In recent weeks, news reports on the results of air strikes by the Russian group of Aerospace Forces in Syria, as well as video, where militant positions, warehouses and command and control posts are destroyed by bombing, have become quite commonplace. However, in addition to the Russian attack aircraft, front-line bombers and attack helicopters, quite specific products were also taken on photo and video footage of recent battles - towed MSTA-B howitzers, TOS-1A “Solntsepe” heavy flamethrower systems.
And at the beginning of 2014, Syrian government troops on the most difficult sectors of the front were attacked by Smerch multiple rocket launchers. As Russian officials officially say, all this equipment has been supplied as part of military-technical cooperation between the two countries.
Before the civil war, Syria's armed forces have quite a lot of both the receiver and rocket artillery, including 122-mm howitzer D-30, 130-mm cannon M-46, self-propelled gun mounts and 2S1 2S3, multiple rocket launchers BM- 21, BM-27 "Hurricane" (according to SIPRI, although unconfirmed) and even such exotic products as long-range 180-mm C-23 guns.
Syrian artillery officers were trained in military schools of the Russian Federation, and a limited contingent of Russian military advisers was also in the Arab Republic. According to the representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, who was familiar with the pre-war situation, the level of training of Syrians on some issues was quite high: “They shot well and did all the exercises approximately to the level of the battery, the division commander had good individual training, but managing the division’s fire was already problematic for him ".
A good part of the artillery systems, especially the barrel towed, was in a deplorable state. Only part of the SAU and the MLRS remained more or less intact, although the stock of missiles for them was quite limited. The big problem was the staffing of batteries and divisions by personnel. Most of the units were, using Russian terminology, cropped or reduced, there was a shortage of serviceable means of communication, not only complex command and staff vehicles and command and control vehicles, but also portable radio stations.
Initially, the Syrian armed forces were practically not involved in the direct suppression of the protests that began in the summer of 2011. But when the protesters took in hand weapon and began full-scale hostilities, the military still thrown into battle. True, the artillery was used quite sporadically, mainly mortar batteries, platoons, as well as individual mortars, and the rest of the personnel as regular infantrymen served at checkpoints.
In the spring of 2012, the troops loyal to Bashar Assad were able to neutralize the most powerful center of resistance in the area of the city of Homs. This was followed by an agreement on a temporary ceasefire, concluded with the mediation of the UN, which allowed opposition groups to significantly replenish their ranks and rearm. And in the summer, in a matter of weeks, they practically crushed the government army.
The vast part of the country, in particular in the north and in the center, came under the control of the opposition, the city of Aleppo was blocked. Some military camps and bases were captured or encircled (as the recently released Kuveiris airbase). Separate units and divisions of the security forces, as well as separately standing roadblocks were surrounded and destroyed.
The government, which tried to stop the offensive at all costs, allowed the use of not only artillery, but also operational tactical missiles and aviation. But after the losses incurred in personnel and equipment, Syrian artillery, until recently, had very little effect on the course of hostilities.
In particular, barreled artillery fire at enemy targets was mainly conducted by direct or semi-direct fire, which did not require special skills in fire control. Self-propelled artillery systems 2C1 and 2C3 were used as assault Tanks to support the infantry attack on enemy fortifications, as well as in urban combat, destroying the enemy again with direct fire.
To compensate for the losses incurred, the Syrian government forces set up an artisanal 130-mm M-46 and 122-mm howitzer D-30 cannon for trucks, in particular for four-axle Mercedes-4140. In addition, government forces are quite actively using multiple rocket launchers, capable of delivering massive strikes in a short time, but without requiring a high level of personnel training.
To compensate for the losses incurred, Iran actively began to supply government troops with not only launchers of various calibers, but also individual missiles, launched in turn from hand-made PU. A sufficiently wide delivery range includes both portable single-barrel PU caliber from 107 to 130 millimeters, and multi-barreled 220 – 240-millimeter mounted on pickups and trucks. There are reactive systems and much larger caliber, in particular 330-millimeter and even 440 – 450-millimeter PU. At present, the rockets themselves are no longer shipped from Iran, but rather are produced locally, in conventional workshops using both standard spare parts and improvised means.
Wind from the north
In early February, 2014, in various social networks, and later in the media, there were reports of the appearance of the Smerch 300-millimeter rocket launcher systems in Syrian government troops. In particular, remnants of 9М55К rockets with fragmentation submunitions in the area of the city of Kafr-Zita in the province of Hama hit the video chronicle.
The newly arrived MLRSs were actively used against militants in the area of the cities of Namar, Daraa and Jobar (near Damascus), as well as in the territory of the already mentioned Hama province. Accurate data on the losses inflicted by the Tornadoes on the enemy, but indirect evidence that the strikes of the 300-millimetric missiles reached the goal, can be the fact that after the February Opposition troops were able to push back the government forces in the Der'a area and take several important objects, as a result of the attacks of the RZSO they had to quickly retreat to their original positions.
Simultaneously with the "Tornadoes", government forces also deployed the X-NUMX-millimeter multiple launch rocket launcher systems BM-220 "Uragan" for strikes against the militants. According to SIPRI, there were several “Hurricanes” at the beginning of the conflict in service with the Syrian army, but until February 27, they were not used in battles, and there was no reliable evidence of their presence among government forces.
