Achtung Leopards in Syria! Full analysis of the Leopard 2A4TR in Syria

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Operation Euphrates Shield, Syria
  3. Details about Leopard 2s in Syria
  4. Leopard 2s on the stage
  5. Does the cat have a thick fur?
  6. Final analysis and recommendations

Also do not forget that we offer military analysis and OSINT services.

Introduction

In this analysis we are going to have a closer look at the performance of the Turkish Leopard 2A4TR tanks in Syria, to do that we are going to know the machine itself, the doctrine and the environment where it has operated and other things thanks to a very detailed OSINT analysis.

In 2005 Turkey acquired 298 second-hand Leopard 2A4s from Germany, later those were called Leopard 2A4TRs and they have just a slight difference in comparison with the originals, that is the addition of improved air filters, something very important for the dusty terrain generally faced in the Middle East.

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Leopard 2A4TR in Syria.

Operation Euphrates Shield, Syria

At the end of August 2016 Turkey launched an offensive with rebel groups from FSA at the north of Syria mainly against the Islamic State but with an eye kept on the Kurdish.

At first M-60Ts were deployed but after some time of rumors and Leopard 2s near the Syrian frontier on the 8th of December 2016 the first batch of Leopard 2A4TRs were seen near the town of Al-Bab firing its guns against ISIS VBIEDs.

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Before the final apparition of the Leopard 2A4s in Syria images like this merged near the Turkey-Syria border.

In theory a few armored and mechanized units probably totalizing no more than two brigades were deployed in Syrian territory, but deployed is not the same as used in the offensive, because it was the FSA infantry and technicals who normally led the attack what resulted in a  new hybrid warfare mixture for the Turkish army.

First of all Syrians speak Arabic, while Turkish speak Turkish even using different alphabets so the communication was not very fluent what is very important if you want to take advantage of the firepower that tanks and artillery offer, also there was lack of training and morale among FSA because this group was mainly comprised of men recruited from refugee camps in Turkey with a fickle morale to fight.

Finally but not less important as Russia or USA have done in Syria the Turkish do not use their conventional units as the bulk of the force, in spite of that they stay in reserve and just some support units are sent to the front, this is important because it means that they are far away from exploiting their full offensive potential in the battlefield.

Let’s see what Heinz Guderian, the father of the so called Blirzkrieg can tell us from his book Achtung-Panzer! first published in Germany on 1937.

“This force [in reference to armored forces and tanks] that actually has the biggest offensive power has also the right to use this power under its own rules, and so anywhere it is empoyed it will be the main force and the others will depend on them ” 

The tank is normally the central piece of the ground warfare but to fully exploit its firepower, mobility and protection it must have an accompanying force to reach all the possbilities that it offers.

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When tanks are badly accompained and operated they become very vulnerable that is why ISIS has been able to defeat a small Turkish Leopard 2s unit and capture its cats.

If a high intensity campaign would have been done against ISIS the mechanized or armored forces would have been comprised of the next accompanying elements: Mechanized infantry, engineers, self-propelled artillery and air support, all of them used at the same time, in high numbers and at the key points of the ISIS defenses to break their lines and continue the advance cutting their rearguard until Raqqa, but this has never happen, but why? Because as we said Turkey is acting like Russia or the USA and they just do not want to do that kind of high intensity but also high losses warfare, in spite of that they prefer to use their tanks as a mere support for the FSA avoiding to use them in the attack to deeply penetrate ISIS lines alongside a combined arms force.

This is the first main reason for the Leopard 2A4s losses in Syria, they are not being used as tanks must be used, they can not be just mobile guns to support rebels because for that purpose a cheap T-55 captured from SAA depots or even a technical would be nearly as useful as an expensive Leopard 2.

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Use an advanced tank like a Leopard 2A4 just to provide fire support from the distance is an obvious underutilization of a very capable tool.

But what else did Heinz Guderian told us 80 years ago? Let’s have a look:

“The rights claimed result in the next tactical needs:

  • Surprise
  • Massive employ
  • Suitable terrain”

Surprise was not reached in Al Bab and in fact it is the opposite, the Turkish low profile performance  letting most of the weight of the fight to fall on the FSA and doing just a slow advance was not going to result in any surprise.

The massive employ was not reached because tanks were used in small units, normally just platoons of three or four tanks and sometimes even individually.

Suitable terrain, the only thing that did not depended on the Turkish High Command was given by the nature of the Syrian terrain with a lot of plains and ground with just some snow during the winter.

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Leopard 2A4s were deployed in certain numbers but were not used in mass nor concentrated.

Teacher Guderian said “The high speed of the armored attack is essential to determine the results of the combat”

Most of all of the basic rules about the use of armored forces were not applied by Turkish military planners probably due to political pressure to avoid losses and because the chief of the operation, the Lieutenant general Zekai Aksakallı is from SF so he is not very familiar with the usage of armored forces.

So what was the only way of use of the Leopard 2A4TRs in Syria? Just go to one position overlooking the area and give some fire support with the help of a link officer between the FSA and the tanks or just by the own capabilities of the steel monsters.

The lack of ground reconnaissance and link with the rebels ultimately led to the Leopard 2A4 crews to take some bad deccissions and place their tanks at vulnerable positions, those ones were observated by ISIS and its experienced tank hunter units equipped with ATGMs that ultimately were able to hit the MBTs on the exposed flanks.

While we will have a closer look about protection in the section “Does the cat have a thick fur?”  first of all we want to point a few things.

Most of the missiles that hit the Leopard 2s probably were 9M113 Konkurs that attacked from the flanks, anyone with some knowledge about this subject knows that there is no modern MBT able to resist these kind of missiles at the sides if they have no ERA or cage armor attached. Apart from that German designers relied in isolate the most sensible compartments that could led to a catastrophic explosion in case of perforation, especially thinking about fuel and ammunitions.

If a tank like a Leopard 2A4 get an ATGM impact on the side the damages are unavoidable but limitable thanks to automatic fire supression systems, heavily protected ammunition boxes, fireproof garments for the crew etc At this point we can say that Leopard 2A4 resisted well those terrible impacts taking in to account that heavy damages are mostly unavoidable in a situation with these characteristics.

Details about Leopard 2s in Syria

Before being sent to the frontline most of the Leopard 2s were painted with a new arid scheme camouflage but a few Leopard 2s even maintain their old green scheme as we can see in the images.

