Russian aviation is attacking concealed and disguised objects of terrorist infrastructure
Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Carpatho-Russian exclusively for SouthFront
What is the mechanism of applying aviation facilities to attack militants of ISIL? How reliable is the information about the arrangement of their bases, warehouses with ammunition, and command points? How, at last, shall we respond to the “stab in the back” on our Su-24M? These and other questions on the “military industrial sector” are answered by the First Deputy Chief of Operational Management of the General Staff of the Air Force (1997-2003), leading adviser of the Committee of the Federation Council for Defense and Security (2003-2013), Major General Igor Semenchenko.
— Igor Gennadevich, we are introducing here the tasks put before our pilots in Syria. But how much does the structure of the aviation group correspond to their decision?
— Before answering this question, a few words about the Syrian Arab Republic. This is a country where in society various religions engage amicably, and no one clashed between themselves. All found a common language. There are families consisting of Muslims and Orthodox. They and others relate very warmly to Russians and Russia.
Having on board 12-16 bombs of medium and large caliber, the Su-24M, equipped with a specialized computing subsystem, is capable of destroying up to two point objects per flight.
As regards the Russian aviation group, this is more than 50 planes. They are first of all the tactical Su-24M bombers — heavily upgraded units with modern navigational facilities and aiming which permit pinpoint strikes. Then the Su-34 — new multipurpose tactical bombers with modern onboard aiming and navigational systems and armament. The Su-25CM ground-attack aircraft are airplanes with armored protection of the pilot and the engine, which adequately operated in Afghanistan. The Su-30 CM multipurpose fighters. Shock helicopters Mi-24P and Mi-35, transport and assault Mi-8AMTSh and transport Mi-17, as well as drone reconnaissance. All these are exceptionally reliable machines which possess good functional compatibility and simplicity of management.
The structure of the aviation group of the Aerospace Forces of Russia directly indicates its purposes and tasks. These are the military facilities of the ground infrastructure of the ISIL terrorist group. In particular, combat positions, command points, plants and workshops for explosives and IEDs, large warehouses of military equipment, ammunition, fuels and lubricants, clothing and equipment and food, hidden bases which were concealed or carefully disguised earlier, transit and support points, command points with communication centers, convoys with weapons and ammunition, terrorist training camps, bridges, and other objects.
I especially wish to note that the level of combat readiness and skill of the Russian pilots is high, as never before. They are equipped with everything necessary to execute combat strikes on military facilities of ISIL’s ground infrastructure.
The Russian aviation group is based at the Hmeymim air base, protected by land armies located at the Basil Al-Assad International Airport.
— How have the combat objectives carried out by the aircrew, say in the Afghan campaign, differ from those which are resolved in Syria?
— In a word — practically nothing. Although it must be noted that in any operation there will be nuances, special features, and innovations in aerial systems and combat objectives.
The Afghan campaign, despite many miscalculations and errors, became for the domestic Air Force practically the most successful and effective after the post-war thirtieth anniversary. Su-25 attack planes flew more than any other operational pilots in the world. If one speaks about the contribution of the Air Force in any military campaigns, the familiar expression of the infantry is long since known: “Without aircraft, there is no effective ground operation”.
In Afghanistan, in addition to tactical bombers and attack planes, in combat operations with Mujahideens long-range aviation, to which was once assigned the combat task of destroying the azure deposit of Ahmad Shah in the area Jarm, was noted. Income from the sale of azure nourished the militants, and the decision to “reconstruct” the deposits by using high-explosive aerial bombs appeared more than reasonable. The long-range bombers operated on the assigned object from a height of 11,000 meters, laying the bombs not just near but literally to the meter. Complexity consisted in the fact that the area to drop the bombs and the target itself were at an elevation of almost seven thousand meters, and to execute in this area the massed and precise bombing is much the same as to fire into the neck of a bottle from a gun, while steering a motorcycle.
The bombing which took place on June 10 around Jarm became one of the most successful in the entire Afghan campaign.
