Updated Syrian Air Force and Air Defense Capabilities
Syrian Air Force and Air
DefenseCapabilitiesMay 2013byElizabeth O’BagyChristopher HarmerJonathan DupreeLiam DurfeeInstitute for the Study of War
Syrian Air Force and Air
DefenseCapabilitiesMay 2013byElizabeth O’BagyChristopher HarmerJonathan DupreeLiam DurfeeInstitute for the Study of WarThe Syrian Air Force is capable of aerial bombardment and close air support, aerial resupply, and aerial delivery ofchemical weapons. Enumerating viable military options to neutralize Syrian air capabilities requires clearidentification of the problem to solve.If the problem is how to secure the victory of a secular Syrian opposition over the Assad regime, then disruptingaerial resupply is critical. It is also feasible without establishing a No Fly Zone (NFZ), and thus without contendingwith the Syrian Integrated Air Defense System (IADS).If the problem is how to reduce air strikes as an operational and humanitarian concern, then disruptingcoordinated fixed wing air operations is also possible without establishing a NFZ, for example by sustaining long-range fires upon Syrian airfields. The only reason to completely destroy the Syrian IADS is to establish full aircontrol in order to eliminate rotary wing air strikes.If the problem is establishing a humanitarian safe zone or corridor, a limited No Fly Zone will provide effective aircover, which is necessary. However, this would be insufficient to establish a fully “safe” zone with respect toground defense. Ground operations are an independent requirement.If the problem is how to eliminate the chemical threat, then it is important to understand that chemical weaponscannot be neutralized by air. Grounding the Syrian Air Force by establishing a No Fly Zone will not preventdelivery of chemical munitions via artillery, and aerial bombardment of chemical facilities carries a high risk ofcollateral damage.Neutralizing Syrian Air Force andAir Defense Capabilities
Syrian Air Force and Air
DefenseCapabilitiesMay 2013byElizabeth O’BagyChristopher HarmerJonathan DupreeLiam DurfeeInstitute for the Study of WarCampaign Update:- Rebel Gains in the South and East: The Opposition seized its first provincial capital at al-Raqqa in April 2013. The opposition also launched a deliberate operation in southern Syria,emulating tactics from the northern campaign, namely isolating regime outposts bydisrupting Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs).- Regime Gains in Homs: Hezbollah has launched a ground assault upon opposition forcessouthwest of Homs in the village of al-Qusayr. The Regime reestablished control of the GLOCconnecting Hama to Idlib, relieving pressure to resupply by air. The Regime is now pressingon al-Qusayr from the north.- Chemical Weapons: There are reports of CW deployment in Daraya and Ateibeh, villagesproximate to Damascus. The primary delivery mechanism appears to be low-end groundmunitions, possibly Katyusha rockets.- Israeli Airstrikes: IAF bombed a military and scientific research center in Jamraya north ofDamascus as well as facilities resolving to the 4th Division HQ and the 104th Brigade of theSyrian Republican Guard. Syrian sources report a total of nine strikes on Sunday.- Ethnic Cleansing along Coast: Syrian sources report that thousands of civilians have beenmassacred in mixed villages along the Syrian coast in recent days. Many civilians, includingSunni, had fled there for safe haven during the civil war.Syrian Civil War:Campaign Update, May 2013
Battle for Damascus:Campaign Update, May
2013HighwayMajor RoutesSecondary Routes Military TerrainContestedRebel HeldRegime HeldLEGEND≈Rebel OperationsAirbase/AirportHelicopter BaseRefugee CampAlawite/Shia NeighborhoodsMilitary BasesIsraeli Airstrikes (May 2013)Chemical Strikes (May 2013)The Battle Damage Assessment to the Syrian Regime is currentlyunknown, as is the net effect upon the Battle For Damascus.Israeli airstrikes against Regime facilities near Damascus occurred on 2 May and 5 May, 2012.Syrian sources indicate that multiple sites were struck, including Qassioun, Jamraya, and Mazzeh.Jamraya is a chemical research facility.
Syrian Air Capabilities:May 2013The Syrian
regime is able to conduct:- Air Strikes. Syrian Air Force is effective at conducting aerial bombardment and close airsupport against opposition forces on the ground, as demonstrated by an apparent risein air-to-ground attacks since January 2013. The regime began to employ air assets inthe Summer of 2012 in order to repel rebel advance upon urban centers.- Aerial Resupply. The Syrian regime is able to receive Iranian resupply by air, most likelythrough the ad-Dumayr airfield East of Damascus and to Mazzeh military airfield nearthe Lebanese border. Aerial resupply within Syria varies, though it has been the primarymechanism for resupply to outposts that cannot be resupplied by groundtransportation.- Aerial Delivery of CW. Air-dropped bombs are a traditional method to conductchemical attacks. The regime has the capacity to deliver chemical weapons insideSyrian airspace. It is likely that they also have the requisite delivery mechanism.- Air Defense. Syrian IADS is well-equipped, but it is old and poorly maintained. Againstclose-range targets, Syrian IADS is still effective, as demonstrated by the shootdown ofTurkish reconnaissance aircraft in July 2012. Against long-range targets, Syrian IADS isineffective, as demonstrated by recent Israeli airstrikes near Damascus.
