Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

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SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence is offering a paper dedicated to the Syiran Air Force’s history and capabilities. The text is written by Johannes Ritter.
Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

The beginning – Syrian independence

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Syria had become a French Mandate. In the Second World War, the French authorities in Syria sided with the Vichy government, resulting in a short but violent campaign by the British to subdue Syria. Within that campaign, air combat took place between the British RAF and Vichy French fighter planes. German planes also used Syria as a staging post to support the anti-British Iraqi revolt in 1941.
When Syria became independent of France in 1946, the new state lacked any form of air force, in fact any form of Army. In contrary to Egypt, which had always enjoyed a modicum of autonomy, Syria had been a regular French colony and hence only had police forces. The Syrian Arab Air Force was founded even before the French fully evacuated the country in 1946. The Syrians did not only lack planes, but also pilots. A first batch of Syrian pilots was trained in Iraq and flew in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, but apparently at least some of the initial pilots were foreigners, including at least one Yugoslavian.

The first Aircraft for the new Air Force were provided for free by the United States, 2 Piper Cub observation planes and 20 AT-6 training aircraft. This supply of aircraft to an enemy of Israel caused a controversy in the pro-Israeli American press at the time. The AT-6, also known as Texan, was a two seat light training plane that is still flying with collectors and aerobatic flyers worldwide. Usually unarmed, it could be turned into a light bomber by installing fixed machine guns and bomb racks and providing the rear seat with a flexible machine gun for defense.

Then the Israeli War of Independence broke out, these 22 planes were all the Syrian Armed forces had to support their army on the Golan Heights. Initially the Israelis themselves only had comparable planes, but managed to purchase and import fighters and bombers relatively fast. Ironically, their first fighters were Czech postwar copies of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, called Avia S-199. The only air combat between Syria and Israel in this first of four wars took place between those two opponents and had a surprising outcome. On July 10, 1948, two Syrian Texans were intercepted by two Israeli Avias. British pilot Maurice Mann flying for Israel claimed a Texan shot down, but apparently it did not crash or at least the crew survived. The second Avia, flown by South African Lionel Bloch, pursued the Texan flown by Sergeant Al-Abed, with Muhi al-Din Wadi. Sources differ about what happened then differ. According to the Syrian version, Wadi managed to shoot down Bloch, who crashed near Quneitra and was killed. Wadi himself was so heavily wounded he died later. The Israelis claimed that Bloch was not shot down, but rather his synchronization gear (a device that enabled machine guns to fire through a propeller) malfunctioned and he shot his own propeller off. This would set the pattern for later encounters, where Israeli and Syrian versions of events would often differ drastically. Western sources usually take the Israeli version at face value, and often the official Syrian version is exaggerated or distorted by propaganda. However, in the internet age, more diverse Syrian personal accounts of Arab-Israeli air combat have emerged.

Apart from this air combat, Syrian Texans engaged in regular close air support against Israeli ground forces, while Israeli Bombers bombed Damascus and targets on the front line. The Syrian air force had no fighter aircraft of its own, so nothing could be done about these raids.

The building of an Air Force

After the end of the Israeli War of Independence, Syria set to build up its air force, especially with the inclusion of fighter aircraft.

Since there was no chance of purchasing additional aircraft from the increasingly pro-Israeli United States, the Syrians had to turn to other suppliers. At the time, planes could be purchased from an unlikely source: Italy. The Italian economy, crippled by the effects of World War 2, needed hard currency and so turned to arms export. Italy supplied a number of G.46 trainers, but also Fiat G.55 fighters. The G.55 was arguably the best Italian fighter of World War 2, but by 1948, it was obvious that Jet aircraft were the way of the future. Nonetheless, the G.55 and the two seat G.59 trainer version provided the young air force with valuable experience in high performance aircraft and at least a temporary air defense.

The new air force needed not only planes, but also pilots. The first contingent of Syrian air Force pilots had been trained in Iraq, but now Syria opened a military flying school in Aleppo, with the first 15 cadets entering their training in 1950. One of those 15 was the later president and sole military ruler of Syria, Hafez Al Assad, Father of the current president of Syria, Bashar Al Assad. Assad and his comrades finished their training in 1955.

