Russian military intervention in Syria represents a significant departure from the previous practice of using military force in the post-Cold War period, because it is not limited to more Russian territory or the near abroad and, along with the recent successful operation in Crimea, forces Western experts to rethink Russia's military capabilities. Despite the fact that during the Crimean operation, the Russian military showed a number of examples of qualitative growth, mainly elite ground and coastal forces, as well as special operations forces were involved in its conduct. In the case of Syria, the emphasis is on an air campaign implemented with the involvement of general-purpose forces, as well as a number of new technical solutions and weapon systems.
A number of experts were quick to call it “the first Russian war in the American style”, as Russia conducts military operations outside its territorial limits, relying mainly on air power and long-range precision weapon with minimal risk to their troops and forces. At the same time, the narrative of Western analysts - in form or in meaning - boils down to comparing the actions of the Russian military in the current Syrian campaign with their actions in the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia or the capabilities of Russians and Americans. Compared to the five-day 2008 war of the year, the actions of the Russian contingent in Syria indicate a significant increase in military capabilities, refuting the opinion of many Western experts that Russia is allegedly not capable of conducting expeditionary actions far from its borders. Nevertheless, a number of Western experts point to the existence of a significant gap in the capabilities of Russia and the United States, or they question the effectiveness of the air strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces and their ability to conduct prolonged military operations of such high intensity.
In contrast to the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, during which the Russian Air Force could not achieve air superiority or provide proper aviation support to the Ground Forces, the air campaign of the Russian air forces in Syria showed a qualitative shift that has taken place over the past seven years. Russia has shown a clear increase in command and communications capabilities by organizing an offensive air operation with an intensity of up to 90 sorties per day by aircraft and helicopters of various types of aviation - army, front-line and long-range - operating from airfields in Syria and Russia.
According to a senior researcher at the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), Dmitry Gorenburg, “the Russian military has achieved impressive results in increasing the operational voltage ratio and improving the interaction between different types of armed forces. They also significantly increased their ability to conduct expeditionary actions and demonstrated the ability to strike with high-precision weapons when the carriers are out of reach of enemy countermeasures. ” Compared with the five-day 2008 war of the year, in which Russian troops in some cases suffered losses from the fire of their own means of destruction, the current level of coordination of their actions is impressive. As well as can not fail to impress and the degree of consistency of the Russian VKS with the ground forces represented by the Syrian army, the Iranian contingent and the Hezbollah (militarized Lebanese pro-Iranian Shiite organization) troops have not recorded a single case of loss of troops from the strikes of their aircraft.
Many Western analysts are surprised at the high intensity of flights of the very modest Russian aviation group in Syria - according to various estimates, this is about 45 sorties per day in October, 60 - at the peak. Dave Majumdar, a military analyst at the National Interest magazine, said that "the overwhelming majority of US military officials predicted a significantly lower intensity of Russian aviation flights - no more than 20 sorties into knocks." The New York Times newspaper notes that Russian planes “at least for the time being are delivering almost as many attacks on insurgents opposing the forces of President Bashar Assad every day as the American coalition fighting against the Islamic State terrorist organization in Russia inflicts on throughout the last year. ” It should be borne in mind that a high coefficient of operational voltage is provided, including the proximity of the Russian air base in Syria to the targets of strikes, while American aircraft often have to work at a great distance from their aircraft carriers.
In addition, the intensity of flights somewhat decreased after October, probably due to the inability to ensure fast preparation for repeated combat missions over a long period of time or because the rebel forces were able to adapt to air strikes by strengthening their camouflage measures. Nevertheless, Garrett Campbell, a researcher at the Brookings Institute, argues that "almost none of our (all-American. - Appro. Trans.) NATO allies can compete with Russia in terms of its achievements in the air. Such is the disappointing lesson of both NATO air campaigns in Kosovo and Libya. ” He is echoed by Gorenburg, who also notes that the high intensity of flights is particularly impressive, "taking into account the whole series of flight accidents that have occurred since the beginning of 2015, which, according to many experts, was due to the increased exploitation of the aging fleet of Russian aviation technology."
