As a war nerd of contemporary conflict I have watched the Syrian conflict with great attention to see what types of arms and armor has popped in the civil conflict there. Prior to the breakout of the war, the Syrian military was a somewhat-mysterious entity, surrounded by plenty of anecdotes, but often very little observable evidence. Over the past few months we have seen a massive outpouring of online video, giving us a real clear insight into the types of weapons the SAAF and the rebels have had access to. Lets consider them now.
As a former Soviet clientstate, the Syrian armored forces were always going to be the T-series tanks.After the fall of the USSR, however, supplies dried up, leaving Damascus with a considerably anachronistic arsenal. The regime primarilly uses three main types.
SAAF have made widespread use of the T-55 during the fighting. The venerable tankcomes in numerous variations in the Syrian arsenal: including the M(pictured above) and MV series. These upgraded versions seem to be far rarer in the footage, however . According to the IISS 2010 estimate there are over 2,000 T-55s in the Syrian arsenal, although many are in storage or static positions. The tanks arms and armor are extremely dated and do not provide great protection against the amount of AT weapons floating around at the moment, but at the end of the day, its got metal and a big gun. The T-55 remains the domain of lower-tier units.
Another feature of the rebelion, the T-62 is effectively the bigger, meaner brother of the T-55. All shots I have seen of this beast have been of the older variants, although some reports point to the M version being in the TOE of the SAAF.
The T-72 remains the pinnacle of the Syrian tank forces. The fleet ranges from the old, to the extremely old, with the export version of the 'AV', aka the M1V, model being the regime's most modern. The reactive armor on the latter models has apparently functioned quite well in the conflict according to anecdotal accounts and the 125mm gun is something you really don't want to mess with. The elite republican guard units utilize the M1V in large numbers and we seem to be seeing large concentrations of them around Damascus. According to a pre-war Janes report, a number of SAAF T-72s were being overhauled and modernized to the M1M standard with new TURMs fire control systems from Italy; increased protection in the form of K5 armor plates; as well as a new ARENA APS system for shooting down incoming RPGs. So far, however, we have yet to see these beasts and they could simply be mythological.
next time we will take a look at airpower and IFVs
Since I’ve been away from the painting station I’ve been
pretty exhaustively stuck on working on Syria and the Middle East/North African
crisis zone. I miss my little blog, so I thought what better to do than to post
a discussion on war gaming the current Syrian civil conflict (or war, or rebellion,
or uprising, or terrorist influx pan Western/Iranian/Zionist conspiracy….depending
on your political leanings :P).
As we are all aware the conflict emerged after a peaceful
series of protests based around ethno-economic grounds aimed at the ruling
Assad regime. The government responded with the widespread use of extreme force
to crack down upon the dissidents, fearing a repeat of what was occurring in Egypt,
Tunisia and many other parts of the Arab world. The end result was to
ultimately galvanise the sentiment in opposition forces (although not actually
unifying these same forces in any physical sense) that violence was necessary to
affect political change. As we enter March of 2013 the conflict has now ranged
for nearly two years and while official UN estimates are of around 60 – 80 thousand
deaths, behind closed doors the figure is suggested to be considerably higher.
The Current Situation
As of March the situation is complicated, to say the very
least. Although the rebel groups have managed to wrest control of considerable
amounts of territory in the north along the Turkish border and in the eastern desert
regions, like Deir El Zor. Loyalists continue to maintain control of much of the
centre and coastal regions in the west. Damascus is under siege, with much of
the south-eastern suburbs estimated to be occupied by rebel elements, but the
centre and west remain firmly in government control. It’s also important to
note that although rebel groups have captured territory in the north, many of
the military hard points remain occupied by loyalists and resupplied by air. As
the air force continues to experience attrition the regime’s capability to
maintain these embattled firebases will wither away, however.
Geopolitically, there is also the issue of the proxy conflict
being waged between the Iranians and the Saudi/GCC coalition who both seem to
feel that Syria has become a test of their will vis a vis one another. While
Iranian forces, along with Lebanese Hezbollah, are making all efforts to
support the Ba’athist regime with material and training, the Saudis, Qataris
and Jordanians are providing substantial material support to the opposition
forces in the form of arms, armour and other necessary equipment. Of course,
the US last week announced its intention to step up support for the FSA, a
factor which is likely to have a major impact on the nature of the conflict,
but also might cause similar actions from across the geopolitical table by
actors like Russia and China.
The Assad regime still appears to have maintained its hold
over a considerable amount of the armed forces, despite the initial reports of
mass-defections. For the purposes of wargaming these can be roughly broken into
4 categories of quality/morale: Conscripts (D6/D6), regulars (D6/D8-D10),
Republican Guard (D6-D8/D8-D10) and Special Forces (D8/D10). Despite some media
reporting that the former two have essentially ceased to exist, field reports
from operators on the ground are suggesting that they remain active, particularly
on the periphery. SAAF T-55s have become a common feature in the UN AoS between
Israel and Syria and these vehicles are very much the purview of reserve and
low quality units.
Contrasting the centralization of regime forces, the rebels
remain disparate and ad hoc in nature. Currently there are at least three
categories of fighters engaged in combat – secular nationalists, moderate
Islamists and radical Islamists. The secular nationalists represent the
majority of the original political malcontents and are effectively fighting to
instate a government more representative of the Sunni-majority demographics in
Syria. Moderate Islamists are those who have engaged in combat based along
Islamic principles of brotherhood, solidarity and the ummah but who do not have a political agenda of imposing ultraconservative
Sharia if they achieve victory. The radicals subscribe to the same general
ideals as the moderates, but want to utilize the instability of the chaos to
affect change in the form of political Islam based along Salafist principles. These three categories are not cohesive blocs, however. One estimate I have seen with rather convincing supporting evidence puts the number of major factional groups on the rebel's side at over 40. Another suggested hundreds. Attempts to consolidate all of these organizations under a single operational command and control with the SNC have failed up until now.
As the combat has drawn on we have seen considerable
attrition rates on both sides. The secular FSA has struggled to replenish its
losses in manpower and material, the radical groups, most famously Jabhat
Al-Nusrah, have much stronger networks that illicit better equipment and
support. The relative advantage this has given the radical Islamist groups has
had the secondary effect of causing wide-spread defections from the FSA into
the ranks of the Islamists, who they feel can give them a better shot at
challenging the regime, even if it requires the adoption of some undesirable
principles. The implications of this legitimation of radical Islamists due to
their deeper pockets is worrying to many Syria watchers and may have colored
the US’s decision last week to up support for the FSA. The FSA remains a highly
pluralistic entity with a complete lack of standardization of training, tactics
and equipment. As such the quality levels should range from D6 to D8 and the
morale from D6 to D10. Jabhat Al Nusra has shown themselves to possess a
considerable level of tactical and strategic efficacy and dedication. They
should generally be considered D8/D10. It should be noted that JN have claimed
responsibility 80% + of the suicide attacks that have occurred in Syria up
until this point and this should be reflected in any scenario writing.