Two Years in Syria: A Success Story of the Russian Military

Peter Korzun

September 30 marked the second anniversary of the Russian counterterrorism military operation in Syria. Two years ago, on September 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes. Today, the war is winding down. The operation is a real success story.

TheAerospace Forces have conducted 30,650 combat sorties in Syria delivering around 92,000 strikes against 96,800 terrorist targets. 53,700 terrorists have been eliminated. Command and control as well as logistics infrastructure sites have been priority objects to destroy. Terrorists have been cut off from supply routes and financial flows as illegal oil shipments have been stopped.

The Aerospace Forces used Su-24M and Su-25 attack aircraft, Su-34 fighter-bombers,Tu-22M3, Tu-160 and Tu-95 long-range strategic bombersr, Su-27SM, Su-30SM and Su-35S multirole fighters, MiG-31 interceptors, Mi-8, Mi-24, Mi-28N, Ka-52 combat helicopters, A-50 early warning aircraft, Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft, Il-20M1 electronic intelligence and electronic warfare aircraft. The air group never exceeded 35 aircraft at any given moment.

The Russian aircraft use the new SVP-24 «special computing subsystem» to enhance the precision of the strikes. It is installed on Tu-22M, Su-24M and Su-25 combat aircraft. The subsystem uses GLONASS satellite navigation system to constantly compare the position of the aircraft and the target. It measures the environmental parameters (pressure, humidity, wind flow velocity, aircraft speed, angle of attack, etc.) and receives information from datalinks (other planes, early warning aircraft, ground stations etc.) to compute an «envelope» (speed, altitude, course) inside which a gravity bomb is automatically released at the precise moment. As a result, the gravity bombs strike with the same precision as brand new guided munitions. Even if GLONASS were jammed, the countless sensors would allow the computer to give a targeting solution. The weather conditions or time of the day play no role. Fire-and-forget guidance allows the pilot to concentrate on detecting threats and targets.

The SVP-24 is mounted on a plane (not a bomb) to be reused over and over again. The subsystem can be installed on practically any rotary or fixed wing aircraft. The development of sophisticated targeting systems has enabled the Russian Aerospace Forces to take out targets with the highest precision, using a huge stockpile of munitions, with negligible cost compared to that of guided air bombs.

All in all, Russia lost three airplanes. One was hit by a Turkish plane and two aircraft carrier-based airplanes –Su-33 and MiG-29K – were lost as a result of accidents, not enemy fire. The losses include five helicopters. Only 38 servicemen have lost their lives. The air group based at Khmeimim, the Russia’s main base in Syria, has not lost a single fixed wing aircraft during the whole campaign. Actually, the Aerospace Forces have had no losses at all. The lost helicopters belonged to Army aviation. This is an extraordinary result. In general, the operation ran without a hitch. The problem of in-flight refueling that initially hindered the operation has been overcome.

Key targets have been hit by air and ship-based long-range cruise missiles. Having acquired the capability to deliver long-range precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. The contribution of special operations forces (SOF) was immense. They are involved for target acquisition for combat aircraft and for other purposes, such as the training of Syrian government troops, elimination of fighters and destroying critical enemy objects.

The training provided by Russian advisers turned the Syrian army into a formidable force, scoring one victory after another. For example, the Syrian Army conducted a unique airborne operation on August 12, deploying paratroopers behind Islamic State positions 20 km from the battlefront. The operation resulted in the liberation of the town of al-Hadar. Russian military advisers were involved in the planning.

Last month, the Russian military built a bridge across the Euphrates River near Deir ez-Zor to move troops and vehicles to the other side to support a Syrian army offensive. Up to 8,000 vehicles weighing up to 50 tons would be able to cross the bridge in any 24-hour period, including tanks. The bridge was erected under fire from Islamist militants in less than 48 hours. It could also be used to deliver humanitarian aid and to evacuate the sick and wounded.

The Russian military should be given kudos for excellent intelligence, logistics and training. Intelligence was effective to define targets for sea-based cruise missile strikes.

When Russia intervened, terrorist groups controlled 70% of Syria’s territory and were gaining ground. Today, the territory under control of Syria pro-government forces increased by four times from 19, 000 sq km to 78, 000 sq km. A large part of the population resides in the territories liberated from illegal militia groups. The terrorists have been routed in the provinces of Hama and Homs. They have been driven from Latakia. Aleppo and Palmyra have been liberated. The main road linking Damascus with the northern part of the country has been unblocked. The legitimate authorities regained control over the city of Deir ez-Zor. Some important oil and gas fields are under government control now. The areas stretching for over 180 km along the Syria-Iraq border and 195 km along the border with Jordan (the provinces As-Suwayda and Damascus) have been cleared from terrorists.

Seeing combat with one’s own eyes is incredibly important. The aircrews have been often rotated to give combat experience to as many men as possible. As of September 2017, 86% of the Aerospace Forces’ flying personnel gained combat experience, including long-range aviation crews: 75%, tactical aviation crews: 79%, military transport aviation: 88%. 89% of Army aviation crews have also served in Syria.

The Russian Armed Forces have commanders with the experience of joint duty assignments. The principle of jointness has become predominant in the armed forces. The experience of joint command has made possible the assignment of Army Colonel General (three stars) Sergey Surovikin as the commander of the Aerospace Forces – the position he is reportedly going to fill this month. His experience of joint operations has become the decisive factor for the planned appointment.

The Russian military has also acquired the experience of organizing humanitarian operations. The military doctors have helped dozens of thousands of Syrians. Mine cleaning was an important part of the Syria’s campaign. Russian sappers have cleared of mines 5,295 hectares of territory, defusing 60,384 explosive devices. 586 Syrian sappers have undergone training with 102 being trained now.

In two years, the Russian forces deployed to Syria following a request of assistance from the legitimate government in Damascus have managed to completely turn the tide in the country. The operation has greatly damaged sources of terrorists’ revenues, severely undermining their capabilities in recruiting new adherents, buying weaponry and disseminating jihadist ideology. The military success has made possible launching Russia’s initiative aimed at promoting a cease-fire between the Syrian government and “moderate” opposition groups. As a result, there are four de-escalation zones functioning in the country. Prospects for peace settlement have become real. The Russian military involvement has given the Syrian people hope for a normal life. It has also reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower capable of projecting force far from its own borders.