Russia also used intervention in the Syrian events to test and demonstrate the capabilities of new weapons systems in real combat conditions. To attack the rebels, Russia used a whole range of high-precision weapons, including KAB-500С adjustable air bombs with inertial-satellite (using GLONASS signals) guidance system and X-25ML air-to-surface guided missiles with a laser guidance system. Moreover, only about 20% of strikes is performed using high-precision weapons, “cast-iron”, free-falling, according to Western terminology, aerial bombs also demonstrated their effectiveness and accuracy when applied to most targets.
MOSCOW LONG HAND
Both sides of the Syrian conflict are mainly fighting with the use of old Soviet weapons and military equipment. Reuters Photos
Perhaps the most noticeable moment of the operation was the group launch of 26 Caliber-NK cruise missiles from the ships of the Russian Caspian flotillalocated more than 900 miles from the targets hit. Analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) Michael Kofman notes that “it is surprisingly effective weapon” and that “in the field of rocket technology, Russia has not only reached parity with the West, but has surpassed it in some ways”. Russia also carried out a group launch of Caliber-PL cruise missiles from the Rostov-on-Don diesel-electric submarine, recently included in the Navy’s combat structure. Moreover, on November 16, Russia launched its long-range aviation: that day, five Tu-160, six Tu-95MS and 14 Tu-22M3, accompanied by Su-27SM fighters, fired 34 air-based cruise missiles and dropped a large number of unguided air bombs. If until that day only front-line aircraft — fighters and bombers operating from an airfield in Syria — participated in the air offensive operation, then this strike by long-range aircraft showed that Russian strategic bombers are still able to deliver time-and-place-based strikes with using cruise missiles X-555 and X-101. If we bear in mind that the attacks carried out on targets in Syria by sea and air-based cruise missiles from warships and long-range bombers could well have been carried out by front-line forces from Khmeimim airfield, it becomes clear that by doing this Russia sent its rivals and allies a certain message testifying to its ability to project power abroad.
As retired US Air Force General David A. Dapule notes, “in fact, Russia is using its intervention in Syria to develop weapons systems in a landfill.” Kofman also notes that this demonstration of power is also important because "long-range aviation, while remaining the traditional component of the Moscow nuclear triad, is becoming a practical tool for non-nuclear deterrence, allowing it to reach the US or its NATO allies over long distances." And finally, it is impossible not to mention the search and rescue operation to evacuate the crew of the Russian bomber Su-24, shot down by the Turkish F-16 fighter, which was an obvious step forward compared to the practical absence of the forces and resources dedicated to this task. Ossetia.
It is possible that the most unexpected element of the Russian military operation in Syria for the West was the capabilities of the forces and means of material support of the Russian expeditionary force. With the involvement of sea and air transport, Russia deployed an interspecific expeditionary group of about 3,5 thousand people at the theater, including a mixed air force, whose combat strength includes 50 airplanes and helicopters, ground and coastal forces, a group of forces and air defense assets (maritime or mobile). - ground-based), armored combat vehicles, artillery systems, electronic intelligence and countermeasures, units of the intelligence of the mother no logistics, as well as a number of other units of combat and logistic support. Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe, said in this connection: "What continues to amaze me is their ability to quickly move significant forces and assets quickly and over long distances." ". Former US Department of Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Jeffrey White notes: "They brought the entire kit," and "for me, this is evidence of their ability to deploy an expeditionary force of quite decent composition." Despite the fact that the Russian Navy had to acquire and transfer several Turkish bulk carriers under its flag in order to provide an opportunity to build up a group of forces and means, the rapid deployment of the Russian military contingent of troops in Syria without any serious punctures impressed and surprised many Western analysts. "Until September, most analysts (and I am not an exception) argued that Russia is not capable of conducting military operations far from its borders, because its armed forces lack the forces and means that allow large-scale military transport to remote theaters of operations," concluded Gorenburg.
