Friday, 17 February 2017

Replenishing the Stocks: Russian deliveries of T-62Ms and BMP-1s reach Syria



By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Following many rumours concerning the delivery of new armoured fighting vehicles to the Syrian Arab Army, images coming out of Syria have now confirmed such a delivery did indeed take place. These newly delivered vehicles are destined for the Syrian Arab Army's 5th Corps, which is currently engaged in heavy combat with the Islamic State in between T4 airbase and Tadmur. Indeed, images and videos covering the fighting that currently takes place here have already confirmed the vehicles are doing their part in bringing the fight back to the Islamic State.

While many expected the delivery of more T-72s or even T-90s as a follow-up to the small deliveries of these vehicles to elements of the Syrian military in late 2015, it now appears the core of the 5th Corps will be made up of battle-proven armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) such as the T-62M and BMP-1(P) instead. Although certainly less advanced than some of the more modern T-72s and BMP-2 variants employed in the Syrian theatre elsewhere, the delivery of these AFVs are still a welcome addition to the badly-depleted vehicle park of the Syrian Arab Army.

Indeed, while deprived of any active protection systems such as the Shtora found on the T-90 series of tanks, the T-62M is a vast improvement over the T-55 and earlier T-62 variants that continue to make up the majority of Syria's now battered tank fleet. The BMP-1s and BMP-1Ps delivered offer little in offensive and defensive capabilities, but are likely to serve the 5th Corps well because of the fact that they are easy to master and maintain, especially for crews with existing experience in operating these vehicles.



The 5th Corps is a newly established unit of the Syrian Arab Army, and serves as a counterweight to the increasing strength of the various militias that have largely taken over the role of the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) in the past years. While the partial dissolvement of the SyAA and the subsequent rise of militias was necessary for the survival of the Syrian regime, it ended up creating a whole host of major problems that could potentially spiral out of control in the future. The establishment of the 5th Corps aims to address at least a part of these problems.

Russia appears to be a key driver behind the de-facto re-establishment of the Syrian Arab Army by exerting pressure on the regime to bring back control of the many militias to the army instead of continuing as independent units under the control of the Syrian High Command. While Iran's goal of keeping Syria under its sphere of influence was enacted by the establishment of several militias, many of which foreign, Russia seeks to create a stable situation that allows for the survival of the current government by creating an unified army instead.

The lack of such an unified army has been made painfully clear during most of the regime's defeats over the past several years, the failed Tabqa offensive and losing Tadmur for a second time serving as recent examples. A project similar to that of the establishment of the 5th Corps was initiated shortly after the Russian intervention in Syria, which called for the merging of several militias, including parts of the NDF, into the 4th Corps. When the NDF largely replaced the Syrian Arab Army as the regime's primary forces, the NDF saw its tasks expanding from guarding neighbourhoods to undertaking offensives elsewhere and guarding towns, gasfields and other strategic installations throughout Syria. Thus, this initiative would have called for the return of these tasks to the SyAA, with the NDF remaining a force dedicated for local defense only. Thus far, this process appears to have been largely unsuccessful however.

In contrast to other units of the Syrian Arab Army, which consist almost exclusively of drafted personnel, the 5th Corps hopes to attract large numbers of men by offering salaries and benefits that were previously only found with militias such as Suqour al-Sahraa' (The Desert Falcons). To further strengthen its ranks, Syrian men that were previously exempted from the draft are likely to join the 5th Corps amidst sharpened rules for exclusion from mandatory service.



The now almost six-year long civil war has taken a heavy toll on the once immense Syrian tank fleet, suffering heavy losses due to the widespread profileration of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). Yet it is mainly the poor tactics employed by most regime forces that have effectively degraded the tank to the role of a vulnerable static pillbox. Although the amount of armoured fighting vehicles that remain available still appears to be sufficient for current operations, the number of vehicles of the same class is too low to equip an entirely new fighting force: The 5th Corps.

In accordance with Russia's role in the establishment of the 5th Corps, it is also Russia that is responsible for equipping the new force. Although this led some to believe the new force would be equipped with a wide range of modern Russian weapon systems, Russia has so far committed to the delivery of older weaponry that is no longer in service with the Russian Army itself. Nonetheless, the delivered vehicles and weaponry are ideally suited for the Syrian Arab Army and the 5th Corps.

