Thursday, 15 June 2017

Syria Rearms: Russian deliveries of BMP-2s and 2S9s arrive



By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

After the first delivery of T-62Ms and BMP-1s to the Syrian Arab Army earlier this year, new imagery coming out of Syria has now revealed that more types of armoured fighting vehicles have recently been sent to the country onboard Russia's 'Syria Express'. These new deliveries come as government forces are currently making major gains in Eastern Homs against the fighters of Islamic State, and the new vehicles will likely be deployed here to bring the fight back to the Islamic State once and for all.

The delivery of large amounts of weaponry and vehicles is part of the de-facto re-establishment of the Syrian Arab Army, with the aim of creating a unified army incorporating some of the many militias that are currently active throughout Syria. The driving force behind this process is the newly established 5th Corps, which is to serve as a counterweight to the increasing strength of the aforementioned militias that have largely taken over the role of the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) in the past six years.

In accordance with Russia's role in the reinstatement of the Syrian Arab Army, it is also Russia that is responsible for training and equipping the new force. Although this led some to believe that Syria would soon receive additional T-72s, T-90s or even BMP-3s, all of which would be more advanced than the current armour composition of the regime forces, the deliveries until thus far have mostly included older weaponry excess to requirements or no longer in service with the Russian Army itself.

Nonetheless, many of these delivered vehicles and weaponry are ideally suited for the Syrian Arab Army in their current operations against the many factions fighting over control of parts of Syria. In addition to the delivery of small arms and large numbers of Ural, GAZ, KamAZ and UAZ trucks and jeeps, other deliveries so far have encompassed T-62Ms, BMP-1(P)s and 122mm M-1938 (M-30) howitzers, and now also including BMP-2s infantry fighting vehicles and 120mm 2S9 self-propelled mortars.

The delivery of BMP-2s and 2S9s is of interest as previous deliveries to the 5th Corps amounted to less advanced equipment such as BMP-1s and World War 2-era 122mm M-30 howitzers. The fact that more advanced equipment is now arriving in Syria might be a sign that Russia deems the rearmament programme a success, and could potentially step up the delivery of more advanced equipment as the conflict continues to develop in favour of the current government.

Despite the relative scarcity of the BMP-2 in footage and images of the Civil War, this vehicle is certainly no stranger to the Syrian battlefield. Indeed, Syria continues to operate the survivors of the around 100 BMP-2s it had previously acquired in the late eighties, all but a few of which are in service with the Republican Guard in operations mostly in and around Damascus. In addition to the BMP-2s already in service since the 1980s, a limited number of BMP-2s along with T-72Bs and BMP-1s were received from Russia in 2015 to take part in operations near Tadmur. At least one but possibly two of these BMP-2s were subsequently destroyed here.

The vehicles that are currently being delivered can easily be discerned from the BMP-2s already operating in Syria by their dark green camouflage and more importantly, by the presence of anti-radiation lining installed on the turret, which is only present from the BMP-2 Obr. 1984 variant and onwards. The BMP-2s that Syria had previously received in the late eighties were of the older Obr. 1980 variant and lack such anti-radiation lining, as well as other incremental improvements.

The BMP-2 improves significantly upon the capabilities of the BMP-1, which has served as the Syrian Arab Army's main infantry fighting vehicle ever since its introduction in the 1970s. Originally designed for use on the plains of Europe, the armament of the BMP-1 was quickly found to be inadequate for supporting infantry and incapable of targeting heavily armoured armoured fighting vehicles. In addition, the BMP-1's mediocre gun elevation, lack of armour and inability to fire accurately while on the move makes it woefully outdated for use in today's conflicts.

Incorporating many of the lessions learned from the BMP-1, the BMP-2 does away with several of these serious drawbacks. Most notably is the replacement of the 73mm 2A28 cannon with a fast-firing 30mm 2A42, which is very well-suited for supporting infantry and suppressing enemy positions thanks to its high elevation. The BMP-2 also comes with an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher for the 9M113 Konkurs as opposed to the BMP-1's unwieldy 9M14 Malyutka, which is rarely fitted let alone used.

The delivery of the 2S9 is also notable as this vehicle was previously not in service with the Syrian Arab Army, which had until thus far has never operated any type of self-propelled mortars. The 2S9 is armed with a 120mm breech-loaded 2A51 mortar that can lob shells over a distance of eight kilometers with conventional ammunition, and over 12 kilometers with a rocket assisted projectile. A guided mortar round has also been developed for the 2S9, but is unlikely to have been deployed to Syria.

