The role of the army is to guard Syria’s borders, defend the national territory and regain possession of the Golan Heights seized by Israel. For the purposes of local defense, administration and the control of reserves, Syria is divided into seven military regions – Damascus, North, East, South, Southwest, Coastal and Central. There is a regional command for each region.
The army is overwhelmingly the dominant service. In addition to its control of the senior-most posts in the armed forces’ establishment, the army had the largest manpower, approximately 80 percent of the combined services. In 1985 army regulars were estimated at 396,000, with an additional 300,000 reserves. In 2002, the Syrian army had roughly 215,000 soldiers by one estimate.
Estimates of the strength of the non-reserve forces are varied – Israeli experts who monitor Syria closely have estimated a figure in excess of 300,000, including conscripts, while the IISS estimates the total at about 200,000. There are sizeable reserve forces with a strength of nearly 300,000. They are organized into a reserve armor division, two motorized divisions, more than two dozen infantry brigades and a range of other reserve units. It is uncertain how many of these units are combat effective.
The Mandate volunteer force formed in 1920 was established with the threat of Syrian-Arab nationalism in mind. Although the unit’s officers were originally all French, it was, in effect, the first indigenous modern Syrian army. In 1925 the unit was designated the Levantine Special Forces (Troupes Sp�ciales du Levant). In 1941, the force participated in a futile resistance to the British and Free French invasion that ousted the Vichy French from Syria. After the Allied takeover, the army came under the control of the Free French and was designated the Levantine Forces (Troupes du Levant).
French Mandate authorities maintained a gendarmerie to police Syria’s vast rural areas. This paramilitary force was used to combat criminals and political foes of the Mandate government. As with the Levantine Special Forces, French officers held the top posts, but as Syrian independence approached, the ranks below major were gradually filled by Syrian officers who had graduated from the Military Academy at Homs, which had been established by the French during the 1930s. In 1938 the Troupes Sp�ciales numbered around 10,000 men and 306 officers (of whom 88 were French, mainly in the higher ranks). A majority of the Syrian troops were of rural background and minority ethnic origin (mainly Alawis, Druzes, Kurds, and Circassians). By the end of 1945, the army numbered about 5,000 and the gendarmerie some 3,500. In April 1946, the last French officers left Syria; the Levantine Forces then became the regular armed forces of the newly independent state and grew rapidly to about 12,000 by the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the first of four Arab-Israeli wars between 1948 and 1986 (not counting the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon).
For many years there was also a Syrian forces command in Lebanon that took units mainly from the 2nd Corps. As of 2003 approximately 20,000 Syrian troops occupied the north of Lebanon above Tripoli, the Beqaa Valley north of the town of Rashayah, and the Beirut-Damascus highway. This included units in Beirut, Metn, Bekaa Valley, Tripoli, Batrum and Kafr Kalous. These forces were comprised of one mechanized division headquarters (in Bekaa Valley), four mechanized brigades (1 in Beirut, 1 in Metn, 2 in Bekaa Valley), one armored brigade in Bekaa Valley, roughly ten special forces regiments or elements of regiments deployed to Beirut (5), Tripoli (1), Batrum (1), and Kafr Kalous (3).
These numbers compare to 35,000 troops at the beginning of Syria’s occupation. Between May 1988 and June 2001, Syrian forces occupied most of west Beirut. In October 1989, as part of the Taif agreements, Syria agreed to begin discussions on possible Syrian troop withdrawals from Beirut to the Beqaa Valley, two years after political reforms were implemented (then-Lebanese President Hirawi signed the reforms in September 1990), and to withdraw entirely from Lebanon after an Israeli withdrawal. While Israel has, according to the United Nations, complied with its obligations, the Syrian withdrawal discussions, which should have started in September 1992, had not begun as of early 2004.
The 10th Mechanized Division was one of the major formations deployed in Lebanon. Its HQ was at Chtaura, at the eastern end of the strategic Bekaa Valley, and one of its roles is to protect the important Beirut-Damascus highway. The 3rd and 11th Armored Divisions also deployed a number of brigades in Lebanon. Elements of a number of Special Forces regiments are also based in Lebanon. Syrian troops in Lebanon were estimated to have a strength of about 20,000.
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who had resisted Syria’s effort to secure Lahoud’s extension, and 22 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on 26 April 2005.
The general readiness and effectiveness of the Syrian Army is fairly low despite the generally good readiness of its special forces, roughly two armored divisions, one mechanized division and the Republican Guard division. Syria’s reserve forces include one armored division comprised of four armored brigades, two armored regiments, 31 infantry regiments and three artillery regiments.
Syria – Army Equipment
|Scud B/C/Scud D/Scud Clone||18||25||26||26||26||26||38||38||38|
Sources: The Military Balance, International Institute for Strategic Studies; SIPRI
1 – This number includes or may include vehicles in storage.
2 – In 2005, IISS’s The Military Balance stopped separating BDRM-2 and BRDM-2Rkh vehicles, appearing to have folded the 2 numbers together.
3 – This number includes another 500 122mm artillery pieces of unknown types reported to be in storage.
4 – The gap in reporting of the D-30 mounted on the T-34 chassis suggests that these weapons were in storage as of 2010.
5 – Number includes self-propelled launchers based on the BRDM-2 vehicle. It is possible that after 2010, the remaining stores of AT-3s were placed in storage.
Syrian Arab Army – Equipment Modernization
In addition to being the largest, the army was the best equipped of the three services. The wars with Israel in 1973 and 1982 high-lighted deficiencies in Syria’s land forces. Consequently, Syria sought to build up the strength of the army, extend the order of battle by creating new combat units and improve equipment. It made progress on all these fronts, though problems arose along the way. Training, especially armor training, did not keep pace with the expansion of the army, an expansion that included the creation of two new armored divisions.
In terms of equipment, while the armor strength greatly increased in quality terms, there was not a similar improvement in artillery strength. Analysts also consider that manpower management is poor, that there is a lack of effective training and that the army is burdened by an inefficient support and logistics apparatus based on the Soviet model. Like the other services, the army has also been adversely affected by a lack of funds.
Syria has a very significant holding of main battle tanks (MBTs) and armored vehicles, but a sizeable proportion consists of about 2,000 obsolescent T-54/T-55s. With over 4,000 Soviet-built tanks in the early 1990s (including 1,000 of the advanced T-72’s), by 2012 Syria had some 4,700 tanks, with 1,200 T-54/T-55s placed in static defensive positions or in storage. Syria had 2,000 older T-55s and about 1,000 T-62s, and modern 1,700 T-72/72Ms.