220-millimeter MLRSs operated in the same place as their elder Smercha brothers, striking 9М27К (К1) missiles with fragmentation submunitions. A little later, the first photos of the Hurricanes appeared on social networks; one of them showed the emblem of the Russian Airborne Forces on the cockpit. There is no reliable information about what real losses BM-27 inflicted on the militants. It is noteworthy that, in contrast to the “Hurricanes”, photos of long-range “Smerches” in Syria appeared only in September.
The newspaper “Military Industrial Courier” asked to evaluate the possible effectiveness of powerful long-range MRLS “Smerch” and “Hurricane” in the conditions of the Syrian conflict of an artillery officer familiar with these systems: “Such systems are designed to destroy stationary or slow-moving targets in the depth of enemy defenses. You can effectively cover the column on the march, but you need good intelligence and target designation almost in real time. Good for such tasks are suitable drones. It should be understood that the area of destruction, especially for missiles with submunitions, is very large and such missiles cannot be used near its front edge of defense. Judging by the video chronicles, the militants have no field fortifications, but still they mostly operate in small groups on armed vehicles. Shooting at such targets with "Tornadoes" is stupid, but using fortifications, accumulations of cars and armored vehicles, warehouses and control points, the use of such systems is justified. "
In addition to the new MLRS, in February 2014 for the first time, there was noted for the first time quite a massive use of unmanned aerial vehicles, in particular Iranian Mohajer, for reconnaissance and correction of artillery fire. In 2015, various Russian-made UAVs appeared in Syria, for example, the Orlan-10.
On the official page of the Syrian army in the social network Facebook published records of fire not only reactive volley fire systems, but also barreled artillery for fortifications, command posts and ammunition depots of militants.
“Judging by the video, shooting accuracy is low. They shoot for a long time, cannot cover targets, spend a bunch of ammunition. We must understand that it is not enough just to hang over the target of the UAV. It is also necessary to correctly calculate the amendments, to adjust the fire. The video shows that the Syrian professionalism is growing, but they still have a lot to learn. Well, at least the towed-away howitzers have been rolled out for direct fire, ”the commander of the howitzer self-propelled artillery battery of the motorized rifle brigade of the Russian Armed Forces explains to the publication.
Only without nonsense
Since the start of the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria, the arsenal of government troops has been replenished with the TOS-1A Solneptek flame-throwing systems and towed 152-mm howitzer MSTA-B. It is noteworthy that the Sunpieces delivered to the SAR were installed on the chassis of not T-90С tanks, as previously transferred to Azerbaijan and Iraq, but older T-72 tanks, which can speak about supplies from the Russian army.
It should be noted that if TOC is considered an artillery system abroad, in the Russian army these heavy flame-throwing systems are related to the armament of RCBZ troops.
For the first time, cars similar to TOC-1А are seen on September 10 aboard a large landing ship Nikolai Filchenko going to Syria. At the beginning of October, combat and transport-charging vehicles were photographed on trailers in the direction of the front line, and two weeks later, video clips and photographs of the use of the “Sun Chains” for militants in the northeast of Lattakia, the so-called Salma enclave, appeared for the first time (opposition-held areas around Salma).
Judging by the available data, in Syria, the “Suns" are used in the same way as multiple rocket launchers, despite the much shorter firing range (no more than six thousand meters).
“TOC is not the MLRS with thermobaric charges, as many believe. They operate behind the combat orders of the advancing troops to destroy and suppress the enemy fortifications and their firing points. Therefore, the complex is installed on a tank chassis with additional protection. During the fighting in Chechnya, the TOC was always covered by our troops. There were cases that the militants fired at them not only from small arms, but also from grenade launchers and even an ATGM, ”says an officer of the RCBZ troops.
Apparently, the Syrian troops do not want to risk such an expensive vehicle, especially given the enemy’s long-range US anti-tank "Tou-2", preferring to fire from a safe distance. But it must be understood that with a firing range of six kilometers, TOC still remains quite vulnerable.
The first photos of towed 152-mm howitzers MSTA-B in Syria appeared in late October. It is noteworthy that for towing these artillery systems, regular tractors of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, four-axle KAMAZ-6350 with a characteristic protected cabin, intended for transportation of calculations, are used.
According to reports, a convoy consisting of several MSTA-B, accompanied by a radio station P-166-0,5, trucks, probably with ammunition, as well as infantry, proceeded to the northeast of Latakia, where TOC-1А was already operating by that time. If nothing is yet known about the participation of 152-mm howitzers in battles in the Salma region, then the MSTA-B fire platoon recently appeared in video footage of the battles in Homs province, where he supported the government offensive along with the Mi-24 helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
However, as in the case of the “Hurricanes” and “Tornadoes” that have been fighting in Syria for the past year and a half, the real effectiveness of TOC and MSTA-B is still unknown. There is only a video chronicle of how calculations of howitzers, as well as effective ruptures of thermobaric charges TOC on the mountain, where, according to Syrian officials, were the enemy fortifications.
Interviewed by the Military Industrial Courier newspaper, the Russian artillery officers found it difficult to assess how effective the flamethrower systems and towed howitzers would turn out to be effective.
It should be noted that, albeit with difficulty, the Syrian army’s attack on the positions of ISIL continues, there are already liberated settlements, the airbase has been unblocked. Literally in a year and a half, Syrian government forces received an arsenal of powerful and modern artillery systems: the Smerch MLRS and the Hurricane MLRS, the Solntsepek fire-throwers and even the MSTA-B towed howitzers. All this technique is actively used in battles. As a result, one can cite the words of a Russian artillery officer: “This is a serious force capable of sweeping away the fire of any enemy. Only it needs to be used competently and professionally. And do not waste on stupidity. "