Russia Pulls Out of Syria: First Assessment of Battlefield Performance

Russia Pulls Out of Syria: First Assessment of Battlefield Performance

With the mission accomplished and most of Russian aircraft returning to home bases, the time has come for military experts to assess the efficiency and experience of Russian operation in Syria.

The military demonstrated the ability to use «a wide use of a range of different weapons including cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs, dumb bombs, rockets, cruise missiles, satellite guided bombs and electro-optically guided bombs, this dispels the notion that the Russian Air force is limited to basic munitions», said Ben Moores, a senior analyst at HIS Jane’s.

True, the list of new weapons and munitions used is long, but the unique capability of Russian aircraft to hit targets with great accuracy strikes the eye. At that it should be noted that not all planes were brand new (like the state-of-the-art SU-34s). The SU-24s went into service in the early 1970s. The SU-25s were first deployed in 1981. These relatively old working horses bore the brunt of work in Syria and did it well.

The accuracy of strikes was impressive even at night and in bad weather proving effective against the Islamic State and other extremist groups infrastructure to include combat positions, command points, explosives and improvised explosive devices production facilities, large warehouses, convoys with weapons and ammunition, training camps, bridges and other targets. It is also important to note that the Russian aircraft flew at over 5000m above ground to make them unreachable for portable air defense systems (MANPADS). 

What made them operate efficiently?

The Russian aircraft use the SVP-24 «special computing subsystem» to make their strikes precision-guided. The system is brand new. According to Alexander Panin, the director general of GEFEST company producing the guidance kit, it was still going through tests in July 2015 to be installed on TU-22M, SU-24M and SU-25 combat aircraft.

The subsystem uses GLONASS satellite navigation system (the Russian equivalent of US GPS) to constantly compare the position of the aircraft and the target. It measures the environmental parameters (pressure, humidity, wind flow velocity, aircraft speed, angle of attack, etc.) and receives information from datalinks (other planes, early warning aircraft, ground stations etc.) to compute an «envelope» (speed, altitude, course) inside which a gravity bomb is automatically released at the precise moment. As a result, the «iron bombs» strike with the same precision as brand new guided munitions. Even if GLONASS were jammed, the countless sensors would allow the computer to give a targeting solution.

The only thing to be done prior to pressing the button is entering the target’s exact coordinates into the SVP-24. Fire-and-forget guidance allows the pilot to concentrate on detecting threats and targets. The weather conditions or time of the day play no role.

The SVP-24 is mounted on a plane (not a bomb) to be reused over and over again. In theory, the SVP-24 can be installed on practically any rotary or fixed wing aircraft. Unguided, or «dumb» bombs have been accumulated in great quantities in the Cold War days. The supply is infinite to make their use in combination with the SVP-24 a cheap solution.

The cost is extremely important. The need of their massive use during the air operation, highlighted by the recent Western campaigns in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, drives the military spending up by far. The development of the SVP-24 enabled Russia to slash the costs of its military operation sharply. The development of sophisticated targeting systems has enabled the Russian Aerospace Forces to take out targets with the highest precision, using a huge stockpile of munitions, with negligible cost compared to that of guided air bombs. That’s what enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to emphasize that the operation in Syria «will not place a considerable burden on the budget».

«While NATO, especially the United States, is investing hugely into precision-guided weapons and a total surveillance system, Russia is using its technical savvy to minimize the costs», Austrian publication Contra Magazin wrote in an article.

The publication cites key NATO General Hans-Lothar Domröse who said that thanks to continuous modernization, the Russian Armed Forces have gained a clear advantage to make Western countries astonished about the great accuracy of Russian air strikes.

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The success of the SVP-24 in the air campaign in Syria shows that the revamped Russian military sharply differs from what it was just some years ago. It is capable of quickly projecting power far from Russian borders widely using precision weapons to display the recent technological gains achieved at acceptable cost.

The deployment of a sizable expeditionary force by sea and air, an air campaign in which dozens of jets pounding targets round the clock for months send a clear message: Russia's military is second to none in the contemporary world.

Tags: Russia  Syria  MANPADS