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While they are uncommon there are still some green Leopard 2A4s in Syria.

While Syria is in general a dry country the north gets some snow and very low temperatures during the coldest months of the winter but in fact that is not a problem for the Leopard 2s that are very well suited for low temperatures.

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Syria is not as hot as some would expect.

Also the Leopard 2 can mount a 7,62 mm MG-1 or MG-3 on the turret in front of the commanders hatch, those MGs tend to use an AA sight but in this case it wouldn’t have sense for Turkish crews and so they probably use the normal sights. This machine gun is especially famous because of its deadly rate of fire around 1.200 bullets per minute. However it is a feature that we have seen just in a few cases while most of the turret MGs have been removed.

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Covered by a plastic is the MG-1/3 machine gun over the turret.

About the ammunition used, as far as what has been released we have seen M325 HEAT-MP-T (Multipurpose Tracer) rounds along with advanced Turkish (MKEK) copy of the KE German rounds DM-43 or DM-53 and Israeli KE APFSDS M322 or M328.

  • KE or APFSDS – Kinnetic Energy (Only against very well protected targets)
  • HEAT –  High Explosive Anti Tank (Multipurpose)
  • HE –  High Explosive (only against soft targets)

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In theory the DM-43s or DM-53s of the last group of images don’t exactly match with a German produced round, in our opinion those are DM-43 or DM-53 rounds produced by MKEK because we have find 120 mm APFSDS-T KE rounds produced by MKEK as we can see on the image below, but these rounds do not appear in the MKEK webpage.

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Under the M325 round we can see cartridge containers for 120 mm APFSDS-T  rounds produced by MKEK, this caliber is just for tanks and the type APFSDS is just for Kinnetical Energy (KE) rounds.

The use of HE and HEAT rounds should be the rule in Syria as far as they are the best suited to deal with personal behind field fortifications or walls, and the HEAT can even engage some armor that ISIS could rarely deploy, like BMP-1s or certain outdated tanks.

The KE APFSDS are penetrators designed to pass through the armor of advanced tanks like T-72s or T-90s and they are no effective against buildings, technicals or lightly armroed vehicles, for example during 1991 Desert Storm we saw that M829 or M829A1 KE rounds were able to penetrate from  side to side of a T-72 and left the tank without destroy anything, so if they can go across all the vehicle and get out whithout affecting it, why deploy them in Syria?

As we all know ISIS has been making a massive use of SVBIEDs mounted in armored civilian vehicles moving at high speed, those are pretty destructive and difficult to hit targets while HEAT and HE projectiles could deal with VBIEDs armors their trajectories are much parabolic because of their lower muzzle velocity in comparison with KE rounds which are around 1.600 m/s in comparison with around 1.000 m/s of HEAT or HE rounds.

This is important for several reasons, for example the DM-53 (KE)  is much faster than the M325 (HEAT) and so it has a much more flat and easy to aim trajectorie what leads to a higher level of accuracy and rate of fire both very important capabilities to deal with VBIEDs. But at this point the sharpest might argue that as I have said before this rounds tend to penetrate all the armor and leave the vehicle without cause any important damage, while this is true we must remember that VBIEDs are loaded with huge amounts of explosives and so the probability that the projectile hits one of them during the perforation is very high.

In most world doctrines including the Turkish, tank platoons are comprised of 4 tanks each with one leading tank, however sometimes some especial forces use platoons of three tanks each, this is for example more typical in expeditionary forces like marines or naval infantry units.

What is strange is that at some point we have observed what appears to be Turkish tank units of 3 tanks each while it would have sense because you do not need to mass a lot of vehicles to fight ISIS but rather be flexible with the vehicles you have, but anyway we are far from absolutely sure about this point.

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Leopard 2s on the stage

Almost all of the fighting where the Leopard 2s have been involved was linked to the battle for Al-Bab town, and especially about the clashes for its hospital located at the west of the town.

Desastre Hospital
Al-Bab town.
Desastre Hospital1
Al-Bab hospital.

For recovery purposes the main vehicle is the M88A1 originally based on the M-48/M-60 powerplants, while the A1 is an improved version with a more powerful engine.

We do not know the numbers of M88A1s deployed but what is sure is that they have not done or they have not been able to do a good job at certain times, because we have been able to see how Leopard 2A4s destroyed or heavily damaged were not recovered event a mptnh after the event, what says a lot about coordination and maybe about the ISIS pressure in the area.

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M88A1 in Syria.

At the moment we have been able to verify the existence of 43 Leopard 2A4TRs deployed in Syria along two batches: The first one was comprised of 18 tanks that were seen on 8/12/2016 while the second batch included 25 tanks that were sent on 10/12/2016 this numbers suggest a deployed force equivalent to an armored brigade and as Christian Triebert published in Bellingcat the license plates of the Leopard 2s corresponded to the 2nd Armored Brigade from the First Army.

But how are they normally operated?

Normally they fire from hastily constructed field fortifications originally intended for the infantry and built with soil walls, they are not specifically designed for tanks because otherwise they would have much higher walls covering their sides and fronts. If they would have enough time and resources they would have dug firing positions for the tanks because those protect them much more than those walls made with soil.

We have not seen any well prepared dig in fire position for the tanks what suggests a low participation and low coordination with engineer units who would have build much better positions an effort that in the end could have saved a lot of vehicles and crews.

Look at the images above and just compare the levels of protection offered by the fortifications done in both firing positions for tanks, on the left one a M1 Abrams during some drills, on the right one a Leopard 2A4TR in Syria.

Normally Leopard 2s stay behind the soil walls and provide fire support from positions overlooking ISIS territory and firing the main guns and the coaxial machine guns, however we do not know their level of coordination with the FSA.

We also think that apart from the own abilities of the tank, the Turkish are using their Cobra OTOKAR light wheeled vehicles to support fire control of the MBTs during the operations, this technique is also used by other armies like for example the French AMX-56s along the VBLs.

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OTOKAR Cobra in Syria.

It is also interesting to note that there are a lot of photos of Turkish soldiers with relatively rare and specialized weapons like the AIAW sniper rifle posing with the Leopards, these kind of rifles would be just used in very specialized sniper units particularly from the SFs a kind of forces that you would not normally expect to be operating with armored units, this gives us an idea about how hybrid the warfare is where the Turkish Leopard 2s are acting.

