Monday, November 30, 2020

How The SAA Could Retake Idlib

 Idlib is the last major province, excluding parts of Latakia and Aleppo, that are under rebel control. The Syrian army (SAA) will have to adopt new tactics for retaking what remains of this "Greater Idlib" area of rebel control. Turkey is now heavily involved in Idlib's defense alongside HTS/AQ and what remains of the FSA. The main factor preventing an SAA advance are Turkish drones and to a lesser extent artillery fire.

In early 2020, dozens of SAA tanks and armored vehicles were destroyed by the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone. Artillery strikes from Turkish T-155 SPGs were also used to hit SAA positions. This led to the SAA temporarily retreating from Saraqib and its surrounds, leaving many tanks behind which the rebels then captured.

Bayraktar TB2.

Turkish T-155 155mm self propelled howitzer in Idlib.

With Turkish drones in the air and rebel tanks on the ground, the SAA will need to adapt. Tactics to retake Idlib will have to include many ATGMs and air defense systems, as well as other more unconventional tactics. The most capable air defense system to down Turkish drones is the Buk-M2E. Syria operates at least 10 Buk-M2Es. These have a medium range for an air defense system with a high flight altitude for its missiles, able to reach all Turkish drones. The Buk-M2E is also resistant to jamming, which is important due to Turkey's Koral electronic warfare system likely being used in Idlib.

A Syrian Air Defense Buk-M2E.

SAA ATGMs would be needed in large numbers to destroy rebel armored vehicles and potentially Turkish armored vehicles in they got in the way. Though destroying Turkish armor may cause a disproportionate reaction from Turkey. However, Turkish vehicles were destroyed in Idlib in early 2020 and there was little reaction other than an increase in drone activity.

A destroyed Turkish M-60T in Idlib.

SAA Konkurs ATGM.

Once an SAA offensive begins on Idlib, Turkish drones will be deployed en mass to try to put a halt to it. The SAA should set up dummy tanks and artillery to give false targets for Turkish drones. The SAA has already begun doing this. Seen below is a dummy tank set up to fool drones in Idlib. This must be done in large numbers.

Real SAA tanks should be stationed under structures and brush when not on the move to avoid airstrikes from drones. Tanks could also employ brush camouflage or a camouflage canopy mounted to the tank.

A T-62 covered with brush in Idlib.

Multispectral (infrared/visible) camouflage canopies should be built on SAA tanks to hide them from drones. These tanks would be very difficult to spot in the brush and small towns of Idlib. They certainly don't look like tanks from the air. ISIS built tanks like this with unknown effectiveness. This canopy method could even be used on 4X4 technicals mounting heavy machine guns.

A T-55 with a camouflage canopy.

A T-72 with a canopy.

SAA artillery must be hidden under camouflage netting as well. Artillery pieces are sitting ducks, this was proven in Idlib in early 2020 and during the Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict in mid to late 2020.

An artillery piece under camouflage netting.

The most unconventional tactic is to dress up SAA tanks to look like Turkish tanks. T-55s and T-62s would be the best candidates to be built up and painted to look like Turkish M-60T tanks. Alternatively the T-72 could be built up to look like the Turkish Leopard 2A4 as well as the M-60T. This could allow the tanks to sneak into parts of Idlib undetected by air. They would also not be engaged by rebels, who would think it was the Turkish army. If this plan were to work, rebel forces may celebrate the arrival of the tanks into towns they occupy, only to come under attack soon after. The Germans attempted this in WWII, dressing up Panther tanks to look like American M10 tank destroyers during the Battle of the Bulge. Mock up tanks could lead the charge, complete with Turkish flags to fool rebels. This would be followed by the main SAA force under camouflage canopies.

A Panther tank disguised as an American M10.

Tanks have been dressed up as other tank models for movies as well. In the 1984 "Red Dawn" movie, T-72A tanks are made out of American M-48 Patton tanks and are fairly convincing to the untrained eye. It even fooled a pair of CIA officers, who followed the tank mock up through Los Angeles and asked the producers where they obtained a T-72!

