News / Middle East

Syrian Air Defenses Are First Targets if No-Fly Zone Established

A Syrian Air Force fighter jet launches missiles at El Edaa district in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo, September 1, 2012.A Syrian Air Force fighter jet launches missiles at El Edaa district in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo, September 1, 2012.
x
A Syrian Air Force fighter jet launches missiles at El Edaa district in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo, September 1, 2012.
A Syrian Air Force fighter jet launches missiles at El Edaa district in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo, September 1, 2012.
Rebels fighting Syrian government forces have been urging the West to establish a no-fly zone over the country, but are getting little international support.

Western defense experts see difficulties in a no-fly mission, including troubles securing the skies over Syria, as Syrian air defenses must first be destroyed.

A no-fly zone is defined as airspace in which certain aircraft, especially military ones - such as warplanes and helicopter gunships - are forbidden to fly.

During the past 20 years, international coalitions have imposed and enforced no-fly zones over Bosnia for two years in the mid-1990s, and over northern and southern Iraq spanning the years 1991 to 2003. And just last year, NATO was involved for seven months in an air campaign that supported rebels fighting to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Now rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are calling for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria, but are getting scant global backing.

Syrian air defenses

Analysts said a difficult first step in implementing a no-fly zone would be to destroy the Syrian government’s air defense systems.

Retired Navy Captain Ben Renda, who flew aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone over northern Iraq in the late 1990s, said there are questions about the effectiveness of those Syrian defenses.

“There is a discussion about how robust Syrian IADs really are - the integrated air defenses,” he said. “How good the radars are? How good the surface-to-air missiles are and the anti-aircraft artillery systems? Are they integrated into the radars for detection and tracking? But in any case, regardless of what those fine points are, Syria is obviously much more capable than Libya,” said Renda.

Analysts said the bulk of Syria’s air defenses are either older Soviet models or more modern Russian systems. Moscow has been selling weapons to Damascus for decades.

Sean O’Connor, a military expert who writes for the British defense publication Jane’s, said many of Syria’s air defenses are fixed installations.

“Their main strength is simply the fact they have a lot of individual positions all over the country - mostly in the western half of the country,” he said, “because that is where most of the population is and that’s obviously where most of the threat to them would come from, be it from Israel in the south, Turkey in the north or from anyone trying to approach from the Mediterranean.”

Paul Smyth, a British defense expert and a former Royal Air Force navigator in a squadron that patrolled the no-fly zone in southern Iraq in the 1990s, said Syria also has more adaptable air defense weapons.

“The more modern, post-Soviet era, but still built in Russia, things like the SA-10, you are looking at mobile weapons, which are pretty capable and therefore a real concern because they have that combination of being able to move around the battlefield, and so pose a very direct threat to friendly air operations,” he said.

Syrian air power upgraded

Smyth also said over the years, Syria has upgraded its air defense systems, learning from its mistakes.

“You look at 2003 and again in 2007, the Israelis mounted surprise raids - one near Damascus in 2003 and another against an alleged nuclear facility in 2007. They did the raids ‘in and out’ without loss,” he said. “And no doubt that would have encouraged the Syrian air defense system to become a little bit better at what they do. And of course, although we may get mixed reports as to how good they are in reality, we can’t ignore the fact that only a couple of months ago, they shot down a Turkish air force jet, obviously off the coast,” said Smyth.

Defense analysts said concerns about the ability of the Syrian military in general and the air defense system in particular are one of the reasons why the international community has not fully supported the Syrian opposition groups.

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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
September 13, 2012 10:27 AM
/\ About your comment above...
You state:
"If the wet wants to go alone, then its an illegal war"
How can it be an illegal war when a previous dictator is killing his own people deliberately and destroying his own country, and should be hung for atrocities? That's not a war against a country, that is simply considered taking out a murderer who deserves a death sentence for crimes against his own people. Not a war against civillians, civillians want him remove by any way possible.

by: musawi melake from: ,
September 12, 2012 8:18 PM
IN those olden days, there was something called UN-backing for such undermining of sovereignty of a nation-state, so everything was easy including the twisting of resolution text to include what the west want, but in the present case, a UN-mandate will never be there, unless of course there major powers of the East are prevented from vetoing any resolution. If the wet wants to go alone, then its an illegal war and any measures can be taken by the Syrians. Even after getting elp to get rid of Assad, there's no way to secure American diplomats there in the future.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs