Air Strikes by VKS (and, a lil’ bit, by SyAAF), 12 April 2017

The VKS ended its evening wave with 4 additional air strikes flown by 01.00hrs, and then stopped.

Unsurprisingly after such a day of ‘all out flying’ like on 11 April, there was very little activity on the next morning: just two take-offs from Hmemmem (and 0 from anywhere else in Syria) by 10.12, further four by the noon.

Theoretically, it would have been on the SyAAF to fly — though there was not that much of the SyAAF to be seen. Shayrat launched one Su-22 at 10.32, Hama added a MiG-23 at 10.46, and a MiG-21 at 10.59, but generally, the morning was marked by helicopter activity (including at least five Russian and six Syrian helicopters by the noon).

Around 12.00hrs, the Russians went into action and started launching another ‘mega wave’. This lasted until 17.00 and included a total of 62 take-offs from Hmemmem AB, plus 9 by helicopters from Sanobar. Such a sortie rate is nothing but impressive, although I meanwhile wonder how many aircraft have they actually deployed at Hmemmem AB? The number must be well above the 30 known to have been there in mid-March. Obviously, some up-to-date sat photos of that air base — preferably taken early in the morning (when there is less activity and most of aircraft are on the ground) — would be most welcome.

Like in the days before, the VKS made extensive use of RBK-500 CBUs, filled with Termite. Here a scene from Latamina area, yesterday around the noon:

The SyAAF was meanwhile barely active: only helicopters from Hama kept on flying during the afternoon.

Don’t know if the next Russian wave can be described as such. Theoretically, it could be said this began around 17.15hrs, but they actually just continued launching after a break of about 15 minutes — even if at a slower rate than during the afternoon. Exceptions were periods 20.00–21.00 and especially 23.00–24.00hrs, when take-offs were registered every 3–4 minutes. In total another 54 take-offs from Hmemmem were undertaken that evening.

Here one of at least 10 air strikes with RBK-500s filled with termite on Jishr ash-Shughour, from the last night:

…and another, on Darat Azza, and one on Kfar Naha (western Aleppo).

‘At least’ there is now no doubt about nationality of aircraft deploying such weapons…

Totals

VKS

fighter-bombers: 123

helicopters: 11

UAVs: 4

recce: 0

SyAAF

helicopters: 13

L-39s: 2

MiG-21: 1

MiG-23: 2

Su-22: 1

Su-24: 0

After these two days (11 and 12 April) it could be said the VKS is doing its best to replace the SyAAF — which in turn is a rather thin shadow of its former might. By now I’ve got no doubt that the US strike on Shayrat broke the back of the Assadist air force. Obviously, due to Russian efforts, that blow was still no ‘game changer’. The question is rather: how much can the Russians effect by all of this flying?

In this regards, and despite ‘total EMCON’ (no reports) from Ahrar, my conclusion is that — even if not particularly precise — the VKS activity of the last two weeks was at least indirectly responsible for preventing large-scale attacks of the Ahrar ash-Sham in NE Lattakia and on al-Ghab Plain.

Certainly enough, majority of Russian air strikes appears so inprecise, that it’s next to impossible to find out what to hell are they actually bombing. When places or areas are hit where there is no kind of military activity, not even any kind of local civic authorities for 1–2 kilometres around the area hit by a CBU…hand on heart: what did the Russians try to hit? The nearby road? A flock of sheep? Perhaps.

Nevertheless, I gauge that at least some of their air strikes must have hit something, and then especially the Ahrar in the Jishr ash-Shughour area (from which ‘traditionally’ there are next to NO news about developments on the ground). Namely, the AAS did attempt to launch two, perhaps even three offensives, but all of these turned out to be small operations, launched without the necessary artillery preparations, and then easily tackled by the firepower of the Russian Army — troops of which are meanwhile deployed directly in the first line of defence of both of these fronts.

Credits where credits are due: it cannot be denied that as much as Assadists set their own hair on fire by that chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheykhoun, the Russians are now replacing the ruined SyAAF by their own operations. Majority of their air strikes are not even distantly related to the expression ‘precise’ (and are certainly nowhere near what Moscow is usually claiming), but those that do hit seem to have at least some effects.