Thursday, January 21, 2010
Syria Air Force
The Syrian Air Force (Arabic: القوّت الجوية العربية السورية, Al Quwwat al-Jawwiyah al Arabiya as-Souriya) is the Aviation branch of the Syrian armed forces.
The end of World War II led to a withdrawal of the United Kingdom and France from the Middle East, and this included a withdrawal from Syria. In 1948, the Syrian Air Force was officially established after the first class of pilots graduated from flight schools in Britain. The embryonic force saw limited participation in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, conducting bombing raids against Israeli forces and settlements. One North American Harvard was lost to ground fire while attacking Ayelet Hashahar on July 16, and another possibly shot down by Morris Mann (flying an Avia S-199) on June 10. The Syrian Air Force claimed it sole kill of the war on July 10 when a Harvard supposedly shot down an Avia S-199 flown by Lionel Bloch.
The 1950s saw Syria and Egypt attempt to unify as the United Arab Republic, this was reflected in the Syrian Air Force with growth in personnel and aircraft. However, this union would not last. With the ascent to power of the Baath Party and Hafez Al-Asad, himself a former SAF Commander-in-chief, Syria began looking to the members of the Warsaw Pact for help and built closer ties with the USSR. This in turn led to a massive influx of Eastern-made equipment to the Syrian Armed Forces, including the Air Force.
The Syrian Air Force, despite its training and capabilities never fared well against Israel. In the Six-Day War, the Syrian Air Force was defeated rapidly, losing two-thirds of its forces with the rest retreating to bases in remote parts of Syria. This in turn helped the IDF in defeating the Syrian Army on the ground and led to the loss of the Golan Heights.
The Yom Kippur War provided initial success for both Syria and Egypt, though again Israel inflicted far more casualties in the air than it endured. During the war the Pakistani Air Force sent 16 pilots to the Middle East in order to support Egypt and Syria. By the time these arrived, however, Egypt had already opted for a ceasefire, while only Syria remained in a state of war against Israel. Eight (8) PAF pilots subsequently started flying out of Syrian airbases, forming the A-flight of 67 Squadron at Dumayr Airbase. The Pakistani pilots flew Syrian MiG-21 aircraft on CAP missions, during which Flt/Lt. A. Sattar Alvi shot down an Israeli Mirage in air combat. Other aerial encounters involved Israeli F4 Phantoms; Alvi was decorated by the Syrian government while the Pakistani pilots stayed on in Syria until 1976, training Syrian pilots in the art of air warfare.
Following the Yom Kippur War, the Syrian Air Force continued to remain in the Eastern sphere of influence, whereas Egypt abandoned Eastern aid, and began building its Air Force with Western-made equipment.
During the 1982 Lebanon War, the Syrian Air Force fought against the Israeli Air Force, in the largest scale air-to-air combat of the jet age, involving 150 fighters from both sides. In three days of sustained jet fighter combat, the Syrians were heavily defeated by the higher technology Israeli opponent. However, at low level the Syrian Air Force made significant strikes using Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopters in anti-armour missile attacks against Israeli ground forces. Approaching Ein Zehalta, an Israeli tank column on a difficult road, was stopped for some hours by SyAF Gazelle missile strikes.
Since then, the Syrian Air Force has continued to rebuild with Eastern-made equipment. However the full extent of this rebuilding is not known. Nor are the exact numbers of planes or what types of aircraft are in the Air Force. This is due to the amount of secrecy maintained by the Syrian government in regard to its military. It is known though that the Syrians have procured MiG-29s and Su-24s which should give its Air Force a great boost, though rumours regarding the recent purchase of some Su-27s appear to be unfounded. In 2008 the Syrian Air Force was reportedly taking deliveries of 8 examples of the MiG-31E from Russia, as well as the MiG-29SMT and Yak-130, although delivery of the MiG-31s may have been cancelled by Russia due to pressure from Israel.