Syria acquired these large numbers of T-72s to enhance the speed with which its armor could advance and maneuver, especially in a surprise attack on Israeli forces on the Golan. Following the turn of the century Syria sought to further enhance its armored forces by acquiring the T-80 from Russia, but there were no confirmed reports of actual deliveries.
Syria has placed greater emphasis on enhancing the quality of its MBT fleet rather than on building up a modern force of other armored fighting vehicles. During the 1980s Syria steadily and significantly increased the level of mechanization of the infantry combat forces, but the quality of much of the equipment is not of the first order. The core of the armored infantry fighting vehicle (AIFV) fleet is a holding of about 2,200 BMP-1s – a design that dates to the 1960s. The only relatively modern AIFVs in the fleet are about 200-350 BMP-2/3 vehicles. Virtually all of Syria armored reconnaissance vehicles (600 BRDM-2s and 125 BRDM-2 RKHs) are out-dated.
There are about 1,000 BTR-40/50/60 APCs but the service status of these vehicles is unclear. There are also some 560 BTR-152 APCs and 950 BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles. Syria never acquired the over-all level of armor that Israel has acquired for its infantry and rear services elements.
Syria has extensive holdings of towed artillery weapons – more than 1,500 pieces – and over the years Syria built up the number of self-propelled weapons – there are about 400 120mm 2S1 and 50 152mm 2S3. Like most Soviet-equipped forces, the Syrian Army has a significant multiple-rocket launcher strength – there are about 200 107mm Type-63 and 280 122mm BM-21. According to Anthony Cordesman Syria relies principally on static massed fires and is unable to rapidly shift fires. Accuracy beyond line of site is also lacking as their ability to maneuver and exploit counterbattery radars and targeting systems.
Syria had a formidable air defense system of SAM batteries and myriad antiaircraft guns and artillery. Air defenses included SA-5 long-range SAM batteries around Damascus and Aleppo, with additional SA-6 and SA-8 mobile SAM units deployed along Syria’s side of the Lebanese border and in eastern Lebanon.
Syria has placed an emphasis on improving its anti-tank warfare capability, again with an eye to engaging Israeli armor on the Golan. In the late 1990s Syria took delivery of 1,000 AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles.
In 1987, Syria was scheduled to receive 500 new Soviet SS-23 ballistic missiles with a range of 500 kilometers, and fielded short-range SS-21 surface-to-surface missiles with conventional warheads. Syria was also reported to have begun producing its own chemical weapons, including nerve gases, with the capability to use the chemical agents in missile warheads.
Syrian Arab Army – Manpower
The vast majority of manpower for the armed forces came from male conscription, which has been compulsory and universal (only the small Jewish community is exempted) since 1946 and was officially reaffirmed by the Service of the Flag Law in 1953. Females are not required to serve, although some do; however, they play more a public relations than a military role. Males must register for the draft at 18; each year around 125,000 reach 19, which is when the 30-month conscription period begins. In 1985 it was estimated that of the country’s population of over 10 million, 1.25 million were males fit for military service.
Before the rise to power of the Baath Party in 1963, middle and upper class youths, who have rarely been attracted to military service, were often exempted from conscription on payment of a fee. Since then, this practice has been eliminated, although youths living abroad in Arab countries continued to be exempted on payment of a fee set by law. University students were exempted, but many attended military training camps during the summer, and all were obligated to do military service upon completion of their studies. Observers stated that those conscripted in the mid-1980s represented a broad cross section of society.
The most commonly heard complaint about mandatory conscription is the uneven way in which exemptions to mandatory service are applied by local military conscription boards, including allegations that corruption plays a role in allowing some young men to avoid military service. Regardless of socio-economic background, young Syrian men agree military conscription nets disproportionate numbers of the uneducated and the poor. The conscripts in the army are Bedouin, Kurdish, or poor. Students, mainly sons of the middle class without the financial resources or foreign language skills to take advantage of exemptions for those studying or working abroad while they are of military age, harshly criticize the way in which local military conscription boards applied exemptions to service.
The government has twice reduced the time of service – from 2.5 years to 24 months in 2005 and again to 21 months in 2009 – reportedly due in part to popular opposition to forced conscription. University students can postpone their military service until after graduation, a rule many college students take advantage of. In addition to only sons, men « infected with chronic disease or other maladies preventing the infected from exerting any efforts » are exempted. Expatriate Syrians can avoid conscription if they pay $6,500, a sum reduced from $15,000 in 2009. Young Syrian men report these exemptions are applied unevenly by local military conscription boards, and some allege bribery can keep a young man out of the army.
Conscripts faced a series of options in the Syrian Army. After completion of his period of conscription, a man could enlist for five years in the regular service or, if he chose not to enlist, he would serve as a reservist for eighteen years. If he enlisted and became a noncommissioned officer during his fiveyear service, he could become a professional noncommissioned officer. A volunteer who did not attain noncommissioned officer status could reenlist but was automatically discharged after fifteen years of service or upon reaching age forty. A professional noncommissioned officer was retired at age fortyfive or, at his own request, after twenty years of service.
Conscripts and enlisted men generally lacked mechanical and technical skills, although beginning in the 1970s the number of conscripts who had completed the six years of primary school increased dramatically, as did the number of secondary and vocational school graduates. The rugged rural origin of most conscripts has conditioned them to endure hardship and accept strict discipline. Military service has given most recruits the opportunity to improve their health and, because they receive technical training during most of their active duty, to leave the service with a marketable skill.
Officers have tended to be less representative of the general society than conscripts, primarily because of the high degree of politicization of the officer corps. Although officers were not required to join the Baath Party, membership was a crucial factor for advancement to flag rank.
In addition to political loyalty, the officer corps was characterized by the dominance of the Alawi and Druze minorities, a condition dating from the French Mandate policy of recruiting these and other minority groups into the colonial military forces. Although many of the officers were Sunni Muslim, most of the key senior posts were held by Alawis.
Syrian Arab Army – Organization
In 1987 the army had nine divisional formations. The major development in force organization was establishment of an additional divisional framework based on the special forces and organization of ground formations into two corps. The army’s active manpower served in two all-arms army corps, five armored divisions (with one independent armored brigade), three mechanized divisions, one infantry-special forces division, and ten airborne-special forces independent brigades.
The bulk of the forces controlled by the Army Command located in Damascus are organized into three army corps, composed of seven armored divisions and three mechanized divisions. The Army Command controls the elite Republican Guard Division, and a range of other formations, including two independent artillery brigades; two independent anti-tank brigades, and an independent tank regiment.
