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We wish to re-publish and submit to you all this very interesting series of reports (from 11 February to 4 March 2016) and analyzes on the valuable work carried out, behind the scenes, by skilled Russian military advisers.

Their technical and professional experience and military assistance have identified serious deficiencies and incorrect techniques habits by the Syrian Army in the use and maintenance of the armaments.

Because it is from a proper use, storage and maintenance of the weapons, vehicles and ammunition that often depend the fate of the battles.

By correcting the faults and updating the Syrian military operators it was possible to give them better skills and confidence in operations on more fronts and against an enemy well armed with the most sophisticated weaponry, coming from the Western powers…via Ottoman-Gulf regimes…

Once again thanks: to the Russian Armed Forces and their military advisers.

(SFP-WP Newsroom)




Written by Alexey Ramm; Originally appeared at VPK,
translated by James Cooksey exclusively for SouthFront

(11 February 2016) ~ Last week [beginning of February 2016] Syrian government troops have reported several successes, particularly in the North-West of the country in the so-called enclave Salma, where in November of 2015 Russian bomber SU-24M was shot down. Though complete eradication of militants from the area is yet to be achieved, but thanks to the robust and decisive actions of Syrian forces they were able to take the town of Salma under control.

Syrian Arab Army (SAA) made these gains with great difficulty. And yet it should be noted: in comparison with the last year’s operations in the same area, in fact the positional “meat grinder” when government forces took over some minor hilltop while suffering heavy casualties only to surrender it few hours later, the professionalism and training of Damascus armed forces is steadily increasing.

SAA owes its success not only to the Russian air wing, but also to the military advisors and specialists on the ground, who are training personnel and helping them to familiarize with new military equipment.

Damascus Forces

Damascus has summoned our military advisors long before the outbreak of the civil war. Quite a large number of Syrian soldiers had studied at Russian military institutions, particularly in the Academy of General Staff.

“In the platoon of supposedly 20 to 30 people there were de facto no more than ten fighters, including the commander»

According to the representative of the Russian MOD familiar with the pre-war situation, the main problem was SAA shortage of trained fighters. “While officers were sufficiently trained, sergeants and especially with privates posed real problems. There weren’t any deployed brigades, regiments across the country which are required in wartime. In case of war, they were planning to be reinforced with reservists. All the specialists, signalmen, gunners, engineers, etc. were assigned only on paper. Actually it’s just guys with guns, who don’t know how to shoot properly”, – he tells “MIC” reporter.

The military and political leadership in Syria maintained a high degree of readiness in only few mechanized brigades, the Republican guard and Special Forces. But even these units are usually only 70% manned.

“Only two divisions of the Syrian special forces had excellent training before the war. However, in our understanding is most likely an analogue VDV (airborne Special Forces). The Republican guard is well- equipped and staffed. In fact, this is an army within army. These guard units have artillery, airborne troops and special purpose forces of their own. SAA was manned mostly by conscripts and the Republican guards were professional soldiers,” explained the representative of the Ministry of defense, who is familiar with pre-war state of Syrian army.

It is noteworthy that before the start of the civil war with the assistance of Russian advisors, the SAA held exercise deployment of several divisions, reservists were drafted, and armor were reactivated from storages.

With the first battles in 2011 the number of Russian military advisers and specialists has declined sharply.  Judging by the photos of military radio reconnaissance center on the mountain tal al-Hara near Dara’a captured in 2014 by the Free Syrian Army fighters, Russian personnel there had evacuated long ago. Although not entire Russian contingent had left Syria. Our experts continued to provide assistance to the Damascus armed forces, teaching soldiers to use supplied weapons and military equipment, in particular the MLRS “Smerch” and “Uragan”.

Causes of casualties

The main problem of the Syrian army in the civil war was the high rate of trained personnel loss. The soldiers, sergeants and officers not only died in battle, but large number defected to the opposition and terrorist groups.

First victories of Russian advisors — part I

SAA command attempted to compensate for the shortage of manpower with massive use of tanks and other armored vehicles. For a long time the symbol of the Syrian civil war was video footage of government’s T-72, T-55, BMP-1, leading the assault in urban areas.

The leadership tried several times to solve the problem of lack of personnel with carrying out partial mobilization. But to no avail. In the end, bet were made on volunteer units, formed in the districts and towns which armed population was supposed to protect their homes and families.

