Sunday, July 10, 2016

ISIS shoots down a Russian crewed helicopter near Palmyra, Syria, killing both pilots.

An Iraqi MI-25 similar to the one shot down. USAF photo. 

Video of the helicopter getting shot down. 

ISIS has successfully shot down a Syrian helicopter killing the two Russian pilots. New York Times. The MI-25 helicopter was undergoing flight tests near the city of Palmyra when it was hit by a missile. ISIS fighters were attacking the Syrian front lines and though the flight was a test flight the helicopter and their wingman were armed. After expending their ammunition, one helicopter was destroyed by a missile fired by ISIS, while the other escaped unharmed. At least 10 Russian service members have died in the Syrian war since Russia sent their military to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

My Comment:
A disturbing development in Syria. I occasionally write about the proliferation of MANPADS, which are shoulder fired anti-aircraft weapons. Every time they come up, I like to mention that having these weapons in the hands of terrorist groups is a terrifying scenario. Though most of these systems aren't capable of hitting commercial aircraft in flight, they can certainly be used to take down a passenger flight that is taking off or landing. 

Thankfully, these weapons are to valuable on the battlefield to be used for terrorism, for the most part. This is not the first time that aircraft in the Syrian theater of war have been downed by MANPADS, but it is the latest. And it is strange that it is ISIS that took them out. ISIS with MANPADS is not a good situation to say the least. 

In the past ISIS had a very hard time acquiring MANPADS. They managed to capture some from the Syrian government and the various rebel groups that were foolishly given them, but the numbers of weapons were always small. ISIS's current stocks of these weapons are limited so to see them use them is unusual, but not unprecedented. My guess is that they decided using these weapons are better then just sitting on them. The situation on the battlefield is probably desperate enough for them to decide now is better then never. 

They used their MANPADS very effectively as well. Though I doubt this was an actual trap for the MI-25's, they did use combined arms tactics here. Their forces on the ground broke through on the ground, they were pummeled in the air by these helicopters. The guy with the MANPADS then fired a missile and destroyed one of the helicopters, thus protecting the fighters on the ground. That's exactly how you should use these weapons, but preferably before they shoot up your comrades and use all their ammo. 

The destruction of this helicopter will be seen as a major victory for ISIS. After all, it is rare that they get to strike back against their enemies in the sky. Most bombers fly too high for them to hit and trying to do so is a good way to get targeted by them. For the vast majority of the time ISIS just has to deal with airstrikes and close air support with little in the way or retaliation. To actually down a helicopter, especially one with a Russian crew, is a huge morale boost for the troops on the ground that have to deal with these attacks all the time. 

Of course, in the long run, the loss of one MI-25 won't matter too much. This was an old helicopter, owned by Syria that the Russians were trying to get back into service. Losing it is bad but not crippling. There are more helicopters that can replace it.

What can't be replaced is the pilots. Any loss of life is a tragedy for the Russians, but the commander of this helicopter was a veteran with a very long history of combat operations. RT has a profile up of the pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel Ryafagat Khabibulin. From what it sounds Khabibulin was an expert combat pilot with years of experience. He also seemed like a total bad ass, surviving getting shot down over Chechnya and serving with distinction during the war with Georgia in 2008. He was one of Russia's best pilots and was serving his last tour of duty as a trainer, and died with his weapons officer, Evgeny Dolgin. Their loss is a huge blow to the Russians, and I, for one, send my condolences. 

As for the Palmyra front, ISIS is still trying to recapture the city and blunt the Syrian Army's offensive in the region. From what I have been able to understand, the front is largely stalemated, with both sides pushing each other back and forth. 

Aviation assets in the region have been hit hard. This is hardly the first major loss that the Russians and Syrians have suffered recently. In May, satellite imagery showed the destruction of four Russian MI-24 helicopters stationed at the T-4 airbase near Palmyra. The fixed wing aircraft stationed at that base was temporarily pushed back as well. Though individually neither incident is that devastating, if Russia and Syria keeps taking losses like this, they may find their ability to support their troops on the ground lessened. 

These attacks on Russian and Syrian aviation shows how vulnerable our assets in the region could be. Though our heavy bombers and fighter jets are mostly safe from MANPADS, our helicopters and attack aircraft could be more vulnerable. The A-10 Warthogs are probably durable enough to survive a missile hit, but if one of our helicopters were hit they would probably crash. That could kill the pilots, or worse, cause them to fall into the hands of ISIS. Even though we have limited forces in Syria (and Iraq for that matter), it just goes to show how dangerous serving in the region really is. 

No comments:

Post a Comment