Air Strikes by VKS & SyAAF, 17 April 2017
Three L-39s of the SyAAF — all from Kweres AB — went into action about 20 minutes after midnight. They were followed by a VKS wave of at least 14 fighter-bombers, most of which hit the Sarqib area by 01.00hrs. The Russians continued flying additional air strikes against western Aleppo for the next hour, but most of these targeted the Kfar Zita, Latamina and Souran areas in northern Hama. Rather unusually, flying activity remained high after 02.00hrs in the morning too, now with majority of VKS’ air strikes targeting the Latamina and Ma’arat an-Nauman areas. Nocturnal activity ended only around 02.30, by when the VKS launched 34, and the SyAAF 5 sorties by L-39s.
After a relatively short break, the VKS commenced launching its next wave already at 05.20 — which was another break from usual practice: over the last 18 months, I recall perhaps a total of about 20 air strikes launched around this time of the day, no matter if by the SyAAF or the VKS. Some of involved aircraft targeted the Hreitan area, in western Aleppo, but many went all the way to Dera’a, in southern Syria. This wave ended only around 06.48, by when 10 Russian aircraft were airborne. By then it was clear this would be an exceptionally busy day.
The third VKS wave commenced launching at 08.00hrs. Several of involved aircraft bombed the Khan Touman area, in southern Aleppo; few continued all the way to Dera’a, but majority targeted the ‘usual suspects’ in western Aleppo, Idlib (foremost Sarqib), and northern Hama. Related take-offs went on an on, past 10.00, then past 11.00hrs… indeed, their pace even increased after 11.30hrs (when about a dozen of aircraft was launched within some 15 minutes). This wave ended around 11.45, by when 35 take-offs from Hmemmem were registered. Several of these have again carpet-bombed Latamina with ODAB-500 FAE-bombs (FAE = ‘fuel air explosives’). To make sure who’s flying such attacks, this Su-35 (?) was captured on a video while releasing plenty of flares (decoys for IR-homing missiles) over Latamina area:
Over Syria, Su-35s are operated by the VKS only (VKS stands for ‘Vozdushno-Kosmicheskiye Sily’, Russian for ‘AirSpace Force’).
The SyAAF was entirely passive through the morning. Lack of activity at Hama AB can be explained by insurgent rocketing of that base, yesterday afternoon. Certainly enough, the SyAAF then ‘quickly reacted’ by launching three helicopters from that air base around 18.00hrs, but the BM-21s must have hit something and set it on fire, then the resulting two columns of smoke were really massive. Plus, this morning (17 April) there were none of usual take-offs by helicopters and/or MiG-23s from this air base: on the contrary, Hama AB remained entirely quiet even around he noon.
It was therefore on other air bases to go into action. At 11.44 a Su-22 launched from Tiyas AB, followed by another at 11.45. Then the things became quite hectic: another Su-22 from Kweres at 11.45, one more from Kweres at 11.57, one from Tiyas at 12.06, and two more from Kweres, at 12.19 and 12.24. Notable is not only the increased presence of Su-22s at Kweres AB (there were only 2 Sukhois there, in late March, now there are at least 4), but also that all of them turned in direction of southern Idlib and northern Hama — i.e. none turned for the Daesh-controlled areas. The same was the case with the Su-22 that launched from Shayrat AB, at 12.32, and the one from Dmeyr, which launched around the same time. While there were still no take-offs from Hama, a single helicopter lifted off from as-Safira, at 12.35hrs. Finally, Hama AB launched a single MiG-21, at 12.50, a MiG-23 at 12.55, and a helicopter at 13.32.
The SyAAF continued its action by launching a single Su-22 from Shayrat at 13.15, and another from Dmeyr another around the same time. One Su-22 took-off from Tiyas at 13.38, one from Shayrat at 13.57, a Su-24 from Tiyas at 13.58, and a Su-22 from Dmeyr at 14.00. Kweres then commenced launching its second wave of the day. This included one Su-22 at 14.01, one at 14.03, and one at 14.04. These three seem to have hit the Ma’arat an-Nauman area, about ten minutes later. Many of air strikes in question have targeted Taybat al-Imam — a town south of Latamina, roughly half-way between Halfaya and Souran, where the IRGC is assaulting HTS-positions since two days. But, and ‘surprisingly’, reports that emerged immediately afterwards have cited air strikes on a hospital in Jabal az-Zawiya, too.