By then, the Syrian Air Force finally had jets, even if obsolete ones. Syria had ordered 12 Gloster Meteor F.8 fighters (plus 2 T.7 trainers) from Britain in 1950. The Meteor was the first and only allied jet fighter to see action in World War 2 and was by 1950 considered obsolete. The British government instituted an arms embargo for the whole Middle East, but since the Meteors had been ordered before the arms embargo took force, the jets were delivered regardless of it and reached Syria in 1951. All these planes were second hand RAF planes, as the RAF converted to more modern fighters at the time. In 1954, Syria bought another six Meteors, this time NF.13 two seat night fighters. However, Britain refused to export the radar necessary for these planes to function as night fighters, so the planes were used as trainers instead. Generally, the British were willing to instruct the Syrians on how to fly and maintain jet aircraft, but not in how to fight in them.

By that time, due to the military coup of Nasser in 1953, Egypt had been turning increasingly to the Soviet Union for arms and support and Syria started to align itself with Egypt. Hence, jet fighter training was done in Egypt, while new Syrian pilots were increasingly sent to flying schools in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Syria received its first batch of MiG-15s from the USSR in 1955, 25 fighters and two trainers, together with a technical team from the USSR to instruct the Syrians in flying and maintenance. The MiG-15 at the time was still a front line fighter for the USSR, so Syria now had a competitive fighter aircraft.

During the Suez Crisis, Syria, unlike Egypt was not attacked by the Anglo-French coalition. However, Cyprus-based RAF and French aircraft routinely made overflights over Syria. One such flight occurred on 8th November 1956, when a British Canberra reconnaissance aircraft made a flight over Homs and Aleppo. On the return, near the Syrian-Lebanese border, the aircraft was intercepted by two Syrian Meteors and shot down, killing the pilot. Two other crewmen managed to parachute to safety and landed in Lebanese territory, from where they were repatriated to Cyprus. This was the only confirmed Arab air victory of the Suez crisis. While trying to intercept another reconnaissance plane that evening, Hafez Al Assad crashed his Meteor on landing due to brake malfunction and was nearly killed.

The shock of 1967

By the time of the Six Day war of 1967, Syria was a changed country. It had been part of a short lived confederation with Egypt, the United Arab Republic, which ended when Hafez Al Assad seized power in Syria in a coup in 1961. However, Assad remained allied with Gamal Abdel Nasser against Israel.

By that time, the Syrian Air Force had expanded to around 120 combat aircraft, including MiG-15, MiG-17 and the newest soviet fighter, the MiG-21, armed with R3S (AA-2 Atoll in NATO Code) air to air missiles. Overall, the Syrian air force was the second strongest of the Arab air forces, though it lacked the Il-28 and Tu-16 bomber arm the Egyptian Air Force had.

When Israel launched operation Mokhed (“Focus”), the massive preemptive strike on Arab Air Forces on 4 June 1967, Syria was only second priority compared to Egypt. Still, the Syrian Air Force was hit hard by the 3rd wave of Israeli attacks. In contrary to Egypt, Syrian forces were not surprised by the attack as it came hours after the initial dawn strikes on Egypt. Still, between the Egyptian strikes and the Israeli attack on Syria, the Syrian air force only made a few sorties that did not result in any damage to Israeli targets or aircraft. When the Israelis finally struck, they destroyed almost 60 Syrian aircraft on the ground and about a dozen in the air, against four losses. This amounted to about 50% losses of Syrian Air Strength.

After these losses, the Syrian Air Force withdrew to airfields around Aleppo, which had not been attacked by the Israelis and largely kept out of the fight. The lack of air support was one of the factors which led to Israeli victory in the Golan Heights. Syrian Pilots managed to score occasional victories in the remainder of the Six Day war, but the Israelis had definitely established air superiority.

