Thursday, 28 November 2013

Syria's recently upgraded Su-24s (1)

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 

The Su-24 represents the most modern and main strike element of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF). They have taken an active part in the Syrian civil war since November 2012. While most of the SyAAF attack aircraft are already worn out and struggling to cope with the high demands, the Su-24s just received a full factory overhaul in Russia, ensuring they can maintain a high operational tempo.

Syria received a total of twenty Su-24s since 1990. Twenty Su-24MKs were ordered from the Soviet Union in 1988 and delivered in 1990. The fleet equips 819 squadron based at T4 in the middle of Syria with a few planes being detached to Seen in the South. The MK version Syria received was a downgraded variant of the Su-24M, the M being built for the Soviet Union and the MK for export customers like Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

Although little known to the public, the whole Syrian Su-24MK fleet was upgraded to M2 level in the past years. All twenty Su-24MKs were upgraded to MK2. The MK2 upgrade brings the Su-24s on the same standard as the Russian Su-24M2s. The upgrade provides for improved targeting, navigation and fire control systems by replacing the plane's old control systems. The plane is also being made compatible with newer versions of the KAB-500/1500 and for Kh-31As, Kh-31Ps, Kh-59s and R-73s.

The contract was signed in 2009 and work started in 2010, with most of the upgrades completed in 2013.[3] More than half of the twenty-one upgraded Su-24s made it back to Syria without any problems, but up to ten of them weren't so lucky and were still stuck at Rzhev last autumn.

Five Syrian Su-24s at Rzhev on the 30th of July 2012

However, given the importance of Su-24M2s to SyAAF, Assad regime must have done its utmost to recover its most advanced attack aircraft sitting idly in Russia. According to a source that wants to remain anonymous, the SyAAF was already working to have them delivered a year ago. This of course being a strict violation of the arms embargo.

The example of the well-known Mi-25 deal shows that after the Russian ship carrying overhauled helicopters to Syria was forced to turn back because of the imposed embargo[4], those Mi-25s were nevertheless delivered to Syria in a covert deal. [5]

The lack of publicity on the Su-24M2 deal should have only made the delivery easier, so we may safely assume that the aircraft most likely have already made it back to Syria. New satellite photos of Rzhev can make that clear when they come up on Google Earth or other services.

The Syrian Su-24s fly mainly in Idlib and Hama, but also occasionally in places like Deir ez-Zor and Rif Dimasqh. Their use has been increasing with the fleet of MiG-23BNs and Su-22s being as good as spent and in need of a 'brake' to recover. Thanks to this, the Su-24 secured its place as the most important asset in the SyAAF inventory.

On the 28th of November 2012, a SyAAF Su-24M2 was shot down above Daret Izzah in the Aleppo Governorate, making it the first loss of a Su-24 in the conflict/

The SyAAF also used her Su-24s to test the British Air Defence around Cyprus on the 2nd of September and the Turkish Air Defence on the 5th of October. A military intervention would likely have been carried out from Akrotiri, Cyprus. This would be a logical target for the SyAAF, hence the testing of the British reaction time.

Apart from the obvious FAB, OFAB and RBK bombs, the Syrian Su-24s are also being armed with Kh-23s Kh-25s, Kh-29Ls, Kh-29Ts, Kh-31s, Kh-58s, KAB-500s and KAB-1500s. Carriage of S-24 and S-25 air to ground rockets, along with the air to air missile R-60 is rather rare. Although possible, carriage of unguided rocket pods is non-existent.

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Russian contractors in Syria

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Additional evidence of Russian contractors operating in Syria has emerged. According to an article published on the news site, a private military company named Slavonic Corps indeed operated in Syria, but was actually disbanded after a single failed operation. The following story was told to by former Slavonic Corps contractors which operated in Syria.

By the beginning of October the Slavonic Corps had 267 men in Syria, organized in two companies and based in Lattakia. The plan was to deploy to Deir ez-Zor to 'guard' the oil fields there, which are of viral importance for the survival of Assad, although they were hinted that 'guard duty' may involve actual fighting.

The contractors received 37mm M1939 Anti-Aircraft Guns and 120mm 120-PM-43 mortars, and were supposed to receive four T-72s and several BMPs. However, what they actually got from the Syrian high command were old T-62s and BMP-1s that couldn't even drive on their own power. So when they finally headed for Deir ez-Zor on the 15th of October, it was on guntrucks and technicals, without any heavy armour support.

They made a stop at T4 Airbase for two days, the following photo was taken there.

