December 15, 2011

Syrian Air Force video analysis

A friend sent this to me, knowing that I served as the Air Attache to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria from late 1992 to early 1995.

When I was the air attache, the Syrians basically ignored me - relations between the United States and Syria were awful, despite the temporary and politically expedient alliance during Desert Storm in 1991. My only official contacts with the Syrian military were the occasional "hail and farewell" dinners at the Officers Club for departing and arriving military attaches, and the graduation ceremonies from the four Syrian military academies - the Naval Academy at Latakia, the Military Academy at Homs, the Women's Military College in Damascus, and the Air Force Academy at Rasm al-'Abud air base about 25 miles from Aleppo.

When I watched the video of a formation Sukhoi-24 (NATO: FENCER) aircraft, I immediately started looking for familiar landmarks. As I watched, I thought the large city resembled what I remembered of Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo, located in northern Syria close to the Turkish border. There was something eerily familiar about the airfield as the formation passed over it, like I had been there before. As it turns out, I actually had been there. When the aircraft kept on flying, I realized it was a fly-by.

So, for those of you who want to play imagery interpreter for a few minutes...

Open Google Earth and the You Tube video - we'll use both.

What we are looking at is a fly-by by three SU-24's at the Syrian Air Force Academy at Rasm al-'Abud air base - the formation flies over the parking apron from west to east.

The video opens with the formation north of Aleppo. At 0:18, the aircraft is north of Aleppo airport, also known as Nayrab air base. You can see the runways under the aircraft in the video, and closer the Shaykh Najar industrial area. I put the formation at about 36 24N 37 17E.

The aircraft then fly due west about 25 miles to Rasm al-'Abud. Pull up the air base on Google Earth at coordinates 36 11 10N 37 34 30E.

On the video at 2:43, there is a Yak-40 (NATO: CODLING) parked on the apron, on Google Earth at 36 11 04.70N 36 34 14.00E. When we attaches were transported to Rasm al-'Abud for academy graduations, it was on a Yak-40, and we parked at that spot. Note the pattern of the apron and trees, and compare it to the Google Earth imagery. You can see the white circle painted on the tarmac on both, at 36 11 05.04N 36 34 19.63E. There is a reviewing stand under the area where the vehicles are parked. It is not easily visible from the air, but having been there twice, I recognize it.

At 2:52, you can see two Quonset hut looking buildings. They are visible on Google Earth at 36 10 44.25N 37 35 41.75E. After that, the jets head east over Dayr al-Hafir and then out over the desert, likely to the south. I assume they were headed home to Tiyas air base (at 34 31 30N 37 37 40E, which gives new meaning to "the middle of nowhere").

As an aside, here is a photo of two MiG-23 (NATO: FLOGGER) fighter aircraft in shelters and one on a hardstand at the east end of the runway at Rasm al-'Abud. (There is a photo icon on the Google Earth imagery.)

I did not know they had fighters at Rasm al-'Abud in addition to the L-39 Albatross and MBB-223 Flamingo trainers. From personal experience, I can tell you that taking these photos, or any photos for that matter, near a Syrian air base is an extremely dangerous activity.

I was surprised that someone has posted this video taken by a Syrian pilot. My experience with the Syrian armed forces is that they are one of the most paranoid and security-conscious militaries in the world. What I would have given for access to this type of information in the early 1990's....