The composition of the long shopping list carried by a Syrian military delegation to Moscow Monday May 19 shows how far Damascus has gone in transforming its military strategic thinking since Israel destroyed its nascent plutonium reactor last September, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military analysts report.
With $ 5 billion to spend – mostly put up by Tehran – the list features sophisticated surface missiles, air force fighter-bombers, light fighter planes, short-range cruise missiles, submarines and short-range anti-air missiles for defense against missile attack including the cruise variety.
The crux of classical Syrian military doctrine was defense against an Israeli armored invasion. But the new thinking introduces tactics and hardware elements to enable Syria’s air force, missile units and navy to mount counter attacks. A Russian-made short-range air arm would protect Syria’s armored divisions, rival the superiority of Israel’s air force and helicopter-borne anti-tank rocket capabilities, and go on the offensive against Israeli tank columns.
Our military sources report that Syria’s air force and air defense chief, Gen. Akhmad Al Ratyb, heads the delegation in Moscow. Its members are Syrian missile, armored combat and air defense experts and high-ranking naval officers.
For their five-day mission, they split up into five sub-groups for visits to Russian munitions factories and bases where the weapons on their list are manufactured or deployed.
Undetectable surface missiles, 50 fighter-bombers
The six main categories of interest to Damascus are disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources as –
1. The latest model of the Russian Iskander-E, a surface-to-surface tactical missile with a range of 280 km and a 480-kilo warhead. This missile is considered one of the most advanced of its type in the world today, partly because of its cruise attributes which enable it to home in on target undetected and with high precision. Iskander-E can be guided by pilot-less air vehicles or satellites.
Ex-president Vladimir Putin promised Syrian president Bashar Assad these missiles way back in early 2006. Their sale hung fire because of protests from Washington (originating in Israel), although it was not taken off the table. The United States and Israel are both concerned that the Iskander-E would enable Syria to stage a surprise attack on US Sixth Fleet vessels in the eastern Mediterranean and Israeli air bases and command centers.
The Iskander-E was evidently put back on Damascus’ list of purchases when advance talks prepared the delegation’s Moscow visit, indicating that the Russians are now seriously considering going through with the transaction.
2. Fifty of the latest MiG-29SMT fighter-bombers. The Russians have added advanced avionics and electronics and lengthened the warplane’s operational range. It can fly 3,700 kilometers without refueling, and 6,700 kilometers with in-flight fueling. Their purchase therefore goes with Russian refueling aircraft.
3. The Pantsir S1E air defense missile systems. Syria has already received nine or ten batteries but Moscow has held up the rest of the 36-missile order at American insistence after part of the first consignment was transferred to Iran.
4. Damascus wants 800 Strelets short-range anti-air missiles. The Igla-S version, our military sources report, is shoulder-borne and able to hit surface-to-surface and cruise missiles. Washington was able to persuade the Russians to keep the Igla-S version out of Syrian hands for fear they would be transferred to the Lebanese Hizballah. But now Damascus has informed Moscow that the vehicle-mounted version is acceptable for deployment along the Syrian-Israeli border as a defense against Israeli missiles.
Russian choppers that outgun Cobra, Blackhawk helicopters
5. A key component on the list is 75 Yak-130 light combat-cum-training planes.
As a fighter craft for short distances, the Yak-130 is reputed to be one of the most effective of its type in any of the world’s air forces.
The fact that it has been commissioned by Syria points to heavy investment, with the active help of Russian military experts, in creating a defense system for halting an Israeli invasion.
The Yak-130 is an integral element of the combat equipment in Russian armored divisions. Syria will be able to use this fleet of 75 light combat craft to shield its armored divisions against Israel’s tank hunters, the Cobra and Blackhawk choppers.
The Yak-130 outclasses the Israeli choppers in speed, maneuverability and firepower.
5. Syria wants to buy two Amur-1650 submarines, whose features compare with the Israel Navy’s German-made Dolphins, which are capable of firing cruise missiles.
The Amur-class submarine can strike salvo missile blows at different targets. This is its outstanding feature. Its sonar signature level is considerably less than the Kilo-class vessels which are reputedly the most silent in the world.
These Russian submarines are equipped with radio-electronic weapons incorporating the latest advances of a new generation in the field.
Amur subs can operate in all the world’s seas excepting those under solid ice cover, in all weather conditions and in shallow or deep water.