A "T-72A" mockup built on the core of an M-48 Patton in the movie "Red Dawn." The smoke dischargers are off, it's armed with a DShK instead of an NSV and there should have been a sideskirt to cover the return rollers. Other than those flaws it is a very convincing "T-72A."

A Syrian T-72 could be built to look like a Turkish tank, such as the M-60T. It could be built with sheet metal and for the turret and rubber for the sideskirts. Various false pieces of equipment would be built on, such as fake sights and four fake smoke dischargers on each side of the turret. It would also be beneficial to fly Turkish flags on each tank. The flag is mostly to help fool rebel ground forces.

T-72 with M-60T disguise.

The M-60T.

The Turkish Leopard 2A4 tank may be easier to fake due to its boxier design. This would also best be built on a T-72 tank. It just has to look convincing enough. As long as it has the right color scheme and a Turkish flag it is likely to temporarily fool rebel ground forces.

With these tactics Idlib could be recaptured and the rebel forces completely defeated in Syria. Turkish observation posts would be besieged by the SAA advance, but this has happened before. The Turkish troops will simply abandon these posts once they are besieged, as has happened in the recent past.

An abandoned Turkish observation post in Southern Idlib. An SAA T-72AV sits victorious.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

How Syria Could Retake The Golan Heights and Defend Against An IDF Invasion

Disclaimer: I do not endorse these ideas, this is simply a thought experiment on how it could be done.

Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel after the 6 Day War in 1967. A previous article explained in a broad sense how Syria could launch an offensive to retake the Golan, but this article will go into extreme detail into how it could be done. The most important factor in retaking the Golan Heights are tactics.

Even though the IDF is a much stronger force than the SAA, if they were caught off guard with the right tactics, it could be possible to retake the Golan Heights. Tunnels, gliders, and small squads of infiltration troops could be a critical factor in opening the way for a larger force.

The Golan Heights.

Tunnels could be dug into the Golan Heights for infiltration troops to dig up behind IDF lines. This would be a huge logistical project and it would be hard for it to go undetected. Tunnels could be dug to the closest towns in the Golan because of the distance involved. The town of Majdal Shams in the North, Qeshet in the center and Nov in the South could be the exit points for tunnels. The tunnels would have to be deep and up to 10 miles long to go undetected. 

Tunnels used by Hamas in the Gaza Strip have proven the concept, though these tunnels are much shorter than what would be needed for the Golan heights. It is thought that North Korea has massive tunnels going under South Korea waiting for the invasion order.

Once the tunnels are built and opened in the Golan Height, as many troops should be pushed through as possible before the IDF detects and destroys the openings. The troops could then split up, some taking defensive positions in the towns and others spreading out with ATGMs and RPGs causing further chaos in the IDF ranks.

Another way to get troops into the Golan is with powered hang-gliders. Each glider can carry one passenger. They are hard to detect by radar because they are small and can fly low and slowly. Each glider would likely make a hard landing in the Golan Heights and not be able to return back to Syria to get more troops, so the number of troops that can be delivered in this manner is dependent on how many gliders there are.

The third option is a direct frontal assault on the Golan Heights with a conventional SAA force. For this to work, air defenses would have to be on high alert and tanks would have to be hidden from the air. ISIS hid some of their tanks with multispectral thermal/visual camouflage in Syria, this should be adopted by the SAA to hide from IDF jets and attack helicopters. It is likely many, if not most of the tanks would be seen and destroyed, but some may make it to the Golan. They would then take up defensive positions in the Golan towns and settlements.

SAA tanks should use APFSDS shells against IDF armor such as the Merkava, as it is the only hope at destroying them.

The first step of the offensive would be to destroy Israel's SIGNIT facilities on the Golan Heights with artillery fire. Underground bunkers with mortars and heavy artillery could be used to avoid detection from the air. The muzzlebreaks of any heavy artillery would have to remain above ground, however.

Underground D-30 122mm.

Drawing of a hidden Mortar position.

Tanks would then cross trenches and difficult terrain into the Golan Heights. Bridgelayers may be needed for trenches.

Tanks would then move through the sparse brush of the Golan until they engaged the IDF or reached their designated towns to capture.

