Air Strikes by SyAAF and VKS, 26 March 2017

I’m short with the time for this week, so my reports might get ‘telegraphic’ as result. Due to the lack of time, it’s also getting harder to cross-examine info from other sources with those that becomes available via social media.

The Russians opened the day with a series of 15 air strikes launched between 00.00 and 02.00hrs (no less than 11 of these between 00.00 and 00.20). Most of these targeted the area between Darat Azza in the north and Taftanaz in the south, i.e. western Aleppo and northern Idlib.

Another wave followed between 06.00 and 07.00hrs, and hit also Hreitan and Khan Sheykhoun, bringing the total number of VKS air strikes to 26. 
A single MiG-21 launched from Hama AB at 07.33, but it was the VKS that continued dominating the skies, by flying six additional air strikes on Kfar Zita and Latamina, by 08.00hrs.

The SyAAF then took over, starting with a single Su-22 from Tiyas, at 08.32, MiG-23 from Hama at 08.39, Su-22 from Shayrat at 08.46, MiG-23 from Shayrat at 08.47, two helicopters from Hama at 08.46–08.47, Su-24 from Tiyas at 08.49 (this bombed the Sarqib area, 6 minutes later), and helicopter from Hama at 08.56.

Two VKS Su-25s then launched from Hmemmem ab, at 08.57, signalling the start of the next Russian wave. This included 20 fighter-bombers, one recce aircraft, and six UAVs that took-off by 11.00hrs. Meanwhile, the SyAAF launched a single Su-22 launched from Shayrat at 10.37, another at 10.44, and two more at 11.09 and 11.10, then four helicopters from Hama (all at 11.10–11.11), a MiG-23 from Hama, at 11.15, and another at 11.20. Means: around 11.15–11.30hrs, there was a total of ten SyAAF- and up to a dozen of Russian aircraft and helicopters in the skies over the area between Khan Sheykhoun and Kfar Zita salient — all at once.

The VKS targeted other areas too. At 11.21 and 11.27, its fighter-bombers hit the Khan Touman area (south of Aleppo), for example.

The SyAAF remained preoccupied with northern Hama, and directed a Su-22 from Shayrat (11.27) and a MiG-21 from Hama (11.30) in that direction. Another Su-22 from Shayrat, and a helicopter from Hama completed the flying activity of that morning.

The next Russian wave was announced by the appearance of a single UAV over the Sarqib area, around 12.00hrs. This was followed by the overflight of Taftanaz by that un-identified VKS recce aircraft, at 12.11hrs, and then a total of 20 fighter-bombers that launched from Hmemmem AB by 14.24hrs. Meanwhile, the SyAAF was in full swing too, launching a total of 8 fighter-bombers (including 2 L-39s) and 2 helicopters from Hama and Shayrat by 13.00hrs, and then another 12 fighter-bombers (including 4 Su-24s from Tiyas, an two L-39s from Kweres) and three helicopters by 14.25hrs. 
Following a short break, the next VKS wave commenced launching at 14.45. Including a total of 17 fighter bombers (between them a formation of six that launched from Hmemmem at 15.07!), it lasted until 15.37hrs. One more wave of at least 10 VKS fighter-bombers hit the Jishr ash-Shughour area between 16.15 and 16.30. With this, it was obvious that the Russians returned to their practice of flying waves of air strikes that are saturating relatively limited areas with a mass of general-purpose- and cluster-bomb-units filled with termite within a short period of time. Over the last (nearly) two years, this proved their most effective tactics, blocking all movement in the attacked area for hours.

Note: subsequent reports by pro-regime sources reveal that the intensive activity of the VKS in the Jishr ash-Shughour area was related to pre-empting a supposed offensive by the Ahrar ash-Sham and the TIP into north-eastern Lattakia.

Meanwhile, Hama AB became particularly active, launching five helicopters and one MiG-23 between 16.40 and 17.00hrs. Up to a dozen of air strikes by MiG-23s and Su-22s, was then launched from Shayrat by 17.45.

The next Russian wave commenced taking-off at 18.00hrs and included a total of 18 fighter-bombers, and a recce aircraft, that got airborne by 19.00hrs. Up to 6 SyAAF L-39s were active over southern Idlib and northern Hama through this period, too.

The RTP was hit by several L-39s and at least two Su-24s between 20.00 and 21.00hrs.

The final Russian wave of the day commenced launching around 22.00hrs, and included a total of 11 take-offs by the midnight. Several of these have bombed the Jishr ash-Shughour area. The SyAAF L-39s remained active over most of southern Idlib through this period, too.

Totals
Including not only as many air strikes as the day before, the 26 March was foremost the day when the VKS and the SyAAF seem to have sorted out various of their command-and-control-related issues, and started ‘some serious works’ in very specific, carefully selected parts of Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo. I.e. they are back to modus operandi from the times of the final phase of Aleppo siege, from October and November 2016. Good weather enables the SyAAF to fly with all available aircraft. Notable exception is that of №819 Squadron’s Su-24s: the number of their sorties flown yesterday more than halved in comparison to the 25 March. It seems they are now only deployed to strike particularly important targets.

But overall, aerial activity and a complete lack of rocket-attacks on Hama AB is some very bad news for Syrian insurgents and the HTS.

This means that their situation remains the way it is since September 2015: ‘keep calm and carry on’. Lacking any means of serious air defences, they can only alternate manoeuvre with digging in. Intensive air strikes upon roads between the Turkish border and Kfar Zita seem to have sealed the flow of replacement rounds for Jaysh an-Nasr’s BM-21s, and thus nobody rocketed Hama AB. The only similar report was about a BM-21-strike on Nayrab AB (military side of Aleppo International). While potentially important in the light of reports about the IRGC’s offensive on western Aleppo, and about the roads connecting Khan Nassir and Ithriya, as well as Homs and Salamiyah, being cut off by repeated insurgent- and raids by the Daesh, this is of next to no importance in general context. I.e. that volley of precious rockets was de-facto wasted. 
VKS
fighter-bombers: 123
helicopters: 5
UAVs: 11
recce: 2
SyAAF
helicopters: 26
L-39: 21
MiG-21: 4
MiG-23: 22
Su-22: 22
Su-24: 6