The unique operation in Afghanistan to destroy a concentration of Mujahideens in combat positions (about four thousand) also cannot be forgotten. Six Tu-22М2 bombers and an entire aviation regiment of Tu-16s lifted off. In addition, 60 tactical Su-24 bombers joined the “long-range unit” for 35 minutes. The process of dropping bombs was a remarkable feature of the largest massed flight in the entire history of the Afghan war. The first to operate were the long-range bombers each carrying 60 OFAB aerial bombs, and the others followed. The result was more than expected.
Military air forces practiced bombing attacks on Mujahideen objects on the principle of “nine-ton pealing” — point dropping of the FAB-9000 aerial bombs, the most powerful available at that time, which pilots of long-range aircraft, due to the special features of its effect, had to apply smack-dab onto the roof of the necessary object.
— After all, where does the innovation in the use of combat aircraft in Syria come in?
— These are first of all high-precision armament, modern means of object monitoring, satellite navigation and reconnaissance, additional drone reconnaissance, modern onboard avionics, new systems for a homing and navigational complex, etc.
The main means of attack for suppression of ISIL groups are high explosive guided fuel air bombs and guided missiles of all classes, and under certain combat conditions other types of ammunition — volumetric detonation and bunker busters – are also used.
Drone reconnaissance of targets occupies a special place in the Syrian aviation campaign as already mentioned. And also effective methods of observation, equipped with the most modern cameras with a set of modes of operation, capable of working at any time with minimal risk of being discovered.
The military aircraft being used in Syria should be noted separately . Along with the ultramodern tactical Su-34 bombers, guidance and homing systems can deliver an air to ground missile literally into the terrorist’s “window pane”, and the thoroughly modernized Su-24M with a wing of a changeable sweep wing are also operating in the sky. These planes only externally recall that development of a unique tactical bomber was conducted in the USSR. Its electronic “internals”, responsible for guidance, homing, and application of the armament, fully corresponds to the established combat tasks and is a modern product of the Russian military industrial complex.
The bulk of the Russian airplanes sent to Syria are equipped with the latest domestic development of the “Specialized Computational Subsystem” (SVP-24). The idea incorporated into the foundation of this system consists of providing not exact homing on the ammunition target, but the proper conclusion to the point of dropping the delivery vehicle for unguided strike units. Our system essentially differs in this from the American concept of transforming usual JDAM bombs into a high-precision weapon. The USA installs on gravity bombs systems that guide them using GPS, thus converting into guided bombs.
The SVP-24 provides comparison of the target with location of the carrier, with adjustment for the flight trajectory of the bomb computed by the onboard computer system, taking into account flow velocity conditions and its ballistics. Common ammunition gains productivity, commensurable with a high-precision weapon. Meanwhile in a combat situation additional factors which significantly reduce the accuracy of bombing are imposed. These are errors in determining the coordinates of the target, which can be several meters. There are an additional several meters of deviation from the determination of the carrier location according to GLONASS in an operational zone. Coordinates might be somewhat distorted during sharp maneuvering around the target. Absence of full information on the hydrometeorological situation and the condition of the air environment also have an effect.
Taking into account the named factors, it is possible to evaluate the accuracy of combat use of free-falling bombs using the SVP-24. The probability of hitting a small-size protected underground structure is 30-40 percent, and attacks on poorly defended ground objects using medium caliber can reach 60 percent. Having onboard 12-16 bombs of medium and large caliber, an Su-24M equipped with SVP-24 is capable of destroying up to two point objects of ISIL’s military infrastructure for each flight. Apparently, it is specifically for this reason that each attacked object requires on the average slightly more than one sortie.
— How is reconnaissance of the locality and identification of militant bases conducted?
— To receive reliable information about the location of terrorists and the results of a fire strike, space and airborne reconnaissance drones are actively involved, as well as reconnaissance information from our Syrian partners, for which purpose an operations group of the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian Arab Republic has been set up on the Hmeymim air base. It is only on the basis of confirmed data arriving from various sources that airstrikes on terrorist objects are planned.
