August 29, 2012

HIP action - Syrian style

Syrian Air Force Mi-8 (HIP) helicopter firing on opposition targets

Yes, HIP action, but this is not about belly dancing. It is about the Syrian air force using its Russian-built Mi-8 and Mi-17 (NATO: HIP) helicopters to great effect against the rebels in Syria.

While the Syrian armed forces have declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, they still possess a large inventory of weapons, including assault and attack helicopters. As with their employment of the L-39 trainer/light attack aircraft, they have used their fleet of Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters to devastating effect. (See my earlier article on Syrian use of the L-39, Syrian air force attacks - effective use of the aircraft.)

This short video the contains two clips which illustrates two uses of the HIP. The first shows the helicopter in the ground attack role, and the second in the air assault role. This is what the HIP was designed to do.

I will translate/gist the Arabic audio. In the attack sequence (time 0:04 to 0:28), the speakers are watching and speculating if the aircraft will attack here. When the pilot fires the 80mm rockets, they are surprised and shout allahu akbar (God is great). The narrator then states that helicopter - it looks to me like an Mi-8TBK (HIP F) - is attacking the city of Taftanaz. Taftanaz is located in at 36 00N 36 47E in Idlib governorate (northern Syria). Note: while you do hear repeated shouts of "Allahu akbar," it is more of an "Oh, my God" remark than an Islamic invocation.

The second sequence opens with children yelling excitedly about an aircraft landing in a town. The narrator then reports that a Syrian military aircraft has landed in the community of Ma'ara (36 02N 36 50E), gives the date as June 26, 2012, and notes special forces troops exiting the helicopter to kill the residents of the town. Automatic weapons fire ensues. From this clip, I cannot distinguish if this is an Mi-8 or an Mi-17. UPDATE: A colleague who specializes in Syrian air force aircraft tells me that this is an Mi-17. I defer to his judgment.

The helicopters involved in operations in this area are based at Afis air base, more often referred to by the locals as Taftanaz military airport. You can locate it easily on Google Maps or Google Earth at coordinates 35 58N 36 47E.

Afis air base - Taftanaz, Syria

Trying not to be parochial as a retired Air Force officer, the Syrians are demonstrating how important control of airspace remains. When you listen to the opposition forces, the first thing they want is a no-fly zone - they admit that the greatest impediment to their success is the Syrian air force's effective use of its light attack aircraft, assault helicopters and helicopter gunships. Quote, "The aircraft are killing us."