Air Defense Command (ADC)
Syria places considerable emphasis on land-based air defenses. The army has more than 2,000 air defence guns and more than 4,100 surface-to-air missiles. In this as in other areas, the army is heavily dependent on Soviet-designed weapons. The Air Defense Command, which operates under the command of the air force, operates longer-range surface-to-air missiles such as the Almaz Volga-M (SA-2), S-125 Neva (SA-3) and Antey S-200 (SA-5).
The Air Defense Command (ADC) has a strength of about 60,000 [more than the Air Force strength of 40,000] and controls two anti-aircraft divisions, (AADs), the 24th and the 26th AAD, comprising a total of 25 air defense brigades operating an estimated 130 surface-to-air missile batteries. Most are equipped with SA-2/SA-3 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs); eight batteries are equipped with SA-5 SAMs. In addition, a significant number of SA-6 mobile launchers are deployed, as well as an estimated 4,000 anti-aircraft guns of up to 100mm.
Following the 1973 war, Israel developed a coherent suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) doctrine which provided the foundation for their astounding performance in the 1982 Bekaa Valley Operation. Here, following a crucial SEAD operation, the IAF won air superiority, destroying 80 to 90 Syrian aircraft during twomonths of fighting with the loss of three to six Israeli aircraft. Air superiority and this lopsided victory were made possible by a well-coordinated SEAD operation destroying SAM and AAA sites in the Bekaa Valley. Before the actual attacks, Israeli reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) detected and located the Syrian air defense sites. Just prior to the air attack, a commando raid destroyed/neutralized a control center, beginning the paralysis of Syrian C3.
During the attack the Israelis dominated the electronic spectrum. First, they used Samson decoy drones to trick the Syrians into activating their acquisition and tracking radars. Second, reconnaissance drones reported the frequency and location of the radars. Third, Israel used a wide array of intense electronic warfare operations to confuse and deceive Syrian communications, and to blind Syrian SAM radar units. Finally, long-range artillery, surface-to-surface rockets, surface-to-surface anti-radiation missiles (ARM), and air-launched ARMs pounded the SAM and AAA radar sites.
Once blinded, the surviving missile batteries were vulnerable to and subsequently destroyed by cluster munitions. Ten of the 19 Syrian SAM batteries were knocked out within the first 10 minutes, and the Israelis claim to have destroyed 17 batteries and damaged two others during the attack without losing a single aircraft. The Syrians pushed more SAM units into the Bekaa Valley (over night), but to noavail. On day two, the IAF destroyed 11 more missile batteries.
Following the drastic aircraft losses it suffered as a result of Israel's air superiority during the latter's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Syria extensively re-organized its air defense network. The network was re-structured on the basis of a Soviet-supplied command and control system, with three computerized air defense centers coordinating missile batteries and interceptor fighters. Major improvements were made to radar systems, electronic warfare capabilities and the level of integration of the air defense forces generally. Nevertheless, the system is considered to pose only a limited threat to Israeli air superiority, and would be vulnerable to the kind of countermeasures available to advanced, US-designed Israeli aircraft.
In 1983 Moscow's improvements to air defenses in Syria, including the introduction of the SA-5, reversed its declining position in Syria and seemed likely to enhance its credibility in the region. Militarily, the systems were designed to create a better integrated air defense system. While did not create an impenetrable Syrian air defense shield, they would exact losses in the event of Israeli airstrikes. Most important, their de~ployment complicated Israeli planning, particularly because these missiles can attack aircraft over Israel, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean. The Soviets continued to build up air defenses in Syria; their military presence had doubled to around 5,0QO men and probably included elements of air defense units to man the SA-5 sites.
Israeli leaders were divided over the necessity or wisdom of a preemptive strike against the SA-5 sites. Some Israelis favored quick action, but most Israeli leaders were reluctant to get into amilitary confrontation with the Soviets and the Syrians. The Israelis did not attack the sites, so the Soviets were credited with having restored the integrity of Syria's air defense system and tried to transfer their success to the political arena. Any Soviet concern that the deployment of SA-5s and other systems to Syria would be considered provocative by the United States and Western Europe was offset by the Soviet claim that the SA-5s are defensive systems and not to be used unless Israel attacks Syria.
In 1983 they was speculation that the Soviets might introduce other missile systems, including the SA-10, which would enhance defenses against low-flying, high-speed aircraft and would further complicate Israeli military planning, but this did not happen. In the 1990s Damascus sought to acquire Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems. During 2001 there were reports that Syria had taken delivery of the sophisticated Almaz S-300 `Grumble' (SA-10) SAM system, which it had been seeking to acquire from Russia for some time. Nevertheless, there was a further report that Syria had formed two independent Air Defense Regiments to deploy S-300 and SA-8 mobile SAMs. It was presumed that SA-8, a `point defense' weapon, was being deployed to protect the S-300. Israeli sources claimed in summer, 2001 that their air force had developed counter-measures against the S-300. In the event, these reports turned out to be unfounded, and as of 2011 Syria did not deploye the SA-10.