The two most important corps are the 1st and 2nd; the 3rd Corps is the most recently formed, and was established up to control a miscellany of units, including some reserve forces. By 2012 the Army was organized into three corps with seven armored divisions, three mechanized divisions, a special forces division, and one Republican Guard division. The Republican Guard armored division is comprised of three armored brigades and a division artillery regiment.
A typical armored division numbered roughly 8,000 soldiers and a mechanized division may include 11,000 personnel. The armored divisions each have two armored brigades, one mechanized infantry brigade and one division artillery regiment comprised of four battalions. The mechanized divisions each have one armored brigades, two mechanized brigades and a division artillery regiment also comprised of four battalions. By another account, each armored division consists of three armored brigades, one mechanized brigade and one artillery regiment, and each mechanized division consists of two armored brigades, two mechanized brigades and one artillery regiment, but detailed orders of battle do not reflect these extra armored brigades.
Mindful of the comparative success of Syrian commandos during the 1973 war, and in preparation for special operations against Israeli forces on the Golan, Syria places a particular emphasis on special forces. There is a Special Forces (SF) Command in Damascus, responsible for the 14th SF Division which controls four SF regiments – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Some elements were deployed in Lebanon; others have a special focus on the Golan Heights. The Special Forces Command has at least three regiments, while other sources report as many as eleven regiments. It is not clear if a formal divisional headquarters exists or if for the sake of simplicity the three regiments have just been lumped together.
There are up to 10 independent SF regiments and it is understood that they come under the control of a Special Forces HQ based at al-Qutayfeh, about 25 miles northeast of Damascus. Elements of some units have a particular focus on protecting the approaches to Damascus. One regiment, Al Sa’iqa, specializes in counter-terrorism and a range of other special operations roles, with training provided by Russian Spetsnaz personnel. Special Forces have a particular role in internal security.
The Syrian Army may also have a parachute division with seven brigades, though there is some confusion on this point, and these may explain the discrepancy in reporting the number of special forces regiments. Finally, there are several independent units including a tank regiment, four infantry brigades, two anti-tank brigades, and two artillery brigades.
The 1,800-man Border Guard (sometimes designated as Desert Guard or Frontier Force) was also under Army Command and responsible for patrolling the nation’s vast border areas.
The Air Defense Command, within the Army Command, but also composed of Air Force personnel, numbered approximately 60,000. It served in twenty air defense brigades (with approximately ninety-five SAM batteries) and two air defense regiments. The Air Defense Command had command access to interceptor aircraft and radar facilities.
A coastal defense brigade supports naval forces in defending against threats from the sea. It is equipped with SS-C-1Bs and SSC-3 surface-to-surface missiles. Three surface-to-surface missile brigades are each comprised of one FROG-7 battalion, a Scud-B/C battalion and a SS-21 battalion. Syria’s total inventory of SSM launchers was estimated to include some 18 FROG-7s, 18 SS-21s, and 26 Scud Bs and Cs.
The Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) based in Syria comprises two brigades and comes under Syrian military control. Some elements of the PLA are reported to be deployed with Syrian forces in the Bekaa region of Lebanon and in the Tripoli area of north Lebanon. The PLA, which has Syrian officers and advisers, is said to number about 4,500 men. It is equipped with about 100 T-54/T-55 tanks, as well as multiple rocket launchers, AT-3 anti-tank guided missiles and Strela-2 (SA-7) light surface-to-air missiles. Artillery includes 105mm, 122mm and 152mm weapons.
The 1st Corps has its HQ at Damascus and its formations are deployed in the south of the country facing Israel. There is also a focus on the border with Jordan. The 1st Corps controls four armored divisions, designated the 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th; there is one mechanized division, the 7th. The 1st Corps maintains particularly strong defensive positions on the Golan Heights, facing across a demilitarized zone towards the heavily-fortified Israeli-held sector. The Syrian positions have been progressively strengthened since the early 1980s. Forces deployed here include a number of independent special forces regiments, which have units trained specially for operations against Israeli positions on the Golan, especially surveillance posts on Mount Hermon. The 9th Armd Div served in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.
The 2nd Corps is headquartered at Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon. It deploys units within Lebanon and covers the outskirts of Damascus and the region northwards to Homs. The corps is believed to comprise three armored divisions, the 1st, 3rd and 11th, and two mechanized divisions, the 4th and the 10th. Part of the role of the 2nd Corps is to protect the capital and to guard the regime from any hostile action by dissident military units – the 3rd Armored Division is one of the key units charged with the defense of Damascus.
The 3rd Corps is the most recently formed; its HQ is at Aleppo, and it covers the north of the country, including the regions bordering Turkey and Iraq. Third Corps is responsible for Hama, Turkey/Iraq borders, the Mediterranean coastline and tasked with protecting the complex of CBW and missile production and launch facilities. The main formation coming under the control of the 3rd Corps is the 2nd Reserve Armored Division; in addition there is a mix of independent armored and infantry units and a special forces regiment. Reserve forces also include two Cadre Motorized Divisions, two armor brigades, two independent armor Regiments, thirty Infantry Brigades, and three Artillery Brigades. Reservists training are reasonable, but the equipment is old, of poor quality and limited in quantity.
The Coastal Defense Brigade (CDB) also comes under the ambit of the 3rd Corps, but appears to operate essentially under naval command. The CDB is responsible for four missile battalions, one based at Latakia where the brigade has its HQ in the local naval base; the other three battalions are at Baniyas, Hamidieh and Tartous. Each battalion deploys batteries equipped with SS-C-1B Sepal and SS-C-3 Styx surface-to-surface missiles. Other units under the control of the CDB include two infantry brigades, an observation battalion and two artillery battalions whose equipment includes anti-aircraft guns.
In light of the concentration of Syrian forces in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and the concentration of forces in the Golan area, it is clear that the bulk of Syrian land forces are focused on, or are facing towards, Israel. There is also a focus on the border with Jordan but the biggest concentration of Syrian forces is in the Golan. The forces in the Golan occupy fortified positions facing across a UN-controlled buffer zone towards the Israeli-occupied sector, where Israel normally deploys at least two armored brigades.
It is believed that Syria has deployed its forces up to the limit set by the UN-sponsored agreement made following the 1973 ceasefire. This agreement permits 6,000 troops, 75 tanks and 36 artillery weapons (of 122mm caliber maximum) to be deployed within 10km of the UN-controlled area of separation between the two sides. In the zone 10-20km from the demarcation line, 450 tanks and 163 artillery weapons are permitted, although there is no limit on troop numbers. Syria has built up three major lines of defense to stop any Israeli push from the Golan towards Damascus. The first line, just 10km from the demarcation line, features earthworks, gun emplacements and minefields. There are also anti-tank obstacles creating `kill zones’ in which advancing hostile armor can be eliminated. Syria has also built up its air defenses in the region and it is believed that `Scud’ missile sites have been established in underground bunkers at points from which Israeli forces on the Golan would be within easy range.
