Thursday, 10 April 2014

Iran deploying her newest drones to Syria: The Shahed 129

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

After the spotting of Iranian Yasir UAVs in Syria, it appears another Iranian made drone took to the Syrian skies: The Shahed 129 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). Footage of the UCAV, overflying East Ghouta, Damascus can be seen here, here and here.

The Shahed 129 was unveiled in late 2012 and entered mass production in September 2013 for the Aerospace Force of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. According to Iranian sources the Shahed 129 has an operational radius of 1,700 km, a monitoring capability of 200 km and a flight endurance of twenty-four hours while flying at 7,315 m (24.000 feet).[1] 

The Shahed 129 flying over Eastern Ghouta likely belongs to the third batch manufactured. Apart from the possibility to carry weapons and the retractable landing gear already seen in the second batch, the antenna, enlarged propellers and a new v-tail appear to be the most recent additions. Reports about an enlarged nose section similar to the MQ-9 Reaper are false. A logical mistake caused by the reflection of sunlight.

The Shahed 129 could turn out to be a true game-changer for Assad. It is also capable of effectively taking over some roles of the air force's fighter-bombers and helicopters, which are already overstretched. The Shahed 129s are likely to be bassed at Mezze AFB.

The sighting the of Shahed 129, obviously Iranian operated and delivered on board on one of the many Iranian transport flights to Syria, shows the extent to which the Iranians are prepared to support Assad. It's only a question of time before more Iranian weapons are spotted in Syria.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

9M117/9K116-1 Bastion Anti-tank missiles in Syria

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 

On the 7th of April 2014, Syrian rebels captured the Tel Ahmar ammunition depot in Quneitra Governorate. Apart from frequently seen anti-tank weapons like the RPG-29 and the 9M131 Metis-M, Tel Ahmar contained another type of munition that was long rumored to be in Syrian inventory, but is now actually seen for the very first time: The Bastion anti-tank missile.

The photo seen below shows no less than nine 3UBK10M-1 tank gun rounds with associated 9M117M guided missiles captured at Tel Ahmar.

The 9M117M missile, also known under its NATO designation AT-10 Stabber, is designed to be fired through the barrel of a gun. It is an upgraded version of the base-model 9M117 ATGM, carrying a tandem HEAT warhead with an average armour penetration of about 600 mm RHA after penetrating the ERA (explosive reactive armour) of a tank. Together with the casing and the propellant charge, the missile makes the 3UBK10M gun round. The 9M117M missile in a 3UBK10M-1 round together with the guidance device aboard the T-55AM(V) tank is called 9K116-1 Bastion.

Different models of 3UBK10Ms, all containing the same 9M117M missile, can be fired from MT-12 anti-tank guns, T-55 and T-62 tanks and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles. The guided missile rounds from Tel Ahmar are of the 3UBK10M-1 model, designed to be fired from T-55AM(V) tanks.

The 3UBK10M family of guided missile gun rounds; 3UBK10M-1 is the second from the left.

Markings on 3UBK10M-1 rounds captured at Tel Ahmar.

Syria is believed to have acquired the 9M117's carrier, the T-55AM, in the early eighties. Most of the T-55AMs were later upgraded to T-55MV standard with increased armour protection in the form of Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour. Quneitra saw large concentrations of the latter stationed here, making it likely the pictured missiles were supposed to be fired by T-55MVs.

Unverifiable reports claim the purchase of as many as 2000 9M117M missiles by Syria.[1] Most of the missiles likely remain stockpiled in ammunition depots, like Tel Ahmar, along the Golan Heights for possible use against Israeli armour.

While originally bought for use against Israeli Magach and Merkava tanks, due to the lack of engagements between tanks, the Bastion hasn't been deployed in the Syrian Civil War yet. This will likely remain the case for the time being: Even though rebels do operate several T-55AMs and T-55MVs in the area, it is highly unlikely that the untrained crews will be able to operate the 9M117 in conjunction with the sophisticated missile guidance equipment in the tank itself. The only footage we're likely to see is from captured arms depots like this one in Tel Ahmar.

Special thanks to PFC_Joker.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The BGM-71 TOW, a new weapon on the Syrian battlefield

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Footage published on the 5th of April 2014 shows a new type of weapon in the rebels' arsenal: The BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile.

The TOW is seen being operated by Harakat Hazm, which 'surprisingly' is also suddenly operating MANPADS. Harakat Hazm is loyal to Salim Idris and consists of mostly ex-Kataib Farouq members. The footage was shot near Heesh, Idlib Governorate and can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Alwiya wa Kataib Al-Shaheed Ahmed al-Abdo was also seen operating the missile, footage of which can be found here, here and here. The missile in hands of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Dara'a, can be seen here and here. The missile in the hands of Liwa al-Aadiyat, fighting on the Lattakia front, can be seen here.