Particular priority is given to the anti-aircraft defense detection network covering Lebanon and Israel, but Syria has also been expanding its air defense resources in the northeast, to prepare for any attack from Iraq or an attack on its rear by Israel. Syria also take advantage of its military presence in Lebanon to site air defense radar installations there.
Syria has one of the most sophisticated Soviet-designed air defense systems outside of the former Eastern Bloc countries. However, it does not include the most advanced air defense and sensor systems developed by the Soviets. The Syrian system appears flawed and some analysts doubt the reliability and efficiency of the computer control network. Israeli sources claimed that by the late 1990s parts of the computerized system sometimes failed to function and then had to be operated manually. The sources claimed that Israel could neutralize Syria's air defense system in 48 hours.
According to some reports, in 2007 the Israelis took out the Syrian air defense system with a cyber attack before bombing a partially constructed (North Korean designed) Syrian nuclear facility. Richard A. Clarke, a former adviser to the National Security Council, wrote in his 2010 book, Cyber War, that Israel’s attack on the suspected Syrian reactor in 2007 may have involved some clever cyberjamming. Clarke says that the Israelis transmitted computer data packets that fooled the Syrian air defense network in an almost Stuxnet-like way. “Those packets made the system malfunction, but they also told it not to act [like] there was anything wrong with it,” Clarke wrote. “The sky would look just like it had when it was empty, even though it was, in actuality, filled with Israeli fighters.” [a more prosaic explanation is that Syrian air defenses are concentrated in the Western part of the country, and Al Kibar / Dair Alzour reactor was in the eastern part of the country that is essential devoid of air defenses]
Media reported in 2007 that Damascus had agreed to sell some of the Pantsyr short-range air defense missile-gun systems it was buying from Russia to Tehran. Russia did not approve the alleged sale of its Pantsyr-S1 mobile air defense system from Syria to Iran, a first deputy prime minister said 23 May 2007. "We have received no requests from Syria for supplies to Iran, not a single bullet," Sergei Ivanov said at a news conference in Moscow. "Russia engages in military-technical cooperation with all states that strictly abide by international law... For any arms that Russia sells to its foreign partners, contracts are signed only after the receipt of a certificate from the end user. These weapons cannot then be re-exported and supplied to third countries without the permission of the seller, in this case the Russian Federation."
The Russian army is currently acquiring the latest version, the Buk-M2 (SA-17), and a large export contract of Buk-M2E to Syria is in the pipeline. The provision of a more capable surface-to-air missile system such as Russia’s medium-range Buk M1 and M2 (NATO SA-11 Gadfly/SA-17 Grizzly) - should it have occurred - would mark a significant increase in the potential SAM threat. The system has a maximum engagement range in excess of 30 kilometers. The overall system, however, consists not only of the tracked missile-launch vehicle, but also target acquisition radar and command post vehicles, and as such also brings with it a substantial training requirement.
Although Damascus would like to receive S-300PMU Favorit (SA-20 Gargoyle) long-range SAMs and Iskander (SS-26 Stone) mobile theater-level missiles, Moscow refuses to supply them because it does not want to upset the regional military balance and to sour relations with Israel and the United States. Additionally, Syrian officials are said to be interested in Russia’s advanced S–400 air- and missile defense system. The Kremlin is also unlikely to agree. The missile batteries would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime a powerful weapon against foreign air strikes – one of the options being bounced around as a form of international intervention.
The only solid piece of evidence of an actual sale was a 2011 annual report by S-300’s manufacturer, the Nizhny Novgorod Machine Building Plant, which mentioned a contract for the missile systems for Syria. The report has since vanished from the plant’s website, but was cited by the respected Vedomosti business daily at the time as saying that the contract was worth $105 million and that an unspecified number of S-300 systems were slated for delivery between 2012 and early 2013. All other reports have been based on leaks by unnamed intelligence and diplomatic sources, including, in the prominent Russian daily Kommersant and the Wall Street Journal, which said in May 2013 that the deal included four S-300 batteries and 144 missiles and has a price tag of $900 million, with deliveries to begin, possibly, by late summer 2013. Sean O'Connor wrote in 2010 that "Of all the Middle Eastern nations, Syria has one of the most robust SAM networks.... Early warning for the Syrian air defense network is handled by 22 Early Warning radar sites... Syrian strategic SAM deployment is concentrated in six areas. These areas are around the cities of Hims, Halab, and Damascus, Tiyas air base, the Mediterranean coastal area, and the area adjacent to the Golan Heights... All of the SAM systems in the Syrian inventory have a single-target engagement capability. Some of the S-200 sites have been noted with multiple 5N62 SQUARE PAIR engagement radars, allowing those sites to engage multiple targets (one per engagement radar), but the S-75, S-125, and 2K12 sites can only engage one target per site. This leaves the Syrian air defense network susceptible to saturation.... Syrian reliance on aging and well-known Soviet-era SAM systems is a serious defensive liability.... reliance on Soviet-era legacy SAM systems will provide a serious handicap when facing a major air incursion by a modern opponent."
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