The Russian military campaign in the Syrian sky continues, albeit in a somewhat narrow format. Nevertheless, the president’s decision to withdraw part of the forces and resources from the Arab Republic is the basis for the first results.
According to official figures, from September 30 of last year to March 14 of the current Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation performed more than nine thousand sorties to counter the IS prohibited in our country, maintaining an extremely high pace: from 60 to 80 per day. The bulk of the work done aviation Special Forces Brigade deployed in Hmeimim. But the total number also included long-range and strategic bombers sorties during Operation Retaliation, carried out in response to the Kogalymavia passenger A-321 bombed by terrorists. The flights of military transport aircraft carrying goods from Russia to Syria and vice versa were also taken into account. The intensity and effectiveness of the air bridge is evidenced by the fact that in just two months, over 214 thousand tons were transferred by BTA forces. Part of the combat "traffic" fell on reconnaissance aircraft.
At the beginning of the operation, the daily indicator rarely exceeded the 30 – 40 departures, only occasionally reaching the 60 mark designated by the Commander-in-Chief. But from mid-December began to grow steadily. The peak came at the end of January - the middle of March. To maintain such a high pace, additional Su-24 and Su-34 front-line bombers were deployed to the Hmeimim airbase.
We note in particular: with the phenomenal intensity of combat work, the crews and ground support personnel did not allow a single flight incident. For comparison: during the thirteen-day operation “Sunrise Odyssey” in Libya in 2011, NATO aircraft lost an American F-15E fighter and one drone as a result of a state of emergency and equipment failure. So if it were not for the Su-24M front bomber shot down by the Turkish Air Force and killed during the Mi-8AMTSH search and rescue operation, our Aerospace Forces could have defeated the militants without a trace.
The absence of modern air defense systems from terrorists and irreconcilable opposition has made Syrian airspace an ideal place to test the entire arsenal of high-precision weaponsavailable in Russia. Moreover, it was not Soviet reserves that formed its basis, but samples created and supplied to the troops only a few years ago.
As accurate as possible
At the time of the commencement of the air operation in Syria, 12 front-line bombers Su-24, the same Su-25 attack aircraft, four Su-34 and multipurpose Su-30 attackers were deployed at Khmeymim airbase. Already during the campaign, the command transferred an additional four Su-34 and the same Su-24 to Syria. And at the end of January, four newest Su-35s appeared in Lattakia, designed to protect bombers and attack aircraft of special-purpose air-raids from provocations by the Turkish Air Force.
After the decision of Vladimir Putin about the withdrawal of troops, not only all the Su-25 attack aircraft returned to Russia, but also four Su-24 bomber, the same number as the Su-34. In addition, according to the “Military-Industrial Courier”, from December last year to January of this year, several Su-24s rotated, replaced by similar machines transferred from the territory of Russia.
Almost from nine thousand sorties the main volume fell on the most numerous aircraft of special purpose air raids - the Su-24М2 and Su-24М bombers equipped with the computing subsystem SVP-24. It was these machines, together with the Su-25CM attack aircraft, that became the main carriers of unguided aviation weapons of destruction (TSA).
The time-tested X-25 and X-29 aircraft missiles were also used, but still the KAB-500С adjustable bombs became the high-precision "weapon of choice" of the Russian Aerospace Forces. KAB-500-OD and heavier KAB-1500 were used sporadically.
The share of the WTO used by Russia in Syria is, of course, far from the figures of the United States and NATO (up to 80 percent in conflicts of the current millennium). But in comparison with the August operation 2008 of the year against Georgia, the progress is striking - not only in equipping the VKS with highly accurate TSA, but also in effective tactics of their use.
The upgraded aim-navigation complexes of the Su-24 front-line bombers and the Su-25 attack aircraft made it possible to more effectively hit the areal targets and field reinforcements of the militants with ordinary bombs. But in settlements, where a dozen meters of deviation means civilian casualties and unnecessary destruction, there is no alternative to high-precision weapons.
Therefore, multifunctional Su-24, which became the main carriers of the WTO, are in second place in terms of the intensity of combat use after the Su-34M. It is noteworthy that some of the "thirty-fourth" for five and a half months, carried out more than three hundred sorties.
At the same time, we have to state: the ongoing long-term disputes between our military-industrial complex and the command and control of the VCS about whether it is better — the built-in optical-location stations or the overhead containers have been delayed. And in service with strike aircraft there are neither those nor others.
Even despite the initially dubious concept of the Su-34 and already outdated - due to the difficult and long way of introduction into mass production - the Platan optical on-board optical-location station, these multifunctional machines turned out to be the most effective platform for using the entire range of precision weapons .
And another thing: the mass use of satellite-guided aviation weapons of destruction with Russian guidance in Syria became possible only after the GLONASS orbital constellation was brought to full strength in 2011 – 2012. It allowed the guaranteed destruction of individual buildings and key infrastructures of militants with minimizing collateral damage.
But for all its effectiveness, satellite-corrected munitions, unfortunately, are not universal miracle weapons capable of solving any tasks facing the videoconferencing system. "Cosmic" accuracy is not always enough to defeat small, well-fortified objects, bunkers. Such ammunition is also useless against moving targets. Of course, the range and height of the use of the KAB-500С protect their carriers from MANPADS and anti-aircraft artillery, but almost any short-range air defense system, including obsolete ones, already poses a serious danger to the aircraft.
In the Syrian operation, the Russian command faced the same problem as the Americans with the widespread introduction of precision weapons in the 90 of the last century. Even such a simple ammunition as the KAB-500С is not cheap at all. Each bomb is like a premium car, and the stocks are small, which made them spend it sparingly. During airstrikes in Syria, a rare target was honored with more than one KAB-500С per departure, which was not always enough for guaranteed destruction.