In order to reinforce the security of the regime and protect the capital from any hostile action by dissident military units, two trusted armored divisions, the 3rd and the 4th, are deployed on the outskirts of Damascus. The 3rd Armored Division was commanded for many years by General Shafiq Fayyad, a cousin of the late President Hafez al-Assad. Units of this division played a key role in the suppression of Islamic dissident activity in the Aleppo area in the early 1980s. They were also among the units deployed in 1984 to block an abortive attempt by Hafez al-Assad’s dissident brother Rifaat and his Defense Companies to seize control of Damascus. The 4th Armored Division is a relatively new formation which evolved from Rifaat al-Assad’s Defense Companies. However, steps were taken to ensure that the division was entirely loyal to the regime.
Syrian Arab Army – Order of Battle
Syrian Arab Army Rank Insignia
|PRIVATE 1class||CORPORAL||SERGEANT||SERGEANT 1class|
|Jundi awwal||Arif||Raqib||Raqib awwal|
|SERGEANT MAJOR||2nd LIEUTENANT||1st LIEUTENANT||CAPTAIN|
|Raqib thani||Mulazim||Mulazim awwal||Naqib|
|MAJOR GENERAL||Lt GENERAL||GENERAL|
|Liwa||Reiq||Far Q awwla|
Air Defense Command (ADC)
Syria places considerable emphasis on land-based air defenses. The army has more than 2,000 air defence guns and more than 4,100 surface-to-air missiles. In this as in other areas, the army is heavily dependent on Soviet-designed weapons. The Air Defense Command, which operates under the command of the air force, operates longer-range surface-to-air missiles such as the Almaz Volga-M (SA-2), S-125 Neva (SA-3) and Antey S-200 (SA-5).
The Air Defense Command (ADC) has a strength of about 60,000 [more than the Air Force strength of 40,000] and controls two anti-aircraft divisions, (AADs), the 24th and the 26th AAD, comprising a total of 25 air defense brigades operating an estimated 130 surface-to-air missile batteries. Most are equipped with SA-2/SA-3 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs); eight batteries are equipped with SA-5 SAMs. In addition, a significant number of SA-6 mobile launchers are deployed, as well as an estimated 4,000 anti-aircraft guns of up to 100mm.
Following the 1973 war, Israel developed a coherent suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) doctrine which provided the foundation for their astounding performance in the 1982 Bekaa Valley Operation. Here, following a crucial SEAD operation, the IAF won air superiority, destroying 80 to 90 Syrian aircraft during twomonths of fighting with the loss of three to six Israeli aircraft. Air superiority and this lopsided victory were made possible by a well-coordinated SEAD operation destroying SAM and AAA sites in the Bekaa Valley. Before the actual attacks, Israeli reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) detected and located the Syrian air defense sites. Just prior to the air attack, a commando raid destroyed/neutralized a control center, beginning the paralysis of Syrian C3.
During the attack the Israelis dominated the electronic spectrum. First, they used Samson decoy drones to trick the Syrians into activating their acquisition and tracking radars. Second, reconnaissance drones reported the frequency and location of the radars. Third, Israel used a wide array of intense electronic warfare operations to confuse and deceive Syrian communications, and to blind Syrian SAM radar units. Finally, long-range artillery, surface-to-surface rockets, surface-to-surface anti-radiation missiles (ARM), and air-launched ARMs pounded the SAM and AAA radar sites.
Once blinded, the surviving missile batteries were vulnerable to and subsequently destroyed by cluster munitions. Ten of the 19 Syrian SAM batteries were knocked out within the first 10 minutes, and the Israelis claim to have destroyed 17 batteries and damaged two others during the attack without losing a single aircraft. The Syrians pushed more SAM units into the Bekaa Valley (over night), but to noavail. On day two, the IAF destroyed 11 more missile batteries.
Following the drastic aircraft losses it suffered as a result of Israel’s air superiority during the latter’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Syria extensively re-organized its air defense network. The network was re-structured on the basis of a Soviet-supplied command and control system, with three computerized air defense centers coordinating missile batteries and interceptor fighters. Major improvements were made to radar systems, electronic warfare capabilities and the level of integration of the air defense forces generally. Nevertheless, the system is considered to pose only a limited threat to Israeli air superiority, and would be vulnerable to the kind of countermeasures available to advanced, US-designed Israeli aircraft.
In 1983 Moscow’s improvements to air defenses in Syria, including the introduction of the SA-5, reversed its declining position in Syria and seemed likely to enhance its credibility in the region. Militarily, the systems were designed to create a better integrated air defense system. While did not create an impenetrable Syrian air defense shield, they would exact losses in the event of Israeli airstrikes. Most important, their de~ployment complicated Israeli planning, particularly because these missiles can attack aircraft over Israel, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean. The Soviets continued to build up air defenses in Syria; their military presence had doubled to around 5,0QO men and probably included elements of air defense units to man the SA-5 sites.
Israeli leaders were divided over the necessity or wisdom of a preemptive strike against the SA-5 sites. Some Israelis favored quick action, but most Israeli leaders were reluctant to get into amilitary confrontation with the Soviets and the Syrians. The Israelis did not attack the sites, so the Soviets were credited with having restored the integrity of Syria’s air defense system and tried to transfer their success to the political arena. Any Soviet concern that the deployment of SA-5s and other systems to Syria would be considered provocative by the United States and Western Europe was offset by the Soviet claim that the SA-5s are defensive systems and not to be used unless Israel attacks Syria.
In 1983 they was speculation that the Soviets might introduce other missile systems, including the SA-10, which would enhance defenses against low-flying, high-speed aircraft and would further complicate Israeli military planning, but this did not happen. In the 1990s Damascus sought to acquire Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems. During 2001 there were reports that Syria had taken delivery of the sophisticated Almaz S-300 `Grumble’ (SA-10) SAM system, which it had been seeking to acquire from Russia for some time. Nevertheless, there was a further report that Syria had formed two independent Air Defense Regiments to deploy S-300 and SA-8 mobile SAMs. It was presumed that SA-8, a `point defense’ weapon, was being deployed to protect the S-300. Israeli sources claimed in summer, 2001 that their air force had developed counter-measures against the S-300. In the event, these reports turned out to be unfounded, and as of 2011 Syria did not deploye the SA-10.