In addition to the delivery of small arms and a large number of Ural, GAZ, KamAZ and UAZ trucks and jeeps, deliveries to the 5th Corps so far have encompassed T-62Ms, BMP-1Ps and BMP-1s and 122mm M-1938 (M-30) howitzers. The latter are of a more modern variant than the examples already in use in Syria, with the Russian-delivered examples part of a batch that underwent modernisation during the 1970s, exchanging the original rubber foam wheels for more modern ones allowing for better mobility both on-road and off-road.

Before their appearance in Syria, some of the T-62Ms were already spotted in Russia while underway to a harbour for transport to Syria. These vehicles were then shipped onboard the 'Syria Express' towards Tartus, where the majority of vehicles and equipment has been arriving. The T-62Ms and BMP-1s were subsequently spotted in Tartus waiting for distribution to their new units, including a part of the 5th Corps currently seeing action against the Islamic State in Central Syria.


The T-62M is an upgrade programme aimed at upgrading several variants of the T-62, which by the early 1980s had become severely outmatched by their more modern Western counterparts, to a common standard. The programme aimed to adress the T-62's shortcomings in the field of firepower, protection and mobility, greatly improving the capabilities of the until then badly underperforming tank. The upgrade ran parallel to the modernisation of the T-55 and T-55A to T-55M standard, which was carried out during the same time.

The increased armour protection was achieved by the installment of BDD 'Brovi Il'icha' appliqué armour on the turret front and upper and lower glacis plates, increased armour protection against anti-tank mines, rubber side skirts and anti-radiation lining on parts of the turret. The resulting increased weight was compensated by a new V-55U diesel engine. To utilise the full potential of the powerful 115mm gun the 'Volna' fire control system module was installed, comprising the KTD laser rangefinder (LRF) and associated equipment. The tank also gained the capability to launch the tube-fired 9M117 (9K116-2) Sheksna ATGM, which is nearly identical to the 9M117 (9K116-1) Bastion in use with Syria's T-55(A)MVs. For this purpose, both the gunner and commander received new sighting systems, now also allowing for much increased efficacy during night combat. In addition to all this, the tank was equipped with a new stabiliser, a thermal sleeve for its 115mm gun, a new radio and a block of smoke grenade launchers on each side of the turret.

Despite its age, the T-62M has only just been retired by the Russian Army after decades of counter-terrorism operations in the Caucascus, a task for which it was also heavily employed in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of this country. Several other nations continue to operate the T-62M, most notably Cuba, where it ironically serves as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias' most modern tank.





While several variants such as the T-62 Obr. 1967 and T-62 Obr. 1972 were upgraded to the common T-62M standard, both are still easily discernible by the lack of the 12.7mm DShK on the T-62 Obr. 1967. Interestingly, Syria has received both Obr. 1967s and Obr. 1972s upgraded to T-62Ms. The latter has so far been featured more extensively in the footage coming out of Central Syria, and was also the first to fall victim to an Islamic State ATGM, with no casualties reported.

Most of the tanks can still be seen with the H22-0-0 rail transit markers that were applied in Russia before shipment to Syria. While not removing these markings is in this case of little significance, similar markings were also left in place on Russian tanks deployed in the Ukraine, which could once again be used to confirm Russia's involvement in the war in Eastern Ukraine.



The delivery of large amounts of these albeit dated vehicles could very well end up reversing the trend of widespread attrition that has decimated Syria's fighting vehicles. Perhaps more importantly, it shows Russia remains willing and capable of supporting its ally with large amounts of military equipment, despite economic hardships and the fact that Syria is bankrupt. This initiative essentially represents the re-establishment of the SyAA in organised form, and should it succeed it is certain to have far reaching consequences for future developments in the Syrian War.

30 comments:

  1. Excelent article. I hope to see in the future another article about their performance in combat.

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  2. Its my understanding the BMPs and T-62Ms came from Russian Army stocks or were recently stored. I'm assuming the BMP-1P are not being utilized for their ATGM capabilities?

    Russia if you look at their published reports having been scrapping all kinds of stored weapons BTRs, MT-LBs, T-55s, T-62s, BMPs, T-64s,ARV variants, etc for years. I believe one of the reasons was it would be cost prohibitive to refurbish. Not sure if that is true, but that's one some people of speculated.

    Any chance you can provide some clarification? Thanks in advance.

    Also are the T-90s in Syria SAA or IRGC? I've heard both.