Meanwhile, Hmemmem AB was relatively quiet: only a small wave of six aircraft launched between 12.00 and 12.15hrs. This changed around 14.40, when the first out of a total of 16 fighter-bombers (including at least four Su-24s) of the Russian ‘afternoon wave’ got airborne.
There followed a period of sporadic action that culminated with Shayrat launching its second wave of the day in form of four Su-22s that got airborne between 16.50 and 17.10hrs. These bombed Latamina, Ma’arat an-Nauman, and Talbiseh.
The Russians commenced launching their next wave around 18.00hrs. This included a total of 10 take-offs by 19.30. Around 20.00hrs, they initiated the usual series of evening air raids: this included a total of 37 take-offs by midnight. SyAAF’s L-39s from Hama were active too during the evening, flying at least four strikes against Latamina area.
fighter-bombers: 155 (+/- 3–4; certainly a new record)
helicopters: 4 (indicating the BM-21 strike on Hama probably hit the helicopters exposed in the open)
Whatever is left of the SyAAF fleet of Su-22-fighter-bombers, is now operating foremost from Kweres, less so from Tiyas and Shayrat. Each of air bases in question has 3–4 FMC (‘fully mission capable’) aircraft left, and each of these is flying two, rarely three sorties a day. The number of remaining Su-24s that are FMCs is down to 6–8 (there should still be 12–14 airframes around, though).
As another illustration for the impact of the US TLAM-strike on Shayrat AB, from 7 April: ever since, the SyAAF is not managing to launch more sorties a day — and that from all of its bases — than it used to launch from Shayrat alone before the US-strike.
The low number of helicopter sorties from Hama launched on 17 April might be an indication for the insurgent BM-21-strike on the afternoon of 16 April hitting some of these. Since regime is never confirming losses not reported in the social media, we’ll have more clarity in this regards only from monitoring helicopter operations from Hama over the next few days. Obviously, the less there might be of these, the more helicopters were probably hit (and versa-vice).
On days of intensive activity of SyAAF’s fighter-bombers (and 17 April was the most intensive day since 6 April) it’s particularly interesting to watch how this air force is dissipating its remaining fire-power. Yes, it did launch a remarkable number of air strikes considering how few aircraft it still has. But, instead of concentrating these to support its and IRGC’s ground forces fighting in such an important area like the Kfar Zita salient, it continued flying air strikes against places not related to any active battles. These are such like positions of FSyA units clearly fighting Daesh, in eastern Qalamoun, on 16 April; or hospitals in Idlib Governorate and Talbiseh, in Ra’astan-Talbiseh Pocket, north of Homs, on 17 April. In comparison, the SyAAF is completely ignoring a local counterattack of the Daesh in eastern Aleppo…
Guess, one can’t expect anything else from an air force that’s following orders issued by the Ba’ath Party HQ in Damascus, and whose units are since mid-2012 officially designated ‘Ba’ath Squadrons’ in all of official correspondence.
- UPDATE № 1
In relation to yesterday’s BM-21 strike on Hama AB, the Jaysh an-Nasr issued an official statement claiming the destruction of 1 MiG-23, 1 MiG-21, and 3 L-39s, plus the‘operations room’ (i.e. headquarters) for the IRGC in the Hama area.
- UPDATE № 2
Word is that the SyAAF is moving some of its combat aircraft from various air bases to international airports (IAPs) of Damascus and Nayrab/Aleppo.
Such a re-deployment would explain the seeming ‘out of nowhere’ appearance of some of SyAAF’s air strikes launched yesterday. For example, it is likely that at least some of sorties associated with Dmeyr were launched from Damascus IAP.
For additional insights and in-depth info (including articles on the Russian military strategy and tactics in Syria, general condition of the SyAAF, its Mi-25 helicopters, Su-22 and Su-24 fighter-bombers, and night-attack capability of its L-39s), please check this collection of links on air warfare by SyAAF and VKS in Syria published on WarIsBoring.com blog over the last year.