Overall, the pre 1967 Syrian air force looked impressive on paper, but lack of experienced pilots and combat training hampered its effectiveness. Syria was still relying on Egypt for much of its training and support, and Egyptian organization proved slow and ineffective itself. As with later conflicts, actual Syrian air losses are hard to establish as the Syrians, in contrary to the Egyptians never released any detailed information on their side of the campaign, but even if assuming a significant portion of erroneous Israeli claims (which happened in every air conflict), it is still clear the Syrians took a beating in 1967 and the subsequent border skirmishes.

Yom Kippur

After 1967, the Syrian Air Force painstakingly rebuilt its air forces with the support of the Soviet Union. The MiG-17 was largely supplanted by various MiG-21 variants and relegated to the fighter-bomber role while Su-7 fighter-bombers were added to the inventory.

In the Yom Kippur War (or October war for the Arab Nations) in October 1973 began with a simultaneous Egyptian and Syrian attack on the Sinai and Golan. The Syrians had drawn correct conclusions from their lack of preparedness in 1967 and established a soviet style integrated defensive network in which fighters and Surface to Air Missiles like S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline in NATO Code) and 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) were linked to defend against Israeli attacks. This led to severe Israeli air losses as the Israeli Air Force tried to repeat its tactics from 1967. Israeli sources put most of these losses down to ground defenses, but fighters definitely played a larger role than usually assumed in western sources. Later in the Yom Kippur war, Israelis managed to skip most of the Syrian defenses by violating Lebanese airspace, but unlike 1967, the Israelis never managed to gain total air superiority over the Battlefield and the Syrian Air Force, though also suffering heavy losses, managed to remain active throughout the conflict. Ultimately, the Syrians were defeated in the Golan Heights, but a ceasefire on 25th October 1973 prevented any further Israeli or Syrian offensives, though fighting around Mount Hermon flared up again in 1974.

The 80s and the Cold War

After the Yom Kippur war, the Syrians rebuilt their air strength with Soviet assistance and integrated new plane types, especially the fighter and bomber variants of the MiG-23.

The next round of Syrian-Israeli conflict came in 1982, when both sides intervened in the Lebanese civil war. This lead to a series of air combats in June 1982, in which the Syrians got the worst of it. Western Sources called this air battle the “Bekaa Valley Turkey shoot”. While Israeli victory claims might have been optimistic, it is clear that the Syrian Air Force lost a lot of planes for few Israeli losses, all of which are attributed to air defense by the Israelis. Russian language sources claim a few Syrian air victories, but the overall picture is not disputed. The Israelis, with their experience from 1973 and helped by US experience in Vietnam and subsequent developments in electronic warfare and coordination, had managed to systematically dismantle the Syrian integrated air defense network, leaving the Syrian Air Force blind and uncoordinated. In the subsequent one sided air battle, at least two dozen MiGs were lost. While this operation established Israeli air superiority, the Israelis never managed to capitalize on this and knock Syria out of the Lebanon for good. Syrian attack helicopters and fighter bombers continued attacks on Israeli columns, causing casualties. Especially the French built Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopters armed with HOT anti-tank missiles proved very effective against Israeli Tanks. Ultimately the Israeli intervention in Lebanon failed, though Syrian air strength had been severely reduced.

In the 80s, Syria received a number of modern soviet made aircraft, most notably MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 fighter-bombers. However due to the secretive nature of the Syrian military, exact strength numbers are hard to establish.
The number of Israeli-Syrian air incidents decreased to almost zero in the 90s, not only due to an era of relative peace in the Middle East but also due to the cessation of Soviet technical support for the Syrian Air Force. Between 1990 and 2013, the Syrian Air Force did not receive a single new combat aircraft. On exception was an incident in 2001, in which Israeli F-15s shot down two Syrian MiG-29s that were operating in the vicinity of an Israeli electronic reconnaissance plane.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

The Syrian Civil War

In the Syrian civil war, use of Air Power was initially quite limited. Until mid-2012, occasional sorties were flown by armed Aero L-39 trainers. This quickly escalated in late 2012 until the full inventory of the Syrian Air Force was in active use for bombing missions.