This is also a feature in actions of Russian aircraft. To avoid losses among the civilian population, objects for attack are designated outside settlements. More than 1600 flights and over 2000 targets hit – for more than a month Russian aircraft have been attacking positions of terrorists in Syria. Throughout this period dozens of warehouses with ammunition and military equipment, and food and special-purpose clothing, terrorist training camps, explosives preparation plants, command points with communication centers, and other objects of military infrastructure of the terrorists have been destroyed.
— The results are impressive. And still, why in your opinion has the Supreme Commander demanded recently to increase number of combat flights?
— This was required, I think, for several reasons:
- in connection with the increased amount of confirmed reconnaissance data on objects of terrorist group infrastructure;
- to stop the approach of terrorist combat groups and significantly reduce their fighting potential;
- to undermine material and technical base of the militants, and to disorganize their combat management system;
- to destroy military infrastructure of ISIL;
- to bring to the ranks of terrorist combat groups panic, and to create the preconditions for their retreat and defeat.
As an example of the intensity of increased number of sorties, one may mention information such as this. Within the past day the aviation group of Russia completed 71 departures and attacked 118 objects. Positions of militants in Idlib, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Damascus, and Latakia provinces were bombed. Near the settlement of Salma a command point and a large warehouse of ammunition of the terrorists were destroyed.
There were also attacks on concealed objects of militants which had been hidden or carefully disguised. This is first of all bases, transit and support points, and also command posts. On the outskirts of the settlement of Misrab in Damascus province, a management point with a communication center of the terrorist group “Jaish al-Islam” was destroyed.
Initially Russian pilots made about 20 combat sorties per day, gradually increasing their number. Since the beginning of operations the aviation group tactics have changed also. Now the combat pilots have started to work solo, attacking several targets for each flight.
— Could you dwell in more detail on the characteristics of aerial attacks which are now applied, in particular such as the AF-500, 250, and 270 guided bombs and others. How much is this a modern weapon?
— The Russian ASF aviation group is using a broad range of ammunition in Syria. Each type of rocket or bomb corresponds to highly specialized tasks.
The FAB-500 is an unguided universal high-explosive aerial bomb. It is widely used to attack various targets: military-industrial objects, railway junctions, power structures, fortifications, and personnel and military equipment of the opponent.
The OFAB-250-270 is an unguided high-explosive fragmentation aerial bomb intended to attack the opponent’s personnel, objects of armament, and military equipment.
The BETAB-500ShP is an assault bunker-buster bomb with jet accelerator. It is used from any (including small) height to attack ferro-concrete shelters (bunkers) and airport runways. It punches through thicknesses up to 550 millimeters.
The KAB-500 is a high-explosive guided aerial bomb relating to high-precision weaponry operating on the principle “drop and forget”. It is designed for attacking stationary land and surface targets such as warehouses, military-industrial objects, and ships at dock. It can be used round the clock in any weather.
Unlike foreign analogs, the main model of the KAB is designed not to use GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation, but on locality recognition using a television “eye”. The KAB homing device uses not the object itself but reference points in the locality to know its own exact coordinates and to be directed at the target which is not separated from the landscape. This makes it more reliable in modern electronic warfare, when GPS/GLONASS signals might be suppressed.
The KAB-250С (LG) is the most compact guided aerial bomb in its class. It is equipped both with a system for reception of satellite coordinates, and with its own television homing device. A modification to the LG permits directing ammunition using laser targeting.
The Kh-29L is an aerial guided missile of the “air to surface” class, possessing an enhanced striking factor with high-explosive and fragmentation action, and is equipped with a laser homing device. The object to be struck is highlighted with a laser on which to home in where the missile perceives only the necessary wavelength, which ensures high reliability in locking on the target.
The Kh-25 ML is an “air to surface” missile which finds its target using a semi-active laser homing head. Illumination of the object being attacked can be carried out by onboard or ground station targeting. This is designed for striking small-dimensional objects, including mobile units.
