Monday, 27 July 2015

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

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

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

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

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

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

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 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.

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

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

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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