Weird aspects about AFVs in the Syrian Civil War

1) Low intensity

The war has been going on, but tank losses are below 2 tanks per day. This is a very low rate of losses in my opinion. Other Middle East Wars (the conventional ones) have seen hundreds of tanks destroyed. It seems that the civil war is mostly in a standstill, with regime forces having difficulty amassing strength for local superiority that suffices for offensive actions. This seems to be first and foremost about personnel affairs, particularly motivations.

2) Tanks on overwatch / surveillance duty

Several videos show tanks getting hit by guided missiles while they are motionless on overwatch duty, hatches closed and not moving the turret.
This seems to be a generally underappreciated role of tanks. The first German post-WW2 firefight involved a check point where a Leopard 2 tank was standing, but entirely unmanned. Doctrine and training had not stressed the necessity to have at least one man in the turret at all times for security.
I think it was Ralph Zumbro who wrote about the employment of tanks in Vietnam and recounted how a single tank oversaw and dominated a valley. The main security challenge were the nights; supposedly the random occasional shooting of nearby bushes with a 40 mm gun sufficed to deter any attempts to sneak up to the tank with a satchel charge or RPG-2/B-40.

source: FM 17-98
The ideal overwatch would likely be a turret down position with the ability to move up to a hull down position in seconds. meanwhile, only turret roof-mounted (if not mast-mounted) sensors would be used for all-round search. Maybe these sensors could even be in constant rotation with automated detection of suspicious things or movements. Detached unattended ground senors around the tank could help, with their readings displayed on the tank's screens. So a combination of great (prepared) position and technical equipment for the surveillance mission could achieve a lot.

Of course, being attentive at all times and backing up into a turret down position in time would help a lot as well.

Instead, many comments on the tanks hit (and some of them destroyed) appeared to pay undue attention to turret all-round passive protection (armour).

3) Tracked self-propelled artillery and mortars

The import of 2S9 self-propelled (tracked) mortars made me wonder "why?!?". What's the point? 

The armour is barely bulletproof against rifle calibres (good 7.62x51 NATO might penetrate at 100 m), so that's no vehicle for line of sight support fires except at ranges where doing NLOS support fires with an observer who has LOS in shouting distance would work as well.

There is no need to shoot & scoot in indirect fires for want of rebel counterfires to regime arty and mortars (unless they're in line of sight, of course), so a towed 120 mm mortar would work just as well.

The mobility of a tracked platform is actually quite crappy for mobile operations around the roads through rather arid areas. A wheeled vehicle (particularly new commercial vehicles which can be expected to be fine for the next 30,000 -50,000 km) would be much more mobile.

Finally, Russian AFVs are not known for having fantastic air conditioning.

So why do they import 2S9 self-propelled tracked mortars instead of importing cheap 120 mm towed mortars and employ them with a pair of Toyota Hilux with a 0.5 ton box trailer?

The vehicles aren't new (hence likely worn out a lot), and one might think that Russia simply dumps unnecessary old matériel into Syria, but that doesn't excuse the maintenance and thus readiness issues of an old tracked platform used in a role where pickups suffice. The 2S9's above-average range (for a 120 mm mortar weapon) is no good reason either. Normal 120 mm mortar ranges suffice in that conflict; arty can deal with anything that's farther out.

It's weird. They have very little ability to afford imports, but they waste money on hardly suitable equipment.



  1. Nona is a gun-mortar. I think they're gonna use it in the direct fire role, instead of T-55s/T-62s. The Nona is as good as a T-72 in that role, of which Syrians don't have that many left (I think).

  2. Why the 2S9?

    Because Syrians are lazy and wouldn't use anything you'd have to lug around in the desert. Stuff that is permanently attached to a potential escape vehicle is also more likely to survive the inevitable chaotic rout. I bet they have depots full of unused mortars as is.

  3. "The vehicles aren't new (hence likely worn out a lot), and one might think that Russia simply dump unnecessary old matériel into Syria...". Yes, it is. Nona-Ss, T-62s, BMP-2s, even WW2 era M30 howitzers. Assad today has no money at all, so either Moscow itself is "donating" (and receives additional bases in exchange), or Teheran is paing for old unnecessary items from Russian warehouses.

  4. My guess? Laziness and error. It takes a little work to emplace a ground-mounted mortar as opposed to just driving up and throwing the transmission in neutral. And the metal box gives the impression of safety, as opposed to a ground-mounted system in the open (because heaven forfend you sandbag or dig the thing in!).

  5. I think they will use them like an SPG in urban enviroment, fast fire, fast moving into new position and the high angle is advantagous in this terrain.

  6. Beside Hilux-towed mortars more Faluq-2* launchers on said 4x4 or Isuzu trucks might make sense. They seem to be a modern take on the Wurfrahmen and look well suited to the often urban, short ranged and low-level combat in Syria and Iraq. Indeed they seem to have become somewhat of a standard weapon in the broader conflict.

    Throw in two larger 6x6 or 8x8 truck with commercial cranes (with maybe some reloading 3-pack modules) and lots of rockets to support a 6 vehicle battery.




    *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xWm2cKoVRY (3:30+)

  7. Edit, some of those heavy short-ranged rockets (Isuzu?) trucks are already outfitted with cranes...