Particular priority is given to the anti-aircraft defense detection network covering Lebanon and Israel, but Syria has also been expanding its air defense resources in the northeast, to prepare for any attack from Iraq or an attack on its rear by Israel. Syria also take advantage of its military presence in Lebanon to site air defense radar installations there.
Syria has one of the most sophisticated Soviet-designed air defense systems outside of the former Eastern Bloc countries. However, it does not include the most advanced air defense and sensor systems developed by the Soviets. The Syrian system appears flawed and some analysts doubt the reliability and efficiency of the computer control network. Israeli sources claimed that by the late 1990s parts of the computerized system sometimes failed to function and then had to be operated manually. The sources claimed that Israel could neutralize Syria’s air defense system in 48 hours.
According to some reports, in 2007 the Israelis took out the Syrian air defense system with a cyber attack before bombing a partially constructed (North Korean designed) Syrian nuclear facility. Richard A. Clarke, a former adviser to the National Security Council, wrote in his 2010 book, Cyber War, that Israel�s attack on the suspected Syrian reactor in 2007 may have involved some clever cyberjamming. Clarke says that the Israelis transmitted computer data packets that fooled the Syrian air defense network in an almost Stuxnet-like way. �Those packets made the system malfunction, but they also told it not to act [like] there was anything wrong with it,� Clarke wrote. �The sky would look just like it had when it was empty, even though it was, in actuality, filled with Israeli fighters.� [a more prosaic explanation is that Syrian air defenses are concentrated in the Western part of the country, and Al Kibar / Dair Alzour reactor was in the eastern part of the country that is essential devoid of air defenses]
Media reported in 2007 that Damascus had agreed to sell some of the Pantsyr short-range air defense missile-gun systems it was buying from Russia to Tehran. Russia did not approve the alleged sale of its Pantsyr-S1 mobile air defense system from Syria to Iran, a first deputy prime minister said 23 May 2007. « We have received no requests from Syria for supplies to Iran, not a single bullet, » Sergei Ivanov said at a news conference in Moscow. « Russia engages in military-technical cooperation with all states that strictly abide by international law… For any arms that Russia sells to its foreign partners, contracts are signed only after the receipt of a certificate from the end user. These weapons cannot then be re-exported and supplied to third countries without the permission of the seller, in this case the Russian Federation. »
The Russian army is currently acquiring the latest version, the Buk-M2 (SA-17), and a large export contract of Buk-M2E to Syria is in the pipeline. The provision of a more capable surface-to-air missile system such as Russia�s medium-range Buk M1 and M2 (NATO SA-11 Gadfly/SA-17 Grizzly) – should it have occurred – would mark a significant increase in the potential SAM threat. The system has a maximum engagement range in excess of 30 kilometers. The overall system, however, consists not only of the tracked missile-launch vehicle, but also target acquisition radar and command post vehicles, and as such also brings with it a substantial training requirement.
Although Damascus would like to receive S-300PMU Favorit (SA-20 Gargoyle) long-range SAMs and Iskander (SS-26 Stone) mobile theater-level missiles, Moscow refuses to supply them because it does not want to upset the regional military balance and to sour relations with Israel and the United States. Additionally, Syrian officials are said to be interested in Russia�s advanced S�400 air- and missile defense system. The Kremlin is also unlikely to agree.
Sean O’Connor wrote in 2010 that « Of all the Middle Eastern nations, Syria has one of the most robust SAM networks…. Early warning for the Syrian air defense network is handled by 22 Early Warning radar sites… Syrian strategic SAM deployment is concentrated in six areas. These areas are around the cities of Hims, Halab, and Damascus, Tiyas air base, the Mediterranean coastal area, and the area adjacent to the Golan Heights… All of the SAM systems in the Syrian inventory have a single-target engagement capability. Some of the S-200 sites have been noted with multiple 5N62 SQUARE PAIR engagement radars, allowing those sites to engage multiple targets (one per engagement radar), but the S-75, S-125, and 2K12 sites can only engage one target per site. This leaves the Syrian air defense network susceptible to saturation…. Syrian reliance on aging and well-known Soviet-era SAM systems is a serious defensive liability…. reliance on Soviet-era legacy SAM systems will provide a serious handicap when facing a major air incursion by a modern opponent. »
Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF)
While the Air Force’s size makes it one of the largest air forces in the Middle East, from a qualitative perspective Syria’s tactics used during exercises indicate poor planning with regards to close air support and interdiction.
The Syrian Air Force was established in 1948 upon the graduation of the first class of Syrian pilots from British flight schools. It is tasked with military air operations and ground-based air defense. The Air Force, which was independent of Army Command, consisted in 1987 of about 100,000 regular and 37,500 reserve officers and men. The Air Force is organized into ten to eleven fighter/attack squadrons, sixteen fighter squadrons, two transport squadrons, and one training group. By 2012 at full strength the Air Force numbered some 60,000 personnel when all reserves are activated and 40,000 on a regular basis.
In 1985 its 9 fighter-ground attack squadrons and an estimated 15 interceptor squadrons totaled approximately 650 combat aircraft. Military airfields are located in Abu-a-Dhur, Aleppo, Blay, Damascus (international), Damascus (Al Mazzah), Dayr az Zawr, Dumayr, As Suwayda, As West, Hamah, Kamishly, Khalkhalah, Latakia, Marj Ruhayyil, Messe, An Nasiriyah, Neirab, Quasayr, Rasin el About, Shayrat, Tabqa, Tiyas, Tadmur, Sayqal, and T-4 (located on the oil pipeline).
By 2002 the Syrian Arab Air Force had an estimated 25 combat squadrons, 17 in the interceptor role and the remainder in the air defense/attack role. There were at least eight fighter-bomber squadrons equipped with MiG-21PF/MF/bis, operating from Hamah, Khalkalah, Tabqa, Deir ez Sor, Jirah and Quasayr. There are more than 220 of these aircraft – though how many were operational was questionable. There were four attack squadrons equipped with approximately 60 Su-20/22 `Fitter’ aircraft (located at Dumayr, Shayrat, Tivas). A number of attack squadrons were equipped with MiG-23BN.
There were three interceptor squadrons equipped with more than 40 MiG-29A/UB `Fulcrum’ fighters, deployed at Sayqal AB. Other interceptor assets included two squadrons equipped with 30 MiG25PD `Foxbat’ aircraft deployed with two squadrons at Tivas AB. There were at least three interceptor squadrons equipped with MiG-23MF/MS/MLs. There was a squadron of Su-24MK bombers deployed at Tivas AB.
In 2002 it was understood that a squadron, Sq 826 was being formed at Quasayr AB to deploy the Su-27 `Flanker’ multirole fighter. At least four were understood to have entered service in 2000, with a dozen more to complete deliveries.