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As the Leopard 2s are normally acting as mere means of fire support and not as part of purely offensive and advancing forces they are not probably expected to need fire support and so probably the artillery and mainly the 155 mm SPH T-155s are not acting primarily under the tank units requisitions what is always  a defect.

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In normal conditions the 155 mm SPH T-155 Firtina would have operated in close coordination with the Leopard 2A4s.

However we are still speaking about a low-intensity operation and so the tanks deployed do not act in a normal way and in the end they are being used such as during urban fighting, that is disperse tank units and decentralize at a certain degree the command, so for example if tanks are needed at some area they do not deploy even a single squadron but just one or two tanks to provide fire support, this is because ISIS has so low numbers of troops deployed that you do not need the whole unit to be participating during the fire support phase.

While in a normal situation Turkish armored units would be coordinated with jets, helicopters, artillery and other assets, in Syria they just look to be coordinated with small units of mechanized infantry mounted on ACV-15s (a heavily improved Turkish version of the M-113 APC) that in our opinion normally act as security elements for the small tank units.

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Most times the true spearhead of the OES is the FSA units supported by tanks and by the artillery provided thanks to the SFs accompaining the FSA and using recognisment technics, the air force looks to be operating both attacking predetermined objectives and providing immediate air support.

But the main problem is that the FSA that in theory is supposed to be the infantry spearhead has a different language (Arabic) a lot of times they have no experience, low moral and a low level of training, and finally they are mainly a light force without their own heavy material what in the end and in spite of the Turkish heavy material supporting them does not compensate their deficiencies.

Also it must not be underestimated the high proficiency that ISIS tank hunter units have reached in Al-Bab, a sophistication never seen before in Syria or Iraq with even simultaneous double ATGM strikes and a good coordination to attack from different sides, and a good knowledge of the terrain that has allowed them to take some advantages and produce some small but jazzy successes.

Does the cat have a thick fur?

While some have argue that the tanks were hit by TOW-2A ATGMs we find it very unlikely, first of all because throughout the war just a few TOWs have end on hands of ISIS, and secondly because ISIS has plenty of Soviet/Russian ATGMs, some of them captured and some of them bought to rebel groups.

Those ATGMs are mainly 9M111 Fagot, 9M113 Konkurs, 9M133 Kornet and 9M115 Metis, the last one depending on its variant 9M115 or 9M115-1 has a medium range from 1 to 1,5 km, also all of them work with HEAT warheads and the less powerful one is the 9M111 with a penetration capability around 400 mm of RHA.

In theory the frontal armor of the Leopard 2A4 would resist the Fagot, could resist the Metis and the Konkurs and would not resist the Kornet.

However the sides is another story, maybe at the frontal part of the sides of the Leopard 2A4 where the heavy skirts are situated we might be speaking about a 40% of the armor on the front, while in  the other parts of the sides it would probably be even less.

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Look at how thin the side armor is.

We estimate that the armor of the chassis would be between 3 to 8 cm thick of conventional steel depending on where are we speaking while at the low part of the chassis we should add the wheels and the light skirt acting as spaced armor what adds an unknown protection, but still the most exposed parts are the sides of the turret and the high part of the chassis because there is no extra armor on both.

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At the left of the soldier we can appreciate the heavy sideskirt blocks of first generation that were later replaced in the Leopard 2A5 version.

However Leopard 2s are designed to also protect the critical flammable or explosive components inside the tank, and overall the ammunition racks wich are protected and even every round has its own plated container.

The tank has two main ammo racks, the first one with 27 rounds  storaged at the front of the chassis at the height of the gunner, that one is very well protected but it could be vulnerable to mines that hit the low glacis or beneath the hull, the other rack is at the left-back part of the turret and it has 15 ready to use rounds, these ones are by far the more exposed, especially to hits on the sides of the turret.

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Leopard 2A4 ammunition storage

It is not necessary to say that every ATGM would be able to penetrate the side of the Leopard at almost any place and after the penetration just the protection measures and the luck in some way foreseen by the designers will allow the tank and its crew to survive.

Also it must be said that normally just one penetration is not able to destroy a tank but rather to cause it heavy but repairable damages including heavy wounds and even some deaths to the crew.

In the case of Syria all of the hits documented were on the right side of the Leopard 2s leading to one of the worst situations, also some tanks were captured and utterly destroyed by ISIS or by Turkish airstrikes.

Let’s have a look at the image below, it shows an absolutely annihilated Leopard 2A4, everything that could have exploited did it, but let’s have a closer look at the front of the chassis because that part is the one that has suffered more damage, for example the ammo rack of the turret has also exploited but it has not meant that the turret has been cut in to pieces, while the chassis has been. In our opinion what these evidences suggest is that such damage can just had been done by an air launched missile, in the case of the Turkish Air Force probably an AGM-65 Maverick, because the frontal chassis is very hard to destroy as it has been done in this case.

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The damage over the frontal part of the chassis is incredible moreven if we take in to account that it is the most armored part of the MBT.

Also during the ISIS video about the captured Turkish positions with a few Leopard 2s apparently they were all well preserved and so posterior images of Leopard 2s could have been taken after those captured ones were destroyed by ISIS or the Turkish. In the end those are too complex and unknown vehicles for ISIS and they are as useless as those M1 Abrams captured by Daesh in Iraq that were later destroyed.

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Disgracefully we have not been able to establish the conncetion between any of the ISIS ATGM videos and other tank photos, with the exception of the next  group of images where we can see an attack on two Leopard 2A4s, thanks to Christian Triebert for help us at this point.

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In this case the ATGM was more likely a Soviet 9M111, 9M113 or 9M133, at the position  attacked there were two Leopard 2s and one T-155 SPH. The position was comprised of a soil wall divided in two spaces at the front where both vehicles were situated to fire, for the protection of the sides they mistakenly trusted in to a civilian wall that did not cover even the taller part of the chassis.

The after effects of the engagement can be seen on this image.

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Despues de capturados 1
The second tank that was hit: Here we can appreciate the effects of the penetration.
Despues de capturados 2
The first tank that was hit: In this case we can see the hole on the turret to allow the energy of the explosion get out upwards in case of the 120 mm ammo rack was penetrated.

 

While both tanks suffered a brutal impact the second one got completely burnt off, judging the angle for the ATGM we can clearly see that the most exposed part of that tank was the rear turret, where the ready to use 120 mm rounds were placed, the weaker spot of the tank. The impact led to a catastrophic kill that probably disembogued in the death of some members of the crew.