The TOW is probably the most popular anti-tank missile used in the region, which makes tracking the source of these missiles, without the help of serial numbers, hard. Most likely, the TOWs were and still are supplied to the rebels from Saudi Arabia. A transfer which had to be approved by the Obama administration.

These videos will likely mark the start of a new anti-tank missile offensive, as seen with the foreign supplied Konkurs and HJ-8s.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The SyAAF in decay: R-40s used as AGMs in a desperate attempt to relieve fighter-bombers?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

With the whole Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) actively engaging in the Syrian conflict, even Syria's interceptors are being used for air-to-ground tasks in the Syrian civil war. With the fleet of MiG-21, MiG-23BN and Su-22 fighter-bombers overstretched, only a complete overhaul with newly acquired spare parts is to turn the current state of the fighter-bomber fleet around.

While the squadrons operating MiG-21s, MiG-23BNs and Su-22M3/M4 appear to have a lower operational readiness, the recently overhauled fleet of MiG-23MF/MLs, MiG-29s and Su-24MK2s remains fully operational. With only the Su-24s being real fighter-bombers, designed from the start on to perform air-to-ground sorties. In this light, the SyAAF has to fight with what they got. This already led to unconventional measures such as dropping barrel bombs out of Mi-8/17s and adapting Mi-24s for doing the same.

It appears the SyAAF has now gone as far as using MiG-25PD interceptors for air-to-ground tasks, employing air-to-air missiles! The MiG-25PD, originally designed to shoot down USAF bombers flying at high altitude, was cleared for export in the 70's. Thus, many found their way to air forces in Africa and the Middle East, including Syria.

The exact number of MiG-25s delivered remains unknown but is believed 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.

Of these forty, an unknown number are still operational at T4 (Tiyas) airbase and at Tadmur (Palmyra) airbase.

A photograph taken in Aqaribat in the Hama Governorate shows an 'innocent' unexploded infrared homing R-40TD laying on the ground. Footage of the missile can be seen here.

The MiG-25PD's last raid over the Hama Governorate reportedly resulted in the launch of two missiles at around fifteen kilometres (9.5 miles) from their target, the first R-40 hit the ground but didn't explode (the example seen above) and the second R-40 exploded in mid-air at around five kilometres distance from the other one. Last week, other MiG-25s launched four other R-40s, then two more followed by another two in the same period. Footage of the SyAAF's MiG-25s flying above the Hama Governorate can be seen here and here

The apparent use of air-to-air missiles for air-to-ground tasks is very uncommon, and is not likely to be even remotely successful, as confirmed by this last raid. Although the result of the other possible raids are yet unknown, it is not likely they achieved a different result than the last one.

The long range air-to-air missile R-40 is the primary armament of the MiG-25, with a maximum of four R-40s carried. The MiG-25PDs are usually armed with two R-40TD infrared-homing missiles and two R-40RD semi-active radar homing missiles, although it isn't uncommon to replace one R-40TD and one R-40RD with a total of four R-60 short range air-to-air missiles on dual launchers. The MiG-25Ps, PDs and PDS's are the only MiG-25s capable of carrying the R-40s, eliminating the MiG-25R(B) reconnaissance aircraft as a possible contender for the launch of these missiles over the skies of Hama. The missile seen is a R-40TD, using infrared ("heat-seeking") guidance.

It is currently unknown if the SyAAF ever received multiple ejector racks (MERs) for their MiG-25RBs, equipped with MERs The reconnaissance configured MiG-25RB can be turned into a bomber, able to deploy up to eight FAB-500Ts, albeit with extremely bad accuracy.

(Special thanks to Luftwaffe A.S. For more on this subject see here)

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Syrian BTR-80s, a recent acquisition?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 

A recent stream of photos from Syria's Lattakia region revealed a new unit in the Syrian arsenal: The BTR-80 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). Syria, a traditional user of the BTR-60 family, was previously unknown to be operating BTR-80s. The Syrian Arab Army's wheeled APCs have rarely seen use in the conflict so far, with the YPG being the only major operator of BTR-60s, operating several modified BTR-60s in Northern Syria.

The few BTR-60s that remain operator in the hands of the SyAA are strictly used in a defensive role while the remaining Polish and Czechoslovakian made OT-64s were scrapped. The only prominent BTR-60 family member still in use is the BTR-60PU-12 air defense command vehicle, currently detached to Syria's 9K31 Strela-1 and 9K35 Strela-10 mobile surface to air missile systems battalions.

Also visible in the picture is an armoured Ural truck, one of the twenty-five delivered by the Russians for secure transport of Syria's chemical weapon arsenal to the port of Lattakia. Also received were fifty Kamaz trucks for the same purpose. Whether this delivery also included BTR-80 APCs is unknown.

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