Saturday, 13 December 2014

The SyAAF: L-39s over Deir ez-Zor

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

With the fighting in Deir ez-Zor raging on, it seems the SyAAF's L-39s are now finally back after a long absence. A video from Al Mayadeen, on a visit to Deir ez-Zor, shows some of the aircraft currently deployed at Deir ez-Zor's airbase.

Apart from the obvious MiG-17 gate guard, a Mi-8, an inoperational MiG-21UM and one of the remaining MiG-21UMs at Deir ez-Zor, it also gives us a glimpse at a L-39.

While the L-39 fleet was the most active in the early stages of the Syrian Civil War, one of its main bases was overrun by Jaish al-Islam, which later attempted to get at least two aircraft operational. The other base operating L-39s, Kweres, has been under siege since December 2012. However, a quick relief of the siege allowed the main training base of the SyAAF to evacuate some of its aircraft, and together with other surviving L-39s, these subsequently underwent overhaul at 'The Factory', the SyAAF's repair and maintenance center at Neyrab/Aleppo International Airport.

At least five L-39s were spotted here at any given time in late 2013, awaiting their overhaul.

A subsequent series of TOW strikes, which also destroyed an inoperational MiG-23MLD, destroyed one or possibly two L-39s. A huge slap in the face for the SyAAF, as these two precious airframes were just freshly overhauled by 'The Factory'.

The remaining examples were subsequently distributed between Syria's airbases. As the L-39s are easy to operate and maintain, they can be easily deployed throughout Syria. The deployment of L-39s to Deir ez-Zor is a perfect example of this tactic.

The remaining MiG-21s at Deir ez-Zor's airbase, strengthened by the deployment of the SyAAF's 819th Squadron flying the recently upgraded Su-24M2s already have their hands full stopping the Islamic State's attempts to capture the airbase and eliminate the Syrian Arab Army and Republican Guard in and around Deir ez-Zor. Therefore, L-39s are a welcome sight for the garrisons deployed here and show that Deir ez-Zor hasn't been abandoned just yet.

Interestingly, the overhaul also expanded the capabilities of the L-39s by adding the cability to carry 80mm B-8 rocket pods. These B-8s were believed to have been received from Russia last year. The L-39 was previously unknown to be capable of using the B-8, carrying the 57mm UB-16 rocket pod instead. The B-8 equipped L-39ZO seen below is currently deployed at Hama airbase.

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  1. Excellent report, as usual. I remember in 2012 seeing on a daily basis videos of these aircraft conducting strikes in Aleppo, but they have been absent from battle for a long time.

    If these L-39s have been modified in a unique manner with the addition of the B-8 rocket pods, are they still considered L-39ZAs or does the modification mean that they get a new designation?

    1. The aircraft seen here is an L-39ZO, as witnessed by the absence of the GSh-23L cannon pod.

      Designations will stay the same.

    2. How many L-39's of any designation are still operational with the SAAF after the capture of one of the L-39's main bases?

      Excellent reading as it brings to light the Syrian Arab Air Force's adaptation to a conflict it was not ready for. A few more questions, are spare parts, bombs, rockets, ammunition from Russia and other Syrian allies coming in to support the Air Force despite an embargo? Now just recently the EU voted to stop all Jet Fuel shipments to Syria in order to help stop the indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas?

    3. The South African Air Force (SAAF) does not fly the L-39. As for the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), around ten.

      The answer to your question will be given in an article due to be released in the near future.

    4. Oh, sorry I was meaning the Syrian Arab Air Force when I made the SAAF abreviation.

  2. Very interesting article, thank you.

    It looks like the regime is throwing everything it can at Deir ez-Zor, which is unsurprising as its the last major government holding in the east of the country and if it fell the full weight of IS in Syria could be brought to bare on the West of the country.