Sunday, 1 November 2015

Temporary suspension of posting

Dear reader,

You might already have noticed a lack of content this month, a situation which unfortunately will continue to perpetuate for some time to come. This is because we're currently fully committed to finishing our book on the North Korean military by the title of The Armed Forces of North Korea, on the path of Songun, which deprives us of most of the time normally spent on writing articles for Oryx Blog. Regular posting is expected to resume a few months into 2016, when most work on the book should be finished. We hope you can understand, and look forward to finally completing the culmination of years of extensive study of the DPRK and its armed forces.

Kind regards,

The authors of Oryx Blog

''North Korea’s Armed Forces: On the path of Songun seeks to bring order and coherence to the chaotic state of affairs in the intelligence community of North Korea-watchers, as well as to disprove the much-echoed stance that there is little to fear from the DPRK by providing information on a plethora of never-before described weapons systems and modernisation programmes.

North Korea’s Armed Forces maps the most important events from the inconclusive ceasefire struck at the end of the Korean War, throughout the Cold War until modern day, and an especially heavy emphasis is placed on the current status of the Korean People's Army by examining their wealth of indigenously designed weaponry. In the course of the book not only will many of the Korean People's Army’s most secret projects and tactics be unveiled, but also new light will be shed on the deadly flare-ups between the North and the South, and novel evidence on tragic incidents such as the Cheonan sinking and Yeongpyeong bombing of 2010 is brought forth. Moreover, an up-to-date, comprehensive listing of the equipment holdings of several branches of the Korean People's Army is included, offering a numerical assessment of its naval and aerial capabilities. From the recently introduced stealth missile boats, ballistic missile submarines and main battle tank families to their often-ignored indigenous aircraft industry, virtually all indigenous weapons systems are discussed extensively.

This exclusive content is illustrated by over forty detailed color artworks and various maps put together through exhaustive research and analysis, as well as around 170 unique images, many of which have never before been seen by the general public. Through scrutiny of satellite footage, the observation of North Korean propaganda outlets and by carefully examining information from the United States Department of Defense, the DPRK's advances in each of the Korean People's Army's respective branches are uncovered. Nearly all of the ’hermit kingdom’s’ military exploits are included and an accurate picture of the North's capabilities in both symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare is provided. This book was written specifically for anyone interested in North Korea's military capabilities or looking to find answers to many questions raised by the minefield of contradictory statements and misinformation that make up current intelligence about this reclusive nation.''

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Saturday, 3 October 2015

British Accuracy International AWM sniper rifles in Syria, From Russia with Love?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

While an earlier article already revealed the presence of British-made Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum (AWM) sniper rifles with elements of Syria's secretive special forces in Harasta, Damascus, new information indicates these British sniper rifles were most likely delivered to Syria from Russia.

The example used by the Syrian Special Forces is different from the standard AWM seen in use with militaries and law-enforcement agencies throughout the world. Instead of the Chassis System (AICS) stock, it comes with a pistol-grip skin which was launched by Accuracy International in 2012. The skin incorporates the ergonomics of the newer AX series sniper rifles by incoprorating a conventional pistol grip, losing weight in the process.

While acquiring several AWM sniper rifles, albeit via the black market, would already prove a challenge for the Syrian military, acquiring these with the rare and very new pistol-grip skin would undoubtedly be beyond the capacities of the Army Supply Bureau of the High Command of the Syrian Arab Republic, which has so far limited its orders to Russian and Iranian sniper and anti-materiel rifles.

Unsurprisingly, Russia has so far been the only confirmed foreign customer of the pistol-grip skin for the AWM, acquiring a limited amount for its special forces units. The AWM below is an example of a rifle equipped with this skin in Russia, lacking the suppressor seen mounted in Syria but with the same additional rails near the muzzle not usually seen on this weapon.

Aside from the attached suppressor, the example seen in Syria differs from the weapon above by its new desert paintjob, well suited to the terrain found around Damascus. The suppressor itself is another indication of the adjustments made to increase its effectiveness on the Syrian battlefields: remaining undetected for as long as possible is imperative in the sniper-heavy environment.

The fact that a one rare, recently introduced pistol-grip skin equipped AWM only confirmed to be operated by Russia turns up in Syria at the height of Russian involvement in the Syrian War is unlikely to be coincidence. As with the sighting of Italian Iveco LMVs operated by Russians, Western nations once interested in delivering weapons to Russia as part of their warming relationship might now look back with regret.

Special thanks to Abraxas Spa.

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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Russia's participation in the Syrian War, the Su-34 'Fullback' has arrived

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The arrival of the Su-34 'Fullback' fighter bomber to Syria could be seen as imminent since the initial deployment of the first combat assets to Syria, and has now finally confirmed to have occurred in recent days. Up to six Su-34s are now believed to have joined the four Su-30SMs, twelve Su-24M(2)s and twelve Su-25s already present at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP, Lattakia Governorate.

