News / Middle East

    Syrian Air Force One of Middle East's Largest

    A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on December 20, 2011 shows aircraft take part in military maneuvers by the Syrian army in an undisclosed location in Syria.A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on December 20, 2011 shows aircraft take part in military maneuvers by the Syrian army in an undisclosed location in Syria.
    x
    A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on December 20, 2011 shows aircraft take part in military maneuvers by the Syrian army in an undisclosed location in Syria.
    A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on December 20, 2011 shows aircraft take part in military maneuvers by the Syrian army in an undisclosed location in Syria.
    The Syrian air force is one of the largest in the Middle East, with 30,000 members and composed of aircraft provided first by the Soviet Union and, later, by Russia.

    They include MiG-21 interceptors, MiG-23 ground assault aircraft and the more modern MiG-29 combat aircraft. They also have a fleet of Sukhoi fighter jets.

    Pieter Wezeman, arms transfer expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says that last December - while the Syrian government was fighting an insurgency - Damascus ordered from Moscow 36 additional planes known as the Yak-130.

    “It’s a training plane," said Wezeman. "It’s a light plane, a lighter plane which can be used for training but also has a very clear combat function. It can be armed with bombs and missiles and is typically the kind of aircraft which would be, let’s say, very suitable for the Syrian regime in the current conflict,” he said.

    The Russian government has consistently denied providing weaponry to Syria that could be used to fight the rebels. What the Russians have provided the Syrian air force for many years - in addition to aircraft - is maintenance for its planes and training for its pilots.
    Syrian Air and Naval Forces

    • 70,000 Air Force personnel
    • 5,000 Navy personnel
    • 300 fighter-ground attack planes
    • 48 intelligence/surveillance planes
    • 22 heavy transport planes
    • 36 attack helicopters
    • 100 reconnaissance/transport helicopters

    Aram Nerguizian, a Syria expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that training was useful during the wars with Israel in the 1970s and 1980s.

    “That being said, you have very little real-world combat experience in the last two to three decades, in large part because, despite all the rhetoric of combating Israel, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has been a fairly consistent - I don’t want to say ally - but a fairly consistent player in terms of honoring some kind of a Cold War or Cold Peace with Israel,” Nerguizian said.

    Experts, including Pieter Wezeman, say Syria has dramatically improved its military posture in the last few years by investing in modern Russian air defense systems.

    “Which was very necessary because in 2007, Israel had attacked a Syrian site [suspected nuclear reactor] without basically any effort from the Syrian side to stop it," Wezeman points out. "It just didn’t have the equipment in place to stop an attack by modern aircraft such as Israel did in that year. And after that, we see that Syria is modernizing its air defense systems.”

    Analysts say if Western nations decide to intervene militarily in the conflict in Syria, its air defenses will be far more challenging than those of Libya.

    While the Syrian air force is a substantial body, its navy is modest. With about 5,000 personnel, the navy consists mainly of several frigates, gunboats, missile attack craft and patrol boats.

    But many experts, including Aram Nerguizian, say the important factor is the presence of a Russian port in Tartus, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

    “In the 1980s and 1990s, there was talk about the Russians trying to build up Tartus - very little happened in terms of really trying to capitalize [modernize] the naval facility," he said.  "But there is every indication that if you are going to have a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean, it is going to have to be in a friendly port. And right now, the only one that is viable, given you don’t have options in Libya any more, would be Tartus. So you have a [Russian] military presence there, you have technical advisers, and that’s one of the core interests of Russian foreign policy in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.”

    Russian news reports have indicated that Moscow is planning to modernize the facility in the next few years to accommodate large warships, including missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers.

    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Ahmed Kamel from: Jordan
    June 20, 2012 2:44 PM
    You have to be kidding me, most of these aircraft are obsolete from the late 1960s and 1970s, the last major dogfight with Israel resulted in 84 Syrian fighterjets shot to ZERO Israeli. An army of 10000 with bows and arrows will be wiped out by a modern 2012 army of 100!!
    In Response

    by: Musa M.F.Kouma-Deito Krom from: Liberia
    June 21, 2012 1:35 PM
    With all of the obselete weapons according to Ahmed Kamel that Syria have , can lethal in killing so many people unlike Libya ,Syria will be a hard-Iron Cake to cut by brother.It will be more damaging than Iraq-Libya demage all put together ,and perhaps without the removing of Al Saad completely thus polarizing the entire region and giving rise to extremist islamists . Therefore as Putin said , " it is better to have peaceful resolution that the use of force to provide the settlement. LetAlSaad be removed by peaceful means than by force or else you may end-up iraqizing Syria or providing Somalihood as a settlement.
    By brother, this is the sour-milk of all revolutions .

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora