At the end of 2012, the Syrian air defense system destroyed a Turkish aircraft RF-4E scout "Phantom-2", demonstrating its effectiveness.
And at the beginning of 2013, a group of Israeli planes succeeded in their loss without destroying an important research center, which according to the Israeli leadership was engaged in the development of promising species weapons, in particular chemical. That is, Syrian air defense was not able to provide any effective opposition to the Israeli aviation.
So, after all, is Syria's air defense capable of repelling a possible enemy air strikes?
The question is not idle.
The civil war in Syria continues. The Syrian army successfully destroys militants who are forced to abandon attempts to seize even small towns and go to the tactics of terror. And this is already a political defeat, since, by taking the path of terror, the irreconcilable opposition practically loses the chances of a legitimate coming to power in Syria.
The defeat of the Syrian armed opposition will mean that its patrons, both in the West and in the Arab world, will lose any opportunity in the foreseeable future to establish control over Syria.
For Western elites, this means a significant weakening of influence in the Middle East, which will contribute to a significant aggravation of the economic crisis in Europe and the USA.
For radical Islamist forces in the Arab world, the failure to establish Islamic control over Syria actually calls into question the implementation of a geopolitical project to create a Sunni Islamic caliphate.
In addition, the US is interested, if not in establishing its control over the resources of the Middle East, then at least in destabilizing the entire region, in order to write off most of its external debt in the future against the backdrop of a major war and try to regain the position of “savior of all civilized humanity from barbaric aggression. Syria’s preservation of the independence and integrity of its state, law and order in it substantially complicates the destabilization of the Middle East as a whole.
Under these conditions, despite the relative decrease in the aggressiveness of the rhetoric of the opponents of Syria and its legitimate government, both in the West and among the countries of the Arab world, the threat of direct military aggression by regular troops of other states against Syria persists. At the same time, only NATO, with the leading role of the United States, is capable of realizing such an aggression, since the main opponents of Syria in the Arab world, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are militarily unable to carry out such aggression, both in the military-geographical and military strategic. Moreover, even the leading NATO countries, such as France and Turkey, alone, without participation or with limited US participation, are also unlikely to be able to successfully defeat the armed forces of Syria. This was vividly demonstrated by the events in Libya in 2011.
Thus, it makes sense to assess the capabilities of the Syrian air defense with respect to its ability to withstand the attacks of NATO aircraft led by the United States and, with the participation of the Israeli Air Force in such an operation, which, as shown by the Israeli aircraft’s attack on the Syrian research center, will most likely take part in such operations.
What could be air aggression against Syria
The actions of NATO and Israel aviation against Syria may pursue decisive or limited goals depending on the prevailing military-political conditions.
An air operation with decisive objectives is possible if NATO’s military-political leadership succeeds in creating appropriate international legal conditions.
Such actions are possible if the leadership of the NATO countries manages to hold a resolution through the UN Security Council, giving them the right to use their aircraft to prevent any type of activity in Syria, like the “no-fly zone” over Libya.
The most likely motive for this could be the thesis about the threat of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army or the possibility of its capture by militants.
In this case, under the guise of the need to ensure the safety of NATO aircraft over Syria, an air offensive operation can be carried out with the aim of defeating Syria’s aviation and air defense. This will allow further NATO and Israel aviation, under the guise of fighting with chemical weapons and protecting civilians, to solve the problem of defeating the most combat-ready groups of the Syrian army, thus ensuring the victory of the Syrian armed opposition.
The basis of such an air offensive operation, which in duration can be from 3 to 7 days, will range from 5 to 7 to massed air and missile strikes.
Each of these attacks will be carried out by significant strike and support aviation forces with preemptive cruise missiles. The combat order of the strike will be deeply echeloned with the distribution of the shock and support groups in height from extremely small and small (mainly strike groups) to large heights. In the flight zone of the aviation, the aggressor will seek to disrupt the Syrian air defense system using fire weapons and their electronic suppression.
However, the implementation of such a resolution through the UN Security Council in modern conditions is very problematic due to the position of Russia and China.