Despite a number of positive aspects noted above, some Western analysts have noted well-known shortcomings or questioned Russia's capabilities. As noted by Douglas Barry, a senior researcher at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (Institute for International Strategic Studies), although Russia demonstrated the capabilities of its new high-precision weapons, “the range of high-precision aviation weapons, intelligence and target designation systems that Russian videocommunications have today the one that is available to similar types of armed forces in the West. " The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC also notes that “Russian Su-25 and Su-24 use guided bombs and missiles with semi-active laser and electron-optical guidance systems, and also have a target targeting system (backlight) as part of the on-board equipment complex. and unlike Western planes, they do not carry suspended containers with an integrated reconnaissance and target designation system. Such containers allow the crews of Western aircraft to independently detect targets and direct aviation weapons at them. ”
In addition, although Russia is using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Syria, Barry argues that the Russians “have not yet reached the level of development of unmanned aerial reconnaissance systems that the US and its allies in Afghanistan are demonstrating. As well as they do not possess the necessary level of integration of the airborne and ground-based technical complexes. ” UAVs have become an integral part of the American system of intelligence support for the actions of troops (forces) and complement the shock capabilities of manned platforms for the use of high-precision aviation weapons. The ability of the UAV to operate in the zone of the enemy’s air defense, without endangering the pilot’s life, and carrying out almost continuous observation of the areas in which the targets are located, constitutes a critical competence, especially when fighting insurgents or conducting special operations. Despite the use of modern Su-34 multifunctional fighter-bombers, the main burden of the combat operation of the Russian VKS in Syria fell on the previous generation machines, although upgraded, Su-24 bombers and Su-25 attack aircraft, which remain the basis of front-line aviation in Russia. In addition, Russian army aviation in Syria relied on the spent Mi-XNUMPPN and Mi-24AMTSH vehicles, which may indicate an insufficient level of development in the troops of the new Mi-8Н helicopters (although, according to a number of sources, the Mi-28Н were deployed in Syria) and Ka-28.
Thus, the military intervention of Russia in Syria demonstrates the significant progress of the Russian Armed Forces since the end of the Russian-Georgian war of the 2008 year. Nevertheless, the question remains how representative the Russian expeditionary grouping in Syria is in relation to all the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. With a relatively small scale of actions in the Crimea and Syria, Russia can afford to send the most equipped and trained troops to solve such problems; however, it is unlikely that most of the formations and units of the Aerospace Forces and the Ground Forces of Russia are equipped and trained equally adequately. Moreover, many of the most important tasks accomplished during the five-day 2008 war of the year, such as suppressing an enemy's advanced air defense, cannot be re-worked against an unconventional and relatively weakly armed enemy, such as rebel troops in Syria. Finally, the question of the effectiveness of the strikes inflicted by the Russian Aerospace Forces remains the subject of discussion, although outwardly they testify to their increased capabilities. As follows from the experience of the United States, relying on its air power during a whole series of military campaigns, air strikes are often insufficient for an adequate military-political solution to the conflict. As a result, Russia may be able to prevent the fall of Bashar Assad’s regime and, quite likely, to win back part of the territory with its modest expeditionary force, but achieving more ambitious goals will require it to drastically increase its - or Iranian - military presence in Syria.
If we compare the Russian operation in Syria with the 2008 conflict of the year, there is obvious progress, but if we compare the capabilities of the Russian military with today's capabilities of the Americans, the Russians are still far from parity with the Americans. Many of the new weapons systems that Russia is demonstrating in Syria, such as sea-based long-range cruise missiles, high-precision aviation weapons, the GLONASS / GPS satellite navigation system, and the US Armed Forces have very effectively used a quarter of a century ago during Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq, as well as in subsequent conflicts. It turns out that Russian military intervention in Syria is in many ways reminiscent of the capabilities of the American 1990 military machine; at the same time, however, few European members of NATO can do the same that Russia is doing in Syria. If until recently, only the United States was the only country in the world that could independently carry out a modern military operation coordinated in place, time and composition of participants at a great distance from its borders, now Russia has become the second member of this exclusive club. And if before many analysts were sticking out some who were strong, who were the weak points of the Russian Armed Forces, then the Syrian conflict provided an opportunity to really assess their capabilities at the present stage of development. As Michael Kofman notes, “striking at night with evaluating results in real time using a UAV is for Russia a genuine quality leap, a sort of combination of 1990's capabilities and in part quite modern ones that the military has in the West.” The old aphorism “Russia is never as strong as it looks, nor is it as weak as it may seem” is as relevant today as it was yesterday.