Air Strikes by SyAAF and VKS, 7 April 2017: UPDATE

Here a significantly updated and expanded version of the write-up on flying activity for yesterday, 7 April 2017

The Russians launched a total of 20 air strikes between 00.00 and 01.00hrs, while one L-39 launched from Hama around 01.47hrs.

At 04.40hrs, Shayrat AB was hit by 58 out of 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) Block IVs fired from USS Ross (DDG-71) and USS Porter (DDG-79). See here for details on ‘How the USA Planned and Executed the Strike on Shayrat’. The TLAMs are meanwhile certain to have hit:

  • 15 hardened aircraft shelters
  • 10 ammunition depots
  • 7 fuel depots
  • 7 workshops
  • 5 positions of air defences (de-facto obliterating the SA-6 SAM-site of the 136th Air Defence Regiment, which was protecting Shayrat AB, and killing 9 of its troops, including the CO, Brig Gen Issa Ibrahim).

This means that a total of 58 missiles have scored hits at least 44 targets. This is contrary to claim by the Keystone Cops in Moscow (Russian MOD) that ‘only 23 out of 59 Tomahawks reached their targets’. I.e. this was another Russian lie.

In fact, these 59 missiles have all entered the Syrian airspace over the Tartus area, just 100km south of where the Russians have their S-400 SAM-site, and an electronic-warfare site ‘protecting’ Hmemmem AB. Whether the Russians — who were warned of the incoming TLAM strike by the USA — failed to detect them on time, or refused to protect Shayrat AB, is unclear, and unlikely to ever become known. Fact is: except for one TLAM (which malfunctioned and crashed near the village of Karto), all others just passed by entirely unmolested by the Russians.

Few hours later, Sputnik published a gallery of images from Shayrat showing results of the TLAM-strike, including at four, perhaps six destroyed Su-22s, plenty of destroyed support equipment (and some armament), plus a row of long-since abandoned MiG-21s. Another, much smaller gallery, with few additional photos was released by Yalla Souriya, around the same time.

Russian Vesti TV-team was the next on the scene — and its report is obviously aiming to understate effects of the TLAM-strike. Pointing out the runway is ‘untouched’, it’s distracting from the fact that the very same video is showing the wreckage of at least six, possibly eight Su-22s in the background. It is also ignoring the wreckage of a MiG-23 that can be seen within the HAS which the TV-crew entered. Instead, it is pointing out ‘aircraft survived’ by showing only the Su-22M-4Ks ‘3233’: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGvIZTosVTQ

(Note: commentator’s statement that Shayrat was a main base for attacks on Daesh is also a lie. Over 80% of sorties from Shayrat I have counted since November 2016 were flown against Idlib and Western Aleppo — not against any of areas held by the Daesh. Only about 10% were flown against Daesh — and this almost exclusively during the ‘Tiyas crisis’, back in December 2016, when Daesh re-captured Palmyra.)

Then the team of the ANNA arrived on the scene. Their video is available here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfWcXkgyzio

It is enabling not only the conclusion that at least 6, probably 8 Su-22s were destroyed, but also the identification of three different MiG-23MLDs from №675 Squadron that were destroyed by TLAMs that penned hardened aircraft shelters in which they were parked: example A, example B, and example C.

It is also showing wreckage of R-24R (AA-7 Apex) and Kh-23 (AS-7 Kerry) missiles, indicating a conflagration ignited these and send them flying around the base.

Perhaps even more interesting is the Syrian State TV’s report taken during the post-strike ‘inspection’ of Shayrat by the Chief-of-Staff of the ‘Syrian Arab Army’, Lt Gen Ali Abdullah Ayyoubi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaWzYO2fOkM

This is also showing at least two destroyed MiG-23s. But foremost: at about 1.40min, a sequence starts taken inside the squadron ready room of №677 Squadron — the Su-22 equipped unit at Shayrat AB. Now comes the point: at 2.11 min, a black-haired character can be seen seating in the centre of the room. That is Colonel Yusuf Hasouri, CO of №677 Squadron and the pilot that led the air strike on Khan Sheykhoun, on 4 April 2017. He stands up and is cheered at 2.22, and Ayyoubi is then shaking his hand and kissing him, on 2.24.

Elsewhere during the day…

The flying appeared to continue at a normal pace: a helicopter each launched from Hama at 07.57 and 08.04, and then the Russians launched six air strikes between 08.08–09.00.

Contrary to what might be expected, Assadists didn’t stop flying then. On the contrary, in clear demonstration of defiance, they launched another helicopter from Hama at 09.16, one Su-22 from Kweres at 09.29 (this hit the Sarqib area). Two additional helicopters and three MiG-21s took off from Hama by 10.00hrs, three additional helicopters by 10.40, while Russians meanwhile launched 3–4 air strikes from Hmemmem too, and bombed Kfar Nabl around 11.00hrs.

A Su-22 lifted off Dmeyr AB at 11.07 and bombed the Khan Sheykhoun area (this was probably the aircraft that can be seen on this video, claimed to be showing a Su-22 ‘taking-off’ from Shayrat AB), as did another helicopter from Hama, about 15 minutes later. I.e. by the noon, the VKS flew 38 sorties, while the Assadists still managed a total of 16 — although most of these (10) by helicopters from Hama.

Latamina and Kfar Zita were hit by three Russian fighter-bombers and five Assadist helicopters around 12.30hrs. By 13.57hrs, three additional helicopters were launched from Hama, and two L-39s from Kweres, while the Russians flew at least five other air strikes. Targeted were Ma’arat an-Nauman, but also Khan Sheykhoun area again.