The leadership of the United States and other interested NATO countries are well aware of this. Therefore, it is quite possible that if a final decision is made to conduct such an operation without an appropriate resolution of the UN Security Council, large-scale provocation can be organized to justify it, possibly with the use of chemical weapons, in Syria or even one of the neighboring states.
In any case, to conduct such an operation, it will be necessary to create a coalition of states with the inclusion of at least one state adjacent to Syria. Without this, it will be impossible to create the military strategic base necessary for such an operation.
Will require significant material costs. This is in the midst of a deep crisis of Western civilization can serve as a serious deterrent to the United States and NATO countries.
During strikes with limited goals, tasks can be accomplished to destroy individual Syrian political figures (for example, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, other top leaders of the Syrian state), important facilities of the public administration system, the armed forces, the Syrian economy, its research complex, television and radio broadcasting.
Such strikes can be inflicted by a limited composition of forces using aviation or sea-based and air-launched cruise missiles.
In the course of these strikes, the focus will be on achieving a tactical surprise. Therefore, on the flight routes of shock and support groups, Syria’s air defense weapons are unlikely to be suppressed. The order of battle will likely have a small depth to achieve short-term strike. Shock and support groups will follow the target along different routes at low and extremely low altitudes, bypassing the radar observation zones. It is possible to deliver demonstrative strikes against Syria’s air defense systems in order to divert fighter aircraft from the direction of the main attack.
There will most likely not be specific justifications for such attacks.
Just as Israel justified its attack on a research center near Damascus by the need to prevent modern weapons from falling into the hands of extremists, far-fetched theses on the threat of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the protection of civilians will be advanced.
What can Syria oppose to possible air strikes
At present, Syria has very impressive forces and air defense systems. They are based on ground-based air defense systems. This is about 900 anti-aircraft missile systems for various purposes and more than 4000 anti-aircraft artillery shells from 23 to 100 mm, including about 300 ZSU-23-4 "Shilka". In addition, Syrian ground forces have more than 4000 calculations for the Strela-2, Strela-2М and Igla man-portable air defense systems.
Among the most advanced air defense systems available in service with Syrian air defense should be attributed C-200M, "Buk-М1" and "Buk-М2".
At present, Syria, as part of two anti-aircraft missile brigades, has 48 launchers for the C-200M Vega-M SAM systems. This complex has been upgraded and with a firing range of more than 250 km, it has good noise immunity, allowing it to be effectively used at high densities of radio-electronic interference. This complex demonstrated its effectiveness in the 1982 year, when the American carrier-based DRLO E-190С “Hokai” was shot down from the 2 km distance and was protected by the Prowler EW aircraft.
This complex makes it possible to hit low-altitude targets within the line of sight.
Its main drawback is stationarity, which creates favorable conditions for its preemptive defeat by Tomahawk-type long-range cruise missiles.
However, the possibility of its covering short-range air defense systems and short-range air defense missile systems to a certain extent eliminates this disadvantage.
The Buk-М1 and Buk-М2 SAM systems are among the fairly advanced anti-aircraft missile systems.
It is capable of hitting fighter-type aircraft at a distance of up to 45 km, with a probability of up to 95%, CR of the Tomahawk type at a distance of up to 35 km, with a probability of 50-70%. This complex can also ensure the defeat of anti-radar missiles, so the Harm-type missile can be hit at a distance of up to 20 km.
The control system of the division of the Buk-М1 or Buk-М2 complexes provides an independent overview of the airspace and automated target targeting. This allows you to use this complex autonomously.
Its most important feature is its high mobility. All its components are placed on tracked self-propelled chassis, which allows for a short time to change positions.
The ability to effectively deal with anti-radar missiles ensures its high protection against defeat by this type of weapon.
As part of two anti-aircraft missile brigades, Syria has 48 launchers for Buk-М1 and Buk-М2 SAM systems.
In addition to the C-200M, Buk-М1 and Beech-М2, the Syrian air defense has 48 C-300 of Soviet-made early versions of the C-XNUMX, according to Jane and some other sources. They were probably supplied by Syria from Belorussia.