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    1. That's correct. Russia inherited vast numbers of armoured fighting vehicles, a large part of which excess to requirements. Most of the older generation tanks such as the T-55 and T-62 were already in storage and most were scrapped, not sold. Only a small number of T-62Ms continued service in counterterrorism operations until recently.

      Syria's T-90s are in fact operated by both the SyAA and Shiite militias.

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  3. Would it be possible to get a rough estimate of what percentage of its original armored inventory the Syrian Army has left?

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    1. That would be too much guessing work I'm araid.

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    2. Probably easier to estimate APCs.

      Its likely they have less than 100 of each

      BTR-40
      BTR-152
      BTR-50
      BTR-60
      BRDM-2 (possibly more than a 100)

      Oryx comment under one of his blogs "Most BTR-60s were either scrapped or stored before the Syrian Civil War began. All the OT-64s were scrapped but most of the BRDM-2s still survive, although only a small portion appears to be active. Most BRDM-2s and BTR-60s were used to guard various bases, none were actively deployed within operational armoured units. Only BTR-60PU-12 command vehicles still survive within air-defence battalions. BRDM-2 based anti-tank missile systems also survive, but all remain stored."

      Also the condition of some BTR-60s and BRDM-2s stored were in poor shape. Like the BRDM-2s captured by the YPG in Hasakah. It seems the repaired some as there are a few examples being utilized in their current offensive against ISIS. The rarity of such examples seen on the battlefield indicates the SAA or one of the Regime's security apparatus do not have large quantities of them.

      Though recently there have been some upgraded BRDM-2s seen such as in Homs and Aleppo
      https://twitter.com/2Rook14/status/827058265532022784/photo/1

      Not sure if those are newly delivered or refurbished and locally upgraded.

      Destroyed BTR-152s
      https://twitter.com/MinsterTX/status/742689568063950852

      BTR-60s
      https://twitter.com/MinsterTX/status/743971984619474944

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  4. With the Rebels continuing to unify more under a single command, this is too little too late. The Regime simply lacks manpower to win while the Rebels despite the hard knocks still have substantial forces and the will to keep fighting.

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    1. Dream on. Your rodents are killing each other off in Idlib, the last area they still hold apart from pockets here or there.

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    2. "Rebels unifying" = Al Qaida consuming them all. Gov. has already won, it just now a race to what is left for grabs, to better positions in the negotiation table. This with YPG and GOV. the racist sunni supremacist terrorists, they will have no say, no role in anything that comes after the fighting stops. All is left for the is to die fighting or flee.

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    3. The regime is clearly winning after retaking Aleppo and many others pockets. The rebels are fighting each others. HTS aL Qaeda vs arhar AL sham vs liwa aL Aqsa . Now they can no more win. The extremists have killed the revolution.

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  5. i have a question
    is the the T-62M's front applique armour ATGM-resistant

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    1. Nothing is ATGM resistant, but it does offer substantial increased protection compared to the armour of older generation T-62s.

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  6. Another excellent article. I look forward to more in the future.

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  7. Excellent report. Regarding your statement that T-62s and BMP-1s are "ideally suited" for the SAA (as opposed to more modern equipment), this raises a question: How difficult would it be for a tank crew experienced with T-55, T-62 and T-72 to operate a T-90 without receiving extensive training? Same question on the BMPs: If SAA personnel have experience with the BMP1 and BMP-2, would they need extensive new training if Russia had sent them BMP-3s?

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    1. That's hard to answer without knowing the amount of training and combat experience of the crews. In the case of transitioning to the T-90 from for example the T-62, you not only have to learn how to operate the vehicle, but also how to utilize the full potential of the T-90 by employing new tactics. This could easily be done in Syria though. A possible transition to the BMP-3 is out of the question.

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    2. I think that staff training to convert from other tanks to t 90 is negligible.
      The bigger problem is the logistical backing of tanks that you have scarce replacement parts and technical personnel to take care of it.

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  8. Illuminating read. Thanks as always.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1) a number of observers view Iran's intervention in Syria with popular mobilization forces (militias) as an imposed advantage. Actually, it was an expedient. Moreover, Iran would welcome and encourage more --much more-- logistical support from Russia to SyAA. Recall that the Iranian intervention in Syria is in actuality, a fulfillment of their 2005 mutual defense pact.