But if in remaining small units of the SAA military training was at least organized, the volunteers – ordinary civilians, without the required combat skills, were just armed by the government ordered to counter the terrorists. Although only a small part of volunteers were directly involved in the fighting. The bulk were serving at checkpoints and patrolling the area. Another serious problem is that volunteer units fight only on for local lands, and refuse to obey the orders of transfer to other areas.

With the beginning of the Russian Air Forces operations in Syria, government was unable to immediately reverse the situation. Despite the massive use of tanks, APS and artillery, securing victories required trained personnel.

According to the “Military-industrial courier”, simultaneously with the deployment of the air brigade at “Hmeymim” airbase at the international airport of Basil al-Assad in the fall of 2015, the Russian leadership has increased the number of military advisors and trainers, who were facing two important issues. First, to create a number of battle-ready, independent brigades and battalions. Second, to establish evacuation and repair chain of damaged armored vehicles.

It should be noted that by 2015 the problem of repairing damaged combat vehicles was very serious for the Syrian command. Upon saturation of the terrorist groups with relatively modern anti-tank missiles the government losses of military equipment also grew. And “Syrian Express” (the informal name of military assistance from RF) couldn’t replenish them swiftly. According to sources, familiar with the situation, the main material loss of Syrian government forces was wrecked armor, abandoned on the battlefield, which could be evacuate, repaired and returned to duty.

It is clear that with this attitude toward evacuation and repair procedures even continuous robust military assistance, including the supply of the latest T-90 tanks, heavy flamethrower systems and artillery won’t save the situation.

T-90 tanks

T-90 tank

Back to action

The Russian MOD doesn’t like to demonstrate the presence of military advisers and experts, but also does not deny it. As already noted, various social networks and video hostings present a lot of stories about the work of the Russian military in Syria (“MIC”, №№ 1-2, 2016 – “The trail of our infantry”). Field of operation for them is massive. In the video, which shows the training of the Syrian volunteer-snipers, who learn to handle SVD, poor training of the fighters is clearly visible.

According to the “Military-industrial courier”, work with paramilitary groups was the most difficult one. Despite the fact that many members of the militia had seen several years of war, few people knew how to properly shoot, move on the battlefield, not to mention weak physical training. Volunteer commanders, mostly selected by fighters themselves are often unable to properly make decisions in complex situations, to competently lead the soldiers not only in battle but in everyday life on the front-line.

The big problem still remains the discipline of personnel, which usually manned the checkpoints throughout the war and is rarely engaged in normal combat training. Also, according to available data, the problem of the exo-territoriality remained unsolved. Thus militia is ready to defend only their hometowns and was reluctant to move to other areas.

In fact, volunteers had to be taught the basics. First, individual training, then training as a part of divisions, platoons, and only then the entire battalion.

Regular government troops have not only bigger combat experience, but also are much more disciplined. Still there is shortage of competent officers and sergeants in the SAA, because, as already mentioned, of serious civil war losses.

But if an individual training of its fighters is at a relatively high level, teaching troops, even Special Forces regiments to work as part of the squad, platoon, company and battalion had to begin, as with local militia, from a scratch.

Another problem was that the Syrian regular units were low on manpower. According to available data, in the platoon of formally 20 to 30 people there were only around ten “live” fighters, including the commander.

No less complicated task for the Russian military advisers and instructors was the organization of coordination between commanders of brigades, divisions and military authorities. Until recently, the fighting in Syria was actually chaotic movement of militias, separate companies and battalions of the Syrian regular army in different directions, often even without a single plan.

According to the source of “Military-industrial Courier” familiar with the situation, the discord of Pro-government forces was the biggest problem. In particular, artillery units and pilots, acted independently in most cases, without thinking about ground troops.

Exact info for how long combat training for a single battalion of the SAA or militia lasts, were not disclosed. We can assume that we are talking about the period of no less than six months. In particular, if the first units of the Pro-government forces under the leadership of Russian instructors began training in September 2015, than their combat debut became the battle for “the Salma enclave “, which became an undeniable success.

Instructed Syrian units receive new field uniform, bullet-proof vests, protective helmets, particular the Russian 6 B43, 6 B45 and 6 B27, straight from the shop or from the inventory of the Russian army. For example, 6 B45 armor taken from dead Syrian soldier, transferred from warehouses of the Russian armed forces, with old nametag of the former owner was used by IS militants as proof that they allegedly killed by Russian soldier. Judging by photos and video footage, the Russian military also convey to Syrian colleagues small arms: assault and sniper rifles, machine guns.

