Photo Report: The Syrian Arab Army
The following images were taken during Syrian Arab Army exercises over the past several years, including the large-scale exercise involving all branches of the Syrian Armed Forces in 2012. This exercise was carried out amid an increasingly deteriorating security situation in Syria, leading to calls from the international world for an intervention similar to the one seen in Libya. In response, the Syrian Armed Forces launched a several day long exercise to show its strengh to the outside world.
The T-72AV, also known as the T-82 in Syria, seen during an exercise in the Rif Dimashq Governorate. Although the fleet of ‘T-82s’ has suffered heavily due to the large-scale proliferation of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) in Syria, a sizeable amount of tanks remain operational. Fully intact T-72AVs still sporting all of their explosive reactive armour (ERA) blocks as seen below have become an increasingly rare sight however.
Operating alongside the T-72AV is the T-72 ‘Ural’, the first and also the least numerous T-72 variant to have been acquired by Syria before the start of the Civil War. The tanks can be seen equipped with a laser engagement system for training uses only. The T-72 ‘Ural’ can easily discerned from other T-72 variants by the TPD-2-49 optical rangefinder protruding from the turret and by its flipper-type armoured panels instead of the rubber side-skirts seen on later types.
A row of 130mm M-46 field-guns take aim at a target during the 2012 exercises. Although several other types of artillery guns have been delivered or pulled out of storage over the course of the Civil War, the 130mm M-46 and the 122mm D-30 remain the primary artillery guns of the Syrian Arab Army. A limited number of 130mm M-46s have been mounted on Mercedes-Benz trucks under a programme aimed at increasing their mobility and effectiveness. Chinese 130 mm BEE4 rocket assisted projectiles (RAP) were specifically acquired for use with this platform, and greatly increased the operational potential of the 130mm M-46. Although the conversion of large numbers was planned, the start of the Civil War prevented the commencement of full scale production, and therefore they remain a relatively rare sight.
A convoy of three T-55(A)MVs and a single BMP-1 underway during an exercise in 2010. Although the Syrian Arab Army’s immense fleet of tanks and BMPs were once destined to jointly operate on the plains of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, many are now individually attached to the various units and militias wrestling for control over Syria. Only the 4th Armoured Division and parts of the Republican Guard continue to operate their armour in organised fashion and (sometimes) with infantry support.
The Syrian Arab Army’s fleet of T-55(A)MV has traditionally been concentrated along the Golan Heights, and although outdated when compared to Israeli armour currently in service, one could argue their combat effectiveness could surpass that of the T-72 ‘Ural’ and T-72M1. The T-55(A)MV features Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour (ERA), a KTD-2 laser rangefinder, smoke grenade launchers, an upgraded engine and the capability to fire the 9M117M Bastion anti-tank missile. The costs of just a few of these missiles is higher than the actual price of the T-55 launching them, and they have seen only limited action in Syria’s Quneitra Governorate.
A soldier takes aim with his RPG-29, without a doubt the most feared type of RPG currently fielded in the world. The PG-29V’s 105mm tandem warhead has so far caused tremendous losses under the SyAA’s fleet of tanks, mainly the T-72. Although the T-55(A)MV and T-72AV are both equipped with ERA aimed at increasing the survivability of the tank, the tandem warhead was specifically designed to counter such armour and faces little problems penetrating it.
Although the procurement of large numbers of AK-74Ms was planned to replace the AK(M) and other (foreign) derivatives, the Civil War put a halt to this large scale re-equipment programme. The AK-74M was reportedly pitted against several other contenders including the Iranian KH-2002, all but two of which malfunctioned. Several new batches of AK-74Ms were received during the course of the Civil War however, alongside several other types of modern Russian weapons. Nonetheless, weapons such as the AK(M)-47 and PKM have remained the most prevalent small arms amongst pro-Assad forces.
A convoy of BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) underway to their operational zone. Having suffered heavy losses during the war, the BMP-1 continues to see service with the many factions spread throughout Syria. The vehicle has served as the basis for many DIY modifications, and even a BMP-1 based multiple rocket launcher was recently sighted in service with the 4th Armoured Division.
Although many hoped for the reintroduction of the T-34/85 on today’s battlefield, sightings of this legendary tank in Syria in recent years has so far remained limited to just five examples, two of which belonged to a batch of T-34/85s converted to T-34/122 self-propelled howitzers armed with the 122mm D-30, which was retired long before the Civil War. Two other (intact) T-34/85s were seen in Syria’s Quneitra province, used as static pillboxes facing Israel. It is likely these tanks were operational until quite recently. The T-34/85 below was seen during an exercise shortly before the start of the Civil War. While the T-34/85, or T-34/76 for that matter, indeed continues to be used in oeprational capacity across the globe, their presence nowadays remains limited to Yemen and North Korea.
