By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Images from the recently captured Tadmur airbase reveal some of the Ghaneema (spoils of war) gained by the Islamic State during their spring offensive, which led to the capture of a number of strategically located towns and gasfields in Central Syria. Tadmur (Palmyra) itself was captured on the 20th of May 2015, opening the path for the fighters of the Islamic State to further push into regime-controlled ground, threatening major cities, T4 airbase and the last remaining gas fields under control of the regime.
While one could have expected large amounts of aircraft to now be under the control of the Islamic State, Tadmur airbase housed no operational aircraft or helicopters at the time of capture, and its fall thus won't hurt the Syrian Arab Air Force's (SyAAF) ability to exercise control over the Syrian skies.
The loss of the airbase, and of Tadmur in general, will have a great impact on the regime's operations in and around Deir ez-Zor however. Tadmur was the primary lifeline to Deir ez-Zor, and without access to the road and airbase, prospects for the regime to hold the largest city in Eastern Syria have suddenly turned very grim. Il-76s from Iran's Revolutionary Guard also frequently visisted the base, bringing in weapons and ammunition.
The only operational assets that remained at Tadmur airbase were several radar systems, tasked with guarding the Central Syrian airspace. The importance of these radar systems at Tadmur was greatly increased after the fall of Tabqa, which housed another large radar base. With both of these airbases now lost, the regime is now as good as blind in Central and Eastern Syria, and therefore unable to detect any aircraft in this half of the country.
Although Tadmur airbase was formerly home to a squadron flying the MiG-25PD(S) interceptor and the MiG-25PU two-seat trainer, the MiG-25 fleet was gradually withdrawn near the end of the previous decade. Tadmur's resident squadron was one of the last to continue flying the mighty Foxbat, sporting three MiG-25PD(S) and one MiG-25PU in its ranks until late 2013. These aircraft were then likely flown to T4, where they joined the remainder of the MiG-25 fleet already stored here.
This explains the lack of any aircraft stored in one of Tadmur's sixteen Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) pictured below. Instead, in similar fashion to what is seen in other airbases in Syria, some of the now redundant HAS's have been turned into barracks. While originally housing some of the SyAAF's most powerful aircraft, they now functioned as the homes of the resident garrison until the 20th of May 2015, when Tadmur was overrun by the Islamic State.
Tadmur saw heavy use by the Soviet Union for the delivery of sophisticated weaponry to Syria in the 70s and 80s. As transporting sophisticated weaponry by boat carries too much risks, such weaponry was always directly flown in by Soviet transport aircraft. These Kh-28s were among the many weapons to have followed this route, and were destined to be used by the SyAAF's Su-22M3/M4s, Su-22UM-3Ks and Su-24MKs based at the nearby T4 airbase.
While these missiles thus should have been moved to T4 more than thirty years ago, the fuel used in the 'staggering' sixty kilometers ride to T4 was apparently deemed more important than the twelve Kh-28 missiles, which therefore never left the HAS they were stored in after their delivery. Although the missiles will have no use to the Islamic State in their original role, their 140kg heavy warhead will indubitably be put to use as the basis of IEDs or possibly even DIY surface-to-surface missiles.
The weapons depots present at the airbase provided the fighters of the Islamic State with large amounts of Ghaneema, including ammunition, numerous anti-aircraft guns and at least two 130mm M-46 field guns, all left intact by the retreating regime forces.
While the ammunition and artillery pieces seem like logical targets for the SyAAF's Su-22M4 and Su-24M2 fighter-bombers, both equipped with sophisticated precision guided weaponry, yet none of the depots were targeted by the SyAAF, which instead focussed on quite randomly bombarding the city of Tadmur itself. Ultimately, the US-led coalition stepped in and destroyed six anti-aircraft guns and one artillery piece captured in Tadmur.
One PRV-13 ("Odd Pair") height-finding radar, supporting a single JY-27 surveillance radar which lacks a height finding capability:
One P-14 1RL113 ("Tall King A") 2D early warning radar:
A P-15 ("Flat Face"), P-15M2 ("Squat Eye") and a P-12 ("Spoon Rest A") radar:
Lastly, a mobile air traffic control tower was also captured, undoubtedly the least useful amongst the systems captured:
Images of a massive stash of boxes of 12.7mm ammunition are a good indicator of the size of the stockpiles left behind to be captured at Tadmur. In the munition-hungry environment that's common to the Syrian battleground these new supplies will surely be very welcome to the Islamic State.
Islamic State captures Tadmur (Palmyra) in new sudden streak of offensives
The Islamic State's spring offensive: al-Sukhna
Battlefront Syria: Kweres