Pro-government troops receive two-axis trucks GAZ-3308 “Sadko” which were replaced in the Russian army by the new “Mustangs” and transferred to base storage. Unfortunately, some of those have fallen into the hands of terrorist organization as trophies as a result of recent clashes in the East of Syria, according to photos distributed by IS.

According to our calculations, over the past six months with the help of Russian advisors at least one brigade of the Free Syrian army and some militia units were trained and rearmed with new equipment. Our military experts and advisors have achieved significant success in the training of the Syrian military. Units loyal to Damascus are already starting to coordinate their actions not only with each other but also with aviation, artillery support, etc. However, increased professionalism is only seen in forces operating mainly in the district of Salma, where, most likely, training is focused.

But one cannot underestimate one’s enemy. While there was a successful offensive by Syrian troops at the Turkish border, in the East of the country near Deir ez-Zor the Islamists successfully counterattacked loyalists, taking a large number of trophies.



Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson

(27 February 2016) ~ When asked about Russian operations in Syria, most people would immediately mention the Russian fighter-bombers, attack aircraft, combat helicopters, and cruise missile volleys. Few would mention the quiet work behind the scenes that was performed by a large group of highly dedicated professionals who helped transform the Syrian military that was on the brink of defeat, into a force that could once again begin liberating Syria’s territory. Without denying the importance of the air campaign, the air strikes alone would not have turned the tide of the war.

When the Russian military began its intervention in Syria, the situation at the front demanded a rapid provision of specialized military support in order to offset the jihadist numerical superiority by superior firepower. That was quickly provided by supplying the Syrian Arab Army with T-90 tanks and TOS-1A self-propelled thermobaric rocket launchers which are highly effective at reducing fortifications.

However, in order to allow the Syrian army to resume the offensive, both its equipment and personnel would have to be replenished and retrained. Unfortunately, the Syrian military was in a state of serious neglect when the rebellion broke out, and large-scale combat operations quickly revealed this sad state of affairs. Much of its equipment was sidelined for lack of maintenance, units were understrengthed and short of specialist personnel. At the time, the Syrian soldiers were poorly trained, even ones assigned to crew sophisticated weapon systems like tanks and self-propelled artillery weapons. Equipment maintenance systems were sufficient to cope with peacetime demands, but quickly broke down as soon as the Syrian military attempted large-scale operations. Syrian military’s large pool of equipment also created an attitude of neglect toward maintenance and evacuation of damaged machines.


T-72B tanks in Syria

To help, the Russian Ministry of Defense utilized the Syrian Express supply route to send a large number of T-72B tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and rocket artillery weapons to Syria. Russian advisers then got to work training Syrian troops both on the use of the new vehicles and operating them as part of tactical combat teams. Even more equipment found its way into the Syrian units thanks to Russian specialists restoring Syria’s armored vehicle repair workshops, which quickly returned hundreds of broken-down or long-term storage armored vehicles to service. Syria’s air force returned to the skies thanks to Russian specialists and timely deliveries of spare parts.

The Russian advisers also established training courses for the specialist personnel without which no military can effectively conduct large-scale operations, such as logisticians, communications experts and, equally important, operational planners. This work is, of course, not without danger, given the terrorists’ ability to strike in almost any part of Syria. One Russian adviser was killed in Latakia province in unknown circumstances.

The Russian advisers also serve as de-facto diplomats, whose presence is necessary to ensure the capability of pro-government forces which include recently recruited tribal and regional militias and even former opposition forces working smoothly together. For example, it is difficult to imagine the Kurds and the Syrian military cooperating effectively without Russian intermediation.

For all these efforts, the situation in Syria still remains critical.  Syrian forces’ problems have not been fully resolved, and ISIS and other jihadist forces are capable of launching local counter-attacks, as they recently did at Khanasser, because government forces are not large enough to properly defend the lengthy front lines against all the rebel factions. However, the trend is in a positive direction. The January fighting in Salma was a demonstration of the Russian efforts to train complete battalion task forces of the Syrian army to conduct offensive operations. It was the first operation carried out by one of the new Russian-trained battalions. Since the training program was launched in October, it would appear that the training cycle lasts 3 months before the unit is sent into the front lines, and more such units have been joining the fray recently and turning the tide of the war. The opposition’s newly discovered willingness to negotiate is entirely due to their belated recognition that the balance of forces has been shifting against them.



