the airbase's defences.

Satellite imagery also shows the many destroyed buildings in the officer's housing quarters located East of the airbase. This location was the scene of heavy fighting back in November 2014, which also spread to the nearby T4 pumping station. The defenders succesfully managed to push the fighters of the Islamic State back from both locations however.

Russian contractors from the Slavonic Corps, sent to protect the oilfields around Deir ez-Zor, also passed by T4 on their journey to the city. The contractors, apparantly spending more time posing for photos than actually fighting, were routed after being ambushed by rebel forces near the town of al-Sukhna on the way to Deir ez-Zor, and swiftly returned to Russia afterwards, where the owners of the Slavonic Corps was subsequently imprisoned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) because the operation was deemed illegal by the Russian government. Five contractors together with Su-24M2 '2514' can be seen below.

The two S-75 and three S-125 surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites surrounding the airbase remain active, and regularly change positions to throw off their adversaries. Although they are unlikely to be of much use during a potential Coalition air campaign against the Assad-regime due to their outdated nature, they would force the flight ceiling of coalition aircraft up in the early stages of such a campaign and might deter stand-alone strikes by other parties. The systems tasked with directing these SAMs to their targets are two P-18 ''Spoon Rest D'' and two P-35/37 ''Bar Lock'' radars, which are responsible for detecting any plane flying in this part of Central Syria, a crucial task now that Tadmur airbase and its many radars have been captured by the Islamic State. One RSP-7 radar and one Parol Identification friend or foe (IFF) system also present at T4 guide the aircraft that are coming in to land.

The latest offensive of the Islamic State on this vital airbase has once again been stopped before reaching the airbase, and with the recent setbacks for the Islamic State, this might have been their last chance to take it. Fortress T4, as large as it is important, will indubitably continue to serve as a major hub for the Syrian Arab Air Force.

Written in collaboration with R.S from Luftwaffe A.S. Satellite imagery by finriswolf.

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