Almost all combat planes were Soviet manufactured and included 50 MiG-25 and MiG-25R (Foxbat) interceptors and nearly 200 MiG-23S/U (Flogger) and Su-17 FitterK ground-attack and multirole aircraft. In 1986 there were reports that the Soviet Union had agreed to provide Syria at least two squadrons of the advanced supersonic MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft equipped with top-of-the-line avionics. The air force was equipped with approximately ninety attack helicopters of the Mi-24/Mi-25 Hind and SA-342 Gazelle types. As part of an effort to upgrade its command-and-control network, the air force was reported to have the Tu-126 (Moss) AWACS, but this seems not have have been the case.
Syria was able to acquire Russian 14 Su-27Sks. The bulk of Syria’s Air Force is comprised of Su-22s, MiG-23s and MiG-21s. The number of more modern aircraft is rather small, with only 20 Su-24s, possibly 14 MiG-29 SMTs, some 25 MiG-25s and 22 MiG-29s.
By the turn of the century the Syrian Arab Air Force has about 600 combat aircraft but questions have been raised as to how many are actually operational. Many are elderly and increasingly difficult to maintain, and such factors have had an adverse effect on the force’s capabilities. The SAAF operates according to Soviet methods and concepts. Equipment is mainly of Soviet design, consisting primarily of low-grade export versions of Soviet fighters and air-to-air missiles. There is a significant number of increasingly antiquated MiG-21 fighter aircraft, which would be little match for Israel’s advanced F-15 and F-16 aircraft.
Bearing in mind these shortcomings, Syria has been eager to improve its capability by acquiring advanced new aircraft. After years of speculation, it appears that Syria may finally have begun to take delivery of the sophisticated Su-27 `Flanker’ fighter – at least four were understood to have entered service in 2000 with 826 Squadron, which was forming at Quasayr Air Base (AB), with a dozen more to complete deliveries. Syria has also been seeking to acquire MiG-29SMT fighters; there was an unconfirmed report that 14 were delivered at the end of 2000. By 2002 the SAAF had more than 40 MiG-29A/UB `Fulcrum’ interceptors, deployed with three squadrons at Sayqal AB. Other interceptor assets include 30 MiG-25PD `Foxbat’ deployed with two squadrons at Tivas AB.
In June 2007 Russia started executing a contract for the delivery of five MiG-31 fighter jets to Syria. The contract has been signed by Russia�s defense export enterprise Rosoboronexport this year. Therefore, Russia resumes arms shipments to the Middle East after a short break caused with last-year�s war in Lebanon. The serial production of Mig-31 fighter jets was shut down in 1994. �We offer MiG-31 as a trade-in to the countries that have MiG-25 jets in their defense arsenal,� a spokesman for MiG enterprise Vladimir Vypryazhkin said. �Only Syria and Lebanon have MiG-25 fighter jets in their disposal,� he added.
Kommersant, the Russian business daily, reported 03 September 2009 that Russia and Syria were in talks on the delivery of at least eight MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors under a contract signed two years ago. Russia had so far denied reaching a deal with Syria on MiG-31 sales, but Damascus insisted in May 2009 on the existence of a contract worth an estimated $400-500 million. « A couple of years ago we signed two contracts [with Syria] – one on MiG-29M and another – on MiG-31. The first is being implemented, but the MiG-31 contract has never become effective… I hope that the contract will be implemented sooner or later, » Alexei Fyodorov, the head of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), told Kommersant. Russia’s Sokol aircraft manufacturing plant started preparatory work for assembly of MiG-31 from hulls (without engines and weapons) kept in storage since 1994, when the production of the interceptors was officially discontinued. However, the actual assembly has never materialized, the paper said.
Russia does not have a contract to supply MiG-31 Foxhound fighter jets to Syria, the head of the Russian state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on 27 October 2010. Media rumors about the sales of at least six MiG-31 aircraft to Damascus under a 2007 contract sparked criticism in the West and Israel, which consider arming Syria a threat to regional security. « The existence of a contract on the delivery of MiG-31 interceptors to Syria is a journalistic hoax, » Rosoboronexport General Director Anatoly Isaykin told reporters at the Euronaval 2010 exhibition in Paris. The MiG-31 Foxhound is a two-seater supersonic interceptor aircraft developed to replace the MiG-25 Foxbat. It is equipped with two D-30F6 turbofan two-shaft engines with a common afterburner and a variable supersonic nozzle, which allow the aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 2.83.
Syria was also sold a quantity of MiG-29M/M2 Fulcrum fighters: they are being exported for the first time and are similar in performance to MiG-35 Fulcrum Fs, which Russia is now offering to India. The total value of the contract for the MiG-29M/M2s for Syria is estimated at $1 billion. The Mikoyan MiG-29 is a 4th generation jet fighter aircraft designed for the air superiority role in the Soviet Union. Developed in the 1970s by the Mikoyan design bureau, it entered service in 1983 and remains in use by the Russian Air Force as well as in many other nations. NATO’s reporting name for the MiG-29 is « Fulcrum », which was unofficially used by Soviet pilots in service.
In 2008 Moscow and Damascus agreed on deliveries of the latest Russian MiG-29SMT fighter. Syria, a major importer of Russian weapons, has bought MiG-29M fighter jets, and as of 2012 hoped to receive MiG-29SMT fighters and Yak-130 combat trainers. The European Parliament on 15 February 2012 adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus. Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, had recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems.
Russia and Syria have signed a $550-million contract on the delivery of 36 Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten combat trainer, the Kommersant daily quoted on 23 January 2012 a source close to Russia�s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport as saying. Under the deal struck in late December, the jets are to be supplied to Syria once Damascus makes a prepayment, the source said. A source in the aircraft production industry told the newspaper the aircraft construction company Irkut is able to produce the jets for Syria in a relatively short time. Analysts said the contract is �risky� given the worsening satiation in Syria and the growing international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad over his crackdown on protesters.
Operational Experience and Capabilities
The SAAF suffered major defeats in aerial engagements with Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars, and again during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. During the Israel’s Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982 Israeli aircraft struck Syrian surface-to-air missiles, resulting in the destruction of nineteen sites and the damaging of four. Israeli aerial mastery was confirmed in the skies over the Biqa Valley. At the conclusion of the first week of the war, after the participation of approximately 100 combat planes on each side, a total of 86 Syrian MiG-21, MiG-23, and Sukhoi-22 aircraft had been shot down with no Israeli losses.
