The military actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria brought many positive results, but serious problems were revealed as well.
Written by Konstantin Sivkov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The main focus today is on positive political and partly on military-strategic results. The main outcome is the rightly named preservation of the legitimate government in Syria – the Russia-friendly regime of Bashar Assad. Our country demonstrated its will to protect its interests with military force and her effective application even with a limited contingent. Russia’s authority in the world, especially in the Middle East, significantly grew. One of the main military-strategic results is that Russia has acquired a base in Syria.
The Middle Eastern Polygon
From the military-technical results, first, it is worth noting the testing of the use in war situations of the new cruise missile X-101, X-55, “Kalibr-NK” and “Kalibr-PL”. Shots were fired from a distance near its limit of 1600 and 1700 kilometres, give or take a few hundred kilometres. The loss was two or three missiles, which is significantly lower than the typical Tomahawk order, allocated by the Americans for a similar task. The flight trajectories were chosen to bypass the air defense zones and regions of dense location of armed Islamist formations. The objectives of the strikes were the points of leadership of the operational and strategic nexus, weapons depots under the central command or repair hubs of military equipment of the banned in Russia Islamic State. Our missiles showed great reliability.
The high-precision bombing SVP-24 system was perfected. It is characterised by a rate of 20-25 metres of standard deviation of free fall bombs from the target. It is quite enough to hit reliably designated targets with minimal damage to civilian infrastructures in the surrounding area.
The high efficiency was also shown in the Kh-29 and Kh-25 missiles both with laser and television guidance systems, guided aerial bombs KAB-500L and KAB-500Kr used in Syria. Their primary carriers in Syria were the Su-34 and Su-24. The accuracy of hitting the target is exceptional: the standard deviation is two-three metres, which guarantees a true hit in the small target. In view of this, the zone of destruction of the surrounding buildings does not exceed 15 metres. Strongholds of ISIL were destroyed in densely constructed urban areas with this kind of weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Russian weapons demonstrated the high efficiency of the ground forces. It is important to note that our military sciences were successful in solving specific problems in the fight against terrorist organisations. The Americans were unable to resolve analogous problems neither in Iraq nor in Afghanistan nor in Syria.
Now, about the problems.
To all military specialists, including foreign ones, it became clear: Russia does not have a sufficient number of trained military personnel capable of solving combat tasks in modern aircraft. The composition of the units was insufficient. In the battles senior officers died, which means that well-prepared lieutenants, senior lieutenants and captains in the Russian aviation are too few or there are none. The fact that the aircraft carrier cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov” only now is leaving for the region, and up to now this past year did not take part in the operations suggests that we do not have trained pilots of the carrier-based aviation.
The Syrian campaign demonstrated that in the Russian Navy there are few full combat-ready ships for the distant sea and ocean zones. The fleet, operating in the area, has two or three main class ships: cruiser, large anti-submarine and patrol ships. This is the low level of readiness of the Russian fleet to conduct large-scale military operations. Foreign military specialists make appropriate conclusions.
Launches of the cruise missiles were sporadic; they were used at long intervals, which indicates that there are not enough inventory in the arsenal, the missiles were used as they came out of production.
Furthermore, the large-scale joint offensive operation, which started with the opening of military actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria, actually choked. After seven days of bombing, from September 30 to October 6, the Syrian ground forces undertook the most ambitious offensive operation against the ISIL formations. An unprecedented pace of advance marked the first days. The group, operating in the direction of the city El Lataminah, which is located near the stronghold of banned in Russia Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham fighters, covered 70 kilometres. The major populated points of Maarkaba and Atshan were liberated; a few key heights were taken, including Sakic and El Havir. The group moved close to 50 kilometres in the first day of operations, operating to the East of the fortress Qalaat al-Madiq where government forces liberated the town of Kfar Naboodah and occupied the strategic important heights Tel el Sakhr and Tel Osman.
The coalition’s actions were carried out in full compliance with the provisions of military science that crucially determined their success in the first stage. The enemy’s defences opened a “barrage of fire”, which allowed to reliably suppress the resistance and reduce losses of the advancing units to a minimum.
However after four days of advances it sharply slowed down, its front was reduced. The enemy, after recovering from the shock, partially restored the operational control and carried out counter-attacks in other areas, diverting government forces and the Russian aviation from the main attack line that failed. The sharp intensification of the Aerospace Forces did not help in the matter where those operating in utmost tension.
Later the parties fought with varying degrees of success. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) with the help of the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation for a long time sought tactical successes. In fact, by the end of 2015 the front in general stabilised, the SAA was advancing in certain areas. This situation persists to this day.
It is not worth to deceive oneself with the emerging truce. The local leaders in the chaotic conditions tried to “secede” from the central government and today agreed to a cessation of hostilities. However, the main terrorist forces, ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra, and Free Syrian Army with smaller organisations joining them continue to carry out military actions.
The Loosing Contenders
We must realise that this war is not an internal affair of Syria – it has geopolitical roots. After the “Arab Spring”, the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan the authority of the USA in the region was undermined. They did not succeed in leaving a reliably and tightly controlled regime. So the idea in Washington to install in Syria a puppet leadership, especially in the seaside provinces of the country, is understandable. In this case, the Americans would have the ability to control the Qatari gas pipeline into Europe and a major strategic militarily foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. After the counter-revolution in Egypt with the strengthening of the Russian vector in the policies of Cairo there was no one left in the area for the USA.
