Air Strikes by SyAAF and VKS, 23 March 2017

Here a complete review of reported aerial activity by the SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) and the VKS (Russian AirSpace Force) over Syria on 23 March 2017.

The Russians launched a total of 13 registered air strikes from Hmemmem AB between the midnight and 03.00hrs. All of these targeted western Aleppo and western Idlib, including Darat Azza, Sarqib, and Atarib.

Another wave run between 06.00 and 08.00hrs included 7 air strikes and hit the Jishr as-Shughour area (here a Russian Su-30 in action over Jishr ash-Shughour, early in the morning).

By 09.00hrs, the Russians had re-oriented — from attacking all over Syria the day before, to concentrating their air strikes to the entire area from Jishr ash-Shughour via Idlib (city) all the way to Kfar Zita (rocketed by Su-25s), and Latamina (rocketed by Su-30). Up to 5 UAVs were active over Idlib and northern Hama by 10.00hrs, while by 12.20hrs, no less than 33 Russian air strikes were registered.

Notable between these was a near-simultaneous take-off of 5 Russian fighter-bombers at 12.12hrs. In essence, by that time every single VKS aircraft based at Hmemmem AB flew at least one sortie that day.

Results of a Russian air strike on Latamina, yesterday in the morning:
Starting at 12.25, the VKS re-oriented again, and began bombing Atarib and Darat Azza again. No idea why, since nothing that’s going on there is related to northern Hama. By 13.01, this area was hit by nine Russian air strikes. 
Meanwhile, Assadists excelled through no activity. Or next to none. Only 1 helicopter launched from Shayrat, around 12.38, another from as-Safira, at 12.56 and one more — also from as-Safira — at 13.08. This is surprising considering the sky over northern Hama began to clear by that time.

The fourth Russian wave of the day began launching at 12.12hrs, and it targeted the area of Kfar Zita and further south:

Kfar Nabl area was hit at least 5–6 times during this period, too. By 14.20hrs, no less than 29 take-offs from Hmemmem were registered, indicating a particularly high tempo of operations — i.e. ‘urgency’.

There followed something like three quarters of an hour long ‘break’, after which Assadists at Hama AB became active. The first MiG-23 launched from there at 14.44hrs. Another MiG-23 was launched from Hama at 15.11, followed by one helicopter at 15.12hrs and another at 15.29. A MiG-21 launched from Hama at 15.39 and a third MiG-23 at 15.39hrs — indicating a) the air base was back in operation, and b) the weather cleared sufficiently for them to operate too. The fourth MiG-23 launched from Hama at 16.30hrs. 
Of particular interest was then the take-off of a single Su-22 from Kweres AB, at 16.58, and another at 17.00hrs. So far, these never operated from this air base. Certainly enough, both of Sukhoi bombed targets in Kfar Zita area, about 7 minutes later — in company of a MiG-23 that launched from Hama at 17.12hrs. At the same time, also a L-39 launched from Hama, followed by another helicopter, at 17.17hrs. A Su-24 that launched from Tiyas at 17.31 and a MiG-21 take-off from Hama at 17.49hrs completing this series of Assadist air strikes against insurgents in Kfar Zita and Latamina area. 
Meanwhile, at 16.00hrs local time, the Russians began launching their next wave from Hmemmem. This lasted for the next two hours and included a total of nine take-offs. Another wave began at 18.23hrs: it included eight take-offs and resulted in air strikes on Taftanaz, Idlib (city), Kfar Nabl, and Sarqib.

At 19.01, the SyAAF’s night-capable L-39s went into action, with one launching from Hama in northern direction. Additional L-39s followed at 19.20, 19.45, 19.48, 19.58 and 20.00hrs. These six L-39s were rocketing and strafing up and down the Kfar Zita salient for the next 15–20 minutes. Furthermore, one of them bombed Atarib, around 20.02: at 20.20, the group was reinforced by another L-39 — this time from Kweres AB.

Six additional L-39s were registered at 20.31, 20.33, 20.36 (x2), 20.40: since no take-offs were registered at Hama or Kweres, it’s likely they launched from Tiyas. They attacked Khan Sheikhoun and Latamina, and then supported Assadist counterattacks on Khattab and Kawkab. This wave of Assadist air strikes was ended by a single L-39 that launched from Hama at 20.43. This activity is what prompted reports about 15 air strikes on Sawran and Maardes area, yesterday in late afternoon and through the evening. 
Russians ended the day by their final wave, which began with several UAVs around 22.30hrs, and was then continued by take-offs from Hmemmem AB at 22.47, 23.02, 23.03, 23.24, 23.27, 23.50, and 23.53hrs local time.

This was another very intensive day. Indeed, so much so that — partially conditioned by the weather — VKS and SyAAF returned to the practice of flying alternating waves. In this fashion they can keep the insurgents under constant pressure while one of them is resting, refuelling and re-arming for the next wave.

VKS flew a total of 108 registered sorties by fighter bombers, about two dozens by UAVs, and at least 10 by helicopters. While it is certain that many of fighter bombers did so, it is unclear if the latter participated in fighting in northern Hama, though.

The SyAAF flew a total of 12 registered helicopter sorties, 14 L-39 sorties, 2 MiG-21 sorties, 5 MiG-23 sorties, 2 sorties by Su-22s and 1 by Su-24s. 
Bottom line: even after a very intensive day on the 22nd, the 23rd saw further increase in number and intensiveness of air strikes. Much more can be expected as soon as the weather improves (namely: in good weather, the SyAAF can launch up to 60 air strikes a day).