Air Strikes by VKS & SyAAF, 26 April 2017

26 of April 2017 was opened in a very unusual fashion — indicating it’s going to be another ‘special’ day. Instead of Russians continuing their ‘gorilla’ waves from Hmemmem, the first aircraft to lift off was a L-39 from Nayrab AB (Aleppo IAP), at 00.16hrs. This was followed by a Su-24 from as-Sien AB (Tsaykal), at 12.18: this is ‘news’, sort of, then the SyAAF lately rarely operated from that air base. Both aircraft turned in direction of northern Hama after take-off. To make things more interesting, a helicopter and another L-39 then launched from Hama AB around the same time. As far as is known all of these bombed the Kfar Zita area, as have at least two Russian aircraft. While nothing is known about their target, his sounds like some sort of a ‘special operation’: one trying to deliver a very precise strike on a specific target (instead of the usual ‘carpet bombing’ applied by the Russians).

This went on in similar style for the next hour too: a Su-24 from Tiyas, a L-39 from Hama, together with few helicopters from the same air base — all going in northern direction. Then few Russians from Hmemmem AB, and all of these either bombing Latamina and Kfar Zita (SyAAF), or Ma’arat an-Nauman and Kfar Nabl (VKS).

Things got different only around 02.30hrs, when the Russians really commenced launching a big wave. This is such an unusual time, that its take-offs were entirely missed by ground observers. Most of aircraft were first announced while passing the Jishr ash-Shughour area, reducing the reaction time of people in most of Idlib governorate to mere 3–4 minutes.

Curiously, the VKS didn’t really press home this opportunity: most of involved aircraft entered an orbit over Ma’arat an-Nauman, before proceeding for various targets in Idlib and northern Hama. Overall, by 02.47hrs, the Russians flew a total of 24 strikes that night. It seems that one of strikes in question demolished the hospital in Kfar Zita.

There followed a break of almost exactly two hours, before the next Russian wave came in. Once again, no take-offs were reported, but the aircraft first announced while already over the Jishr ash-Shughour area. This wave included ‘only’ five aircraft, and it hit western Aleppo and Idlib (city). This was apparently one of involved Su-35s, visible on a video taken outside Idlib city:

The SyAAF went into action at its usual ‘bureau hours’: at 08.00, a Su-22 took-off from Kweres, followed by another at 08.13; one Su-22 from Nayrab at 08.22, one more from Tiyas at 08.26, and a Su-24 from Tiyas at 08.39.

The Russians returned about an hour later, though now with commencing the launch of what in my memory is their biggest and longest-lasting wave of this war. This one just went on and on, not a particularly high rate of take-offs, but all the time, past 11.00, past 12.00, past 13.00, past 14.00hrs, and so on — until around 16.00hrs, by when the VKS flew a total of no less than 68 sorties. The SyAAF was active during this period too, clocking an imposing number of Su-22-sorties from all five air bases meanwhile operating the type. At least two of these bombed Houla, with ODAB-500 FAE-bombs.

Guess, the SyAAF’s ground crews spent the last few weeks returning many of non-operational airframes to fully-mission capable status.

However, most of involved aircraft bombed the Khan Sheykhoun area: this was really bombed, and bombed, and bombed, another aircraft appearing every few minutes — whether Russian or Syrian. Also bombed during this wave were Ma’arat an-Nouman, Abdin, Jarjanaz, Kfar Sajne, Rakay, Marshourin, and al-Jandoudey, in western Idlib, plus a large IDP-camp outside Ma’arat an-Nauman. Who was bombing what is largely unclear: sole exception was Moarek, which was hit by a barel bomb dropped by one of Assadist helicopters.

Some six Su-25s commenced launching around 17.00hrs (they always operate in pairs), but it was the SyAAF Su-22s and Su-24s — most of which flew already their third sorties that day — that were the most-active fighter-bombers during the late afternoon. Therefore, I’m not sure if it was really so that Russians targeted the hospital and an IDP-camp in Birat Armanaz area (NW Idlib). Certainly enough, Kfar Zita and Latamina received another series of hits by ODAB-500 FAE-bombs, dropped by Su-22s.

The period between 19.00 and 24.00 was characterised by plenty of L-39s and helicopters taking-off from Hama AB, two L-39s also from Kweres (both went in NW direction). Curiously, the Russians flew very little that evening.

Totals

VKS

fighter-bombers: 132

helicopters: 8

UAVs: 15

recce: 2

SyAAF

helicopters: 12

L-39s: 14

MiG-21: 0

MiG-23: 2

Su-22: 26

Su-24: 15