While the Syrian Arab Army continues to operate large numbers of 122mm 2S1s and 122mm BM-21s in addition to several types of towed artillery guns for artillery support, the high elevation of the 2S9 makes it perfect for engaging entrenched Islamic State positions on mountains and ridges regime forces are currently facing in Eastern Homs. While some might be quick to note that the 2S9 is air-droppable, it is unlikely that any will be sent to Deir ez-Zor this way. As the 2S9 is the first of its type to have entered service with regime forces, it is likely that crews will first have to be trained on the vehicle, which is true for the BMP-2 as well (albeit to a lesser extent) so it might take some time before they show up on the frontline.

As regime forces are currently making major gains, mainly against the Islamic State, Russia appears intent on affirming its support for the Syrian government, further consolidating its stakes in a conflict that has so far seemed to continue on endlessly. For Syria, the actual delivery of these vehicles is possibly much less significant than the trend it represents. With an ally that is essentially capable of indefinitely replenishing the Syrian Arab Army's stocks and that despite economic hardships is willing to pay the checks required to bring about its return as a coherent fighting force, eventual victory for the pro-regime forces seems likely, barring any unexpected twists and turns in the future course of the war. Whatever the case, the current developments are certain to affect the strategic balance between force battling over Syria significantly, and could well have far-reaching consequences for the ultimate outcome of the Syrian War.

Special thanks to Wael Al Hussaini.

Recommended Articles

Replenishing the Stocks: Russian deliveries of T-62Ms and BMP-1s reach Syria

9 comments:

  1. Very interesting article, it's not easy to get accurate information about syra express.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If SAA personnell are already familiar with BMP-1, why is extra training necessary for BMP-2? Is the additional training related to the 30 mm gun or something else?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That and we can't be sure if the personnel manning the BMP-2s will all be former BMP-1 operators.

      Delete
    2. The driver doesn't need extra training, gunner & commander do.
      Gun changed, layout changed, tactics changed.
      That and Oryx is right. Though I'd suspect that they only put experienced and proven personnel in their best equipment.
      It's like Tiger crews in the Wehrmacht. They had all crewed Panzer III's and IV's before that.

      Delete
  3. Nice "situation update" article.
    I've read about the replenishment of the SyAA and that ominous 5th corps a couple of times now, but I'm not yet completely sure what exactly it is about. Is it a new army unit with "green conscripts", or is it more about recruiting former "militia members" (back?) into a unified/formal regime combat force? (Or something completely different...) Cheers, if anyone could shed a light on that for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This should help you: http://spioenkop.blogspot.com/2017/02/replenishing-stocks-russian-deliveries.html

      Do let us know if you have any additional questions however!

      Delete
    2. Taking in to account both articles, I have still some doubt about the cases of the BMP-1 and BMP-2.

      In the case of the tanks the movement of T-62 is very logical. It is in agreement with the situation of total retirement of the T-55 and T-62 in Russia.

      In the case of the heavy artillery the situation is also very logical. The reports are in agreement with the situation of total retirement for the 122mm M-30, and also it would be a situation of total retirement of the heavy artillery (over 120mm man-portable mortars) of the Russian security forces, where it was reported the existence of some units of 2S9 and D-30.

      In the case of the infantry vehicles, I see the movement of BMP-1 and BMP-2 a little less logical, taking into account that there are reports of the presence in Russia of BTR-60 and BMD-1, in both the Russian Armed Forces and the Russian security forces. If there is some BMP-1 and BMP-2 moved to Syria from Russia I would expect to be in low amounts, while the BTR-60 and BMD-1 are not totally exhausted.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the reply and link to the earlier article. It did indeed clarify the "manpower resource ideas" behind 5th corps.
      That being said, can anyone elaborate, especially as to how well the idea of "baiting" militia "veterans" worked? I seriously doubt, that a large majority conscript force has a chance to be an effective offensive force in Syria at the present time.

      Delete
  4. Can you do an article on Iran missile strikes in Syria. Apparently Iran used both Fateh long range versions and Shahab. ISIS have accepted the attack happened but denied any member died while Israeli IDF Arab spokesman said ISIS suffered painful losses and the another Israeli says they landed in a Iraqi desert.
    Iranian drone videos prove that at least a few of them reached their targets eventhough they may have not been able to do considerable damage.
    Also whats the Fateh long range version that use boosters? Is putting boosters on short ranged missiles to increase range effective?

    ReplyDelete