Another unconventional tactic is to dress up T-55s, T-62 and T-72s as Merkava tanks. These tanks could head straight into a real Merkava formation before the IDF realizes what is happening. This is not without precedent. During the Battle of the Bulge in WW2, German forces disguised some Panther tanks as American M10 tank destroyers. A convincing disguise set on a Syrian tank would save it from airstrikes and cause massive confusion in the IDF ranks.

Hamas mock up of a Merkava IV, such a mock up could be built on top of a Syrian tank.

T-72 conversion. Made of carbon fiber, sheet metal or other light material.

A German panther disguised as an American M10. The Muzzlebreak and interleaved roadwheels of the Panther gave it away, however.

Syrian BMP-1s could be dressed up to look like the IDF Namer APC.

The Namer.

A crude drawing of a BMP disguised as a Namer.

An IDF Merkava watching over the Golan.

SAA T-62 and IDF Centurion tanks abandoned during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

If the tunnels and gliders were successful, IDF ground forces may be in disarray. This would leave the frontlines with Syria relatively open, allowing many SAA tanks, armored vehicles and troops to get through. Once the SAA retook areas of the Golan, they would have to hold it with guerilla tactics. ATGM and RPG teams would hit IDF troops and vehicles not armed with the Trophy APS. Hitting unprotected targets around the Merkavas with ATGMs may send an IDF counterattack into further disarray and possibly force it to retreat.

If the SAA had Kornet-EM or RPG-30s they would be able to destroy Merkavas, as they fire two missiles/rockets in rapid succession to trick the APS into hitting just the first rocket. Alternatively, two SAA soldiers could fire RPGs at a Merkava tank at the same time, giving one RPG a chance to hit the tank.

An RPG-29 team. Two could be fired at once at the same Merkava, allowing one to hit.

Another solution to deal with the Trophy APS is to attach a shield to the RPG to deflect APS projectiles. This would make the RPG less accurate, but it could hit the tank without being intercepted.

SAA tanks in the Golan would have to hide in brush and under structures to avoid airstrikes. The tanks would wait in ambush for IDF armor to hit with APFSDS shells.

SAA forces in the Golan Heights could now call on artillery to hit IDF positions and counterattacks. The range is limited on artillery pieces like the D-30 and M-46, as well as self propelled howitzers like 2S1 Gvozdikas and 2S3 Akatsiyas. To reach into the furthest parts of the Golan Heights the SAA would have to use the BM-27 Uragan and BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launchers. BM-27 rockets have a range of 22 miles while BM-30 rockets have a range of 56 miles. These systems would not be able to be hidden underground, so they would have to fire their rockets and then immediately hide under cover to avoid airstrikes by the IDF. Hiding the BM-27 and BM-30 would be difficult as they are quite large.

The BM-30 Smerch.

The SAA could also use ballistic missiles to hit IDF targets in the Golan, such as the OTR-21 Tochka. The Tochka missiles have a minimum range of 43 miles, with more advanced variants having a longer range. Syria could also obtain Iranian cruise missiles such as the Quds. The Quds-1/2 is difficult to intercept and has been combat proven by Houthi forces in Yemen against Saudi Arabia.

Syrian OTR-21 Tochka.

The Quds cruise missile in Yemen.

If the IDF counterattacks could be stopped by artillery, ATGMs an RPGs, the SAA could begin negotiations with Israel to return the Golan Height to Syria and end the war. This is an unlikely outcome. The most likely outcome is that the IDF would retake the Golan from the SAA, though the SAA would likely incur huge losses in the IDF ranks if these tactics were followed.

The IDF would likely push further into Syria if they Retook the Golan after a failed SAA offensive. All roads leading to Damascus should be heavily fortified. This could be done by underground artillery along the roads and in Damascus itself to fight every step of the way of an IDF advance. Underground mortars and artillery could be presighted on the roads. IEDs could also be set up. The IEDs would have to have a lot of explosives in them, as Merkava tanks would be leading the charge on Damascus.

All roads leading to Damascus should be heavily fortified.

ATGMs could take up positions in the towns and countryside around Damascus waiting in ambush. If the Kornet-EM was available, they could engage Merkava tanks and other IDF vehicles armed with the Trophy APS system. If the Kornet-EM was not in the SAA inventory, ATGMs should target light vehicles and troop gatherings and let Merkavas pass. If the supply chain is broken by ATGM and RPG strikes on support vehicles, it would cause logistical problems for an IDF advance further into Syria.