The first tank resisted much better the impact, as we can see on the images of the strike and the images above the tank chassis was very angled and also the missile hit the heavy sideskirts what might have helped to decrease the power of the shaped charge once it entered inside the tank, while some damage and injuries may have been caused the crew still was able to turn back the turret, this hit could have also been close to affect the main 120 mm rack storage but it looks like it wasn’t able to reach it what shows why German designers added those heavy sideskirts at the flanks, to protect that side where a powerrful hit could ultimately reach the main 120 mm storeroom.

V8

Also it is interesting to note that on the image above we can see how the upper part of the turret where the 120 mm ammo rack is has been opened, in theory this part of the tank was deisgned to blown up to direct the explosion of the cartridges outside the tank, that is why it is very typical to see that part of the Leopard 2 turret blown up in cases of penetration.

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ATGM 1:  9M-115-2 Metis-M approaching to its target in Syria.
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ATGM 1.2: 9M115-2 hits the target

On the sequence of images ATGM 1 and ATGM 1.2 we can see the impact of a powerful 9M115-2 Metis-M medium range ATGM with a high penetration capability on the side of the Leopard 2 again a very weak spot for a powerful ATGM as the Metis-M is.

In similar hits in T-72 series tanks in Syria where the better frontal armor of the Leopard 2A4s is not an advantage because the T-72s have around 80 mm of steel in the sides probably nearly the same as the Leopard 2s, we have been able to observe that catastrophic kills are much rare in the German tanks.

Some tanks were destroyed by IEDs or mines, the fact is that normally AT mines are designed to disable the tank by destroying the tracks but not to completely blow them of, however IEDs which are “homemade” and can be produced with different amounts of explosives can be very powerful, especially if common 152 mm or 155 mm HE artillery rounds are used.

In the next image we can see a totally destroyed tank whose number plate was “195 | 526” and according to some sources it was disabled by an IED or a mine.

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The “195 | 526” tank.
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The “195 | 526” tank.
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The “195 | 526” tank.

If we have a closer look at the paper from an unknown source that has proven itself very accurate the tanks that revceived heavy damages had a “Ağır hasarli” (heavy damage) note, while those with very light damage did not have any indication as we can see in the original paper by comparing it with those tanks in the videos released by ISIS.

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The original paper with the information that later proved very reliable and accurate.

But the “195 | 526” tank appeared with no damages measure and in theory it was affected by an IED or a mine, so why the images show exactly the opposite? In our opinion it is just part of the ISIS propaganda, also the turret does not look to have suffered a prolonged fire of its 120 mm ammunition but rather a huge explosion after the ammunition was taken out, what explains the lack of burning marks and how the terrorists would have placed the explosives on the floor of the tank.

In the end it is very likely that this tank suffered a mobility kill because of a mine and later ISIS was able to loot and then put some explosives inside it to prevent the Turkish from recover their cat.

For example the Leopard 2 that appears below looks to have step over an AT mine or an IED because the right track is destroyed while the other one is in well state, and also it has not caused the destruction of the tank because it would not have been able to reach the main racks, this matches with the description given about the tank with the number plate 195 | 541.

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Leopard 2 MBT right track destroyed.
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Leopard 2 MBT right track destroyed.

Also the next one looks like the 195 | 537  tank because in the description it was said that it was “under the wall”.

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Very likely the 195 | 537

In social media it is claimed that it was loaded with a bomb and the fired with a M82A1 Barret what caused its destruction.

Interestingly almost a 100% of the hits of mines, RPGs and ATGMs over the Leopard 2s happened on the right flank of the tanks, this has a lot of sense as far as the position of ISIS was in Al Bab, and Turkish tanks were approaching from the west while approximately two kilometres at the south were placed the ISIS AT positions within range to fire the long range ATGMs two kilometres inside FSA-Turkish held territory to hit the Leopard 2s that were aiming at Al-Bab letting their flanks exposed as the next image explains

V4

 Final analysis & recommendations

Improve the coordination with FSA or even mix them with mechanized units would lead to a better level of effectiveness in te battlefield while it would also help to strength the FSA forces.

A much high level of coordination with the engineers for recovery missions and to build better protected firing positions for the tanks would help a lot to prevent ISIS from detect and hit Turkish tanks, while also the Leopard 2s should take more advantage of their mobility and do not stay in  the same position after a few shots it is important to speed up the fire support processes tor reduce detection, engage and fire by ISIS AT weapons against Turkish armor.

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Panzer IV dug in a well built position, this kind of fortification must be provided by Turkish combat engineers.

About the recovery missions they are very important because some of the tanks captured by ISIS were taken because they have small mobility problems that could have been solved by repairing them or by evacuating them from the frontline before ISIS took the position, also some destroyed tanks that should also be taken out from the battlefield were abandoned and stayed in the same places even one month after they were destroyed.

Better use of ground reconnaissance assets in this kind of low intensity hybrid warfare is vital, it is needed a major use of armored vehicles and infantry survey to find places to be attacked by the tanks in ISIS lines and to determine what firing positions are best suited to protect the tanks from ISIS AT weaponry, along with the reconnaissance the use of more anti-mine warfare equipment and even vehicles would be useful to prevent some dangerous situations.

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The Cobra MARS-V is the survelliance version of the Cobra, a vehicle that could have been very useful against ISIS during the battle of Al-Bab.

The organization of self-destruction air units 24/7 ready to destroy enemy tanks captured by ISIS could be a good idea to prevent them to use those tanks as propaganda or give us disgusting susprises in the future.

Also some of the actions of ISIS able to take some small positions where the Leopard 2A4TRs were stationed shows a certain lack of sedulity about the security element comprised of mechanized infantry mounted in ACV-15s that should establish a strong perimeter around the tanks to prevent ISIS to sneak in to their positions something that tends to happen in hybrid warfare.

Also allocate more M88A1 recovery vehicles for the units in the front to provide them better means for recovery missions along reserves of armored units as full time quick reaction forces to counter-attack, even with support of helicopters against possible ISIS nigh raids or similar ones could be a very good idea.

All the measures told above are free or very cheap however some heavy measuers could be taken to directly protect the Leopard 2s as we are going to see.

The Turkish company ASELSAN designed a very interesting prototype based on the Leopard 2A4 called Leopard 2 NG (Next Generation) which between other things adds a lot of modular armor and a cage armor on the sides.

