PHOTO: Russian warplanes at Hmeimim airbase in western Syria


Why has Russia been attacking Syria’s civilians in their aerial intervention from last autumn?

In a detailed post for War is Boring, Tom Cooper goes through the reasons. There is the political motive:

The purpose of the Russian military intervention in Syria can be defined as forcing the Syrian opposition into negotiations on Moscow’s conditions, with the aim of stabilizing the position of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Not only the entire Russian military strategy in Syria, but all of its tactics, too, are designed to achieve this goal. And in the Kremlin’s thinking, achieving this goal merits all methods, regardless of consequences.

However, there are also important technical factors. Put bluntly, Russia is operating with an air force which is on the point of being obsolete:

Whether the mission is flown by day or by night, more than 80 percent of weaponry deployed by the VKS [Russian Air Force] is so-called “dumb” bombs. Obviously, when dropped from medium altitudes against geographic coordinates — frequently through cloud cover — such weapons are grossly inaccurate.

The VKS is perfectly aware of this and has partially attempted to overcome this problem through deployment of cluster bombs, the effects of which are supposed to cover a bigger area. However — and irrespective of often catastrophic repercussions for the local population — nearly all of the ordnance deployed in Syria dates from the 1980s, and thus frequently fails to detonate.

Because hardly anybody in the West is complaining, and because it’s unlikely that any Russian is ever going to be held accountable for dozens of massacres perpetrated by the VKS in Syria, Moscow needs not care.


It’s been nearly 10 months now that I’ve been closely following Russian military operations in Syria on day-by-day and blow-by-blow basis.

I admit I was skeptical right from the start — I expected Russians to indiscriminately bombard civilians in insurgent-held parts of Syria. My standpoint drew criticism not only from many of my readers, but also from most of my colleagues. My contacts who serve as professional military pilots could never imagine their Russian colleagues would do such things as bomb civilians.

Decades of Shame

For much of the last 30 years, what is now the VKS has vegetated in shame. Massive losses of aircraft, personnel and facilities caused by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, followed by deep budget shortfalls, resulted in its near-collapse in the mid-1990s.

The status of Russian military flying and combat training at any level was catastrophic for most of the early 2000s, too. This began to change in the last few years, since the second government of President Vladimir Putin began investing in new combat aircraft — especially different variants of the Sukhoi’s Su-27-design, such as the Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35, each with much-improved avionics, range and payload capabilities.

Reports detailed significant improvements, including intensified training and even large-scale, combined-arms exercises. Russian pilots could once again be proud of themselves, their service and their aircraft.

Such reports posed a number of questions regarding non-quantifiable factors such as the quality of the VKS’ current training — and especially about possible new developments of doctrine, strategy and tactics, leadership quality and operational prowess.

Back during the Cold War, Soviet air power had no autonomous role — and was purely supportive. It was well-known that its tactical commanders and pilots were veritable pawns. All decision-making processes lay with higher levels of command.

How would the VKS operate in an expeditionary scenario, the likes of which became practically routine for Western powers during the 1990s, with interventions in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and other conflict zones?

While Russians had never before run an expeditionary operation of that kind, their top political and military commanders repeatedly insisted their air force had the necessary know-how and equipment to deliver a performance at least analogue to that of Western air forces in such operations.

The Strategy

The longer the Russian military is deployed in Syria and the more its air power is bombarding, the more details about the essence of this operation become clear.

The Kremlin has justified its the current intervention in Syria on the basis of two of the 11 strategic actions encoded in the Russian government’s National Military Doctrine, published in 2010.

The doctrine lays out the eligible aims of any Russian military deployment. They include “countering external dangers”, halting the “spread of international terrorism”, limiting the “occurrence of sources of inter-ethnic/inter-faith tensions”, and defeating “forcible extremism in various regions of the world”.

Therefore, the purpose of the Russian military intervention in Syria can be defined as forcing the Syrian opposition into negotiations on Moscow’s conditions, with the aim of stabilizing the position of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Not only the entire Russian military strategy in Syria, but all of its tactics, too, are designed to achieve this goal. And in the Kremlin’s thinking, achieving this goal merits all methods, regardless of consequences.

Read full article….

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