Here’s the Key to Understanding the Russian Air Force’s Actions in Syria
War Is Boring

“Therefore, the purpose of the Russian military intervention in Syria can be defined as forcing the Syrian opposition into negotiations on Moscow’s conditions, with the aim of stabilizing the position of the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.”

I tend to think that the support of the Assad regime and defeat of its opponents is really a secondary, or rather corollary strategic goal. The Russian military’s capabilities plummeted after the collapse of the Soviet Union in ’91 and there has been a concerted effort in the past decade to reverse that trend. In keeping with the new realities of the geopolitical order — and the fact that the Russian military no longer has unlimited manpower and resources — the Russian war machine has been attempting to “update” itself… witness the vaunted T-14 “Armata”. The problem is that not much has changed, doctrinally-speaking.

As the article highlights the Russian Air Force — really its “external” air force as there as whole separate air force dedicated to strategic air defense — is largely a support branch. The Russian military is largely dominated by the Army. In both Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine more recently, the Russians have been careful to ensure overwhelming numerical superiority (70k against 10k Georgians — and waiting until the brigade trained by the US was in Iraq) or using non-traditional tactics like the “Little Green Men” (a.k.a., the world’s first flash mob invasion). In neither case did the Russians extend their logistics train further than maybe 100k from their internal border. This is a serious weakness for a former continental power wishing to demonstrate “global” reach.

Involvement in the Syrian Civil War was a way for the Russians to “flex” their muscle and show that they are capable of the same expeditionary warfare as the US and the west — powers which in no time at all can deploy legions of troops, aircraft, and materiel into a geographically-isolated spot like Bagram and conduct sustained combat operations indefinitely. Except, the Russian example is somewhat pathetic. Khmeimim airbase was largely already established as a hardened military airfield with little need to establish further infrastructure and it’s a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Russian naval base at Tartus… meaning that even their “extended” logistical train isn’t far from the “source” (compared to say, Bagram or Kandahar which receive most materiel overland through Pakistan and disputed territory).
Much like in the Cold War days, this operations looks impressive from behind the curtain… and is probably intended for internal consumption (witness the RT news feeds over the last few years). Largely, it shows Russia’s weakness rather than strength.

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