When Syrian fighter aircraft scrambled to prevent Israeli aircraft flying over eastern Lebanon in November 1985, two Syrian MiG-23s were shot down in Syrian airspace. Syria responded by deploying mobile SA-6 and SA-8 SAMs into eastern Lebanon and by setting up SA-2 sites along its border with Lebanon. Thereafter, the potential for rapid escalation in Syrian-Israeli hostilities became a source of concern on both sides. Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Syrian influence and control expanded to eastern Lebanon and the Biqa Valley, where Syria maintained about two divisions; about six divisions were redeployed in the Damascus-Golan Heights region.
Throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s Syria’s Air Force experienced difficulties keeping its aircraft operational and providing sufficient flight hours for pilots.
The SAAF suffered a further setback with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which disrupted the flow of equipment. Despite its shortcomings in terms of a scarcity of spare parts, unwieldy battle management structures and a lack of some of the more advanced technological systems, the air force is still a lethal threat. Syria has sufficient numbers of aircraft to stage a mass attack on Israel and there are concerns that such an onslaught could saturate Israel’s air defenses, allowing Syrian Su-24 bombers to strike strategic targets. But Syria could only mount such an aerial offensive at enormous cost, and such a scenario is somewhat implausible, because the Syrians are well aware that Israeli retaliation would be instant and devastating.
Operational art and tactical doctrine follow the Soviet model. Syria sees two main combat roles for its attack helicopters – close support and as roving tank killers. During the conflict with Israel in 1982, Syria used its SA 342L Gazelles armed with HOT anti-tank missiles in the latter role with some success. While the helicopters destroyed a number of Israeli armored vehicles when sent out in pairs on `hunting’ missions, co-ordination with ground forces was poor and some helicopter crews did not receive adequate pre-flight briefings. Overall, the Syrians lost 14 Gazelles during the conflict, some of which were shot down by Israeli tanks. Since then, Syria has been steadily building up the number of Gazelles in its fleet.
Syria – Air Force Equipment
|MiG-21 Fishbed H/J||172||160||170||170||170||200||159||159||159|
|MiG-29 Fulcrum A||30||20||20||20||22||42||40+1||40+1||40+|
|MiG-21 Fishbed H/J||6||8||8||8||8||40||40||40||40|
|Mi-8 Hip J/K||8||10||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|Da-20 Falcon (civilian reg.)||2||2||2||2||2||2||2||2||2|
|Falcon 900 (civilian reg.)||–||–||1||1||1||–||–||12||–|
|Il-76 (civilian reg.)||4||4||4||4||6||4||4||4||4|
|PA-31 Navajo (civilian reg.)||–||–||–||–||–||2||2||2||2|
|Tu-134 (civilian reg.)||6||6||6||6||–||–||–||–|
|Yak-40 (civilian reg.)||7||7||7||7||6||6||6||6||6|
|AIR DEFENSE COMMAND|
Source: The Military Balance, International Institute for Strategic Studies; SIPRI
Syrian Arab Air Force – Order of Battle
|Quabr as Sitt AB||Quabr as Sitt|
|4 Flying Training Squadron||MBB-223, Mi-8|
|Rasin el Aboud AB||Rasin el Aboud|
|3 Flying Training Squadron||MBB-223, L-29|
|Abu Ad Duhor AB||Abu Ad Duhor|
|Deir Zzor AB||Deir Zzor|
|679 Squadron (679. Staffel)||MiG-21|
|Al Qusayr AB||Al Qusayr|
|Marj Ruhayyil AB||Marj Ruhayyil|
|An Nasiriya AB||An Nasiriya|
|Marj As Sultan AB||Marj As Sultan|
|522 Squadron||An-24/26, Il-76|
Syrian Arab Air Force – Order of Battle
|575 Squadron||Fal 20|
|Name||ICAO||Type||Latitude||Longitude||Runway ft.||Elevation ft.|
|ABU AD DUHOR / ABU A-DHUR||OS||MIL||36.400||38.200|
|AL QUSAYR||OS||CIV / MIL||34.569||36.573||10000||1768|
|ALEPPO INTL / NAYRAB-ALEPPO||OSAP||CIV / MIL||36.181||37.224||9547||1276|
|AN NASIRIYAH||OS||CIV / MIL||33.918||36.866||9847||2760|
|AS SUWAYDA WEST / ES SUWEIDAYA||OS||CIV / MIL||32.706||36.412||9868||2460|
|BASEL AL ASSAD INTL||OSLK||CIV||35.401||35.949||9177||157|
|DAMASCUS INTL||OSDI||CIV / MIL||33.413||36.517||11810||2020|
|DEIR ZZOR||OSDZ||CIV / MIL||35.285||40.176||11000||700|
|DUMAYR||OS||CIV / MIL||33.610||36.749||10335||2060|
|HAMAH||OS||CIV / MIL||35.118||36.711||9232||1014|
|JIRAH||OS||CIV / MIL||36.097||37.937||10180||1145|
|KAMISHLY||OSKL||CIV / MIL||37.024||41.194||9022||1480|
|KHALKHALAH||OS||CIV / MIL||33.061||36.553||9925||2310|
|LATAKIA [Naval] / LATIKIA||OS||MIL|
|MARJ RUHAYYIL||OS||CIV / MIL||33.285||36.458||9820||2190|
|MARJ AS SULTAN||OS||MIL||33.483||36.466|
|MEZZE / DIMASHQ-MEZZE||OS||CIV / MIL||33.478||36.226||8258||2407|
|MINAKH||OS||CIV / MIL||36.521||37.038||4773||1635|
|QABR AS SITT||OS||MIL||33.433||36.333|
|RASIN EL ABOUD||OS||CIV / MIL||36.187||37.583||8305||1207|
|SAYQAL / SAIQAL||OS||CIV / MIL||33.682||37.214||9820||2300|
|SHAYRAT||OS||CIV / MIL||34.492||36.910||9843||2726|
|TABQA||OS||CIV / MIL||35.755||38.567||9842||1050|
|TIYAS||OS||CIV / MIL||34.523||37.631||10410||1805|
Syrian Arab Air Force Rank Insignia
Syrian Arab Navy
The commander of naval forces comes under the command of the chief of general Staff, Commander of Land Forces. The primary roles of the navy are coastal defense and the maintenance of control over territorial waters. There is a particular emphasis on the defense of Syria’s primary ports, Tartus and Lattakia, which are vital to the Syrian economy and which would also play a key role in resupply operations in the event of a major conflict with Israel. While seeking to improve its coastal defense capability, Syria has also been boosting the capability of the navy in terms of submarine, surface and amphibious warfare, although major inadequacies remain.