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Leopard 2 NG designed by ASELSAN a very interesting upgrade from which part of the technology could be aplplied to the Leopard 2A4TR, pay attention to the enhanced protection on the sides.

While Leopard 2A4 is probably protected enough against most threats at the front the sides are another story and in our opinion the addition of the Leopard 2 NG armor to the sides and some ERA could make them well protected against ISIS threats however it is unlikely that without the ERA even the Leopard 2 NG could stop a Konkurs or even less a Kornet at the sides, along with these measures the study of new better protected ammo racks even by reducing them a little could be a great idea.

Finally the addition of a LWR or a similar system to alert the crew from enemy incoming ATGMs could help to save a lot of tanks and lives.

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We also want to thanks Christian Triebert for helping us and for his excellent article in Bellingcat.


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Illuminating the new Turkish M-60T1 Sabra deployed in Syria

Before anything I want to thanks in first term to @trubia_t but also to @TarMilus and @WithinSyriaBlog for give me their valuable opinion while I was doing this article.

On this article we are going to have a closer look to the new Turkish tank that has also appeared in Syria, the M-60T1 Sabra.

Fist of all the M-60T Sabra is a very deep upgrade designed in Israel and based on the Magach 7C tank which is in turn based on the M-60 Patton, the Israelis called it Sabra Mk. II but when it was chosen by the Turkish Army it was called M-60T from “Türkiye” (Turkey).

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Israeli Magach 7C, the father of the M-60T Sabra, also called Sabra Mk. II

In the end of August, 2016 Turkey launched the Operation Euphrates Shield (OES) with the aim of kick ISIS from some areas in the nort of Syria and also there was a hidden objective to prevent Kurdish from unify their cantons in Syria and ensure survival of some Turkish backed rebel groups.

Since the begin the armored spearhead of the Turkish and its allies during OES was the M-60T Sabra, the tank was quite good and was able to even resist on the front the impact of a 9M133 Kornet, one of the most advanced Russian ATGMs, this is not a small matter as far as the M-60T in the end was based on a tank from the 60s, but despite of that the numerous impacts on the sides of the M-60Ts showed that they still were very vulnerable to the ISIS ATGMs.

The amount of losses of men and material was increasing at a relatively high rate and it finally lead to the appearance of the Leopard 2A4TRs to replace at a certain degree the losses suffered by units equipped with the M-60s.

So the situation was relatively bad and Turkey came up with a new upgrade that has probably been conceived in less than a few months, unless it was a previous secret program, so this is why the M-60T1 probably bornt, to meet the demanding requirements of the new Syrian operational environment.

On 7th February some images of a tank called “M-60T1” merged and that was quite strange as far as we didn’t hear nothing about that upgrade before.

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First image of the M-60T1 Sabra in Syria, via @huseyinbozan

The first interesting thing is the Remote Weapon Station (RWS) that replaces at the left-back of the turret the M85 HMG weapon station, that was not remotely operated, the new RWS uses a typical 12,7 x 99 mm M2 Browning HMG, the new RWS looks like is a N-2000 from the Turkish company Nurol Makina who has put it on the Ejder Yalçin 4×4 armored vehicle, also it is possible that this product has been developed with some know-how from ASELSAN or could be a SARP RWS from the same Turkish company with a lot of experience in the field of RWS design.

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Ejder Yalçin with one variant of the N-2000
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Ejder Yalçin with another variant of the N-2000, this one looks closer to the one featured in the image of the M-60T1

The company provides some information about the N-2000 that is stated to use a DNP-28 ASELSAN night and day vision system and also it can be rotated manually from inside between -20° and +60° in elevation and 360° in azimuth (multi-turn).

In opposition to most tanks in the world the M-60 was one of the few with a commander’s machine gun fired from a protected station without the need to expose himself to the bullets or the shrapnel when firing the machine gun so the motivation of this improve can not be the protection, we think that the reason is due to the optics and at a less extent because of the standarization.

The N-2000 possess good optics, specially for night operations much better than those of the original M-60T M85 machine gun, and also it is the standarization which is a minor point. The M85 is a machine gun only operated in the M-60 series  and, in spite of be similar to the M2 Browning it is still different and could have some disadvantages against the M2 that is used in a lot of vehicles and by the Turskish infantry and so it has a less complex logistic.

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M-60T1 in Syria

The other main improvement of the M-60T1 is the “artifact” located at the side of the turret, but before treat it we would like to say that the opinion emitted about the artifact must not be taken as a fact because we are far from sure to be able to say what it is exactly.

The artifact looks comprised of two different elements that we have not been able to ID, the one on the top looks like a Laser Warning Receiver, a device that would be useful just against the 9M133 Kornet, the only laser guided missile on hands of ISIS, the device below could be a camera or a dazzler, the camera could be useful for driving and at close range during urban fighting, but for us it looks fixed so at a certain degree it wouldn’t have sense to install such a big camera fixed in the end we find this second theory less likely.

The lower part of the artifact could be a TLUS LWRS from ASELSAN but unleast some better images appear we can’t be sure.

Also the theory of a non hard-kill APS similar to the Shtora-1 has some weak points as @trubia_t notest because just 8 smoke-launchers on the tank are not enough to fully exploit a system like this.

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*SARP or N-2000 RWS

So in our opinion the most likely and desirable device would be a dazzler similar in concept to the “red eyes” of the T-90’s Shtora, essentially it consists in a special light able to confuse the automatic part of the guidance system from a Semi Automatic Line of Sight (SACLOS) ATGM, a system present in most ATGMs in Syria, with the exception of the 9M14 Malyutka that is MCLOS, that would explain the fixed position looking at the sides of the device, as far as the M-60T front has shown to be very well protected against all the threats in Syria and so the tank  does not need protection on the front but rather on the sides were nearly all of the impacts had happened.

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T-90A with the dazzlers of the Shtora-1 activated

It is interesting to note the arid camo paint on the M-60T1 what proves the especialization of this upgrade for the Syrian scenario, at the moment just the Leopard 2A4 TR and a few M-60Ts deployed in Syria had get something like it while most M-60Ts even keep the typical Turkish green camouflage.