IDF Humvees and other 4X4 vehicles would follow the Merkava tanks, these should be the primary targets for ATGMs.

IDF utility vehicles that would follow an armored advance and be vulnerable to ATGMs.

SAA Konkurs ATGM.

SAA Metis-M ATGM. 

To combat Merkava tanks, the SAA would need its tank fleet firing APFSDS shells. These shells can't be intercepted by the Trophy active protection system. SAA tanks would have to be hidden under structures and in brush waiting in ambush to avoid IDF airstrikes.

SAA T-72M1 with TURMS-T fire control system.

Syrian T-72 APFSDS shells.

Decoy tanks should be set up before any offensive on the Golan began. They should be scattered in Daraa, Quenitra and Damascus provinces. A large number of tank decoys should be placed along roads to fool not only IDF aircraft but potentially ground forces as well. Dozens if not hundreds of tank decoys should be made before any operation on the Golan Heights.

A decoy tank made by ISIS to fool the Russian and Syrian Air Forces. The same tactic could be employed by the SAA.

An outdated concept, the anti-tank gun, could be brought back into play to defend Syria from an invading IDF force. M-46 130mm artillery pieces could be repurposed for a direct fire anti-tank role. The 130mm high velocity gun should have no problems damaging or destroying IDF Merkava tanks if it should score a hit. Again, these would have to be hidden under camouflage canopies in the countryside or under structures in towns along the way to and then inside Damascus. Anything that could destroy a Merkava would have to be put into use.

An SAA M-46 130mm that could be used as an anti-tank gun.

Another SAA howitzer that could be repurposed as an anti-tank gun is the ML-20 152mm. Its large 152mm shells should cause damage or destruction to an IDF Merkava tank.

Syria's air defenses would be incredibly strained during this war. Tactics would have to be put in place for them to survive the Israeli Air Force. Buk-M2s, Pantsir-S1s and 9K33 Osas are Syria's most mobile SAM systems. Less capable, but mobile SAMs are the Strela-1 and Strela-10. They would have to turn on their radar, lock onto a target, fire a missile and then move into cover to avoid the IDF targeting them. A common theme for the SAA military equipment is to duck in and out of cover. IDF missiles should be ignored, and the aircraft themselves targeted if possible.

Syrian Pantsir-S1.

Syrian Buk-M2E

Syrian 9K33 Osa firing. The Osa would be most effective against helicopters. It is obsolete and easily jammed, however.

MANPADS would be vital for defending Syria from the IDF. However, these are limited in range and altitude, so they could only hit low flying jets and helicopters. MANPADS scored the most number of aircraft kills during the Gulf War, so they are likely to down at least some aircraft during a drawn out war with Israel.

Syrian Igla MANPADS.

An unconventional "air defense" could be lasers, including banned Eye Blinding laser systems obtained from North Korea. Syria has received North Korean weapons before, including upgraded laser range finders for much of its T-55 fleet. These powerful lasers would not down aircraft, but damage their optics and temporarily or even permanently blind pilots. If the pilots were blinded, then indeed the aircraft would crash. These lasers could also damage Merkava tank fire control system optics. This system is banned by the Geneva convention, however.

Underground bunkers could be built along roads leading to Damascus. Squads of soldiers would wait for the IDF to pass and then emerge and strike IDF rearguard forces, causing chaos in the IDF ranks. SAA troops could even be dressed as IDF to cause further confusion and chaos. This tactic was used by the Germans against American forces during the Battle of the Bulge to great psychological effect. It has also been more recently employed by Hamas during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip.

A WW2 bunker, similar bunkers could be built on the way to and inside Damascus.

The Syrian Air Force would basically be destroyed by this war. It must take steps to last as long as it could. Syria's MiG-29s are the most capable fighters, and they should be scrambled at the start of an IDF response to the Golan Offensive, as aircraft would quickly be destroyed on the ground. They would be engaging superior IDF F-16s, F-15s and even F-35s.

The Syrian Air Force MiG-29 with the very capable R-77 air-to-air missile.

