The Syrian Arab Air Defence Force, once a proud independent service of the Syrian Armed Forces, has suffered tremendously under the five-year long Civil War. While losing dozens of surface-to-air (SAM) and radar sites to the various factions fighting for control over Syria was already a serious blow to its capabilities, Syria's poor financial situation and the transfer of large numbers of personnel from the Syrian Arab Air Defence Force (SyAADF) to the Syrian Arab Army and National Defence Force effectively gave the killing blow to the SyAADF.
The following images were taken during a large-scale exercise involving all branches of the Syrian Armed Forces in 2012. This exercise was carried out amid an increasingly deteriorating security situation in Syria, leading to calls from the international world for an intervention similar to the one seen in Libya. In response, the Syrian Armed Forces launched a several day long exercise to show its strenght to the outside world.
The 9K317E Buk-M2E, which together with the Pantsir-S1 is the pride of what once was the Syrian Air Defence Force. The 9A317 transporter-erector-launcher and radar (TELAR), seen below, is capable of independent operations thanks to its 9S36 radar. Several of these systems are deployed around Damascus and Syria's coastal region. Although the arrival of highly modern air defence equipment from Russia was much anticipated after an Israeli airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor in 2007, the newly arrived Buk-M2Es, Pantsir-S1s and Pechora-2Ms proved just as incapable of shooting down Israeli aircraft as the systems they replaced.
A 9M317 missile speeds off after having been launched from a 9A316 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The 9A316 carries four reloads instead of a radar, which means it's incapable of operating independently. Under normal circumstances, a Buk battalion consists of six TELARs and three TELs, which can be further divided into three batteries with two TELARs and one TEL each. Every battalion also included a target acquisition radar, a command vehicle and trucks carrying more reloads.
A Pantsir-S1 fires off one of its twelve 57E6 surface-to-air missiles. As with the Buk-M2E and Pechora-2M, these systems are mainly concentrated around Damascus and Syria's coastal region. In order to better blend in with their surroundings along the coast, many Pantsir-S1s have traded in their desert-environment finish for locally applied camouflage patterns.
The 2012 exercise provided the first visual confirmation of Syria operating the 9K35 Strela-10. Opposed to many other Strela-10 operators, Syria placed these systems around airbases instead of providing ground forces with a mobile SAM system. Although most 9K31 Strela-1s were placed into storage, all of Syria's 9K35 Strela-10s are still believed to be in active service.
Having never retired any SAM system, Syria continues to operate both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers. The more modern quadruple variant is more common, and can be found located throughout Syria. The dual launchers were mainly concentrated around Damascus, where one site was overrun by Jaish al-Islam in 2012.
In addition to operating both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers, Syria also acquired several Pechora-2M surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia at the turn of the decade. This system combines a quadruple S-125 launcher (albeit with two missiles) on a Belarusian MZKT-8022 chassis, with greatly improved performance against enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. Several sites housing the Pechora-2M have been identified around Damascus and in Syria's coastal region, where they frequently relocate to different sites in order to keep an element of suprise.
Smoke rises as two 9M33 missiles are fired from a 9K33 Osa SAM system. While Syria already fielded the 9K33 in Lebanon during the eighties, the system was thrown into the spotlight after Jaish al-Islam captured several launchers in Eastern Ghouta in 2012. These 9K33s were then, and are still being used, to engage SyAAF helicopters flying over Jaish al-Islam held territory.
The 2K12 surface-to-air missile system gained legendary status while in service with Egypt during the 1973 October War (Yom Kippur War), which used them against the Israeli Air Force with great success. In fact, the system was so feared it quickly earned itself the nickname 'Three Fingers of Death'. The system was less successful in Syrian service however, and was completely outplayed along with the rest of the SyAADF and SyAAF during during Operation Mole Cricket 19 over Lebanon's Bekaa valley in 1982 and during Israeli Air Force raids into Syria over the past years.