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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid