Syrian Arab Navy
The commander of naval forces comes under the command of the chief of general Staff, Commander of Land Forces. The primary roles of the navy are coastal defense and the maintenance of control over territorial waters. There is a particular emphasis on the defense of Syria's primary ports, Tartus and Lattakia, which are vital to the Syrian economy and which would also play a key role in resupply operations in the event of a major conflict with Israel. While seeking to improve its coastal defense capability, Syria has also been boosting the capability of the navy in terms of submarine, surface and amphibious warfare, although major inadequacies remain.
In 1950 the Syrian Navy was established following the procurement of a few naval craft from France. The initial personnel consisted of army soldiers who had been sent tp French academies of naval training. In 1985 the navy consisted of approximately 4,000 regular and 2,500 reserve officers and men. The navy, lacking parity with the other services, was under the army's Latakia regional command. The fleet was based in the ports of Latakia, Baniyas, Minat al Bayda, and Tartus. Among the 41 vessel fleet were 2 or 3 Soviet submarines (including 2 Romeo-type diesel-electric submarines, transferred by the Soviet Navy in 1985), 22 missile attack craft (including 10 advanced Osa II missile boats), 2 submarine chasers, 4 mine warfare vessels, 8 gunboats, 6 patrol craft, 4 missile corvettes (on order), 3 landing craft (on order), 1 torpedo recovery vessel and, as part of its coastal defense system, Sepal shore-to-sea missiles with a range of 300 kilometers.
By 2002 the navy remained quite a small force, which, in addition to an estimated 4,000 personnel, also had an estimated 2,500 reserves. Conscripts serve 18 months of national service. The navy had one 1,475-ton `Romeo' class submarine, although it has not been to sea for three years. There are two 950-ton Petya III class frigates. The navy also deployed 23 patrol and coastal craft. There are 12 210-ton missile fast-attack craft - two Osa I and 10 Osa II. They were armed with `Styx' missiles. There were three 85-ton Komar class fast attack craft, also armed with `Styx' missiles and there were eight 39-ton Zhuk class coastal patrol craft. Amphibious forces consisted of three 760-ton Polnochny B Landing Ship Medium (LSM) vessels. Each ship had a capacity for about 100 troops and five tanks. Mine warfare forces deploy one 804-ton Natya class vessel, as well as two 200-ton Vanya class minesweepers, one 500-ton T 43 minesweeper, one 400-ton Sonya class minesweeper and five 77-ton Yevgenya class inshore minesweepers. Auxiliaries consisted of one 400-ton Sekstan class vessel, one 70-ton Poluchat vessel, three survey launches and seven Rotork sea trucks. There is one 3,500-ton training ship, the Al Assad.
Syria, a major importer of Russian weapons, has bought Pantsir S1E and Buk-M2E air-defense systems from Russia, and hopes to receive Iskander tactical missile systems, and two Amur-1650 class diesel submarines. A group of Syrian military officials arrived in Moscow to discuss prospects for bilateral military and technical cooperation, including the pair of submarines. The Project-677, or Lada-class, diesel submarine, whose export version is known as the Amur 1650, features a new anti-sonar coating for its hull, an extended cruising range, and advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry.
Coastal defense had been under naval command since 1984. The command is made up of two infantry brigades, each of which is assigned to a coastal surveillance zone, and one observation battalion, the personnel of which are assigned to coastal observation posts. There are also two artillery battalions, each equipped with an estimated 18 M-46 130 mm guns and about six KS-19 100 mm anti-aircraft guns. A surface-to-surface missile brigade is made up of a dozen batteries, deploying SSC-1B `Sepal' and SS-N-2 `Styx' coastal defence missiles. Russian-made mobile anti-ship missile systems sold to Syria could be used to protect a Russian naval supply and maintenance site near Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus. Russia would honor a 2007 contract on the delivery of several Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles to Syria, despite U.S. and Israel security concerns. Syria needs to shield a 600-km stretch of its coastline from potential amphibious assaults. The Soviet-era naval maintenance site near Tartus is Russia's only military foothold in the Mediterranean. Russia plans to modernize the facility to accommodate large warships, including missile cruisers and even aircraft carriers after 2012.
The Haaretz daily reported in August 2010 that Israel was working to "thwart a Russian arms deal with Syria" and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to stop the sale of advanced P-800 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles. "Lately, some Israeli media outlets have been actively disseminating information distorting Russia's position on the implementation of its obligations to Syria, including in the sphere of military and technical cooperation," Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said. "I would like to stress that the Russian Federation honors all the agreements that were previously signed between Russia and Syria."
The European Parliament on 15 February 2010 adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus. Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, had recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles was currently being implemented.
The navy includes a Naval Infantry, comprising about 1,500 men, the role of which was to guard the navy's three main bases. They are organized in three detachments, one for each base. Originally Russia started using the Tartus base in 1971. Today Syrian marines guard the Russian workers. Amphibious forces consisted of three 760-ton Polnochny B Landing Ship Medium (LSM) vessels. Each ship had a capacity for about 100 troops and five tanks.
The Soviet Naval Infantry came of age as a power projection force with the advent of a new class of assault landing ships which came into service at the end of the 1970s. The ‘Ivan Rogov’ class had habitable berths for a whole battalion of Naval Infantry, which allowed them to be projected much further from Soviet shores than was previously possible. This point was illustrated by Soviet landing exercises in Syria in “Zapad-81” exercise in Syria in 1981. The Soviets could sealift the Black Sea naval infantry assault (1,800 men) to a Syrian port in five days. If the Soviets had any naval infantry afloat in the eastern Mediterranean when the war began, it could reach Syria in a day or two.
Jason W. Henson writes that the Syrian Naval Infantry " ... apparently do not receive any special equipment and little if any amphibious warfare training. Basically they are just regular troops. ... The USSR conducted part of it’s “Zapad-81” exercise in Syria; this 1981 exercise was the largest amphibious landing of the USSR since WWII. Despite this, the Syrian marines took no part in the exercise which could have otherwise been excellent training. Syrian marines have never attempted an actual operational amphibious assault during any of the wars Syria has fought. However they were used as “shock” infantry during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and were rotated through Lebanon during the 1980s. As part of it’s 17,000-troop contribution to Desert Storm, Syria sent the entire naval infantry force which may indicate the Syrian leadership views them as highly combat-capable. The Syrian troops were held in reserve the entire war; officially it was to avoid friendly-fire incidents as Syria and Iraq used identical weapons and vehicles, and very similar uniforms. Unofficially, it was said that the US Army viewed them as incompetent."
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