The Pentagon and terrorists have a joint aim. This article is a critical look at the Russian aviation’s prospects in the Syrian war.
Originally appeared at Interpolit, translated by Carpatho-Russian exclusively for SouthFront
You have not yet forgotten how after the shattering acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001, Washington declared Al-Qaeda the spawn of hell and the enemy of civilized mankind? And then how under the pretext of fighting against it, smashed Iraq and Afghanistan in a complete rout? Then the more amusing it will be to you to compare some fresh citations.
First: “If they came, we will remind them of the Afghans, how they left from there with shame. Your sons, your kindred will return home dead because they came here as invaders and will leave from here as invaders”. Do you know whose words these are? Recently in an interview with the Norwegian journalists the representative of al-Nusra Front in Syria, Mustapha Abu Rafik, expressed himself that way. And the al-Nusra Front calls itself a branch of Al-Qaeda in the territory of Syria and Lebanon.
A second quote: “Russia will become a target. Russia will see — who knows — people with MANPADs, and planes falling from the sky”. This is US Secretary of State John Kerry.
And finally, to crown off the ominous hit parade: ”I expect that in the next few days Russian will begin to sustain losses in Syria”. Pentagon head Ashton Carter expressed himself thus on Thursday in NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Did it not seem to you that all these menacing speeches are written on one computer? Even if that is not so, if simply a rage of identical force chokes our enemies in different parts of the world, the fact is present. Fourteen years after the explosions of the Twin Towers in New York, the top leadership of the United States and leaders of Al-Qaeda are shoulder to shoulder, ready to do battle with the resolute and surprisingly successful intervention of Moscow in events in the Middle East.
One may object, of course, that neither Kerry nor Carter are promising outright that our military will suffer loss from American armament. They are simply warning that, perhaps, a loss will be inevitable. And from whom, we shall see.
Only, to me, such arguments seem unsustainable. Read again what exactly Ashton Carter said. Pay attention: the chief of the Pentagon promises troubles for our pilots specifically “in the next few days”. If the Minister of Defense of a superpower,on whose desktop dozens of the most secret reconnaissance reports are set down daily, talks that way, then that means that something is definitely known to him about those who are preparing to enter the fight against the Russian military aircraft in Syria. And is already even almost ready for this battle.
The first thing that comes to mind is to threaten us with mobile surface-to-air missile systems. Any others are too complex for maintenance and militay operations, and calculations to prepare them take too long. Which means, if there are MANPADs, what kind and from where?
In recent days, Americans themselves have publicly issued assurances that they did not deliver their own anti-aircraft missiles into Syria and are not going to do so. And it is understandable why. Their planes have been flying for a year in the Syrian sky. And even if rockets were handed over to the so-called “moderate opposition”, there are no guarantees that these will not immediately show up among the soldiers of the Islamic State. Since many bands in Syria chaotically move from one armed group to another.
If one analyzes the reports of military operations in four years of war, it becomes clear that the head-cutters are well-supplied with all colors of these goods. From everywhere, including from our country. Thus, in November, 2012 there appeared abroad reports that at the disposal of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” opposition to President Bashar Assad had been discovered a large batch of Russian-produced Igla-S MANPADs . Seized, most likely, at one of the warehouses of the government’s armies.
The fact that we had delivered to Damascus in 2006 the Igla-S, which was part of the vehicle-mounted Sagittarius surface-to-air missile system, is not any kind of secret. The most tragic thing is that this is a rather modern anti-aircraft weapon. According to the chief designer of the Design Office of Mechanical Engineering (KBM), Valery Kashin, it is not very susceptible to interference in the form of airplane and helicopter infrared traps and emissions from optical-electronic counteraction stations.
In September of the same year the German newspaper Die Welt reported that the Syrian Free Army also had available Mistral mobile surface-to-air missile systems (not to be confused with the French helicopter carriers). Since Syria was already under United Nations sanctions and supplying arms there was forbidden, Paris made a surprised face. Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius suggested that the weapon fell to the “insurgents” through third-party countries.
