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Russian Ministry of Defense:

Security system of the Russian Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval CSS point in the city of Tartus successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) through the night of 5th – 6th January, 2018.

As evening fell, the Russia air defence forces detected 13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases.

Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three – the CSS point in Tartus.

Six small-size air targets were intercepted and taken under control by the Russian EW units. Three of them were landed on the controlled area outside the base, and another three UAVs exploded as they touched the ground.

Seven UAVs were eliminated by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile complexes operated by the Russian air defence units on 24-hours alert.

The Russian bases did not suffer any casualties or damages.

The Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval CSS point in Tartus are functioning on a scheduled basis.

Currently, the Russian military experts are analyzing the construction, technical filling and improvised explosives of the captured UAVs.

Having decoded the data recorded on the UAVs, the specialists found out the launch site.

It was the first time when terrorists applied a massed drone aircraft attack launched at a range of more than 50 km using modern GPS guidance system

Technical examination of the drones showed that such attacks could have been made by terrorists at a distance of about 100 kilometers.

Engineering decisions applied by terrorists while attacks on the Russian objects in Syria could be received from one of countries with high-technological capabilities of satellite navigation and remote dropping control of professionally assembled improvised explosive devices in assigned coordinates. All drones of terrorists are fitted with pressure transducers and altitude control servo-actuators.

Terrorists’ aircraft-type drones carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses.

The Russian specialists are determining supply channels, through which terrorists had received the technologies and devices, as well as examining type and origin of explosive compounds used in the IEDs.

The fact of usage of strike aircraft-type drones by terrorists is the evidence that militants have received technologies to carry out terrorist attacks using such UAVs in any country.

The “one of countries with high-technological capabilities” is of course referring to the US, Israel, and maybe Turkey.

If this is true, then I think the suspicions that I expressed have basically been confirmed:

Frankly, I have a hard time buying that this is the sort of thing that can be manufactured, smuggled in, and organized by deep cover rebel operatives.

However, there are forces in the region who are credibly capable of such operations.

Is it true?

Well, there’s no reason it can’t be – and I say this as someone who hardly has a reputation for conspiracy theorizing or uncritically buying the Kremlin’s version of events.

There are basically several counter-arguments to this, but they are all rather weak.

It’s a primitive contraption, it couldn’t have flown that far/or autonomously.

Except that both things have been done 15 ago, and over transcontinental distances:

By 2003, a hobbyist launched a GPS-guided model airplane/drone that flew autonomously from Newfoundland to precisely the right landing point in Ireland. Built of balsa and plywood with a tiny gasoline engine that burned less than one gallon of fuel in the 26 hour flight, it was cheap enough that the hobbyist built 23 to ensure he could be the first hobbyist to fly across the Atlantic. … Today [hobbyists and businesses] are routinely flying smart systems with intercontinental range — they lack only a payload to be a precision weapons system. Their composite construction and very low energy usage mean they will be very difficult to detect.

It’s a primitive contraption, period.

Well, it has to look home-made for it to be deniable. Maybe you could call them “little green drones.”

The sophisticated internals (navigation, control, etc.), and the swarm nature of the attack, is much more impressive, requiring a degree of logistics, testing, and technical expertise that one suspects might be beyond the capabilities of 80 average IQ Islamists, who are currently losing and hard pressed enough as it is.

Assuming this is true, this could mean one of, and probably both of, these things.

1. The US/Israel want to (cheaply, deniably) probe the Russian AA systems at Khmeimim, in case they’re thinking of resuming the regime change program.

And if it wildly happens to succeed in temporarily disabling Russian air power, as the first round of attacks on Dec 31 seems to have done so, then all the better.

2. Telling Putin he should start thinking about packing up his bags in Syria.

EDIT 01/10:

Alexander Mercouris – Drone attack on Russian bases launched from Turkish controlled area

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Some pretty strange things going on at Khmeimim.

1. On Jan 3, 2018, Kommersant reported:

  • The destruction of seven (!) planes at the Russian airbase in Syria, including four Su-24, two Su-35C, and one An-72 transport.
  • More than ten servicemen were injured
  • An ammo dump was destroyed

This was supposedly the result of an Islamist mortar shelling of the base on Dec 31, 2017.

Such a degree of damage does not seem plausible for a mortar shelling.

2. The following day the Russian Defense Ministry reported two military deaths in the event, but denied that seven planes had been destroyed.

3. On the same day, war correspondent Roman Saponkov published pictures of a damaged Su-24:


As well as the following report:

Provisionally, 6 Su-24, one Su-35C, one An-72, and one An-30 recon plane, and one Mi-8 [were damaged]. Two Su-324 and the Su-35C have been repaired.

Incidentally, it is curious to note that Dec 31 also saw the crash in Hama of a Mi-24 helicopter as a result of a bad landing due to technical problems, as a result of which its two pilots died. Shoddy repairs?

4. Various theories were floating around – the official explanation of mortars was none too convincing, while others speculated that the ammo base was blown up by accident.

However, things soon became clearer, when on Dec 5, war correspondent Ivan Sidorenko reported there was a large explosion in the skies over Jableh due to Russian AA batteries intercepting a missile or drone that was going to bomb Khmeimim. Soon after, the Syrians published a drone-like contraption that had just 2 grenades attached to it, which they had apparently shot down with just light firearms on Dec 2.

khmeimim-responsibilityOn the night of Dec 6, there were yet more drone attacks on the base. This time, Ahrar Al-Alawi (FSA Free Alawite Movement) claimed responsibility, now claiming they had also taken out an S-400 as well as another aircraft, and promising “painful” days up to the time of Putin’s elections and stating that Russia won’t stay in Syria for more than 6 more months.

There have been differing reports over the scale of the damage. Given its history of prevarication, the Russian Ministry of Defense has hardly built up a reservoir of trust, and observers have noted suspicious discrepancies in Russian TV reporting “from the ground” in Khmeimim several months ago, and today.

On the other hand, Cassad expresses severe skepticism that Alawite extremists could be behind it, and I would tend to agree with this. As I myself have reported, opinion polls have long indicated strong support for Assad in Tartus and coastal Latakia, and it seems unlikely to have changed, especially now when Assad seems to be winning.

It is also worth noting that there are powerful forces who actively want to discredit Putin in Syria. This of course applies first and foremost to the Russian non-systemic opposition: In his first video after the New Year, Alexey Navalny spends 12 minutes talking of “meaningless sacrifices” and “why are we in Syria anyway?”

Even so, there are a couple of things to be very concerned about:

1. How are “moderate rebels” are able to direct salvo after salvo of drone attacks against Khmeimim from the heart of regime territory?

This would be just one more sad but increasingly self-evident data point on the lack of any meaningful improvement in Syrian military capability since Russia entered the fray.

crappy-drone2. Warning, entering conspiracy mode.

There’s a distinct “plucky rebels” vs. “evil empire” vibe about this whole affair, up to and including the low-resolution images of the DIY contraptions that apparently constitute these all-powerful drones (see right) that we are to believe have disabled – at least temporarily – up to a third of Russian air power in Syria over the past week.

How are they getting through? The radius of action of home made drones is modest. Surely simple EW countermeasures should be sufficient for them? Besides, frag grenades – such as the ones mounted on the drone that the Syrians claim to have shot down on Dec 2 – will do nothing against a Su-24′s skin. You need serious high explosives to do the sort of damage displayed in Saponkov’s photograph. Frankly, I have a hard time buying that this is the sort of thing that can be manufactured, smuggled in, and organized by deep cover rebel operatives.

However, there are forces in the region who are credibly capable of such operations.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Drones, Military, Russia, Syrian Civil War 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.