January 2, 2013

Syrian Air Force losses in 2012

Syrian Air Force Mi-17 shot down over northern Syria

According to Syrian opposition sources with a generally reliable record, the Syrian Air Force suffered 144 aircraft losses in 2012. Here is the breakdown of the numbers:

Total:  144

Helicopters:  83
Combat aircraft: 63

Shot down:  106
Destroyed on the ground:  38

By governorate:
Idlib:  46
Damascus:  32
Aleppo: 27
Dayr al-Zawr:  24
Hamah:  6
Homs:  5
Dara':  2
Latakia:  1
Al-Raqqah:  1

By month:
March:  1
June:  3
July:  8
August:  30
September: 15
October:  16
November:  30
December:  41

My comments:

The primary anti-aircraft weapons available to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are anti-aircraft guns that they have captured from the Syrian military, primarily the 12.7mm and 14.5mm AAA guns, but also 23mm and 57mm guns. Lately, they have acquired shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (SA-7/18/24) that have been used effectively.

Soon after the initial losses, there was an immediate change in Syrian Air Force tactics. The pilots began flying higher, faster and using decoy flares to protect against the heat-seeking missiles.

The "combat aircraft" figure includes fighters and the L-39ZA trainer/light attack aircraft. The losses among the L-39 have been high, and the FSA has been able to down several MiG-23 fighters.

I believe all of the helicopters shot down or destroyed were Mi-8/17 (HIP) general purpose helicopters, many used as assault platforms mounted with S-5 55mm and S-8 80mm rocket launchers, machine guns, and as a platform to drop the homemade "barrel bomb" that terrifies the population. (See my article, The Syrian "barrel bomb" - a terror weapon.)

Although the Syrian Air Force has operated the Mi-25 (HIND) gunship, there have been no documented losses in the civil war. If publicly available estimates are correct that the Syrian Air Force possessed about 100 operational Mi-8/17 helicopters, and 83 have been destroyed, that is a major loss.

The Syrian Air Force's complete domination of the skies is one of the major advantages enjoyed by the regime. In almost every instance where senior FSA commanders are interviewed, they state that the major obstacle they face is devastating airpower. If they are not able to mitigate regime airpower, they may not be able to win the fight.