In June 2013, three Syrian Mi-8/17 helicopters were brought down over a battlefield at once. According to the French bulletin “TTU”, bandits “grounded” the “whirlybirds” using Chinese-produced Feinu FN-6 MANPADs. Though placed in an awkward situation, Beijing immediately began to deny the fact of such deliveries.
In a word, our pilots need to be wary. And they are prudently wary. As reported by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Su-24 and Su-34 bombing release is from heights of 5,000 meters and above. That is, outside of the technical capabilities of MANPADs.
In this entire framework, there are two weak points. First of all are the Mi-24P helicopters. Not only do they carry out in pairs continuous night and day patrol of the perimeter of our air base Hmeymim near Latakia. Even though such an air patrol flying at small heights, is capable of becoming a MANPADs victim. But the “whirlybirds”, judging by network video footage, also carry out direct fire support of parts of the Syrian 4th assault corps which has in recent days assumed the offensive against positions of rebel groups in the north of Hama province, in al-Gab valley (Orontes river valley), and in the mountains of northeast Latakia. And here no thermal traps can save them. This has been verified in Afghanistan on the same Mi-24.
In addition, even front-line bombers need to gain safe height gradually. As well as to descend before landing. Therefore on take-off and landing courses they are also very vulnerable. To avoid trouble, it is necessary to reliably close off a zone of several dozen square kilometers against the opponent’s anti-aircaft snipers. Is this within the power of the only Russian reinforced battalion of marines, which is currently protecting the Hmeymim air base?
Can Syrian soldiers also be involved in airfield protection? But where is the guarantee that there are no traitors appearing among the local military? And then would there be something similar to what Americans suffered in 2012 at the air base Camp Bastion in Afghanistan? At that time, a group of Taliban secretly penetrated their airfield and immediately destroyed eight AV-8B Marine Corps Harrier planes. And this was the greatest single loss for the US Air Force in the years of war in this country.
Therefore, threats to begin to destroy Russian planes and helicopters in Syria are not, alas, so unreasonable. What can one make of this?
Probably not too much. In general, to discontinue flights from air base Hmeymim. To conduct attacks on bandits only using Tu-160 and Tu-95МС launch platforms, starting directly from Russian airfields (the flight route through Iran and Iraq having been mastered long ago by Russian pilots). For this purpose we have a remarkable weapon — high-precision H-101 and H-555 aviation cruise missiles. The firing range of the first is 5500 kilometers. The second, up to 2000 kilometers. Each Tu-160 is capable of carrying up to 12 cruise missiles. The Tu-95МС, up to eight. So the “strategists” should not need to fly especially long to the launch zone.
Tell me – is this expensive? And perhaps the recent launches of 26 Caliber-NK cruise missiles by the ships of the Caspian flotilla to targets in Syria managed turned out cheaper? According to estimates of the Russian portal flot.com, each such rocket cost the treasury approximately $6,500,000. That is, the cumulative cost of the daring salvo of the Caspians as recalculated at the exchange rate of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation is approximately 10 billion Russian rubles.
A bit too much for the fighters almost unprotected in any way from air strikes? Probably, that is so. Only that these Caliber-NKs were undoubtedly not addressed just to them. They demonstrated to the whole world that Russia’s conventional arms acquired new technological quality long ago. And this has become an additional restraining factor.
Besides, our crisis budget did not suffer any losses from that salvo. Because the rockets which flew off to Syria came off the conveyor long ago and lay long ago in warehouses. And how many more there still are – let the CIA heads, Ashton Carter, and his Pentagon rack their brains over that.
By the way, the Caliber-NK are also capable of “visiting” yet another time the bearded men of the Islamic State. And not only from the water of the Caspian Sea. As has been proposed, in November the head frigate of design class 1135.6 constructed in Kaliningrad, the Admiral Grigorovich, will begin its transfer to a continuous basing location in Sevastopol . Its launchers will hold eight of the cruise missiles which have become well-known worldwide. The eastern Mediterranean will not escape the frigate in any manner. Why not, on the way to the main base, carry out additional tests of a missile system in real fighting conditions.