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Syrian Arab Army - Equipment Modernization

In addition to being the largest, the army was the best equipped of the three services. The wars with Israel in 1973 and 1982 high-lighted deficiencies in Syria's land forces. Consequently, Syria sought to build up the strength of the army, extend the order of battle by creating new combat units and improve equipment. It made progress on all these fronts, though problems arose along the way. Training, especially armor training, did not keep pace with the expansion of the army, an expansion that included the creation of two new armored divisions.

In terms of equipment, while the armor strength greatly increased in quality terms, there was not a similar improvement in artillery strength. Analysts also consider that manpower management is poor, that there is a lack of effective training and that the army is burdened by an inefficient support and logistics apparatus based on the Soviet model. Like the other services, the army has also been adversely affected by a lack of funds.

Syria has a very significant holding of main battle tanks (MBTs) and armored vehicles, but a sizeable proportion consists of about 2,000 obsolescent T-54/T-55s. With over 4,000 Soviet-built tanks in the early 1990s (including 1,000 of the advanced T-72's), by 2012 Syria had some 4,700 tanks, with 1,200 T-54/T-55s placed in static defensive positions or in storage. Syria had 2,000 older T-55s and about 1,000 T-62s, and modern 1,700 T-72/72Ms.

Syria acquired these large numbers of T-72s to enhance the speed with which its armor could advance and maneuver, especially in a surprise attack on Israeli forces on the Golan. Following the turn of the century Syria sought to further enhance its armored forces by acquiring the T-80 from Russia, but there were no confirmed reports of actual deliveries.

Syria has placed greater emphasis on enhancing the quality of its MBT fleet rather than on building up a modern force of other armored fighting vehicles. During the 1980s Syria steadily and significantly increased the level of mechanization of the infantry combat forces, but the quality of much of the equipment is not of the first order. The core of the armored infantry fighting vehicle (AIFV) fleet is a holding of about 2,200 BMP-1s - a design that dates to the 1960s. The only relatively modern AIFVs in the fleet are about 200-350 BMP-2/3 vehicles. Virtually all of Syria armored reconnaissance vehicles (600 BRDM-2s and 125 BRDM-2 RKHs) are out-dated.

There are about 1,000 BTR-40/50/60 APCs but the service status of these vehicles is unclear. There are also some 560 BTR-152 APCs and 950 BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles. Syria never acquired the over-all level of armor that Israel has acquired for its infantry and rear services elements.

Syria has extensive holdings of towed artillery weapons - more than 1,500 pieces - and over the years Syria built up the number of self-propelled weapons - there are about 400 120mm 2S1 and 50 152mm 2S3. Like most Soviet-equipped forces, the Syrian Army has a significant multiple-rocket launcher strength - there are about 200 107mm Type-63 and 280 122mm BM-21. According to Anthony Cordesman Syria relies principally on static massed fires and is unable to rapidly shift fires. Accuracy beyond line of site is also lacking as their ability to maneuver and exploit counterbattery radars and targeting systems.

Syria had a formidable air defense system of SAM batteries and myriad antiaircraft guns and artillery. Air defenses included SA-5 long-range SAM batteries around Damascus and Aleppo, with additional SA-6 and SA-8 mobile SAM units deployed along Syria's side of the Lebanese border and in eastern Lebanon.

Syria has placed an emphasis on improving its anti-tank warfare capability, again with an eye to engaging Israeli armor on the Golan. In the late 1990s Syria took delivery of 1,000 AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles.

In 1987, Syria was scheduled to receive 500 new Soviet SS-23 ballistic missiles with a range of 500 kilometers, and fielded short-range SS-21 surface-to-surface missiles with conventional warheads. Syria was also reported to have begun producing its own chemical weapons, including nerve gases, with the capability to use the chemical agents in missile warheads.

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Page last modified: 21-03-2012 19:12:26 ZULU