In 1950 the Syrian Navy was established following the procurement of a few naval craft from France. The initial personnel consisted of army soldiers who had been sent tp French academies of naval training. In 1985 the navy consisted of approximately 4,000 regular and 2,500 reserve officers and men. The navy, lacking parity with the other services, was under the army’s Latakia regional command. The fleet was based in the ports of Latakia, Baniyas, Minat al Bayda, and Tartus. Among the 41 vessel fleet were 2 or 3 Soviet submarines (including 2 Romeo-type diesel-electric submarines, transferred by the Soviet Navy in 1985), 22 missile attack craft (including 10 advanced Osa II missile boats), 2 submarine chasers, 4 mine warfare vessels, 8 gunboats, 6 patrol craft, 4 missile corvettes (on order), 3 landing craft (on order), 1 torpedo recovery vessel and, as part of its coastal defense system, Sepal shore-to-sea missiles with a range of 300 kilometers.
By 2002 the navy remained quite a small force, which, in addition to an estimated 4,000 personnel, also had an estimated 2,500 reserves. Conscripts serve 18 months of national service. The navy had one 1,475-ton `Romeo’ class submarine, although it has not been to sea for three years. There are two 950-ton Petya III class frigates. The navy also deployed 23 patrol and coastal craft. There are 12 210-ton missile fast-attack craft – two Osa I and 10 Osa II. They were armed with `Styx’ missiles. There were three 85-ton Komar class fast attack craft, also armed with `Styx’ missiles and there were eight 39-ton Zhuk class coastal patrol craft. Amphibious forces consisted of three 760-ton Polnochny B Landing Ship Medium (LSM) vessels. Each ship had a capacity for about 100 troops and five tanks. Mine warfare forces deploy one 804-ton Natya class vessel, as well as two 200-ton Vanya class minesweepers, one 500-ton T 43 minesweeper, one 400-ton Sonya class minesweeper and five 77-ton Yevgenya class inshore minesweepers. Auxiliaries consisted of one 400-ton Sekstan class vessel, one 70-ton Poluchat vessel, three survey launches and seven Rotork sea trucks. There is one 3,500-ton training ship, the Al Assad.
Syria, a major importer of Russian weapons, has bought Pantsir S1E and Buk-M2E air-defense systems from Russia, and hopes to receive Iskander tactical missile systems, and two Amur-1650 class diesel submarines. A group of Syrian military officials arrived in Moscow to discuss prospects for bilateral military and technical cooperation, including the pair of submarines. The Project-677, or Lada-class, diesel submarine, whose export version is known as the Amur 1650, features a new anti-sonar coating for its hull, an extended cruising range, and advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry.
Coastal defense had been under naval command since 1984. The command is made up of two infantry brigades, each of which is assigned to a coastal surveillance zone, and one observation battalion, the personnel of which are assigned to coastal observation posts. There are also two artillery battalions, each equipped with an estimated 18 M-46 130 mm guns and about six KS-19 100 mm anti-aircraft guns. A surface-to-surface missile brigade is made up of a dozen batteries, deploying SSC-1B `Sepal’ and SS-N-2 `Styx’ coastal defence missiles. Russian-made mobile anti-ship missile systems sold to Syria could be used to protect a Russian naval supply and maintenance site near Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus. Russia would honor a 2007 contract on the delivery of several Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles to Syria, despite U.S. and Israel security concerns. Syria needs to shield a 600-km stretch of its coastline from potential amphibious assaults. The Soviet-era naval maintenance site near Tartus is Russia’s only military foothold in the Mediterranean. Russia plans to modernize the facility to accommodate large warships, including missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers after 2012.
The Haaretz daily reported in August 2010 that Israel was working to « thwart a Russian arms deal with Syria » and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to stop the sale of advanced P-800 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles. « Lately, some Israeli media outlets have been actively disseminating information distorting Russia’s position on the implementation of its obligations to Syria, including in the sphere of military and technical cooperation, » Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said. « I would like to stress that the Russian Federation honors all the agreements that were previously signed between Russia and Syria. »
The European Parliament on 15 February 2010 adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus. Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, had recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles was currently being implemented.
The navy includes a Naval Infantry, comprising about 1,500 men, the role of which was to guard the navy’s three main bases. They are organized in three detachments, one for each base. Originally Russia started using the Tartus base in 1971. Today Syrian marines guard the Russian workers. Amphibious forces consisted of three 760-ton Polnochny B Landing Ship Medium (LSM) vessels. Each ship had a capacity for about 100 troops and five tanks.
The Soviet Naval Infantry came of age as a power projection force with the advent of a new class of assault landing ships which came into service at the end of the 1970s. The �Ivan Rogov� class had habitable berths for a whole battalion of Naval Infantry, which allowed them to be projected much further from Soviet shores than was previously possible. This point was illustrated by Soviet landing exercises in Syria in �Zapad-81� exercise in Syria in 1981. The Soviets could sealift the Black Sea naval infantry assault (1,800 men) to a Syrian port in five days. If the Soviets had any naval infantry afloat in the eastern Mediterranean when the war began, it could reach Syria in a day or two.
Jason W. Henson writes that the Syrian Naval Infantry » … apparently do not receive any special equipment and little if any amphibious warfare training. Basically they are just regular troops. … The USSR conducted part of it�s �Zapad-81� exercise in Syria; this 1981 exercise was the largest amphibious landing of the USSR since WWII. Despite this, the Syrian marines took no part in the exercise which could have otherwise been excellent training. Syrian marines have never attempted an actual operational amphibious assault during any of the wars Syria has fought. However they were used as �shock� infantry during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and were rotated through Lebanon during the 1980s. As part of it�s 17,000-troop contribution to Desert Storm, Syria sent the entire naval infantry force which may indicate the Syrian leadership views them as highly combat-capable. The Syrian troops were held in reserve the entire war; officially it was to avoid friendly-fire incidents as Syria and Iraq used identical weapons and vehicles, and very similar uniforms. Unofficially, it was said that the US Army viewed them as incompetent. »
Syria – Navy Equipment
Source: The Military Balance, International Institute for Strategic Studies; SIPRI
1 – In the 2010 edition of The Military Balance, the Syrian Navy was said to have 2 Petya II class vessels. In the 2011, it was said to have 2 Petya III class ships. This suggests that these were the same and the existing Petya IIs were upgraded to Petya III standard.
2 – It is not clear why the Sonya class ship and the undescribed training vessel were not listed in the 2010 edition of The Military Balance.
3 – The SIPRI Trade Register suggests that these Chinese missiles came via Iran, and may be referred to by the Iranian name Noor.
Syrian Naval Bases
Syrian Arab Navy Rank Insignia