The overall effectiveness of the Syrian Air Force probably peaked in late 2013 and 2014, when western sources expressed surprise in the high sortie rate the Syrian Air Force was able to generate.

In 2015, the overall number of sorties seems to have decreased, though the Syrian Air Force is still operating.
Overall, according to various sources, Syria has lost up to half its inventory of 550 combat aircraft from 2011 to 2014. However, the actual amount of losses of operational aircraft is hard to judge. Several bases, including (Names) were lost to various Rebel factions, often including dozens of wrecks or even complete aircraft, though no Syrian Rebel faction ever attempted to restore these aircraft to operational use. Initially, there were some incidences of aircraft being hit by missiles or machine gun fire while taxiing or on takeoff or landing. There were some incidents of Jet aircraft being shot down during bombing runs, both by small arms anti-aircraft fire (usually of 14,5mm or 23mm caliber) as well as man-portable anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs) like 9K310 Igla captured from Syrian Army supply depots. However, MANPADs use seems to have declined since 2013 as existing supplies of missiles were used up and in contrary to anti-tank missiles, no foreign power so far seems to have supplied the various insurgent factions of Syria with Anti-air weaponry. A number of losses were due to outside intervention: A MiG-23 was shot down by a Turkish Air Force F-16 on March 23, 2014 in what was probably the first ever air victory of Turkey. An Israeli MIN-104 Patriot Surface to Air Missile shot down a Syrian Su-24 over the Golan Heights on 23rd September of the same year, while various unmanned aircraft have been intercepted and shot down by both Turkey and Israel.
Current inventory

Before the present conflict, the Syrian Air Force had the following aircraft in its inventory. Exact strengths are often not clear, considering losses, especially with older types due to abandonment of unserviceable aircraft. The Syrians often left unserviceable aircraft out in the open as decoys or due to lack of funds. For example, before the current conflict, some of the Gloster Meteor fighters received in 1952 still existed in revetments in Kurweires Air Base.

On the other hand, with the exception of the Su-22s mentioned below, no new aircraft have been delivered to the Syrian Arab Air Force in that time period.

Dispositions

The Syrian Arab Air Force, like its Army and Navy counterparts, follow British patterns of structure and organization, though it uses army instead of RAF ranks. The basic fighting unit is the squadron. Squadrons are numbered with 3 digit numbers which seems to indicate role, with numbers in the 500s being helicopter squadrons, numbers in the 600,s 700s and 800s jet fighters and fighter bombers and single digit numbers for training units, but this system is not consistently applied. Squadrons consist of 12 to 20 aircraft each. Two or three squadrons form an air brigade, usually based at one air base. While both Al Nusra/FSA and the Islamic State have overrun at least three major air bases with another one at Kweires under Siege until recently, the grouping of the Syrian Arab Air Force with the main units clustered around Damascus has helped to protect the major operational squadrons from having to evacuate their bases. Apart from Tadmur and Abd al Duhur, all bases captured or besieged by Rebel forces were only used as training facilities. Though the loss of training facilities is a severe blow, the Syrian Air Force probably has enough trained pilots available to man the available aircraft.

Fighter Aircraft:

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

MiG-29 (38 to 82, sources vary, including 4 trainer variants, 20 operational according to Flightglobal)

Syria has an unknown number of MiG-29s as their main fighter. Numbers reported vary between 38 and 82. These planes are based at Sayqual Air Base near Damascus, in three squadrons under the 17th Air Brigade.
These aircraft are relatively uncommon in ground attack, though there has been YouTube footage of MiG-29s dropping bombs and strafing ground targets with 30mm fire, but mainly these planes are kept back for air defense. They might have been active in September in various incidents with Turkish aircraft, where the Turkish side reported a radar lock on by MiG-29s. In 2013, it was reported that Russia would sell a further 10 MiG-29s of the upgraded M2 variant would be sold to Syria, though they have not been delivered yet.