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M-60T Sabra in Syria with arid camouflage

We are not sure if this is a prototype or an incoming massive upgrade for M-60Ts but it is interesting to note that Turkey has recently launched a competition to upgrade 40 M-60A3s, 40 Leopard 2A4s and 120 M-60Ts, while of course this has no direct relation with the M-60T1s it makes us think that maybe the M-60T1 is a temporary patch until those upgraded tanks are ready.


Hope you have enjoyed the reading, I am writing a book about tank on tank engagements during the Syrian Civil War so stay alert if you are interested on it, also if you want to help me to invest more time in my English articles you can donate something by clicking here.

If you want to contact me for everything feel free to write me at minstertipo@gmail.com

Made on the Caliphate Attack Drones: Brief Analysis of the Threat

Along 2016 and 2017 have emerged images and videos showing us an exponential increasing use of drones as attack platforms by ISIS and some rebel groups in Syria and Irak, on this article we are going to treat the evolution we have been able to see in their use their capabilities and the projectiles designed by Islamic State.

At first drones were used just for propaganda to record images from above, lately they were used for reconnaissance and intelligence and finally following the logical development  ISIS used them on ground attack role.

How threaty they are?: Knowing their secret weapon

At first ISIS used them as SVBIEDs but with not a very high effectiveness, for example on the New York Times on October 2016 was stated: “Of the three known drone attacks in Iraq, only the one involving the Kurdish soldiers caused casualties. “The explosive device inside was disguised as a battery — there was a very small amount of explosives in it, but it was enough to go off and kill them[…]”.

The relatively low degree of effectiveness is related to the relatively cheap series of drones available for ISIS and their small payload capacity.

Normally civilian drones are designed for especific missions and most of them are not designed to wear big payloads as ISIS needs, still they offer a safety space between the capability of the engines and its total weight letting ISIS install relatively small explosives and devices on them.

On December 2016 in the besieged city of Deir ez Zor the pro-Assad forces were able to down two ISIS drones by presumably using some kind of electronic warfare equipment, both drones can be seen on the images below.

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Both are civilian drones, the first uses a PG-7V and the second an improved PG-7VM warhead. These ones were rocket-propelled grenades originally intended to be fired from the Soviet rocket launcher  RPG-7  with multipurpose capability, and they are able to penetrate more than 20 cm of armor (RHA) or to roughly create an explosion like that of a hand grenade but more powerful.

A PG-7 warhead alone would weight around 1 kg but it would also need a dropping mechanism if it is a tactical support drone, or even a phone or a special device to make the SVBIED exploit at the desired moment unleast the plan is launch the drone straight to the target and make the impact fuze exploit, what could be a difficult task.

While we are not sure if those drones were intended to be SVBIEDs or to be support attack drones they were using typical war material from the region adapted to their new purpose, in spite of use especially designed projectiles.

On November 2016 Conflict Armament Research documented some interesting DIY ” Made in the Caliphate” mortar round fashion artifacts, as can be seen on the images below.

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We have calculate that the lenght and the radius of the cylinder containing the explosive must be 4,5 and 1,85 cm approximately

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The projectile is formed by five elements: (5) The plastic tail designed to gain stability and so accuracy during the flight (4) The main part of the body is united to the tail and made of the same plastic, it is cylindical and inside (3) it is the manufactured explosive  mixture, (1) then it is the pin point steel plain impact fuze and (2)  it also has an ingenious safety system by using a pin that needs to be removed to get the projectile armed.

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Behind these artifacts there is a much bigger project that includes design, production, know-how and testing, what tells us a lot about ISIS State-like capabilities, but still if we have a closer look to some of them we will see that they are not mass pruced but manufactured because their lines are not equal and perfect on every product, we may call this kind of middle way between DIY and industrial product a “DIY/2”.

We have been able to make a rough estimation of the explosive inside the projectiles on the images above, and they have a volume of 40 to 70 cm3 to be filled with an ISIS produced DIY/2 explosive mix with less power than a military one.

Conflict Amamente Research show us on its excellent document  that ISIS has been able to produce plastic fuzes so, why do not use those on these artifacts?. In my opinion when the projectile is falling it is good for the accuracy that most of the weight is on the nose where the fuze is and so if the projectile is so light a fuze composed of steel has a great advantage over a plastic one providing the desired “nose-falling” effect.

Also some may think that this looks like a DIY/2 mortar round, but this can not be true because the “projection cartridge” (as we call it in Spanish) needed to fire a mortar round would destroy the whole projectile if it was made of plastic.

Finally if we compare the ISIS designed projectiles with the adapted PG-7s we will find out that for every PG-7 at least 3 ISIS projectiles probably can be carried by a drone, but to attack an armored vehicle, even like a humvee, just a PG-7 can be effective so If I were a terrorist I would use PG-7s against highly protected targets while ISIS projectiles against enemy exposed infantry or unprotected vehicles. In the end even a M1 Abrams hasn’t got protection enough on the roof to deal with a PG-7.

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Soviet RPG-7 along with a PG-7V (green) and a PG-7VM (black) both used on ISIS drones and very popular warheads in the world

But here comes the other question: Accuracy.

These drones can fly very high but if it is too high they can loose a lot of autonomy and also their payload is very low so there is no possibility to install even some kind of primitive aim device so everything must be done literally by the eye of the operator. If conditions are good without wind nor rain and the altitude is low, I would say no more than 100 metres, a well trained operator might be able to calculate with some precision the dropping, but if we are speaking of a PG-7 warhead not designed to fall from the sky it is very probable that the operator needs to send the drone as a SVBIED straight to the target in order to let the fuze of the PG-7 impact on the target.

Let’s have a closer look to another recently released ISIS video, on this one we see another civilian drone, some claimed that it was one called “X8 Skywalker” while I don’t think it is this model probably they are quite similar products, so for example there is a video on Youtube of a flying X8 that goes extreme and flies at an altitude of 5.341 metres!. Also its payload can be as much as 2 kg, and its price is around 180$ to 250$. This could be considered as a representative example for a typical ISIS  drone.

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View from the camera of a X8 drone
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ISIS drone with two small bombs, it is possible that they were inert and were used just to record the propagandistic part of the video

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On the images above we see more interesting projectiles, in this case the drone mounts two artifacts, one per wing, and they are composed by a similar tail of that of the projectile treated above.

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ISIS produced projectile being dropped

In the case of the artifact used on the attack while we can’t know its size I would say that it has a similar white plastic tail as other ISIS designs while in this case it is coupled with what looks like a 40 mm grenade typical from Western grenade launchers or even a OG-7V HE-Fragmentation warhead designed for RPG-7s.