The Russian defense ministry probably more than once regretted that it does not have at its disposal any analogues of JDAM - kits for relatively inexpensive conversion of the bottomless Russian stocks of FAB and OFAB into high-precision weapons. This is all the more annoying because such developments are no longer the property of only technologically advanced countries. Such sets are mastered and second-tier arms manufacturers like Turkey and South Africa.
It is not yet necessary to speak of even more effective transformations of conventional weapons of destruction into high-precision ones, when by adding planes and engines old cast-iron bombs become WTO, capable of hitting enemy targets at long range.
One of the most significant events of the Russian campaign in Syria was the use of sea and air-based cruise missiles. The exact number of launched missiles is unknown. According to a report by Sergei Shoigu at a meeting on November 20 last year at that time, long-range aviation and the Naval fleet 101 missiles were used.
If to summarize the figures from the reports and statements of the Russian military-political leadership, only the Navy worked on targets in Syria at least 46 with Caliber-NK cruise missiles. It is noteworthy that the volley launches of the newest KRs in such numbers were not previously worked out either during the tests or during the exercises. But the first experience was very successful.
Of course, not all of the missiles reached their goals, but the percentage of failures is comparable to 10 – 16, demonstrated by the US KR in the Iraqi campaign 2003 of the year and Tomahawks of the “Desert Storm” times. The Russian fleet has acquired the ability of a high-precision non-nuclear strike for hundreds and thousands of kilometers, which significantly enhances the ability of the projection force far from its borders.
Against the background of a loud launch of sea cruise missiles, the successful use of the X-555 and the latest low-profile X-101 in Syria has remained almost unnoticed. Of course, the presence of such TSA in the arsenal of Russian long-range aviation, as well as their capabilities, were hardly a secret to anyone. Nevertheless, Syria has become a combat debut for these missiles.
It remains to be regretted that even the upgraded Tu-22М3, which accounted for the bulk of long-range aviation sorties, continued to operate exclusively with uncontrolled bombs. Although some of the Backfighters involved in strikes against positions were equipped with Gefest computational subsystems SVP-22, specially modified for these machines, which ensure the high accuracy of conventional free-falling bombs. Due to the limited flight range without refueling and to minimize collateral damage, the bomb load of the Tu-22М3 was severely curtailed. The 12 model kit of 250 caliber bombs shown in Syria is characteristic of tactical rather than strategic aviation. But if each of them were adjustable, for example KAB-500С, then even such a load would make the Tu-22М3 much more dangerous for areal purposes of high importance: oil refineries of terrorists, military bases and airfields of potential opponents.
In fact, all NATO air operations, whether in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, do not take place without tanker aircraft, the intensity of which often often exceeds the attack aircraft, fighters and bombers. But Russian air tankers took a very limited part in the operation in Syria, mainly providing fuel for the missile-carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS.
Our fighters, front-line bombers and attack aircraft, that during the flight from Russia to Syria last fall, that during the withdrawal of troops this spring, they did not refuel in the air, limiting themselves only to outboard fuel tanks.
As representatives of the VKS have confessed to the “Military Industrial Courier”, as long as the number of aircraft tankers and their tactical and technical characteristics cannot ensure the effective use of Russian strike machines over a longer range. The air tanker must not only carry the right amount of fuel, but also be in the sky for a long time. So far, all hope is only on the IL-96-400TZ, which are being converted at the aircraft plant in Voronezh.
There are organizational problems. Now tankers are subordinate to the command of long-range aviation and, first of all, ensure its combat work, and for refueling front-line bombers and fighters are attracted according to the residual principle.
UAVs have patience
It cannot be denied that the serious successes of the Syrian government forces are largely due to the Russian special aviation brigade. Su-25 and Mi-24P almost continuously carried out direct fire support ground forces.
But if the combat work of attack helicopters constantly hit various videos from the scene, then only three videos are devoted to attack aircraft striking militant positions using unguided missiles and aerial bombs. Although the Rooks worked very intensively in the sky of Syria, sometimes performing five or six sorties a day.
At the same time, we note that guided missiles were rarely used by the crews of Mi-24P helicopters. Their "weapon of choice" remained the NAR, used in Syria to destroy not only stationary, but also mobile targets, including armored vehicles.
Unfortunately, it should be recognized that if the destruction of stationary objects in Syria did not pose a problem for our videoconferencing, the fight against mobile targets armed with pick-up trucks and simply small groups of militants still presents complexity and carries a risk for pilots, since it is necessary to act on low altitudes in conditions of use of small arms and MANPADS by the enemy.
The modern world experience in the fight against terrorism and counterinsurgency actions shows that the best solution here is attack drone aircraft equipped with guided missiles, sometimes with adjustable bombs. This is a truly high-precision weapon that allows you to hit such targets with minimal collateral damage.
Syria and neighboring Iraq use percussion drones of Chinese and even Iranian production, but similar Russian products are still at the testing stage. And today this is perhaps the weakest point of our videoconferencing.
Unable to close the drone niche and attack helicopters. The new Mi-35M were too few, and the most modern Mi-28Н and Ka-52 with developed aiming-viewing systems appeared a few days ago, however, they had already managed to join the battle. But even they have to save smart missiles.
The guided missiles with which our helicopters are equipped are quite effective for fighting armored vehicles and vehicles, but due to the dimensional limitations of their high-explosive and thermo-pressure variants are noticeably inferior in power to those of the popular American AGM-114 Hellfire. Moreover, the stocks of such products by the Air and Space Forces of Russia are just being created.
Meanwhile, Iraq alone, with its modest Air Force, has to spend hundreds of thermobaric and high-explosive Hellfires per month in the fight against IS. Suffice it to say that this year the US State Department approved the sale to Baghdad of five thousand such missiles, however, some of them will be in the anti-tank version.