Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF) - Modernization
Almost all combat planes were Soviet manufactured and included 50 MiG-25 and MiG-25R (Foxbat) interceptors and nearly 200 MiG-23S/U (Flogger) and Su-17 FitterK ground-attack and multirole aircraft. In 1986 there were reports that the Soviet Union had agreed to provide Syria at least two squadrons of the advanced supersonic MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft equipped with top-of-the-line avionics. The air force was equipped with approximately ninety attack helicopters of the Mi-24/Mi-25 Hind and SA-342 Gazelle types. As part of an effort to upgrade its command-and-control network, the air force was reported to have the Tu-126 (Moss) AWACS, but this seems not have have been the case.
The Soviet delivery to Syria of the advanced MIG-29 fighter aircraft underscored Moscow’s commitment to support its most important ally in the Middle East. But Moscow’s delay in delivering the aircraft and the steady decrease in other arms shipments into 1987 highlighted the problems that troubled this relationship. Moscow was seeking Syrian cooperation on regional political matters, moderation of Syria's offensive military posture against Israel, and improved Syrian arms accounting and financial management. Moscow's tougher stance does not mean weaker relations. The Soviets were committed to maintaining and upgrading Syrian military capabilities.
Syria was able to acquire Russian 14 Su-27Sks. The bulk of Syria's Air Force was comprised of Su-22s, MiG-23s and MiG-21s. The number of more modern aircraft is rather small, with only 20 Su-24s, possibly 14 MiG-29 SMTs, some 25 MiG-25s and 22 MiG-29s.
By the turn of the century the Syrian Arab Air Force has about 600 combat aircraft but questions have been raised as to how many are actually operational. Many are elderly and increasingly difficult to maintain, and such factors have had an adverse effect on the force's capabilities. The SAAF operates according to Soviet methods and concepts. Equipment is mainly of Soviet design, consisting primarily of low-grade export versions of Soviet fighters and air-to-air missiles. There is a significant number of increasingly antiquated MiG-21 fighter aircraft, which would be little match for Israel's advanced F-15 and F-16 aircraft.
Bearing in mind these shortcomings, Syria has been eager to improve its capability by acquiring advanced new aircraft. After years of speculation, it appears that Syria may finally have begun to take delivery of the sophisticated Su-27 `Flanker' fighter - at least four were understood to have entered service in 2000 with 826 Squadron, which was forming at Quasayr Air Base (AB), with a dozen more to complete deliveries. Syria has also been seeking to acquire MiG-29SMT fighters; there was an unconfirmed report that 14 were delivered at the end of 2000. By 2002 the SAAF had more than 40 MiG-29A/UB `Fulcrum' interceptors, deployed with three squadrons at Sayqal AB. Other interceptor assets include 30 MiG-25PD `Foxbat' deployed with two squadrons at Tivas AB.
In June 2007 Russia started executing a contract for the delivery of five MiG-31 fighter jets to Syria. The contract has been signed by Russia’s defense export enterprise Rosoboronexport this year. Therefore, Russia resumes arms shipments to the Middle East after a short break caused with last-year’s war in Lebanon. The serial production of Mig-31 fighter jets was shut down in 1994. “We offer MiG-31 as a trade-in to the countries that have MiG-25 jets in their defense arsenal,” a spokesman for MiG enterprise Vladimir Vypryazhkin said. “Only Syria and Lebanon have MiG-25 fighter jets in their disposal,” he added.
Kommersant, the Russian business daily, reported 03 September 2009 that Russia and Syria were in talks on the delivery of at least eight MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors under a contract signed two years ago. Russia had so far denied reaching a deal with Syria on MiG-31 sales, but Damascus insisted in May 2009 on the existence of a contract worth an estimated $400-500 million. "A couple of years ago we signed two contracts [with Syria] - one on MiG-29M and another - on MiG-31. The first is being implemented, but the MiG-31 contract has never become effective... I hope that the contract will be implemented sooner or later," Alexei Fyodorov, the head of Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), told Kommersant. Russia's Sokol aircraft manufacturing plant started preparatory work for assembly of MiG-31 from hulls (without engines and weapons) kept in storage since 1994, when the production of the interceptors was officially discontinued. However, the actual assembly has never materialized, the paper said.
Russia does not have a contract to supply MiG-31 Foxhound fighter jets to Syria, the head of the Russian state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on 27 October 2010. Media rumors about the sales of at least six MiG-31 aircraft to Damascus under a 2007 contract sparked criticism in the West and Israel, which consider arming Syria a threat to regional security. "The existence of a contract on the delivery of MiG-31 interceptors to Syria is a journalistic hoax," Rosoboronexport General Director Anatoly Isaykin told reporters at the Euronaval 2010 exhibition in Paris. The MiG-31 Foxhound is a two-seater supersonic interceptor aircraft developed to replace the MiG-25 Foxbat. It is equipped with two D-30F6 turbofan two-shaft engines with a common afterburner and a variable supersonic nozzle, which allow the aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds of up to Mach 2.83.
Syria was also sold a quantity of MiG-29M/M2 Fulcrum fighters: they are being exported for the first time and are similar in performance to MiG-35 Fulcrum Fs, which Russia is now offering to India. The total value of the contract for the MiG-29M/M2s for Syria is estimated at $1 billion. The Mikoyan MiG-29 is a 4th generation jet fighter aircraft designed for the air superiority role in the Soviet Union. Developed in the 1970s by the Mikoyan design bureau, it entered service in 1983 and remains in use by the Russian Air Force as well as in many other nations. NATO's reporting name for the MiG-29 is "Fulcrum", which was unofficially used by Soviet pilots in service.
In 2008 Moscow and Damascus agreed on deliveries of the latest Russian MiG-29SMT fighter. Syria, a major importer of Russian weapons, has bought MiG-29M fighter jets, and as of 2012 hoped to receive MiG-29SMT fighters and Yak-130 combat trainers. The European Parliament on 15 February 2012 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.
Russia and Syria have signed a $550-million contract on the delivery of 36 Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten combat trainer, the Kommersant daily quoted on 23 January 2012 a source close to Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport as saying. Under the deal struck in late December, the jets are to be supplied to Syria once Damascus makes a prepayment, the source said. A source in the aircraft production industry told the newspaper the aircraft construction company Irkut is able to produce the jets for Syria in a relatively short time. Analysts said the contract is “risky” given the worsening satiation in Syria and the growing international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad over his crackdown on protesters.
The Syrian authorities wanted to revive a contract to purchase MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets from Russia in light of the upcoming expiration of an EU embargo on arms sales to Syria, representatives of aircraft maker MiG said 31 May 2013. “A Syrian delegation is currently in Moscow. We’re discussing details and timeframe of a possible contract,” MiG head Sergei Korotkov told journalists, but did not elaborate. Syria signed a contract for the jets in 2007, but the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011 prompted the plane maker to put a deal to deliver 24 MiG-29MM fighter jets on hold. The $1 billion deal included 24 MiG-29s, as well as five MiG-31 interceptors.
The Russian Embassy in Syria on 03 June 2020 confirmed the delivery of a batch of MiG-29 fighters to this republic. "The Syrian army received a second batch of MiG-29 fighters from Russia as part of military and technical cooperation between our countries. The Syrians have already begun to carry out missions on these aircraft," the diplomatic mission said. On May 30, a SANA agency reported a delivery citing military sources. According to him, the transfer ceremony of the fighters was held at the Khmeimim base, later they were sent to various airfields. From June 1, Syrian pilots planned to begin missions in the airspace of the country on these fighters.
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