Original by Viktor Baranets published by Komsomolskaya Pravda; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Colonel General Viktor Bondarev made an initial assessment of our forces’ operation in Syria with an interview with military analyst Viktor Baranets.
Several dozen Russian aircraft and helicopters have been operating in Syria for a month, launching strikes against Islamic State and other terror groups. How was the air operation conceived? How is it proceeding? Why is the US refusing to fight against IS alongside Rusians? These and other questions were answered by the Aerospace Forces commander Colonel General Viktor Bondarev.
–Viktor Nikolayevich, what is your estimate of the tragic events in Syria?
–This is a war against the black plague of the 21st century–international terrorism. The worst of the worst from the whole world has assembled on the long-suffering soil of Syria. ISIL, al-Nusra, and other such discards of humanity.
–But US and allied aircraft have been bombing ISIL for over a year…
–Yes, they were “bombing” it so effectively that ISIL captured first 30% and then almost 75% of Syria’s territory, including major oil installations! It was all for show, a make-believe fight against terrorists. That so-called “moderate” opposition was not powerful enough to overthrow Assad. We heard: coalition aircraft are bombing Syria, but nobody has seen any results. And if the lawful Syrian government were to give in to ISIL thus confirming that organization’s power, their ranks would have increased manifold.
–Have you been to Syria?
–Yes, I have. Where our aircraft and helicopters are based.
–What was the purpose of your visit?
I went there, where 80% of our personnel are stationed. I needed to see how prepared we are to fulfill the assigned mission. I saw how our pilots were living, talked with them. I was glad to see them in fighting spirits.
–Why was it decided to use mainly Aerospace Forces aircraft and helicopters in Syria, what was the concept of operation?
–Well, what else could we have used? Launch missiles every day? That’s very expensive. And moreover ISIL is a highly mobile pack of bandits. They use cars, motorcycles, bicycles, donkeys, mules. It’s no use chasing after t hem in tanks, trucks, BTRs. They change positions after every strike to avoid losses. Aviation is another matter. That’s how we decided to use the weapons that we did.
–How did the air operation preparation begin?
–From assessing all the possible threats. We deployed not only fighters, attack aircraft, bombers, helicopters, but also air defense systems. Because there can always be a force majeure incident. Let’s say, a combat aircraft could be hijacked from neighboring country and used to launch a strike against us. So we needed to be ready for that.
–How did our aircraft and helicopters reach Syria?
–Aircraft flew on their own, helicopters were transported. Because their range is too short.
–Did you have intelligence suggesting the Americans sensed the deployment was imminent?
–Ahead of time?
–Not ahead of time but continuously. We have conducted and are conducting thorough reconnaissance, we have been receiving and are receiving information. The flight crews study areas over which they will operate. We have studied all the sites which are “sensitive” to Syria’s peaceful population. These are mosques, schools, holy sites, hospitals, maternity wards. We’ve identified them on our maps with red circles and points. So that not a single bomb would strike them, no matter what…
–Identified on a map?
–Yes, every pilot’s flight map.
–This was before the operation?
–Before first combat flights. Because we had and have no right to behave otherwise.
–Could you name the number of our aircraft and helicopters supporting Syrian army from the air?
–There are over 50 aircraft and helicopters there. Exactly as many as was needed. At the moment we don’t need more.
–How were the pilots, navigators, technicians selected for the Syria mission?
–Based on their level of training demonstrated during exercises and alerts.
–How do you estimate your flyers’ level of professionalism?
–There’s little to say about it, we have shown everything at the Aviadarts contest, at the exercises. I am pleased, I am proud of my pilots.
–What was your aces’ average annual flying time before the start of the operation?
–That was the end of September, therefore by then everyone had over 100 hours in the air by that time. And now they will have had far more.
One can see Syria from the Arbat
–ISIL has changed its tactics. They started to hug towns, mosques, hospitals. Does it force our flyers to adapt?
–They are forced to do so. To strike with greater precision. On the other hand, it’s actually a good thing that the terrorists are abandoning their positions and opening up the way for Syrian army’s advance. They have nowhere to go, and they understand any stationary object will be destroyed by us. They don’t occupy small villages because once they are easily covered by artillery. So the bandits are forced to concentrate in large cities and towns. Which ultimately is to their disadvantage.
–Because it makes it easier for the Syrian Army to surround a single large city and finish its work there…For us the main problem is that our work has to be done with jeweler’s precision so as to avoid hitting peaceful Syrians.
–How are you achieving that precision?
–First of all, reconnaissance. Secondly, thorough planning of every mission, study of every target, programming the coordinates. Everything is checked several times. Once the pilot arrives at the target, if there are any reasons to believe that the ordnance might fall long or short of target, he aborts and makes another pass. So the pilot cannot make a mistake.
–How did we manage to divide Syrian airspace with the Americans?
–You know, this is probably the only issue on which we and the Americans signed a memorandum on using the airspace.
–Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi aircraft are also participating in our operations?
–Yes, Syrian aircraft are participating, both army aviation helicopters and strike aircraft. Iraqis operate over their own territory.
–How do you assess their professional capabilities?
–What can I say…Their equipment is rather elderly compared to ours. But thanks to combat experience, they’ve gotten better and they do good work.
–They trained in Russia?
–Yes, nearly all of them. Granted, they had their own aviation school, but in general they are our graduates.
–Is there a unified coordinating staff with our representative who coordinates all the air operations?
–Is this done online every day?
–Yes, that’s how we do our coordination for every flight, for every strike.
Our ill-wishers’ falsehoods
–-Some foreign media reported shot down Russian aircraft and helicopters, there was even video. Do you have any comment?
–I’ll say they are engaging in wishful thinking. Thank God we haven’t had any losses thus far.
–How often do your receive information on our airwing’s condition?
–That’s how I start my every day. I receive a report at 8am.
–A US newspaper reported that terrorists were able to attack our airfield with rockets, another that the airfield security force suffered heavy losses as a result of ISIL attack. Was there an attack on the airbase?
–No, there was no attack on the airbase. Everyone’s alive, thank God.
–Syria’s territory has a very specific landscape, there are also sandstorms. Do you take all these peculiar features into consideration when assessing your flyers’ performance?
–Yes, Syria’s territory, particularly closer to the sea, has a lot of close terrain, some of it mountainous and covered with vegetation. But beyond that, nearly all of Syria is a flat sandy steppe, then desert. Therefore the Syrians’ main task is to eject the terrorists from the mountainous terrain and then move into the open areas.
–But there are severe sandstorms, they say that they can start blowing by the end of the year…
–Right now it’s the rainy season, and hardly a day passes without a storm. They usually happen in daytime. Therefore we will operate at night. Although it’s all the same to us, day or night.
–How is the relationship between our flyers and Syria’s civilian population?