In addition to the up to thirty-four combat aircraft, up to twenty Mi-17s and Mi-24/35s, two Il-20s and at least three types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now deployed in Syria. Especially the UAVs have been active in flying reconnaissance sorties over Idlib Governorate, indubitably soon to be if not already joined by the electronic intelligence (ELINT) configured Il-20s. Although already sighted over Idlib, the Su-24M(2)s have so far refrained from engaging rebel positions. The twelve Su-25s are currently being assembled and are busy with test flights after their delivery by An-124 strategic airlifters just a week ago.

The Su-34s on the other hand managed to reach Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP on their power. The two examples seen below, both carrying a centreline drop tank allowing for extended range are believed to have been part of the contignent deployed to Syria. Both aircraft were photographed while flying over Mozdok on their way to Syria via the Caspian Sea, Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

Another image, this time from Syria, shows what looks like six fighter-bombers alongside an airliner over Idlib or Hama Governorate. The airliner appears to be a Russian Air Force (RuAF) Tu-154, likely used for escorting the Su-34s on their way to Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP.

Designed to deliver a wide range of both guided and unguided munitions, the Su-34 will provide the Russian expeditionary force with an excellent fighter-bomber with the range and capabilities to strike any target anywhere in Syria. In fact, the sheer quality of the Sukhoi force currently present in Syria is such an improvement over the assets currently available to the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) that it could be said the regime's aerial capabilities have entered another league entirely.

As construction works at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP continues and UAVs and Il-20s are meanwhile busy collecting data on the strength and location of rebel positions in Idlib Governorate, the RuAF's aerial assets are being prepared for their first sorties, and it seems that a first move by the Russian expeditionary force is just a matter of time.

Special thanks to Luftwaffe A.S. and ain92ru.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Syrian Special Forces spotted with British Accuracy International AWM sniper rifles

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

With Russian military support to the Assad party in Syria having been brought to an entirely new level in the past month and international media focussed on the influx of aircraft and armoured vehicles to Bassel al-Assad, little has yet been uncovered about the extent of new small arms deliveries to the regime. However, the Russian Vesti state-owned news channel aired footage of Syrian soldiers equipped with British-made Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum (AWM) sniper rifles on the 27th of September, revealing a wider procurement policy than previously thought.

The Vesti reporter follows special forces elements as they launch their offensive into rebel-held parts of Harasta, a suburb of Damascus which has been the scene of heavy fighting since Jaish al-Islam launched its own offensive here in early September. The footage shows several tanks and armoured fighting vehicles firing at suspected rebel positions in conjunction with special forces sporting a variety of new weaponry and gear.

The specific rifle seen in the video sports a pistol-grip skin which was launched by Accuracy International in 2012, further emphasising the fact that the introduction of this type is indeed a recent development. Chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, the AWM bolt-action sniper rifle was designed in 1996 and has since entered use with a range of countries including Russia and the United States. A testament to the weapon's capabilities, it was used by a British sniper team in Afghanistan in 2009 to set the current record for longest confirmed sniper kill on two Taliban fighters, at a distance of 2475 metres. The new pistol-grip skin mounted on the example found in Syria aims to incorporate the ergonomics of the newer AX series sniper rifles by trading the Chassis System stock for a more conventional pistol grip, losing weight in the process. The weapon's effective range is somewhat diminished by the suppressor seen attached to the muzzle brake in the video, but in the sniper-heavy environment of the Syrian battlefield it will surely help its operator remain undetected for much longer.

Other parts of the video show the usage of PKP 'Pecheneg' light machine guns by special forces members. At least one-hundred PKPs were believed to have been delivered to Syria back in 2013 for use by these special forces, but the 'Pecheneg' has been largely successful in avoiding public appearance, only being sighted in one instance before the airing of the new footage.

It appears that the regime's recent acquisitions were not limited to small arms however. Much of the individual gear of the soldiers appears to have been sourced from no other country than the U.S., and the American Under Armour sports clothing and accessories company in particular. While the choice for U.S. gear might seem awkward at first, plenty of U.S. and other Western-made firearms and gear still enter Syria on a daily basis, much of it through the black market in Lebanon. These Western firearms are mostly acquired by Alawites in the Coastal region, which have been preparing to defend themselves against any possible rebel incursion for years.