160mm M-160 mortars seen during the 2012 exercises. Seeing heavy use during the early stages of the Civil War, when many of the protests and armed uprisings that followed were still contained in the cities, these and other heavy mortars were often deployed just outside the city perimiter for the shelling of neighbourhoods that had revolted. In more recent years, the M-160s are believed to have been supplemented by additional 240mm M-240s with rocket-assisted projectiles.
Two BMP-1s during a recent training exercise simulating a combined assault on an enemy position with armour and infantry. Although this makes for great propaganda footage, such coordinated assaults are only being (correctly) carried out a limited amount of pro-Assad units during today’s war. On the opposing side, al-Nusra Front (which recently rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) makes heavy use of mainly T-72s and BMP-1s operating together during assaults on regime-held parts of Aleppo.
Syrian Arab Army soldiers run towards the infantry compartment of their BMP-1 IFV during an exercise. All soldiers appear relatively well equipped compared to the hodgepodge of uniforms and equipment regime soldiers are outfitted with today. The SyAA had acquired large numbers of Chinese-produced combat gear, including helmets and bullet proof vests, shortly before the start of the Civil War, but simply ran out of stock when it started amassing an increasing number of new recruits in order to gain the upper hand on the battlefield.
A BM-21 fires one of its forty 122mm rockets towards a new target. The BM-21 is by far the most numerous multiple rocket launcher (MRL) in service with the Syrian Armed Forces. The type previously operated alongside a sizeable number of North Korean 122mm BM-11 MRLs before these were donated to Lebanon along with Syria’s remaining stock of T-54 and older T-55 variants. With an increasing number of Volcanoes and 220mm, 300mm, 302mm multiple rocket launchers at hand, the Syrian Arab Army has somewhat compensated for the loss of large numbers of BM-21s by a substantial increase in qualitative firepower. Rebels operating in Northern Syria recently received BM-21s acquired from Eastern Europe by one of the Gulf States, further increasing the proliferation of this system in Syria.
Photo Report: Syrian Armed Forces Calendar 2015
Although many military enthusiasts and analysts spend hours scrounging social media pages for any interesting images of Syrian Arab Army, Air Force or Navy equipment, it now appears that a wealth of never-before-seen images has been uploaded to the official page of the Syrian Armed Forces. Most of these images, taken over the past six years, have gone completely unnoticed to the general public.
While you can be sure to find plenty of articles with a better balance of visual content to text on this blog, the sheer amount of images, their high quality and the fact that most of the images were never seen before allow for an exception to the rule. We can only hope that more of such photo reports will released in the future.
We’ll be kicking off with the Syrian Armed Forces Calendar for 2015, which, although little under two years late, still makes for an interesting bundle of high-definition images.
Photo Report: The Syrian Arab Air Defence Force
The following images were taken during a large-scale exercise involving all branches of the Syrian Armed Forces in 2012. This exercise was carried out amid an increasingly deteriorating security situation in Syria, leading to calls from the international world for an intervention similar to the one seen in Libya. In response, the Syrian Armed Forces launched a several day long exercise to show its strenght to the outside world.
The 9K317E Buk-M2E, which together with the Pantsir-S1 is the pride of what once was the Syrian Air Defence Force. The 9A317 transporter-erector-launcher and radar (TELAR), seen below, is capable of independent operations thanks to its 9S36 radar. Several of these systems are deployed around Damascus and Syria’s coastal region. Although the arrival of highly modern air defence equipment from Russia was much anticipated after an Israeli airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor in 2007, the newly arrived Buk-M2Es, Pantsir-S1s and Pechora-2Ms proved just as incapable of shooting down Israeli aircraft as the systems they replaced.
A 9M317 missile speeds off after having been launched from a 9A316 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The 9A316 carries four reloads instead of a radar, which means it’s incapable of operating independently. Under normal circumstances, a Buk battalion consists of six TELARs and three TELs, which can be further divided into three batteries with two TELARs and one TEL each. Every battalion also included a target acquisition radar, a command vehicle and trucks carrying more reloads.
A Pantsir-S1 fires off one of its twelve 57E6 surface-to-air missiles. As with the Buk-M2E and Pechora-2M, these systems are mainly concentrated around Damascus and Syria’s coastal region. In order to better blend in with their surroundings along the coast, many Pantsir-S1s have traded in their desert-environment finish for locally applied camouflage patterns.
The 2012 exercise provided the first visual confirmation of Syria operating the 9K35 Strela-10. Opposed to many other Strela-10 operators, Syria placed these systems around airbases instead of providing ground forces with a mobile SAM system. Although most 9K31 Strela-1s were placed into storage, all of Syria’s 9K35 Strela-10s are still believed to be in active service.
Having never retired any SAM system, Syria continues to operate both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers. The more modern quadruple variant is more common, and can be found located throughout Syria. The dual launchers were mainly concentrated around Damascus, where one site was overrun by Jaish al-Islam in 2012.
In addition to operating both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers, Syria also acquired several Pechora-2M surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia at the turn of the decade. This system combines a quadruple S-125 launcher (albeit with two missiles) on a Belarusian MZKT-8022 chassis, with greatly improved performance against enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. Several sites housing the Pechora-2M have been identified around Damascus and in Syria’s coastal region, where they frequently relocate to different sites in order to keep an element of suprise.
Smoke rises as two 9M33 missiles are fired from a 9K33 Osa SAM system. While Syria already fielded the 9K33 in Lebanon during the eighties, the system was thrown into the spotlight after Jaish al-Islam captured several launchers in Eastern Ghouta in 2012. These 9K33s were then, and are still being used, to engage SyAAF helicopters flying over Jaish al-Islam held territory.
The 2K12 surface-to-air missile system gained legendary status while in service with Egypt during the 1973 October War (Yom Kippur War), which used them against the Israeli Air Force with great success. In fact, the system was so feared it quickly earned itself the nickname ‘Three Fingers of Death’. The system was less successful in Syrian service however, and was completely outplayed along with the rest of the SyAADF and SyAAF during during Operation Mole Cricket 19 over Lebanon’s Bekaa valley in 1982 and during Israeli Air Force raids into Syria over the past years.
An article covering what remains of the Syrian Arab Air Defence Force, its equipment and organizational structure will be published on this blog at a later date.
Photo Report: The Syrian Arab Navy
A Syrian Arab Navy Petya III class frigate, two of which remain in service. Although the largest combat capable vessels of the navy, the Petya III class was designed almost exclusively for anti-submarine warfare. As a result, the capabilities of these ships against anything other than submarines is marginal. This is worsened by the introduction of newer types of submarines by the Israeli Navy, which already renders these ships next to useless in their original role. While still officially operational, both ships spend most of their time rusting away at their pier in the port of Tartus.
The now de-facto disbanded Syrian Naval Infantry in front of the cadet training ship ‘al-Assad’. This ship has a dual role of training future naval personnel and acting as a landing ship for the Syrian Naval Infantry, which then disembark and make their way to the coast in dinghies.
A Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) Ka-28 performing a flyby over Syrian Naval Infantry. Four Ka-28s were delivered to the SyAAF in the late eighties to replace its aging Ka-25s. At least two examples were overhauled in the Ukraine shortly before the start of the Syrian Civil War. All four were previously based out of Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP before diverting to a new heliport to make way for the Russian Air Force contingent arriving at Hmeemeem in September 2015.
The launching of a 4K44 Redut missile from its associated SPU-35V launcher. Syria operates several coastal defence systems (CDS), including the modern K-300P Bastion-P. These CDS’s present the most modern systems in the Syrian Arab Navy, which largely had to do without new acquisitions over the past decades.
The Osa class missile boats still represents the mainstay of the Syrian Arab Navy. Together with the Korean People’s Navy, Syria is the only remaining country to operate the Osa I class missile boat. The ship below is of the more advanced Osa II class however, which can be discerned from the Osa I by its tube-shaped launchers opposed to the box-shaped launchers of the Osa I.
Syrian Arab Navy personnel standing at attention. Unsurprisingly, the average age of navy personnel is much higher than seen in other branches of the Syrian Armed Forces. This age gap is likely to only grow larger as conscripts are almost exclusively drafted into the National Defence Force and what remains of the Syrian Arab Army since the start of the Civil War.
The most recent addition to the Syrian Arab Navy consists of six Iranian TIR II (IPS 18) missile boats delivered to Syria in 2006. Based on a North Korean design, these boats can be armed with two C-802s (or the Iranian-produced copy by the name of Noor) anti-ship missiles and normally operate out of Minat al-Bayda naval base located North of Lattakia.
This photo report is to be followed by an article covering the history, inventory and current status of the Syrian Arab Navy later this year.