The fighter variants can carry R-73 and R-27 air to air missiles plus a built in 30mm cannon, as well as unguided bombs and rockets. The trainer variant lacks the radar for air combat, but can be used for ground attack.
MiG-23 (136, 80 MS/M/MLD fighters, 40 BN bombers, 6 UB trainers, 90 operational according to Flightglobal)
The MIG-23 is still in service with the Syrian Arab Air Force. Losses suffered in the 1982 air battles have been replaced in the late 1980s. Also, Syria managed to buy around 30 examples of more modern MLD variant from Belarus, which makes Syria the only Mideast customer to fly the most modern MiG-23 fighter variant. Syria still has older MS and M fighter variants in service as well as the fighter-bomber BN variant. The former can be used as a bomber as well, but lacks the ground attack sensors (laser rangefinder, optical camera) carried in the BNs nose. In recent video footage from Syrian TV, fighter variants of the MiG-23 were shown operational, both with unguided FAB-250 bombs as well as Air to Air Missiles. At least 3 MiG-23 have been lost on combat operations and at least another dozen have been captured on the ground by Al Nusra Front at Abu Al Duhur, though many of them in a derelict state.

These aircraft are in service with at least 7 squadrons (5 fighter, 2 fighter-bomber) around Damascus, Idlib and Homs.

The MiG-23 fighter variants can carry R-23 and R-60 air to air missiles plus a built in 23mm cannon and can carry unguided bombs and rockets. The bomber variant carries the same cannon and unguided bombs and rockets, but can also carry and use the Kh-23 air to ground missile, as well as use unguided ordnance more precisely due to its laser rangefinder and targeting optics.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

MiG-21 (around 160, 53 operational according to Flightglobal)

The Syrian Air Force still have a large number of operational MiG-21s. These planes are rugged, easy to maintain and not inferior in ground attack to fighter model MiG-23s. Most operational MiG-21s belong to the MiG-21bis variant, while older models are usually abandoned or serve as memorials. YouTube footage shows numerous bomb runs carried out by MiG-21s.

MiG-21s are in service with at least 6 Squadrons based in Hama, As-Suwaida and Homs.
The MiG-21bis has a built in 23mm cannon and can use R-3S, K-13 and R-60 air to air missiles, as well as unguided bombs and rockets. At least 4 MiG-21s have been confirmed lost on combat operations, the most recent on November 4, 2015. Numerous examples, most of them derelict, were captured by the Islamic State at Tadmur(Palmyra) Air Base.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

MiG-25 (38, 2 operational according to Flightglobal)

The most high performance aircraft in the inventory of the Syrian Air Force, though now over 30 years old, these aircraft can serve both in the interceptor and reconnaissance roles.

The fighter variants are, if still in service, based at T4 Airbase in the Homs region, Syria’s most modern and well-fortified airfield. The reconnaissance variants can also serve as bombers. Apparently there have been a few sorties with attempts to use R-40 missiles against ground targets, but the plane seems to have been largely retired. This plane is of limited use as the fighter variant is not capable of ground attack while the reconnaissance variant has poor bombing accuracy. Derelict examples of this aircraft might have been captured by the Islamic State when Tadmur/Palmyra Air Base was overrun.

The fighter variant is armed with the R-40 air to air missile, while the reconnaissance variant can also carry unguided bombs.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Su-22 (53, 42 operational according to Flightglobal)

Syria had operated the Sukhoi family of variable geometry fighter-bombers since the Su-20 in the late 70s. The Su-22M (export designation of the Su-17, both models are essentially identical), especially the M3 and M4 variants, is a very capable fighter bomber with a sophisticated (for the 1980s) optical-laser target acquisition and designation system and very rugged and reliable. These aircraft are probably the main striking arm of the Syrian Air Force today as they allow relatively precise attacks and are easy to maintain. This is the only aircraft type where Syria received any replacement aircraft during the Syrian Civil war; in fact the only newly acquired combat aircraft in the last 20 years. Iran transferred a number of aircraft to Syria. These aircraft were originally Iraqi, but had fled to Iran during the 1991 Gulf War. At least 3 aircraft have been lost in combat, the most recent one in September 2015. Su-22 squadrons are based near Damascus, at T4 near Homs and at Shayrat.