With small arms now flowing towards Syria from all corners of the world, it has become one of the most diverse battlefields in recent history, blending modern Russian-made shotguns and LMGs with British sniper rifles to American assault rifles and World War 2 era antiques. Given access to so many different types of weaponry, it is unlikely any party in the conflict will soon be running out of ways to combat its adversaries.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Further Russian Air Force reinforcements arrive in Syria, Su-25 'Frogfoots' join the fray

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

After the sighting of Su-30MS' and Su-24M(2)s over Syrian airspace just days ago, new satellite imagery acquired by Stratfor and AllSource Analysis dating from the 20th of September has now revealed the presence of twelve Su-25 'Frogfoots' being assembled at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP for a total of twenty Russian combat aircraft now confirmed to be deployed in Syria. Around the same time, U.S. officials claimed that no less than twenty-eight combat aircraft and up to twenty helicopters have now been stationed in Syria as part of wider Russian deployment of military personnel in Syria.

The aerial strength of this Russian expeditionary force now totals an impressive twelve Su-24M(2) and four Su-30SM fighter-bombers and another twelve Su-25 ground-attack aircraft in addition to up to twenty helicopters, mainly Mi-24/35s and a few Mi-17s and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Su-24M(2)s have however not yet been seen on satellite imagery of Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP, which may appear on later satellite imagery or have since been stationed elswhere, T4 being a logical choice considering it already houses the SyAAF's Su-24 fleet.

Reports of UAVs operating from Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP are not surprising given the sheer size of the Russian contingent deployed in Syria. The first Russian UAVs were already spotted over Syria on the 21st of July 2015, a mission which might now have been expanded with larger types of UAVs.

Although inferior in numbers, the quality of Sukhoi strike force far extends that of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), which now operates eleven Su-24M2s, around a dozen of MiG-29SMs and the remainder of the Su-22, L-39, MiG-21 and MiG-23 fleet. Despite still being a force to be reckoned with, it soldiers on in ever decreasing numbers, with remaining airframes becoming more worn by the day.

While the exact goals behind the mass deployment of Russian military personnel, equipment, vehicles and aircraft remain unknown, a sudden offensive spearheaded by Russia might result in completely different results then one undertaken by the regime. Another possibility is that Russia will refrain from a large scale deployment of troops to the frontline and instead will participate with its aerial assets first, which might reach up to fifty aircraft and helicopters in size in the coming days.

The Su-25s, all nicely lined up, represent an excellent Close Air Support (CAS) force, and could utilise their large payloads to provide continuing support to ground forces during any offensive. Especially when equipped with modern Russian guided munitions, these aircraft greatly improve upon the SyAAF's own ground attack capabilities, and are rugged enough to endure most of the light anti-air weaponry most parties in Syria can throw at it.

Jaish al-Islam has meanwhile been busy trying to strike the airbase with Grad rockets, already claiming to have hit a Russian transport aircraft on the 18th of September. It is unlikely however that any of the rockets fired in the direction of the airbase will actually hit it considering the distance to the base and accuracy of the rockets used. Given the fact all of the aircraft at the airfield are lined up neatly outside, it appears Russia does not worry too much about any rocket strikes yet. A threat to the civilian population of Lattakia, these multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) might be one of the first targets to be taken out however.

One can safely say that the deployment of Russian military forces to Syria means that the regime will be able to hold on to power, with any transition to a unity-government without Assad highly unlikely. Although appearing to be a military operation only, the deployment forces the opposition back to the negotiation table under much less favourable terms, a fact resounded in the so far mild international response to the move.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Russian Air Force joins Syrian War, advanced fighter-bombers spotted over Syria

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Amid a range of reports of sightings of Russian military personnel and equipment used in combat in Syria, Russia's role in the conflict escalated sharply with the confirmation of Russian aircraft and armoured vehicles being flown in by the dozens. Coinciding with the renovation of Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP for use as a Russian military base, Il-76 strategic airlifters or (more likely) Il-78 aerial refuelling planes have been sighted escorting military aircraft such as the Su-30SM and Su-24M(2) over Syria, together with An-124 strategic airlifters reportedly carrying at least two Mi-17 and two Mi-24/35 helicopters amongst a range of other weaponry.

The airfield, formerly housing around a dozen Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) Mi-14 and Ka-28 naval helicopters until their departure in recent weeks, is swiftly being expanded both in size by the construction of new helicopter pads and a taxiway as well as in its defensive structure to cope with the influx of Russian aircraft and equipment and help secure the base from any future rebel offensive. Although this expansion was previously noted by various media, it was not until the 19th of September that satellite imagery confirmed the presence of Russian fighter aircraft sitting unprotected on the runway, their shelters not having been built yet.

Aside from the four Su-30SM advanced jet fighters photographed at the time, video footage shows what appear to be another four Su-24 fighter-bombers closely escorting an Il-78 and possibly four more Su-27/30 aircraft flying in similar fashion above Northern Homs on the 20th and 19th of September respectively, highly likely heading for Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP in closeby Lattakia as well. Another possibility is that the aircraft flew over the Caspian sea, through Iran and Iraq, a theory which would explain the approach taken by the planes over Homs but which would seem like a risky strategy considering the large amount of foreign aircraft currently active over Iraq and Syria. It is known the first batch of four Su-30SMs crossed Greek airspace however, so it is likely both routes are used.

