Russia’s Mi-24P “Hind” attack helicopters are now operating over Syria, as clearly shown in new videos. They showed up in force with intermediate level bombing with dumb-bombs and whipping around at a couple dozen feet above the ground, popping flares and firing on, well, something, with rockets and cannon fire.
The use of attack helicopters, especially in broad daylight and at low-level over hostile areas, may very well backfire on Russia. The more effective these helicopters are the more demand there will be for backers of Syrian rebels to provide man portable air defense systems (MANPADS). If MANPADS are introduced widely to the war, they could make these types of operations very dangerous for Russia.
The introduction of MANPADS by the CIA into Soviet Russia’s war in Afghanistan was a huge factor in breaking their resolve to continue fighting that war. In the end, Russia’s loss in Afghanistan greatly helped bring down the Soviet Empire.
More recently in Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels use of MANPADS resulted in substantial aircraft losses among the Ukrainian Air Force. Although the U.S. will be reluctant to turn over MANPADS to any rebel forces at this time in fear that they would fall into the hands of ISIS, that does not mean other Gulf State anti-Assad rebel backers won’t sit by and watch Syrian rebels be slaughtered by these attack helicopters and low-flying attack jets.
Additionally, massive amounts of MANPADS have proliferated throughout the region, thousands of which were looted from Qaddafi’s stockpiles in Libya. These weapons are available on the black market in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and could very well find their way into Syrian rebels hands in the not so distant future.
The vast majority of Russia’s attack jets are only equipped with decoy flares, if that. Its helicopter forces are largely similarly equipped with the addition of an aging infrared jammer atop their tails. Directed energy infrared countermeasures are just beginning to find their way onto Russia’s most advanced helicopters, and in a fairly bulky form. None of the aircraft deployed to Syria appear to be fitted with these systems.
We will have to wait and see how Syrian rebel forces adapt to Russia’s new aerial tactics in the region. Air power can be crushing, but Russia’s capabilities to hit targets of opportunity largely require visual bombing from lower altitudes in order for their dumb weapons to have a good probability of hitting near their targets. By deploying MANPADS among rebel forces in the region, at the very least they could make Russia’s air power have to fly much higher and in doing so make it far less effective.
If Russia had to turn to primarily precision guided munitions in order to be able to accurately strike from higher altitudes, it would make the Syrian air war far more expensive for the Kremlin to prosecute.
It could also inadvertently arm ISIS with weapons that could easily be used for terror operations. Then again, they probably already have these weapons, a lot of them.
PHOTO: Igor Dvurekov