This multi-channel air defense missile system allows you to simultaneously fire up to 6 targets at a distance of up to 75 km and has high noise immunity. Its mobility (deployment time from the traveling position to 30 minutes) makes it very difficult to defeat long-range cruise missiles, and its high noise immunity and the ability to effectively hit anti-radar missiles provide it with good combat stability even from modern air defense suppressants.
Among the most modern anti-aircraft systems available in Syria, should include the anti-aircraft missile-gun system "shell C1", which are in the Syrian air defense system, there are about 50 units.
Having a reaction time of about 5 seconds, it is able to ensure the defeat of cruise missiles or aircraft at a distance of up to 12 km with a probability of up to 80% or more. Having its own airspace viewing station and automatic target designation mode for the most dangerous air targets, this complex can autonomously, without external sources of information about the air situation, effectively deal with air attack weapons in the area of reach, including low-flying ones.
In addition to these relatively modern anti-aircraft missile systems, Syria has a significant number of old-type air defense missile systems, which, despite upgrades, have limited combat significance.
These are the C-75 Volga and Pe-chor C-125 stationary medium-range radar missiles, which according to various data in the 11 SAM brigade consist of 480 to 600 launchers.
In addition, there are 200 launchers of the Kvadrat mobile anti-aircraft missile systems. They were upgraded at the end of the 80s and are in service with the 11 anti-aircraft missile brigades. Modernization allowed to significantly increase their noise immunity. However, the possibility of their effective use in the context of countering modern jammers is questionable.
The short range “Osa” 60 ADMS can effectively combat airborne targets at relatively low electronic jamming densities. Having our own airspace survey station allows this complex to autonomously solve air defense tasks within reach.
MANPADS and anti-aircraft artillery complexes in Syria have a low probability and a relatively small area of airborne targets in range and height. However, their large number will create a significant threat to low-altitude air attack weapons and will allow a certain extent to increase the effectiveness of air defense in general, if they focus on protecting the most important objects.
Fighter aircraft is the second most important component of the Syrian air defense system. In total, the Syrian Air Force has about 400 combat aircraft.
Of these, the 48 of quite modern MiG-29 fighter jets, which at the end of the 90-x and the beginning of the 2000-s were modernized with the help of Russian specialists, can be brought up for the air defense solution.
The 25 MiG-25 and 50 MiG-23LD fighters are also still able to withstand modern aircraft that are in service with the NATO and Israel Air Forces.
The value of the 150 MiG-21 fighters for solving air defense tasks against the latest Western aircraft is close to zero.
Thus, Syria can attract about 120 fighter jets, which to one degree or another are able to withstand NATO and Israeli air strikes.
To control the air situation in the composition of the air defense of Syria, there are radiotechnical troops. Their armament consists mainly of obsolete Soviet-made radar stations - П-12, П-14, П-15, П-30, П-35 and П-80. In addition to these, there are a number of relatively modern radars with good noise immunity and protection from damage by anti-radar missiles, such as PRV-13 and PRV-16. However, their number is small. There are no Syrian defense aircraft or specialized AWACS aircraft or other airplanes (helicopters) capable of performing airspace reconnaissance and targeting functions to air defense weapons (fighter aviation guidance), similar to Iranian F-14.
Reliance exclusively on ground-based radar does not allow even in the absence of fire and electronic effects on the Syrian aerial surveillance system to create a continuous low-altitude radar field.
Not much better is the case with the air defense control system. It is based on ground-based non-automated control centers, which do not allow, in conditions of intense interference and with large numbers of airborne targets, to carry out centralized control by air defense forces.
The state of the air surveillance systems and the control of air defense forces and assets of Syria extremely complicates the centralized control of the air defense system.
What can the Syrian air defense
An analysis of open sources allows us to conclude that Syria has concentrated its main forces and means of its air defense on the western and southern direction, where it traditionally prepared to repel possible attacks by Israel. Recently, however, due to the aggravation of relations with Turkey, it can be assumed that the air defense system was also strengthened in the northern direction.
Based on the available data and the composition of the weapons of the Syrian radio-technical forces, it can be concluded that the radar surveillance system at high and medium altitudes covers the territory of the whole country and beyond its borders to a depth of 150-250 km from the border. At low altitudes, the radar surveillance system is most likely to be focal in nature, with the lower boundary of the radar field in the most important directions (west and south, and partly on the north) can be estimated at 200-300 meters, while on others - from 500-700 meters up to 1000 and more.