By now it was clear that Shayrat AB was out of service, and Assadists were attempting to compensate by helicopter ops from Hama — which in turn were interrupted by a BM-21 strike of Jaysh an-Nasr, around 14.00hrs local time.

Otherwise, their flying activity was ‘minimal’, while that of Russians ‘slightly diminished’ during the morning, while ‘accelerating’ during early afternoon (total of ‘only’ 47 VKS air strikes were launched by 14.00hrs).

During the afternoon, Assadists launched a single Su-24 from Tiyas at 14.20 and one at 14.31. Hama was back by 14.39, when a single helicopter launched from there, and another Su-24 scrambled from Tiyas at 15.12. However, by now it was clear that the SyAAF is ‘missing Shayrat: its other air bases cannot aggregate anything like a similar number of air strikes.

At 15.34, the VKS began launching its next wave. This consisted of 13 aircraft that got airborne by 16.51. One Su-22 (only second sortie for this type of the day), launched from Tiyas at 17.15hrs. Russians followed by nine air strikes launched by 18.19, when a single Su-24 took-off from Tiyas. Then it was turn on Hama again: one helicopter at 18.21, L-39 at 18.25, another helicopter at 18.28, and Tiyas completed this series by scrambling a Su-24 at 18.29.

Similarly, the evening was marked by sporadic air strikes flown by Russians every 10–15 minutes, few helicopters and L-39s from Hama, and single Su-24s launching from Tiyas. It was only between 23.00 and 24.00 that Russians flew ‘intensivelly’ (total of 11 take-offs registered at Hmemmem AB).

Totals

VKS
fighter-bombers: 90
helicopters: 8
UAVs: 6

SyAAF
helicopters: 30
L-39s: 9
MiG-21: 3
MiG-23: 1
Su-22: 2
Su-24: 8

CONCLUSION
The US TLAM-strike on Shayrat (here my ‘preliminary report’ written on afternoon of 7 April for the WIB) must be seen from the legal position.

The USA have declared itself the morale authority in the case of somebody is using chemical weapons. Theoretically, this is not making the USA ‘right’ in legal terms: what is making the USA right is the Resolution 2118 of the UN Security Council. This is concluding that, should Syria not comply with the agreement for complete destruction or removal of its chemical weapons, the members of the Security Council might take, ‘such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations’.

With other words: the deployment of chemical weapons against Khan Sheykhoun on 4 April was a breach of the UNSCR 2118, and this was actually more than a logical (even if belated) response.

The US opted to launch a strike that’s targeting aircraft and the base (and local air defences, in order to make that strike possible). As far as possible, Assadist personnel was actually not targeted.

In this regards, the strike was highly successful: it hit 15 aircraft shelters; ammo dumps and fuel dumps have received irrepairable damage. At least 9, perhaps up to 15 aircraft are destroyed. They’ll never fly combat sorties again.

The SyAAF’s capability to launch air strikes by Su-22s is de-facto gone. As far as I can say, they have got 3 (that’s 100% sure), perhaps 4–5 Su-22s left — at Shayrat (few others are still at Dmeyr and Tiyas). These simply can’t fly 20+ air strikes a day any more, and even most hard-core Assadists are going to think twice before using them for attacks with chemical weapons again.

(Note: attacking runways with TLAMs would be pointless; one would at least a dozen to destroy just one of two runways. Such job is better done by B-1s and Mk.82s, just for example (or B-2s and JDAMs)).

Impacts of the US TLAM-strike on Shayrat were particularly obvious in regards of sorties by MiG-23s and Su-22s: these went down from 5 and 26 on 6 April, respectively, to 1 and 2 on 7 April, respectively. Specifically, Su-22 flew one sortie in the morning, apparently launched form Dmeyr around 11.07hrs (mentioned above), and another from Tiyas, around 17.25hrs (also mentioned above). With this, Assadist and Russian claims about ‘Sharyat operational again’ as of 7 April were proven as lies: 2 aircraft is not the same like an entire (even if depleted) squadrons of them.

The same can be concluded in regards of Russian reports that ‘only’ 23 out of 59 TLAMs fired at Shayrat have reached their target: the TLAMs crossed the Syrian coast in Tartous area, where one of them crashed (see the photo of its warhead in attachment). If any more would’ve crashed, Assadist and Russian social media would be full of photos showing them. Instead, independent sat-intel is showing 58 hits on Shayrat AB.

That said, Shayrat was not ‘completely destoryed’ in sense of ‘never to be used again’, but certainly ‘devastated’: ruined enough for the Assadists — who also lack the equipment necessary to clean the taxiways — to need at least a few days to clean it. Namely, one should keep in mind that the Su-22’s intake is positioned relatively close to the ground, on the front of the aircraft. Whenever the engine is powered up, the intake sucks the air — and all the lose items — for about 30 metres in front of the aircraft. Indeed, the entire Su-7/17/20/22 family is renowned for being sensible to FOD (‘foreign object damage’) — dirt, rocks, litter etc. sucked into the intake (and thus the engine) — and thus can only operate from ‘tidy’ runways.

Even more important is the fact that the number of MiG-23s and Su-22s still available to the SyAAF was greatly diminished by the US strike, as we are to see in the coming days. There is no denial that the Assadists lost at least 6, probably 8 or more Su-22s, and one, probably two MiG-23s. This is something even the Russians cannot replace, because they have no such aircraft ready to deliver to Syria.

***************

For today, 8 April 2017, I can confirm a take-offs for Su-22s from Shayrat AB:

- 1 at 10.45hrs local time; 
- 1 at 11.11hrs local time.