Written by Alexey Ramm; Originally appeared at VPK,
translated by Monna Lita exclusively for SouthFront

Pro-government forces are beginning to break down stereotypes


(4 March 2016) ~ One of the most urgent problems of the Syrian Arab Army is a traditionally low culture of servicing and repair of military equipment. An overall level of personnel training did not allow for the correct operation of weapons and military equipment that consists of sufficiently different suits.

It isn’t only the complex models such as air defense missile systems that suffer from the technical illiteracy of the operators, but also more simple ones like tanks, towing artillery pieces and infantry fighting vehicles. According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense representative who is familiar with the pre-war situation, because of incorrect storage and maintenance of artillery systems, most of them were constantly noted to have recoil buffer fluid leaks and weapons and radio stabilizers on armored vehicles were non-operable. The batteries were constantly plundered and those that were available practically did not hold charge. It wasn’t just tank, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Armored Personnel Carrier crews and Automatic Control Systems calculations, but also unit commanders and their technical parts assistants did not watch the level of oil in the engines, and the top off was not carried out on time. Filters weren’t being changed regardless of large dust collection, and were cleaned by hand at best.

At the end of 1990s to the beginning of 2000s Syria conducted modernization of nearly two hundred T-72 tanks by installing an Italian fire control system TURMS-T with a laser rangefinder and a ballistic calculator.

Those “seventy twos” were what elite Republican guard units were armed with, standing out from Syrian Arabic Army by having a more ready and technologically literate personnel, and yet they were able to obtain no more than twenty vehicles before the beginning of the civil war. And the Italian fire-control system TURMS-T was the first one to break down due to poor maintenance and improper use.

Italian fire-control system TURMS-T-2

A one-time approach

With the beginning of full-scale battles between groups devoted to Assad’s government and anti-government squads, our specialists continued to complete their tasks, although a significant number of them returned home. A number of military experts have somewhat increased since the time in 2012 when the “Syrian express” began to operate. We are talking about large-scale deliveries of Russian weapons and military equipment to government troops. The name is given as an analogy with the famous “Tokyo Express” (delivery of imperial fleet’s assistance to the warring Guadalcanal troops in 1942), since large amphibious ships were used for transport of various cargos to Syria, making a transition from our Black Sea ports to Tartus and Latakia. T-72, BMP-1, armored personnel carriers, GAZ-3308 “Sadko” automobiles, “Grad” multiple rocket launchers and other models were being transferred to Damascus.

GAZ-3308 “Sadko” automobiles

According to Military-Industrial Complex information, after transferring multiple rocket launchers “Smerch” and “Uragan” to pro government forces, Russian specialists was teaching the military not only to apply these complex systems but also to carry out their service and running repairs. However, Syrian Arab Army’s low level of training, often excessive use of vehicles in action, by which they compensated for the infantry led to large losses.


In most cases tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers that received minimal damage were rushed to the battlefield without even an attempt to evacuate them. In the reserves of the Syrian Arab Army a large number of before war defective equipment was left, which could have been used against terrorists after restoration. According to some famous “MIC” observers, the Syrian military has developed a certain stereotype: why try and spare weapons and military equipment when either way new stuff will be provided.


It Blew from the North

At the end of 2015 the pro-Government forces obtained armored 30 mm automatic cannons – the latest Russian BTR-82. It isn’t very clear who was operating the armored troop carriers, Syrian soldiers or Russian military advisers. Sometimes Russian speech is distinctly heard on the widely spread videos on the web.

If the application of BTR-82 was anecdotal, then the appearance of T-90 in the Syrian Arab Republic attracted domestic and foreign media’s close attention. The exact number of the “Nineties” sent to Damascus is unknown, but the Military-Industrial Complex states there are no more than two dozen. The latest tanks became available from the Russian Defense Ministry, which have a particularly characteristic tricolor deforming scheme on their combat vehicles.