The MiG-23 armed with air-to-air missiles. This aircraft is obsolete, but it should be put into the fight as it would simply be destroyed on the ground.

The SA342 Gazelle helicopter could be used to strike IDF air defenses and artillery behind the lines on the Golan. This small helicopter flies low to avoid radar and is armed with four HOT ATGMs.

Iranian drones have operated in Syria for years, and it is likely drones would take part in an SAA offensive on the Golan, or on the defensive if the attack failed. The Shahed-129 and Saegheh-2 are the most likely drones to be used in combat in Syria, as these have been used in Syria before. The Saegheh-2 is most suited for a war with the IDF because of its design. The Saegheh-2 is a flying wing, making it have a low radar cross section. It carries two Sadid missiles interally. 

The Saegheh-2.

Dropping a Sadid missile out of its internal bay.

A large Tank, ATGM and RPG force should be guarding Damascus anticipating the IDF to reach the city. T-72 tanks should be the primary tank force, but all available tanks should be put into the fight for Damascus. Government officials should abandon the city and take refuge on the Syrian coast if it became apparent that the IDF would reach the city. Tanks could take up positions inside buildings all throughout Damascus and wait to pop out in ambush and fire on IDF Merkavas and other vehicles.

Syrian T-55s, T-62s and especially T-72s would go up against Merkavas with APFSDS shells. Another vehicle that Syria possesses that could destroy a Merkava in the 2S3 Akatsiya. The Akatsiya is a 152mm self propelled artillery gun. However, it could be used in a direct fire role to destroy IDF tanks. The 152mm artillery shells would be more than able to damage or destroy a Merkava.

The 2S3 Akatsiya.

A Syrian T-72M1, with plenty of structures to hide under.

IDF Merkava IV. Its thick, sloped composite armor makes it difficult to penetrate.

RPG teams could take shelter in buildings throughout Damascus, while ATGM teams could be positioned in the outskirts and suburbs.  


SAA Kornet ATGM.

Metis-M ATGM in a building.

Anti-tank mines and IEDs could be placed all throughout Damascus and its surroundings. IEDs would be set off manually, while AT mines are simply planted and left. Anti-tank mines would simply knock the track off of a Merkava, but anything to slow the advance would be needed. Trip-wire IEDs could be set in buildings along the way to and inside Damascus to defeat IDF infantry sweeping operations.

Anti-tank mine.

The aftermath of an IED. Large amounts of explosives would be needed for Merkava tanks.

Once the IDF reach Damascus, extreme measures could be taken in the form of VBIEDs (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices.) This tactic was used by ISIS against Iraqi army tanks and vehicles during the Battle of Mosul. Cars filled with large amounts of explosives would pop out from under cover and get close to IDF vehicles and Merkavas and then detonate. It may be difficult to find volunteers for such a project, but it is not without precedent, even within secular militaries. Japan's Kamikazes are a prime example. The Italians used explosive boats in WWII as well, and Germans planned to use modified piloted V-1 flying bombs as Kamikazes. It could also be possible to make such VBIEDs remote controlled. This VBIED method would be a last ditch effort to stop an IDF attack on Damascus. 

A VBIED destroys an Iraqi Abrams tank during the Battle of Mosul.

Another Abrams destroyed in Mosul by VBIED.

The absolute last ditch effort to defeat the IDF in Syria would be to use banned Sarin gas. Syria would have to rebuild its stock pile, as all of its Sarin gas was removed in a deal between Russia and the US following an alleged Sarin attack against rebels in 2013. This would cause international outcry and probably do more harm than good for the SAA.

Sarin gas artillery shells.

If Israel invaded Syria after a failed SAA offensive, it could be a long war of attrition if the SAA held firm and used the tactics listed above. The IDF could likely end up annexing Southern Syria after this war. This would leave them at a disadvantage as the population would be hostile to them, and they would be operating on flat terrain. This would mean insurgencies would spring up and a future war with the SAA, now relegated to Northern Syria, would be able to more easily launch an offensive than they could have on the Golan Heights.

All of this will likely never happen, however it is interesting to ponder what could happen in a new war between the IDF and the SAA.