All Su-22s can use unguided bombs and rockets using a built in laser rangefinder and target designation system and have 2 built in 30mm cannon. The more advanced M3 and M4 versions can use guided missiles like Kh-23, Kh-25 and Kh-29 as well as Kh-58 anti-radar missiles. All can carry R-60 or K-13 missiles for self-defense.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Su-24 (20, 18 operational according to Flightglobal)

The most advanced and most capable strike aircraft of the Syrian Air Force, the Su-24 was developed as a high speed penetration bomber by the USSR in the late 70s. It has a sophisticated (for the 1980s) attack system with a ground mapping radar and limited all weather capability. At least some, if not all Su-24s were upgraded by Russia to the M2 standard, which includes new Head Up displays and navigation systems and a new bombing computer as well as compatibility with more sophisticated munitions. Russian Air Force Su-24s in use in Syria are identical.
These aircraft represent the main strike arm of the Syrian Air Force and at least two of them have been shot down so far, including one by an Israeli Surface to Air Missile. Syrian Su-24s have apparently been held in reserve for a possible counterstrike in the case of a western bombing campaign against the Syrian Government and have carried out a number of flights near coalition air bases in Cyprus to test the defenses there. Since that risk has for now passed due to the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons, Su-24s are now again deployed for regular bombing missions.

Su-24s are based at T4 Airbase near Tyas in the Homs area, all serving in 827 Squadron

Su-24s have a built in 23mm cannon and can carry air to air missiles for self-defense, but their main purpose is the use of guided and unguided bombs during all weather conditions with the help of a sophisticated bombing system and air to ground radar. The M2 version can also carry the latest Russian air to ground missiles like Kh-59 and Kh-29

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

L-39 (40-80, 66 operational according to Flightglobal)

The Czech build L-39 Albatros trainer is mainly used for pilot training, but has a limited combat. In the initial phases of the Syrian Civil War in mid-late 2012, these were the first fixed wing aircraft to be used against the various rebel factions, with a number of planes being lost in combat. More were captured or destroyed when Abu Al Duhur Airbase was overrun by the Al Nusra Front in February 2013. Al Nusra has made no known attempts to return these planes to flying condition, however.

In fact, none of the original training bases for L-39 jets is still in government hands, though L-39s are still active flying from other bases.

The L-39 is normally unarmed but can carry unguided bombs or rockets.

 Combat Helicopters

In contrary to many other military forces around the world, Syria has assigned attack helicopters to the Air Force instead of the Army.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Mi-24D/Mi-25 (30, 28 operational according to Flightglobal)

The famous “Krokodil” or “Hind” in NATO Code. Syria, as many other states allied with the USSR, received the export version of the Mi-24D, the Mi-25, in the 1980s. These helicopter gunships are still operational and used regularly in support of Syrian Army Ground operations since July 2012.

In internet videos, these Syrian Mi-25 can be easily differentiated from later model Russian Mi-24Ps not only by their nose mounted 12,7mm Gatling gun, but also by their different tactics. In contrary to the low level rocket strikes preferred by Russian pilots, Syrian Mi-25s are usually employed as bombers, usually dropping up to 4 250 kg bombs from relatively high altitude and low speed. The reason for this unusual tactic is not known, but might be avoiding ground fire from rifles and machine guns in urban areas. While no losses in the air are documented, at least one helicopter was captured on the ground by insurgents.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Mi-25s are based at Talah near As Suweida, but are largely operating from forward bases.

The Mi-25 is armed with a rotating turret containing a multi barrel 12,7 mm Machine gun controlled by the gunner in the front cockpit, 4 Hard points for either rocket pods or bombs as well as up to four anti-tank guided missiles.
SA-342 Gazelle.