There is no definite explanation why the decision was made specifically in favor of T-90 and not the modernized T-72B3, which were being actively supplied to Russia’s Land Armed Forces. According to the words of a MIC source, who is familiar with the situation, the preference is given to the “Ninthieth” because of its highest level of protection in cases of urban warfare, and also in enemy’s application of anti-tank measures.

The system components of “Kontakt-5”’s reactive armor mounted on a T-90, in combination with the size and shape of the armor allow to protect the gun turret from hand grenade defeat more effectively when compared to T-72B3. At the same time, the “Shtora” system is able to not only warn the tank’s crew about a targeting laser and create a smokescreen, but also block the emitting source, turning the gun turret in “Transfer” mode with high speed in the right direction.

system components of Kontakt-5

However, according to MIC source, when it comes to urban combat the tank isn’t always affected by RPG fire to the gun turret and often, to the sides of a tank. In that case, side protection of both T-90 and T-72B3 is weak. But with relatively narrow streets and high-rise buildings, the experience of urban fighting in Syria shows that terrorists are firing from top floors, trying to hit the tank in the least protected from their point of view part – top sheet, a place that is securely covered on the T-90 by the elements of a reactive armor.

It is interesting that a part of “Nineties” given to Syria are older vehicles with a so-called cast turret, although there are modern examples with welded armor. If we compare all facts, it can be assumed that with a part of their “Nineties” the 20th Mechanized Brigade from Volgograd most likely said goodbye. It was the only one where “cast” T-90s remained. Videos have already appeared on the Internet where one of the opposition groups is allegedly destroying a “Ninetieth” with an Anti-tank missile “Tow-2”. “MIC” representatives of the Defense Ministry, familiar with the situation, have not denied nor confirmed that fact. Yet it can be argued with certainty that in the video an old Syrian T-72 was struck.

The preparation of Russian military specialists of T-90 tank men, in particular the development of a fire control and “Shtora” systems, took a few months. In addition to using the on-board equipment, Syrian crewmembers were trained to maintain and repair all of the machine’s components. As was stated by a source at MIC: “In the capacity that was established by regulatory documents”.
Beside T-90, the Syrian Arab Army also obtained heavy flamethrower systems TOS-1A from Russian Army supply. To train Syrians on a “Solntsepyok” (Sunheat) took a lot less time than the crew on T-90, due to TOS is to be used only for firing from closed positions.

Accordingly, the combat training course has been significantly cut short. In addition, the prevailing at the time of TOS delivery to Syria demanded that the “Sunheat” enter combat as soon as possible, so experienced artillerymen were picked, whose training was not difficult.

Syrian Express

With the beginning of Russia’s Aerospace Force operation the most important problem for our military specialists was the organizing of a recovery system of weapons and military equipment, including some that remained in storage for a long time. According to calculations well known to MIC, the pre-war stockpiles in conjunction with vehicles previously delivered by the “Syrian Express” (links 1 and 2) were more than enough to deal with terrorists. But if the government troops continue to be guided by the principle “Do not spare, they will give us more”, then no deliveries will save the situation especially now when the intensity of fighting has increased by many times.

Industrial Scale Renovation

According to some data, several factories in Syria have been restored where not only tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are being repaired, but also artillery and even Anti-aircraft warfare systems. Evacuation units are being created and trained that take out failed and damaged equipment from the battlefield. Also, maneuvering groups sent to the Syrian units for repair and maintenance of aircraft military equipment.

In the process of recovering Syria’s armored vehicles, their modernization is also being carried out, particularly for reasons of increasing security. Earlier in the war, government forces were building it with homemade methods, fixing sand bags on tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers and even self-propelled artillery and anti-aircraft installations, welding on various items.

Currently, additional armor is no longer chaotic and passed into the category of being a centralized operation, as standard security features are being installed onto the military equipment. But the leading fighters of these governmental groups are often upholding their tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers and self-propelled guns so that they turn them into true works of art.

The logistics system created with the help of Russian military experts isn’t always effective, although the situation with damaged and evacuated vehicles is improving. A common problem in the personnel, especially former militia is that they continue to lack technical competence, and just like before the war, they don’t always want to engage in complex and sometimes tedious work.

The complexity of tasks that faces military experts cannot be overemphasized – restoration of technology, retraining of younger crewmembers to a new weapons and military equipment model.

It is sad that in the context of large-scale battles, this type of work is often invisible. But without it, victory is unattainable is this continuing civil war.


South Front

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