Syrian Air Strikes:Increased activity 2013Regime
air strikes have increased since January 2013. Air strikes in 2013 included rotarywing and fixed wing aircraft, in close air support to regime ground operations andindependent aerial bombardment.020406080100120140160Apr-12 May-12 Jun-12 Jul-12 Aug-12 Sep-12 Oct-12 Nov-12 Dec-12 Jan-13 Feb-13 Mar-13 Apr-13Rotary Wing StrikeFixed Wing StrikeUnknown StrikeNote: ISW tracking of airstrikes shifted from YouTube videos to SOHR reporting in November 2012. SOHR reporting isconsistent, validating the upward trend, though less granularity is provided to distinguish rotary from fixed wing strikes.This data more accurately reflects air strikes against opposition military targets than retaliatory attacks against thecivilian population, which became prevalent in December 2012.
Syrian Air Strikes:April 2012 -
2013Apr – Jun 2012 Jul – Sep 2012 Oct – Dec 2012 Jan – Mar 2013 April 2013Regime airstrikeswere conducteduniformly with rotarywing aircraft.Regime airstrikesnear Idlib and Aleppoincorporated fixedwing aircraft.Regime airstrikes inDamascusincorporated fixedwing aircraft.The overall volume ofairstrikes increasedalong the majorhighways in January2013 as the regimelost control of theGLOCS.Diminished airstrikesbetween Hama andIdlib correspondswith regimereestablishment ofGLOC. Attacks alsoincreased aroundHoms and Damascus.Legend:Rotary Wing StrikesFixed Wing StrikesUnknown Airstrikes
TitleSyrian Regime Resupply:Status of Airfields
and RoadsThe map depicts Syrian airfields andhighways that have been overrun or areunder siege by the opposition. Most of theairfields in the center and south of Syria arestill available for full use by the regime.The regime relies primarily upon aerialresupply where the opposition retainscontrol of key GLOCS. The regime regainedcontrol of the main highway from Hama toIdlib in April 2013, freeing air assets forairstrikes and close air support elsewhere.Regime resupply is not limited to the ALOCSand GLOCS depicted here. It is also likelythat the Regime is able to leverageestablished criminal networks for northernresupply as well. The Regime also has theport at Tartus.However, aerial resupply is primary forinternational resupply. First, it can manageheavy and sensitive cargo, like Iranianmissiles. Second, GLOCS into Syria arepresent, but severely constrained. Third, theport of Tartus is highly visible and easilyblocked from the sea. Disrupting aerialresupply will severely degrade the ability ofthe Assad regime, and the Syrian AirForce, to sustain.Regime ControlledOpposition ControlledContested
Syrian Regime Vulnerability- Equipment:Supply, Maintenance,
and Training• A majority of SAF fixed wing aircraft are legacysystems from the former Soviet inventory. TheseMiG and SU series aircraft require significant spareparts supply, maintenance man-hours, and trainingto remain in a mission capable status.• These aircraft require a high level of technicalexpertise to fly and employ in combat. These skillstake a long time to acquire, and they areperishable.• The majority of SAF fixed wing airstrikes andresupply missions are conducted with aircraft thatare easier to maintain and operate, specifically theL-39 for strikes and the IL-76 for transport.• Therefore, when estimating the equipmentcapabilities of the SAF, it is important to recognizethat the Soviet-era MiG and SU series aircraft havevery low / nonexistent mission capable rates. Inorder to neutralize the SAF, it is primarily necessaryto neutralize the L-39 and IL-76 fleet.Aircraft Function QTY(est)Mi-8/17 Medium transporthelicopter100An-24/26 Medium transportaircraft7IL-76 Medium-Heavytransport aircraft5Mi-2 Attack helicopter 10-20Mi-24 Attack helicopter 35-48SA-342 Attack helicopter 35MiG 21/25 Air-to-Air aircraft 160-240MiG 23/29 Attack aircraft 135-225SU-22/24 Attack aircraft 80-110L-39 Trainer aircraft 40-70Low readinessHigh readiness
Syrian Regime Vulnerability- Personnel:Casualties and
Defection• Defections from the Syrian Air Force began in July 2012, when the graphic belowdepicts that SANA stopped reporting its casualties. There have been seven high profiledefections from the Syrian Air Force, in addition to numerous midgrade defections.• Defections from the Air Force are more difficult because airmen are under tightersecurity. The technical skill and unit integrity of the Air Force are high value, anddefections adversely affect readiness.• The graphic below depicts total Regime KIA/WIA estimates, of which Air Forcecasualties comprise a part. The readiness of the Syrian Air Force is also adverselyaffected by casualties.WIA estimated by multiplying KIA x 4
Possible Courses of ActionNeutralize Air