The older SA-342 have so far seen limited use in the Syrian Civil War. The Gazelle is of limited use for such conditions as it can only fire anti-tank missiles. They are largely used in a liaison and reconnaissance roles.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Mi-8/Mi-17 (over 80 in service out of 130 in 2010)

The workhorse of any Warsaw pact style army, the ubiquitous Mi-8 transport helicopter and its Mi-17 combat transport variant has not only been used for transport purposes, but also to drop improvised bombs out of a hover from the rear cargo doors. This “barrel bombing” has been the subject of much criticism from human rights organizations and western governments as a form of inhumane warfare. Some of the Mi-17s were upgraded, probably with Iranian help. These helicopters suffered the heaviest losses in the Syrian Civil war, with probably over 20 lost to enemy fire so far, including at least one shot down by an OSA-M surface to air missile captured by Rebels.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Transports

The Syrian Arab Air Force has a very small transport fleet, including 4 civilian registered Il-76s and 6 An-26 turboprop transports, one of which crashed in January 2015 on a supply flight, as well as a number of soviet made passenger jet aircraft.

Future acquisitions and rumors

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

MiG-31E

The possible purchase of MiG-31 interceptors by Syria has been reported by Western, Israeli and Russian media on and off for at least five years. The MiG-31 is a two seat development from the MiG-25 with much greater capability and very sophisticated radar. However, it seems unlikely that Syria will ever receive any MiG-31s as these planes are not capable of ground attack and its avionics are much more sophisticated than anything the Syrians currently operate.

Military Analysis: The Syrian Air Force – History and Capabilities

Yak-130

The Russian replacement for the L-39 Albatros, the Yak-130 grew out of a failed joint project with the Italian manufacturer Aermacchi. In contrary to its predecessor, the Yak-130 can not only be used for training, but as an attack aircraft as well, though it lacks the armor protection of real ground attack aircraft like the Su-25. In fact, it can carry a higher bomb load than a MiG-21 or MiG-23. Syria ordered 36 of these aircraft in 2008, but no planes have been delivered yet. Initially Russia refused to deliver any new aircraft to Syria while the civil war was ongoing, but that policy seems to have changed. So far, no Yak-130s have been delivered to the Syrian Arab Air Force, but the reason for this is most likely priority for Russian Air Force Orders over export.

The Syrian Arab Air Force today

With the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War, the Syrian Air Force suddenly takes a secondary role. While it has been a constant factor in the civil war, it was not able to halt the reverses the Syrian Arab Army suffered in 2013 and again with the Emergence of the Islamic State in 2014. With Russian Air Force Airstrikes increasing in tempo, it is likely the Syrian Air Force will use the time to restore its combat capabilities with Russian assistance. It is unclear to what level Syrian and Russian aircraft integrate their strikes or if both fight separate air campaigns. At least the Su-24s should be able to operate within the framework of the Russian air campaign, as they are essentially identical and their infrastructure at T-4 Airbase is actually better than at Latakia. The future of the Syrian Air Force, including its composition will largely depend on the outcome of the wider conflict. It is however unlikely that the Syrian air force will receive any substantial reinforcements as long as the conflict is ongoing, as the integration of new aircraft types into an air force that lost a substantial part of its infrastructure and is fighting a civil is next to impossible.

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  • Keithon de Bique

    in ww2 russia lost thousands of aircraft. Assad can rebuild and lessons learned.

    • zedeyejoe

      Difference is Russia fought against the Germans. Hardly any Syrians want to fight for Assad. So Assad will lose in the end. Russia and Iran can keep Assad going for a while but not forever. And as mentioned in the article, once the rebels start being supplied with proper SAMs, basically the game is over for Assad, his one advantage, control of the air, gone.

      • Keithon de Bique

        Two things – he has much of the army, who arn’t all his ethnicity.
        PLus you’re a dangerous man in power outfitting terrorists who beheaded an 11 year old with an air shield.

        • Pedro Rabaçal

          Two things:
          – his useless army dont seem great, judging by ASSad´s many foreign mercenaries. Russians, iranians, Hezbollah´s…
          – defending a psychopath who tortured to death a 13 year old (who was also castrated) just because you cant admit there are many rebels besides Daesh, makes you a moron.

          • Keithon de Bique

            i cease responding to insulters

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            & you insulted zedeyejoe, wiseass.