 

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The ISIS projectile may use a typical Western grenade like one on this image. A normal HE  40 mm grenade has a weight of around 0,25 kg and a kill radius of 5 metres and so is ideally suited for the low payload capacity of a civilian drone

Also when this artifact exploits just at a  few metres from a group of 5 men it produces minor injuries to two of them while heavy injuries to the other three, and this with a relatively accurate attack.

If we do a comparison, what could be the cost of an ISIS SVBIED including car, oil, the man, the explosives and the typical add on armour?. Just the car should cost several times the drone, but still both are different weapons meant for different situations. For example in my opinion every unit of ground based VBIEDs can be a very powerful tactical weapon while a few drones can be useful for a squad or a company of ISIS but not for a whole offensive, and even more if the enemy is digged in fortified areas.

Would also be interesting to see if ISIS includes thermal or infared cameras on its drones, what could be an interesting option for them.

Also I know that this is speculation, but what about the use of big formations of like 20 drones or so, a true unmanned air force ideally suited for non-state actors, maybe the combination of something we may call mini-carpet-drone-bombings could be effective in some situations, or the use of small wings of drones to attack objectives in succession looking if the first drone has succeed and sending another if not, like a true air force does. If this hasn’t happen yet it could be for two reasons: The less important is that the drones, specially those with a certain size are available for ISIS just in limited quantities, but the most important is that they would need a real training program of drone operators, what must be the real challenge for non-state actors. The money should not be an issue as far as buy for example 100 X8s might cost, going extreme, as much as 40.000$ what isn’t a problem for an organization able to earn billions of dollars every year.

I must also say that during the propagandistic video a drone was recording the other drone so it is possible that ISIS has some ability operating at least small groups of drones simultaneously.

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It is obvious that the drone on the image was recorded by another drone

Finally I would like to say that new imaginative and unpredictable tactics using bigger drones formations could be expected if ISIS has time enough.

They are vulnerable

Teach the ground soldiers to fire at the drones could be okay if they are able to mass enough muzzles firing and there is no risk of betray their positions to other ISIS weapons like mortars, but still it is a relatively costly measure. From my point of view the best way to deal with them would be to make troops aware of the threat and so survey the sky and hide when they see or hear something.

Finally as equipment especially designed to combat drones we should not forget that these are civilian drones with badly protected links between the machine and the operator and so they are very vulnerable to minimum electronic warfare countermeasures so apart from specialized EW units I think that the use of relatively cheap devices designed to inhibit the link between the operator and the machine could be enough to effectively deal with the increasing threat that apparently drones possess on the hybrid battlefield.

Document 2: NBC equipment in Syria

An article in Spanish will be published few days after the English version of the document.

Este mismo artículo será publicado en castellano días después de la versión en inglés.

Click here to download the document “NBC equipment in Syria”:

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This is an  article about the NBC equipment in Syria.

 

Hezbollah getting armored in Syria

During 13th November 2016 merged a lot of images about a Hezbollah parade on the Syrian-Lebanese border town of Al-Qusayr it was very interesting as far as we could saw an unexpected huge armored force owned by the group.

We will divide the article in to three parts, the first will be dedciated to the material found on the images in general, the second will treat the images on their own and in the third part I am going to expose my conclusions.

There were a lot of unconfirmed rumors about Assad supplying heavy material to Hezbollah, even during the 2013 battle for Al Qusayr the Institute for the Study of War said that Hezbollah probably operated T-54 or T-55 tanks however we never see before such evidence of heavy material in hands of Hezbollah this represnts a quality leap on their improvement as a military force able to fight in hybrid and now more conventional conflicts.

Resume of vehicles recognized

Tanks: T-54A, T-62 Obr. 1972, T-72M1, T-72AV also very likely T-55s

IFV: BMP-1s some of them with cage armor on the turret and some with the rail to fire 9M14P ATGM

Close range AA (normally they act as direct fire support vehicles): ZSU-57-2, M-113A1 with ZPU-2, GM chassis series with KS-1 and KS-19, trucks with KS-1 and KS-19

Direct fire support vehicles: technycals

Electronic Warfare Vehicles: probably R-330Ps or externally similar

Self-propelled guns: 2S1 Gvozdika

Supplier: mostly came from SAA, T-72M1s and T-72AVs could also be from Russia but this is unlikely, M-113A1s came from Lebanon but it is not sure if they were captured years ago by Hezbollah or they have been sent by Lebanese Army (LAF)

Part I – General analysis of the material

Unuseful material from the SAA

Most part of this old material could have been stored inside SAA depots until now so it is not a strange thing that SAA gave it to arm Hezbollah.

Here we include KS-12, KS-19, GM series chassis and ZSU-57-2s

Useful but outdated material from SAA

In this category we include all the weapons with a certain degree of activity and usefulness during the war but with outdated capabilities that make them expendable for the SAA.

Here we include the T-54, T-55, T-62 and BMP-1.

In the case of the T-54 it is interesting because until now as we probed no more than twenty T-54s from T-54-3, T-54A and T-54B variants have been documented until now during the five years of war so find them on Hezbollah hands is quite interesting also it is true that T-54 is the baddest tank in active use in Syria and probably hundreds of them are still stored in depots so they would probably be the first option for the SAA to arm Hezbollah.

Good and expensive material from SAA

Here we include T-72AV and T-72M1.

Both are good tanks for the Syrian war standards so it is very strange that they have been donated to Hezbollah, it is also right that just a few of the tanks look T-72s but anyway this supply aims to a strong will to supply Hezbollah with very capable weapons, finally must be noted that the T-72AV and T-72M1 could came from Russia but this is a less likely option as far as those are both Syrian tanks so if they were Russian supplied T-72Bs or just T-72Ms or T-72M1s would be more likely.

Lebanese origin?

It is not a secret that Hezbollah has a lot of influence inside Lebanon and its army as far as the group is a very deep part of Lebanese society, so It would not be a surprise for anybody to find that weapons from LAF ended on hands of Hezbollah but also is true that there is a big step bertween get some light weapons from LAF and get heavy weaponry.

We think that there are enough evidences on this photos to think that it is a possibility that actually could exist a incredibly high degree of corruption/infiltration of Hezbollah inside LAF and who knows if this is an example of corruption or a true hidden support to Hezbollah by the State or the Army of Lebanon .