Strikes Neutralize AerialResupplyNeutralize CWthreat in Syria /LebanonEstablish humanitariansafe zone on Turkish /Syrian borderLimited Strikes:Destroy CriticalInfrastructureat AirfieldsAir strike capability can bedegraded by destroyingrunways, command andcontrol, and fuel.Aerial resupply capability(receive/distribute) can bedegraded by destroyingrunways, command andcontrol, and fuel.CW cannot beaddressed by degradedcritical infrastructure atSyrian airfields.Destroying Syrian Air Force(SAF) infrastructure willreduce air attacks against asafe zone.Limited Strikes:Destroy SyrianAir Force (SAF)FleetSyrian air capabilities toconduct air strikes can bedegraded by destroyingaircraft, specifically L-39.Aerial resupply (distribution)can be degraded by destroyingaircraft, specifically IL-76;(receipt) cannot be addressedby destroying Syrian planes.CW cannot beaddressed by destroyingSyrian planes.Destroying SAF aircraft willreduce air attacks against asafe zone.Establish No FlyZone (NFZ)Syrian air capabilities toconduct air strikes can beprevented by establishing aNFZ.Syrian air capabilities toconduct and receive aerialresupply can be eliminated byestablishing a NFZ.CW cannot beaddressed byestablishing a NFZ.Establishing a NFZ onTurkish / Syrian border willprevent air attacks against asafe zone.DestroyChemicalWeapon (CW)FacilitiesDestroying CW facilities willnot degrade Syrian regimecapability to conduct airstrikes.Destroying CW facilities willnot degrade Syrian regimecapability to conduct andreceive aerial resupply.Destroying CW facilitieswill degrade Syriancapability to conductCW strikes, but mayincur collateral damage.Destroying CW facilities willdegrade Syrian capability toconduct CW strikes againsta safe zone.Ground assaulton CW andartillery sitesA ground assault on CW andartillery sites will notdegrade Syrian regimecapabilities to conduct airstrikes.A ground assault on CW andartillery sites will not degradeSyrian regime capabilities toconduct air strikes.A ground assault on CWand artillery sites willeliminate Syrian regimecapabilities to conductCW strikes.A ground assault onchemical and artillery siteswill eliminate Syrian regimecapabilities to conduct CWstrikes against a safe zone.
Syrian Air Force and Air
DefenseCapabilitiesMay 2013byElizabeth O’BagyChristopher HarmerJonathan DupreeLiam DurfeeInstitute for the Study of WarDisrupting the aerial resupply of the Syrian regime will push the regime onto alternatesupply routes, which can be more easily interdicted by the Syrian opposition on land andthe international community at sea.Degrading the ability of the Syrian Air Force (SAF) to conduct fixed wing air strikes willpush the regime onto rotary wing operations, which can be more easily targeted anddestroyed by the Syrian opposition. In July 2012, rebel success in shooting down regimehelicopters led to a substantial increase in the use of fixed wing aircraft. It may alsoencourage the regime to increase artillery, long range rockets, and SCUD missile attacks.A full or limited No Fly Zone will support a humanitarian corridor or zone, but it will notfully protect the area against all threats. A No Fly Zone will provide effective air cover toa humanitarian zone that has established defenses on the ground.Degrading the Syrian Air Force will not eliminate the CW threat because chemicalweapons can be moved and fired from the ground. This requirement falls outside of thisdiscussion of Syrian air capabilities.Conclusion
ADDITIONAL READING- Syrian Air Defense
Force Attack on Turkish Reconnaissance Aircraft (July 2012), by Christopher Harmerhttp://www.understandingwar.org/publications?type=backgrounder&type=map&type=other_work&type=report&tid=293&field_lastname_value=&sort_by=created&sort_order=DESC&page=1- Threat and Response: Israeli Missile Defense (August 2012), by Christopher Harmerhttp://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/threat-and-response-israeli-missile-defense- Iranian Strategy in Syria (May 2013), by Joseph Holliday, William Fulton, and Sam Wyerhttp://www.understandingwar.org/report/iranian-strategy-syria- The Syrian Army: Doctrinal Order of Battle (February 2013), by Joseph Hollidayhttp://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/syrian-army-doctrinal-order-battle- The Assad Regime: From Counterinsurgency to Civil War (March 2013), by Joseph Hollidayhttp://www.understandingwar.org/report/assad-regime- Free Syrian Army (March 2013), by Elizabeth O’Bagyhttp://www.understandingwar.org/report/free-syrian-army- Syria Update: Implications of Chemical Weapon Use on U.S. Aid Decision (May 2013), by Liam Durfeehttp://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/syria-update-chemical-weapons