That is, the radar surveillance system does not provide reliable detection of low-altitude targets.
In the event that the enemy manages to suppress or destroy the radar on the flight directions of its attack aviation groups, there will be gaps in the Syrian aerial surveillance system, information about the situation in which will be absent from the air defense command posts.
The quantitative qualitative composition of the fighter aircraft of Syria defines, as the main method of its use, “interception from the duty position at the aerodrome”. At the same time, the possible lines of entry into battle will lie at a distance of no more than 150-300 km from the home airfield, which is determined by the capabilities of the control systems and radar surveillance.
A limited number of fighters can also be used from the duty in the air (no more than 1-3 pairs).
The outdated control system and the limited capabilities of the Syrian radar observation system make it extremely difficult or practically impossible to provide direct targeting of fighters to aerial targets in the conditions of the enemy’s opposition, bringing them to the most advantageous sectors of attack.
The main methods of action of fighters are likely to be self-search in the area, at the turn or in the designated direction.
This significantly reduces the ability of Syrian fighter aircraft to repel enemy air strikes and is fraught with great losses if the aggressor aircraft is controlled using DRLO aircraft.
The system of anti-aircraft missile and artillery cover Syria based on the combat composition of its air defense system can be built only on the zonal-object principle.
The basis of the zonal cover system is the long-range and medium-range air defense missile systems - C-200М, С-300, Buk-М1 and Buk-М2, С-75, С-125 and Kvadrat.
The basis of the air defense system of individual objects is made up of anti-aircraft missile ("Wasp"), anti-aircraft missile and cannon ("Pantsir-S1") complexes, anti-aircraft artillery and MANPADS.
The combat composition of ground-based air defense weapons makes it possible to assess the possibilities of covering various-purpose objects in the system of object air defense in 350-400, including 100-140 using the most modern air defense systems - the Pantsir-C1 and Osa.
The weakness of the Syrian air defense surveillance and control systems is defined as the main method of using ground-based air defense weapons in the conditions of enemy counteraction to search for and destroy targets in the designated sector.
At the same time, the capabilities of air defense systems of individual objects covered with modern air defense systems - the Pantsir-С1 and Osa-are able to repel strikes of small groups of airplanes or cruise missiles (2-3 units), and covered by other means — no more than one air attack weapon .
The analysis shows that the main factor reducing the capabilities of the Syrian air defense system is its outdated aerial surveillance and control systems.
It is precisely the weakness of these systems that does not allow the Syrian air defense system to effectively repel limited air and missile strikes, when a small amount of air attack weapons goes at low and extremely low altitudes, bypassing the surveillance zones of the air defense radar.
Apparently it was this factor that determined the effectiveness of the strike of Israeli aviation on the research center near Damascus at the beginning of this year.
However, the results of such strikes can have only local significance.
Opportunities for the defeat of enemy aircraft in the composition of massive strikes are substantially greater, mainly due to the impossibility of the enemy achieving a full-fledged tactical surprise.
With proper organization of the reflection of the air strike, good training of personnel of the Syrian air defense forces (which, according to domestic and foreign experts, takes place), qualitatively organized operational camouflage and taking into account the experience of the actions of air defense forces in previous wars, the Syrian air defense system will be able to strikes destroy 40 to 50 air assault weapons, including 20-30 long-range cruise missiles, distracted by fake targets to 40-60% and more attack weapons.
At the same time, their own losses can amount to no more than 10-15% of the initial composition, while retaining their combat capability.
That is, the Syrian air defense system can disrupt an air offensive operation or even an air campaign of NATO and Israeli air forces, if 450-500 aircraft and 200-400 cruise missiles are used to carry it out.
In order to secure air supremacy over Syria within a reasonable timeframe, the NATO-Israel coalition will need to create an aviation grouping of at least 2000-2500 multi-purpose aircraft and at least 1000-1500 sea-based and air-based long-range cruise missiles.
First Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Doctor of Military Sciences, SIVKOV Konstantin Valentinovich