An unconfirmed image from the 18th of September as well as comments made by a U.S. official on the deployment of four Russian Air Force Sukhoi jets to Syria suggest at least three batches of aircraft have so far been flown in: Together comprising four Su-30SMs, four Su-24M(2)s and another four as of yet unidentified aircraft, possibly also of the Su-30SM type. 

The Su-30SM brings with it capabilities previously unavailable to the SyAAF, and will allow the Russian Air Force (RuAF) to closely follow any offensives or defensive actions. Information acquired can be relayed back to ground-forces, the Su-30SM thus acting as a flying command platform. The wide array of both guided and unguided weaponry available to the Su-30SM makes it an extremely versatile aircraft well suited to the Syrian battlefield. However, the fact that these aircraft represent some of the most modern fighters in use by the RuAF, capable of both ground-attack sorties as well as air-to-air engagements, might allude to another reason for their choice. Having just concluded the first talks with U.S. counterparts on the Syrian conflict right before the first sighting of these fighters, their presence in Syria delivers a strong message to the world.

Although less capable than the Su-30SM, the stationing of Su-24M(2)s is little surprising given the SyAAF is also operating this aircraft, which were all recently upgraded from MK standard to M2 standard in Rzhev, Russia. 819 Squadron, responsible for operating the Su-24M2 in Syrian service, continues to fly with eleven operational airframes based at T4, Central Syria. The possible housing of RuAF Su-24M(2)s at this airbase would help ease logistics, and making use of the extensive infrastructure already available there would be a sensible choice.

This combined force has the capability of quickly changing the situation on the ground by mass bombardments, depending on the ultimate amount of aircraft stationed in Syria. Any rebel offensive could be stopped dead in its tracks, or their defences could be blown away during one of Russia's or the regime's offensives.

Other heavy equipment is reportedly being flown in at the same time, with previous satellite imagery dating back to September 15th reportedly showing some 26 APC/IFVs, 6 MBTs, four new helicopters and large amounts of trucks and other equipment scattered across the airfield. Photographs taken on the 17th of September at Novosibirsk show two Mi-24/35 helicopter gunships and at least one Mi-17 transport helicopter being loaded into an An-124 transport aircraft (serial RA-82035), which was subsequently tracked over Syria on the 18th before landing at Mozdok again in the evening, suggesting an intensive air bridge is currently active. The presence of Il-76 and An-124 transport planes on the satellite imagery of September 15th and reports of the dozens of flights to Syria such aircraft have been making the past month supports this theory, meaning the current inflow of weaponry might just be the start of a massive deployment of Russian forces to Syria.

The news of increased military involvement by the Russian Federation in the Syrian conflict certainly does not come out of the blue: A flurry of reports ranging from the downing of Russian drones in late July to the delivery of (likely Russian-operated) Pantsir-S1 air defence systems earlier this month all testify of what is shaping up to be a major surge in backing for the Syrian regime. Interestingly, videos first showing a recently delivered Russian BTR-82A IFV, later of an R-116-0.5 signals vehicle and now of two T-55s (one with a North Korean laser-range finder) in the Lattakia governorate all seem to show equipment being operated by (or in the last case, simply ridden by) Russian military personnel, indicating the Russian Army will be directly involved in combat situations. From these developments it is clear that Russia will not allow the regime to succumb from rebel offensives, and despite the fact that the war is far from being fought, it would appear the reality is that Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Yemeni fighting vehicles

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

This list only includes vehicles and equipment in service with Yemeni factions. Vehicles and equipment operated by the United Arab Emirates Army, Royal Saudi Land Force, the Saudi Arabian National Guard or other Coalition partners are not included in this list.

Note that because of the war currently raging in Yemen a lot of military equipment is being destroyed as well as acquired and created, meaning some entries listed here may soon no longer be appropriate. Instead of predicting the composition of the post war armed forces of Yemen, the goal of this list is to comprehensively catalogue the prewar Yemeni military as well as clarify what military equipment is currently available to Yemeni parties on the battlefield.

Civilian trucks towing military trailers are not included in the list.

Last updated on 25-9-2015.



Armoured fighting vehicles


Infantry fighting vehicles


Armoured personnel carriers


Command vehicles

Military engineering vehicles


Tank destroyers

Towed artillery


Self-propelled artillery

Multiple rocket launchers (MRLs)


 Ballistic Missiles


Towed anti-aircraft guns


Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns

Self-propelled SAM systems


Static SAM systems


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

  • RQ-11 Raven (Not yet seen)






Jeeps and MRAPs

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