    2) In addition to "static pillbox," MBTs were used as fire support. It should be pointed out that MBTs have been shown to be vulnerable not only by SyAA operators but also IA, RSLF and even TLF. Distinguishing factors for SyAA has been extended deployment and severe attrition.

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    1. It's Iran's niche, not to mention that they lack the resources to re-equip the SyAA in the same way Russia can. While foreign Shiite militias are currently cause for little concern, it is the establishment of powerful Syrian militias that could ultimately pose a serious problem for the current or a possible future government.

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    2. One thing I find interesting is why Iran doesn't send their M-47 tanks with HE rounds and BTR-60s that are not in use with the IRGC or Army.

      Additionally, since the SyAA is so starved of resources in terms of equipment from attrition, I'm again surprised they have not sent back some of the equipment such as T-55s, T-62s, and BMP-1s that were sold/provided to them during the Iran-Iraq War.

      Also IRGC has deployed or given T-72S (Iraqi Army?) in Iraq but have not deployed them in Syria.

      Awesome article! I can't imagine the man hours you put into researching and interviewing to create these great articles.

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  9. Too litle to late , better crews are gone, the regime lost paylmira , russians are giving third class armor eaven spg9 can kill them, the isis destroyed their moral no botano gas winter of cold and bad food, syria air force has only two squadrons , if usa and russia dont bomb the regime would already loose the war, turquey only intervene because there was defections of coup etat for isis,so endorgan is giving force to curds how will be worst then isis so in this scenario turquey is the one how loose fsa has no viability it does not have contuinity in territory isis has the war secure , ambar is not secure mossul has 500 thousand persons hawja and it has economy in his favor ...

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  10. While the Syrian Air Force is stretched thin, the Syrian Air Force has more than 2 squadrons of aircraft at its disposal that are operational. They're also about to receive up to 12 additional Su-24s. The delivery of T-62Ms has everything to do with their lack of need of refurbishment, providing a quick and cheap resource to the SyAA.

    While Russia still has thousands of stored T-72AVs, T-72Bs, or T-80BVs which would have been a better alternative, their condition in storage likely requires significant repairs and refurbishment before becoming operational. Hence the T-62Ms (recently retired from CTO).

    To be honest if Russia wanted to, they could provides Syria with significant amounts of APCs and IFVs that are stored however its likely too cost prohibitive from doing that, making it cheaper just to scrap them instead. Leading me to believe that likelihood that the recent delivery of BMP-1s and BMP-1Ps to the V Corp are likely recently retired or from Russian Army stocks.

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  11. I wonder why the choice fall into T-62M, not T-55M, or both of them.
    The turret protection is not enough reagrding the small strip of the aplique armor there.
    The best option of SAA's mbt fleet in the open should be the "cage-with-chained-pendulum" (as some republican guards T-72) to ehnance protection of all posible angle of attack in the open dessert.

    In my opinion the T-62M, while have all better aspect than the Monkey T-62 is still in big danger without reactive armor or electronic counter measure devices.

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  12. I agree with your assessment, without ERA blocks or other countermeasures the T-62M is still vulnerable to ATGMs.

    Unfortunately, Russia did not want to part with any of their T-72s currently in use or pay to refurbish stored T-72s at this time that would likely created an expensive gift for Syria.

    The "cage-with-chained-pendulum" armor I think would limit the mobility of the tank making it too slow for open desert operations. I'm not an expert on this so I could be wrong. For example, a T-72 Adra, the "cage-with-chained-pendulum" armor, was destroyed in Wadi Barda so its not impenetrable to anti-armor weapons even when its being utilized for its intended use in urban warfare.

    Link: destroyed T-72 Adra cooking off at 0:29 https://twitter.com/putintintin1/status/821460174712045569

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    1. I think the open dessert is just the perfect place to implement the cage armor tank since the there's no building or small road that limit its mobility.
      It is a cheapest protection upgrade compared to the full covered era or sthora.

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    2. I think the open dessert is just the perfect place to implement the cage armor tank since the there's no building or small road that limit its mobility.
      It is a cheapest protection upgrade compared to the full covered era or sthora.

      Delete
  13. Thank you for the article! It's intereseting to see what kind of metal russians are supplying to Syrians.

    P.S. It's just 'Ukraine', not 'the Ukraine'. It's a sensetive issue, as 'the Ukraine' means Ukraine part of Russian Impire/Soviet Union.

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