The RBK-500 is a single-use cluster bomb unit loaded with completely independent self-guided anti-tank combat elements equipped with two-mode infra-red target coordinators. This is designed to attack modern tanks and other armored machinery in difficult conditions of natural and artificial hindrances. It is effective against a concentration of combat equipment. After detecting a target and defining a point at which to strike a combat unit by means of an airborne computer (approximately at an altitude of 150 m) the attack is executed and the strike is applied to relatively weakly armored areas (tops of turrets and engine transmission compartments).
The ODAB-500 is a volume-detonating aerial bomb. This is a version of high-explosive fuel-air bombs. But its efficiency at similar caliber is significantly higher.
— What is the method today for combat operations of Russian pilots in the air?
— Combat operations in Syria are structured based on data from space and air reconnaissance and only after specification of all data received from a staff of the Syrian army. Bombing is carried out from an altitude above 5000 meters in order to avoid attack by Stinger-type mobile surface-to-air missile systems. The onboard navigation and targeting equipment of the aircraft makes it possible to provide a hit on any ground targets of terrorists with high precision.
Along with combat operations on ground targets, the Russian pilots provide direct support of attacking Syrian troops, conduct strikes at their instructions, and interfere with supplies to terrorist groups and their personnel replenishment. As a result, the number of the prime targets has sharply increased, as has also their ammunition load. If earlier the Russian planes carried two to four high-precision ammunition or four to six usual bombs, now pilots leave on combat assignments with multiple carriers, which permit carrying a cluster of bombs.
Each flight is preceded by thorough preparation of the aircrew. Data from objective monitoring and drones, and pictures from space reconnaissance are studied.
It still must be emphasized that gravity bombs and guided weapons used by the Russian pilots in front-line bombing and attack aircraft makes it possible for them not to enter into the zone of MANPADS attack by ISIL militants, which means to be located in a safe operational zone.
On November 17, Russia put into action for the first time the Tu-160 and Tu-95МС strategic bombers, as well as 12 long-range Tu-22М3 bombers in the Syrian operation.
The Tu-160 and Tu-95МС strategic bombers in total used more than 30 rockets on positions of the Islamic State terrorist group forbidden in Russia in the hottest flashpoints – in Homs, Aleppo, and Raqqa provinces. As a result, 14 terrorist objects, including a training camp for ISIL militants and a production plant for weapons and armored machinery, were destroyed. Planes worked in groups: one attacks, and another one covers.
12 long-range Tu-22М3 bombers carried out for the first time massed bombing of military infrastructure objects of the ISIL terrorists. The attack was carried out with groups on two Tu-22М3 planes with application of fragmentation and demolition aviation bombs. As a result, bases and camps of terrorists in Raqqa and Deyr-Ez-Zawr provinces were destroyed.
All of this indicates that Russia operates very selectively in the use of force, but at the same time is persevering in resolving its objectives to destroy terrorists. It was the first to enter the fight against this black force at the desire of the lawful president of Syria, and has achieved considerable successes that could not be ignored by the world community. I believe that the leading western countries must bring a more substantive contribution into the fight against the worldwide evil instead of trying to pull the chestnuts out of the fire by another’s hands.
— On November 24, our Su-24M was brought down around the Syrian-Turkish border. Unfortunately, one of the two pilots perished …
— However sad it is to speak about it, but where there is war, there are always losses. This is a severe reality which we sometimes do not wish to accept.
It is a prerogative of politicians and military to come to final conclusions while it is still early. Nevertheless it is possible to suppose that in this situation (I do not meanwhile take into account the Turkish side) there might be something we did not consider. This might show up also as lack of complete military information. I know this from the experience of my office and operational activity. When, for example, there was the А321 catastrophe, just from the fact that nearly 150 people appeared in their seats, while other bodies were scattered behind the plane’s tail, I understood that this was an act of terrorism.
As regards the Su-24M, competent authorities who will answer all questions are engaged in the investigation.
We are fulfilling our international duty in Syria — we are fighting, and with good results. This is proven to be true by facilities from space, from air, from the ground, and by our own materials of objective monitoring. Two months of actions without losses…
It is certain that the chief command of the ASF will take all measures, including those of nonconventional character, so that similar emergencies do not occur.