First of all the Lebanese Army is one of the fews in the world still operating big amounts of T-54s when I did the document about T-54s in Syria I was able to see that all of them were very “battered” from years of storage and fights so it is very suspicious to see all those T-54s so well preserved on Hezbollah hands. Also their colors look closer to Lebanese T-54s than those from Syria but this is not a definitive evidence.

It is important to note that the M-113A1s of the images are mounting a ZPU-2 double KPV machine gun. The M-113 was never operated by SAA and the closer thing to it was one or two normal M-113A1s captured by Jabhat al-Nusra to the 8th Mechanized Brigade during August 2014 while fighting LAF on Arsal Valley but those M-113A1s were for .50 caliber machine gun not for ZPU-2 a much heavier artifact.

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Lebanese T-54-3

And also if we look at what M-113s of the world are mounting ZPU-2s nearly all of the images come from Lebanon where they were used even during 1982 war this is specially relevant as noted Tobias Schnider because those M-113s were provided by USA as free supplies for the LAF, it must be said that they could have been spoils of war with the South Lebanon Army.

Images taken from the excellent “Military in the Middle East”

Part II – Images

A)

On the first two photos we can appreciate various tanks probably they are T-54A or T-55, and they mount the DShK 12.7 mm HMG on the turret. They all look very well preserved and possibly they have received a recent “fine tunning”.

Also on the first image we can appreciate what looks the emblem of this new Hezbollah’s armored unit.

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We can appreciate the emblem of the unit and the DShK HMG on this image

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B)

On the next image at the right we can see the dome shaped ventilator that indicates us that we are facing a T-54, and taking in to account photos before those are probably T-54As

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That dome shaped ventilator and the bore evacuators tells us that this is a T-54A

C)

On the foreground a GM series chassis with a KS-1 85 mm gun mounted on it more interesting is that on the right side there is a column of tanks headed by a T-72AV and followed by a T-72M1 and some T-62s and other tanks that could be T-72M1s or T-55AMs. At the left side there is a column of M-113A1 APCs with ZPU-2 montage.

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D)

On the left side column there are three M-113A1s with ZPU-2s and at the right side there are three T-62 Obr. 1972, the unit shown here is the same of the upper photo.

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E)

On the foreground of the next image we can see a BMP-1 with a 9M14P or 9M14P1 ATGM Malyutka ready to be fired it also has a cage armor surrounding the turret of the vehicle.

Along with the BMP-1 on the foreground is a very uncommon electronic warfare vehicle called R-330, however the image shows us a little so could be another version like a R-370B or a R-381.

Probably it is a R-330P because this is a very uncommon vehicle likely coming from SAA and as Oryx show us there are R-330Ps in service with the SAA.

Also on the background we can appreciate more BMP-1s and T-62s.

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F)

On this image we can see two ZSU-57-2 a very old self propelled AA based on T-54/55 chassis those are quiet uncommon in Syria because most of them probably were until now in storage but also a few of them appeared during the course of the war.

At the front we can see two GM series chassis the one on the left mounts a 85 mm KS-1 WWII designed gun and the one on the right mounts a 100 mm KS-19 this piece was used before in Syria but still it was a very uncommon and outdated one. In the same manner as the GMs there are a few trucks behind them with KS-1s and KS-19s.

At the background we can appreciate three 2S1 Gvozdikas those are 122 mm self propelled guns widely used in Syria by SAA and rebels. At the right side background we can also appreciate two likely R-330s.

Finally there are a lot of technycals some of them likely supplied by Iran.

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G)

On the image below we can appreciate five BMP-1s almost two of them have cage armor around the turret and the first one has the rail to fire the ATGM 9M14 Malyutka.

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Part III – Conclusion

The magnitude and impact of this weaponry must be calculated throughout the course of the time but there is no doubt that this represents a big step for Hezbollah, now they are not just an asymmetric warfare group able to defend by using a hybrid warfare with a mix of guerrilla and light infantry tactics now Hezbollah is a much more capable group with an armored unit with enough power to deal with some regular army units of the LFA. To illustrate this idea we just need to know that Hezbollah’s T-72AV with an advanced AP round or missile could be able to deal even with Israeli Merkava tanks.

This is a huge force specially for a skirmish-war like it is that of Syria also it is going to be interesting to see what lessons Hezbollah can learn about the use of combined arms forces with fire support vehicles, AA, self propelled artillery, IFVs, mechanized infantry, EW vehicles and tanks.

On one hand I want to note the big importance of the fire support forces inside their armored unit as far as we have been able to see KS-1s, KS-19s, ZSU-57-2s, M-113A1s with ZPU-2s and tonnes of technycals in comparison with the relatively few tanks and IFVs on the other hand Iran recently produced its own KS-19s and KS-12s this is strange as far as this kind of guns were discarded decades before by the USSR because they were unable to effectively shoot down planes because their design was based on WWII lessons and technologies but inexplicably Iran decided to produce a new variant of those guns! taking it in to account my point  is that the equipment of Hezbollah looks strongly influenced by Iranian ideas because otherwise would have been very unlikely that the leaders of Hezbollah would have decided  to acquire this kind of strange weaponry on their own.

The resume is easy we are facing a new step forward of Hezbollah in the short term it will mean a new armored unit for the SAA and in the long term a new field of opportunities for Hezbollah to learn about combined arms, conventional and armored warfare and also this is going to give them a bigger military power that could weight a lot on Lebanese internal affairs, negotiations or potential future civil conflicts.

VHS-D1 y Siria

Haz clic aquí para descargar el documento

Documento enviado por un cooperador al que llamaremos “Maharbal”.

El documento forma parte del extenso trabajo de investigación que yo y otros colaboradores estamos realizando sobre las rutas y armas suministradas a los rebeldes de Siria, tanto por actores estatales como desde el mercado negro.

En dicho futuro trabajo incluiremos mapas con las rutas de suministros, estadísticas gráficas y varias decenas de municiones, armas y vehículos recibidos por los rebeldes.

T-54 in Syria

Click here to download the document “T-54 in Syria”:

I would like to correct that those T-54Bs are just T-54Bs and not T-54Ms as incorrectly was claimed in the document.

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This is an  article about the rarest tank in Syria often confused with the T-55.

Lot of new and unknown images about this tank in Syria.

I want to thanks Rao Kumar, Morant Mathieu and Oryx for their help to do this research OSINT work.