A very rare photo of a SyAAF Su-24 bomber, with Slavonic Corps contractors posing in front of it.

On 18th October, they were sent to al-Sukhna because Syrian Arab Army and National Defense Force troops were engaged in heavy fighting here. In a brief engagement near al-Sukhna the Slavonic Corps suffered six WIAs (Wounded in Action) and had to retreat. During the retreat, one of the contractors, Aleksei Malyuta, lost his ID. This marked the end of the Russian contractors in Syria, at least for the time being. In the end of October Slavonic Corps was effectively disbanded and their personnel was flown back to Russia in two charter flights.

While fighting near al-Sukhna, they broke the main principle of Slavonic Corps Limited:

''The Company's activities are in strict correspondence to Russian law and to the law of those countries where the Company protects Russian companies' interests. Our principle - we never participate in armed conflicts as mercenaries and never consult entities, groups or individuals having even a slightest relation to terrorist organizations. Further we never take part in events related to overthrow of governments, violating human rights of civilian population and in any other actions violating International Law and Conventions.'' [1]

Slavonic Corps Limited used to consist of veterans which served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Africa, Tajikistan, Northern Caucasus, Serbia and other countries.[2] Many of the contractors are likely to have served in the Second Chechen War, fighting Chechens and other foreign Mujahideen they also encountered while fighting near Sukhna.

The map shows that both T4 Airbase and al-Sukhna are indeed on the road to Deir ez-Zor

''سورية الأسد'' (Assad's Syria) The most widely used pro-Assad slogan in Syria.

It is important to note that according to the Slavonic Corps leadership was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) upon returning to Russia and charged with recruiting mercenaries. Apparently sending Russian contractors to Syria actually is not a policy supported by the Russian Government at the moment.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Iran deploying her newest drones to Syria: The Yasir UAV

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 

In a video uploaded on the 9th of November 2013, the Iranian Yasir Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its first appearance in the Syrian sky. The Yasir is based on the American made Scan Eagle, of which at least one was captured by Iran in December 2012. The Scan Eagle was quickly copied by Iran and two variants have since been revealed to the public, one being the Sayeh and the other being the Yasir. The Yasir has a twin tailboom with a v-tail rudder, as opposed to the Sayeh, which has no tail at all.

Yasir is reported to be capable of flying at an altitude of 15.000ft, having an endurance of eight hours and an operational radius of 200km. This means that the Yasir is able to cover large parts of Syria while being controlled by Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Sepāh) operators inside Damascus. Two Yasir UAVs were downed so far. One on the 5th of December 2013 over Aleppo and one over Qalamoun on the 7th of December 2013.

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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Jaish al-Islam's own Air Force?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

A video uploaded by Jaish al-Islam's media office revealed the birth of the world's newest air force, operating two L-39ZAs from Kshesh airbase (also known as Jirah or Jarrah). This base was captured on 12th of February 2013 by Ahrar al-Sham. Kshesh was formerly home to 2nd Squadron operating L-39ZAs and one unknown squadron operating L-39ZOs.

The L-39ZA is the light attack variant of the L-39 equipped with a GSh-23L double barreled 23mm cannon and four pylons capable of carrying a 1.290 kg payload. The two outer pylons are wired for carrying R-13 and R-60 air to air missiles. Although both missile types are widely available in Syria, none were seen at Kshesh.

The caption on the plane reads (above) ''إلا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله'' (There is only one God and Muhammad is his Prophet) and (below) ''لواء الإسلام'' (Liwa al-Islam)

Jaish al-Islam is, without a doubt, the best equipped brigade fighting Assad. It has the knowlegde, money and will to turn captured vehicles or planes against their former operators. The first example of this was the usage of the 9K33s. against several helicopters of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) Getting two L-39s working is a whole different story, likely made possible with aid from former SyAAF L-39 pilots and technicians. With countless other countries also operating L-39s, Liwa al-Islam could also have hired people from abroad to achieve getting some of the L-39s working. Spares, fuel and munitions could easily be acquired via Saudi Arabia.

Kshesh air base was bombed by the (SyAAF) shortly after the fall of the airbase. Although one L-39 was destroyed, this didn't prevent Liwa al-Islam from working on the other L-39s, from which around a dozen were still intact. It now seems that the united forces of Jaish al-Islam managed to get two L-39ZAs working.

L-39ZA serial 2111. Both L-39s received a new paint job.

Yet, this whole move is more to be seen as a propaganda show, and clearly did what it was supposed to do.