For Turkey the situation in Syria at the moment of cessation of military actions will mean a full failure of the policy of the ruling elite with at its head Erdogan: the project “Ottoman Empire 2” will collapse and on the Southern borders of the country a hostile Kurdish autonomy.
For Qatar there is no hope left on the creation of the strategically important gas pipeline towards the Syrian ports or through its territory to Turkey for further transit into Europe by pushing out Russia from that market.
Saudi Arabia loses much as well, above all hope to crush Iran’s main ally in the Arab world and thereby leave the Islamic Republic isolated, to weaken its influence in the Middle East. The project of the new Caliphate, which the royal dynasty has been dreaming about for more than a decade, will have to be forever forgotten. Maintaining the present status quo in Syria for the Saudis already is a serious loss: the role of Iran in the Middle Eastern region is strengthening; threats are increasing against the ruling dynasty.
The Coalition of Winners
The clear winners are Russia and Syria. For the Russian Federation the conclusion of peace with the current status quo means a military victory, albeit a limited one. This leads to a significant growing influence in the region. In the SAR, it led to the growing popularity of the current president as a symbol of opposition to aggression. The retention of power by this government even with the prospect of the re-election of Bashar Assad at the post of president of the country means the appearance in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea of a Russian strategic foothold, the failure of the construction of the pipeline from Qatar to Europe and the emergence on Turkey’s Southern border authority, the Kurdish Workers’ Party.
For Iran the preservation of the current status quo (with the prospect of defeat of ISIL and other organisations, recognized as terrorist, the necessity of which agree all external players of the Syrian drama) gives as well a status of winner as a member of the coalition headed by Russia. This greatly enhances its position in the Islamic world, particularly in the Shia Ummah. Thus they can follow the mass protests of the oppressed Shia population of the Persian Gulf monarchies.
Of course, ample opportunities open up for active implementation in the region of China as an ally of Russia and Iran with economic replacement of American influence.
Thus, even maintaining the status quo in Syria will mean a victory of the coalition, headed by Russia, and defeat of the USA, Turkey, KSA and Qatar with heavy consequences for them. A new round of armed confrontation is inevitable, the Americans and their allies will seek revenge.
The Concentration of Risks
The war crossed into a protracted phase. Inasmuch as this theater for Russia is considerably distant, we must either achieve victory in the shortest time or obtain peace under the current scenario. The delay in the end will wear down the army of Bashar Assad where there are already shortages in personnel.
Probably it is worth admitting that to achieve a full victory and destroy the terrorist groups we outright will not be able to. The USA and its allies will not allow it; they will move them to the category of “moderate opposition”, will supply them with weapons and ammunition, and recruit more militants. The Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation do not have comparable capabilities. So their goals must be achieving peace on acceptable conditions. In any war, to bring this is only possible by inflicting defeat on the enemy, which will force him to negotiate. With regard to Syria we are talking about Aleppo. The defeat of the militant groups surrounded in the Eastern section of the city not only will significantly weaken the terrorists, it will undermine their morale and psychological potential which will become an important operative success, but it will also allow to gain territorial integrity of the space controlled by the government of Syria and will appear as important military and political gain.
But to defeat the surrounded militants additional troops and means are needed. The pace of progress of the SAA, regardless of the intensity of support from the Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian Air Force, are exceptionally low. The terrorists are constantly counterattacking. The delay in liberating Aleppo gives time to the USA and their allies to create a powerful striking force of terrorists, which will be able to unblock the surrounded bandits. For this reason the Russian Federation must take emergency measures, allowing raising the combat capabilities of the Syrian forces in this direction, strengthen their aviation support to a level that will allow them to fully liberate Aleppo in the following two-three weeks. The contribution by the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” will be by reaching the combat areas, whose aviation group of 26 crafts in the course of 7 to 10 days will effectively contribute to the advances of the Syrian troops.
At the same time one should make the effort to activate the diplomatic support of Syria by other countries, interested in the preservation of its independence.
Under the favourable development of the situation and the taking of Aleppo in the near future, the Russian Federation and Syria with the help of friendly governments, first of all the People’s Republic of China, would be able to achieve peace on acceptable conditions. Otherwise there are not many chances of a favourable conclusion to the war. The transition of the American coalition to the open support of terrorists is very likely. The strike against the Syrian troops, clearly coordinated with the subsequent advance of the militants, the calls by the military command of the USA to create a no-fly zone over Syria is testimony that the Americans are ready to start military action against the Syrian Air Force, regardless of the high risks of confrontations with the Russian Aerospace Forces. The USA can resort to such a harsh scenario in case of obvious successes of the Syrians at the destruction of the terrorists in Aleppo.
Today the situation is such that the risk of the onset of a Russo-American conflict becomes very real and significant. Specialists were predicting for a while the inevitability of such developments, from the beginning of our appearance on the side of Damascus. It is very difficult to change the course of a war with one regiment, if at all possible. And especially to solve the task of defeating ISIS, as was expected, before the year 2016.
Our intervention was necessary, as a “fireman”. The early action allowed Russia to support the legitimate government of Syria more effectively and possibly, without direct participation in the conflict. All this suggests that we do not have the proper analytical support for serious military-political decisions at the highest levels of leadership in the country. This confirms also the whole history of the Ukrainian crisis; Russia was not operating in the best of ways. Therefore, we need to urgently establish a highly effective system of scientific and methodological support for the military and political decisions.
Corresponding Member of Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences