Thursday, January 7, 2010

Syrian Strategic SAM Deployment


Of all the Middle Eastern nations, Syria has one of the most robust SAM networks. Multiple SAM sites provide redundancy, allowing for overlapping coverage in many critical areas. It should come as no suprise that evidence of an illegal incursion into Syrian airspace by Israel was found in an area largely undefended by SAM systems.


The Syrian strategic SAM network relies primarily on Soviet-era systems. The following strategic SAM systems are currently in service as part of the fixed air defense network: S-75 (SA-2 GUIDELINE), S-125 (SA-3 GOA), and S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON). The 2K12 (SA-6 GAINFUL) tactical SAM systems is also employed at a number of fixed sites to provide additional support to the purpose-built strategic systems.

Currently, there are 131 active SAM sites inside of Syria. The following image depicts the locations of these sites. S-75 sites are red, S-125 sites are blue, S-200 sites are purple, and 2K12 sites are green.
The following image depicts the overall SAM coverage provided by Syrian air defense sites. Using the same color scheme applied in the previous image, S-75 range rings are red, S-125 rings are blue, S-200 rings are purple, and 2K12 rings are green.
EW Coverage

Early warning for the Syrian air defense network is handled by 22 EW radar sites. One of these sites possesses a 36D6 (TIN SHIELD) EW radar system. The majority of the remaining EW sites employ standard FSU EW systems, including the P-35/37 (BAR LOCK), P-12/18 (SPOON REST), P-19 (THIN SKIN), P-80 (BACK NET), and P-14 (TALL KING).

The following image depicts the locations of Syria's EW radar facilities:

There are currently 37 active S-75 sites within Syria. With one third of Syria's S-75 sites being operational, it would be simple to conclude that the S-75 is no longer heavily relied upon. However, given that the S-75 is still deployed in various key areas, this would seem to be an illogical conclusion. The more likely scenario is that early systems have exceeded their service lives and been withdrawn, and other systems have perhaps been stored for future use or simply withdrawn to downsize the network into a more financially manageable operation.

The following image depicts the coverage provided by Syria's S-75 sites:

There are currently 39 active S-125 sites within Syria. The S-125 appears to be an extremely active system. 16 prepared S-75 and S-125 sites have seen S-125 batteries come and go since 2001, demonstrating Syria's ability to periodically adjust its SAM deployments. Approximately half of Syria's S-125 batteries are currently sited on prepared S-75 locations, a fact which demonstrates the importance of not only identifying site layouts but the systems occupying said locations.

The following image depicts the coverage provided by Syria's S-125 sites:

There are currently 5 active S-200 sites within Syria. The S-200 provides long-range barrier air defense along the western border and into the Mediterranean.

The following image depicts the coverage provided by Syria's S-200 sites:

There are currently 50 active 2K12 sites within Syria. Despite being a tactical SAM system, emplacing 2K12 batteries at prepared sites allows them to function as part of the overall strategic SAM network. Due to their inherent mobility, these systems could be rapidly relocated should the need arise.

The following image depicts the coverage provided by Syria's SA-6 sites:
Empty Sites

There are currently 120 unoccupied, prepared SAM sites inside of Syria. These sites have been identified as either S-75, S-125, S-200, or 2K12 sites, based on their configurations, and can be broken down as follows: 80 S-75 sites, 16 S-125 sites, 2 S-200 sites, and 22 2K12 sites.

These empty SAM sites can perform multiple tasks within the overall air defense network. They can be employed as dispersal sites for existing air defense assets, complicating enemy targeting. They can also be used to deploy additional SAM systems currently held in storage if more air defense assets are deemed necessary in a given sector.

An overview of empty Syrian SAM sites is provided in the following image:

Syrian strategic SAM deployment is concentrated in six areas. These areas are around the cities of Hims, Halab, and Damascus, Tiyas air base, the Mediterranean coastal area, and the area adjacent to the Golan Heights. These SAM concentrations are emplaced to defend against obvious potential threat ingress routes. The largest perceived threat to Syrian sovereign airspace is Israeli air force activity. Syria enjoyed a relatively equitable relationship with Iraq, and as such likely did not see a need to deploy air defense assets in the eastern part of the nation. This "empty" airspace could easily be patrolled by MiG-23, MiG-25, or MiG-29 interceptors if the need arose.

There are important issues with the Syrian SAM network that need to be addressed. The main issue is the nature of the SAM systems themselves. All of the SAM systems in the Syrian inventory have a single-target engagement capability. Some of the S-200 sites have been noted with multiple 5N62 (SQUARE PAIR) engagement radars, allowing those sites to engage multiple targets (one per engagement radar), but the S-75, S-125, and 2K12 sites can only engage one target per site. This leaves the Syrian air defense network open to saturation.

Another issue is the employment of the 2K12 in a strategic role tied to fixed sites to provide close-in defense. The 2K12 has been exploited thouroughly by both the American and Israeli militaries and as such cannot be counted on to reliably defend against an airborne threat. The same could be said of the S-75 and S-125 SAM systems as well, of course, but the 2K12 suffers from the additional drawback of being constrained to a fixed location. The 2K12 is most effective on the move, whereby it can catch opposing aircraft off-guard by appearing in new locations that were previously undocumented. This may be a part of the Syrian strategy, but for now, the 2K12 remains a stationary target insofar as how it is currently deployed.

Syrian reliance on aging and well-known Soviet-era SAM systems is a serious defensive liability. This is certainly part of the impetus behind Syria's current drive to purchase more advanced SAM systems from Russia.

Another important issue to address is the fact that there are two noticeable gaps in Syrian SAM coverage. While these areas are in fact covered by S-200 sites, they lack any sort of low-altitude coverage or close-in defense. Approximately midway between Damascus and Hims, and midway between Al Lathqiyah and Halab, are large gaps in the SAM coverage, areas where there are not even identified empty sites where fixed systems such as the S-75 or S-125 could be emplaced if needbe. These gaps are not necessarily an invitation to invasion, however, as key targets such as the capital are still heavily defended.


The first area to be examined is the area surrounding the capital of Damascus. Damascus is defended by ten S-75 sites, eight S-125 sites, and twenty-eight 2K12 sites. Two of Syria's five active S-200 sites are also located in close vicinity to the capital, as well as twelve EW sites, including the 36D6 site. Forty-eight empty dispersal sites are also in the area, providing for an increase in defensive capabilities should the need arise. SAM coverage of the capital is relatively robust even without the addition of further SAM sites, and careful placement of S-125 and 2K12 batteries provides overlapping close-in defense in conjunction with the longer-range S-75 sites.

The following image depicts the SAM coverage around Damascus:
The Southwest

Apart from the capital, the most important piece of real estate in Syria may be that in the southwest, adjacent to the Golan Heights. This area is defended by seven S-75 sites, six S-125 sites, and nine 2K12 sites, and supported by one identified EW site. One of the S-200 sites located south of Damascus also can provide coverage of this area. There are sixteen identified dispersal sites in the area, but the large concentration of SAM systems provides a very well put together air defense network over southwestern Syria without any further increases. The large number of 2K12 sites is clearly meant to counter the threat posed by Israeli air force fighter aircraft, the 2K12 being more maneuverable and better suited to engaging fast jets than the more strategic-oriented S-75 and S-125 systems.

The following image depicts the SAM coverage of southwestern Syria:
Mediterranean Coast

The Golan-area SAM network is clearly oriented to provide barrier air defense against airborne threats ingressing from the west. The same sort of barrier air defense network can be found along Syria's Mediterranean coastline to the north. Extending from Al Lathqiyah to Tartus, five S-75 and twelve S-125 sites provide air defense along Syria's northwestern border with the sea, supported by two EW sites. There are also two S-200 sites in the area to provide long-range air defense over open water. Sixteen dispersal sites in the area are situated to provide an increase in defensive capability.

The following image depicts the SAM coverage of Syria's northwestern coastline:
Hims-Halab Line

There is a second SAM barrier behind the coastal defenses, protecting the area from Hims in the south to Halab in the north. The barrier consists of eleven S-75 sites, ten S-125 sites, and eleven 2K12 sites, supported by three EW sites. An S-200 battery is positioned southeast of Hims, and there are thirty dispersal sites along the line, mostly concentrated in the south around Hims.

The following image depicts the SAM coverage of the Hims-Halab belt:
Tiyas AB

Tiyas AB is defended by four S-75 and three S-125 sites, supported by an EW site, and surrounded by seven dispersal sites available if necessary. Air defenses surrounding Tiyas are not particularly robust when compared to the rest of the network, but they do provide a heightened degree of security and are overlapping and redundant to a limited degree.

The following image depicts the SAM coverage around Tiyas AB:

Syria's SAM network is very robust on paper, and would appear to offer a significant degree of protection at first glance, but this is not necessarily the case. Against a limited incursion, the Syrian air defense network remains capable, despite the reliance on aging Soviet-era systems. This is one likely factor which drove the Israeli Air Force to circumvent SAM-defended areas when striking the Dayr az Zawr suspect nuclear facility in 2007. Said reliance on Soviet-era SAM systems will provide a serious handicap when facing a major air incursion by a modern opponent. It is time for Syria to modernize its strategic SAM defenses if it desires to retain the ability to defend its airspace in the 21st Century.


-SAM ranges taken from Jane's Land Based Air Defence.

-All overhead imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth.


Anonymous said...

Clearly, it is time for Syria to modernize it's fascist Baath dictatorship.


Unknown said...

Good reading as usual Sean. A shout out to Kfdrat. Hope he is doing well.

Mark Pyruz said...


Sean, any chance of performing work on the new Russian M1 Tor AA defense now deployed in Iran?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Sean... just GREAT...

I hope as mark you will have time and will to elaborate Iran air-defence as situation with Iran is becoming more steamy.

dosten said...

Perhaps an update with regards to the recent Israeli airstrike would be in order.

Sean O'Connor said...

For those of you who demonstrated an interest, Iran's article is now available. The Tor-M1E systems were not included as they are not yet visible in available imagery.

No need to update this one with regards to the Israeli strike as no SAM defenses were struck, apparently.

dosten said...

I didn't mean to imply that any SAM sites were targeted, although that might be the case. I would love to hear your opinion of how the Israelis seemingly penetrated the Syrians defenses with ease. One article I read said they used a massive jamming effort. I can't wait for more information to come out.

Anonymous said...

Good work! But you're missing a few potentially important sites thus making your conclusion a bit harsh on what syrian artillery and air defence can really do...

Anonymous said...

US claims photos show Syrian nuclear reactor
[Published: Thursday 25, October 2007 - 09:17]

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

US security experts have published what they believe to be photographs of a secret nuclear facility in Syria, which was bombed by Israeli jets last month.

Their analysis of satellite images in an area near the river Euphrates reveals what they say are buildings similar to a North Korean nuclear reactor capable of producing fuel for a nuclear bomb. The experts, David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Paul Brannan, from the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis), believe they have found the site that could have been the target of a night-time Israeli raid on 6 September. The Israelis imposed a news blackout on the raid, which prompted speculation that the attack may have been a dry run for a strike on Iran.

In a report released yesterday by Isis, the experts say that commercial satellite imagery of the area shows buildings under construction. The buildings have the same footprint as that of North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, which is capable of producing nuclear material for one bomb a year.

Syria admits co-operating with North Korea but says the two countries have no nuclear co-operation. The site is 100 miles from Syria's border with Iraq and close to an airstrip that would allow for easy transportation of personnel. "I'm pretty convinced that Syria was trying to build a nuclear reactor," Mr Albright told The Washington Post yesterday. However the Isis report said the images "raise as many questions as they answer". Isis is an independent research organisation that follows nuclear weapons production around the world.

A week ago ABC News reported that Israel had recruited a spy to take ground photographs of the reactor construction from inside the complex. Because the building was already covered with a roof, they say, a spy may have been necessary to take photographs from inside the reactor building. The Washington Post has reported that the North Korean-style reactor is built gradually on site and the roof would hide what was inside the building.

The Isis experts suspect that Syria was building a small gas-graphite reactor of about 20-25 megawatts, which is large enough to make about one nuclear weapon's worth of plutonium each year.

Israel, which has an estimated 100 nuclear weapons, has remained silent about the bombing raid. Nor has it provided any justification for its raid on a foreign country. Syria flatly denies having a nuclear programme. But secretly building a nuclear reactor would put Syria in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which all signatories must reveal such decisions.

Syria is reported to be to removing what remains of the site, while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also analysing photographs in an attempt to establish what Syria was up to. The director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is angry at Syria, the Israelis and Western intelligence agencies for failing to pass on information about the alleged secret nuclear programme.

"We have said, 'If any of you has the slightest information showing that there was anything linked to nuclear, we would of course be happy to investigate it,'" Mr ElBaradei told Le Monde. "Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns." Mr ElBaradei also warned that efforts to contain nuclear proliferation were endangered by military action.

"The use of force can set things back, but it does not deal with the roots of the problem," he said.


Sean O'Connor said...


I've recently updated my SAM site database (which you can download on the main page on the right hand side) to take into account some new Syrian SAM site locations that have been found as well as altering some locations which have changed type. Eventually I'll get around to updating this article to reflect those new changes.

Gridlock said...

I'd heard the Israeli SAM suppression was a bit more.. technologically advanced than mere jamming....

Sean O'Connor said...

Israel is thought to have used what basically amounts to computer hacking to subvert the network, but I think that was only the EW side of the house. They still stayed well away from any actual SAM batteries.

And yes, it was an illegal incursion. Call it what it is, don't coddle anyone because of perverse political sensibilities. If it was the other way around I'd say the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's called legitimate self-defence, for those of us stuck back in the USSR. There isn't any moral equivalence between Israel and Syria, or the US and the Russkies.

Sean O'Connor said...

Legitimate self defense would have been blowing the Israeli Air Force planes clean out of the sky.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you're getting wee-weed up. Sore that Chas Freeman got kicked in the behind?

Sean O'Connor said...

Chas Freeman? I could personally care less what Obama does with his administration. Didn't even know who the guy was until he resignedd.

Anonymous said...

I know about personally. I am asking about publicly, as a member of the "it's em Jews" 'lobby'.

Sean O'Connor said...

What? Why is it that whenever anyone questions what Israel does, they're labeled as part of the anti-Jewish lobby? Israel and Syria were not at war, so yes, the Israeli airstrike was an illegal incursion into Syrian airspace. But because it's Israel, it has to be OK, right? And nobody is allowed to call a duck a duck, or they'll be lumped into the same category as Ahmadinejad. Am I right so far?

Anonymous said...

How unsubtle. You rolled out all of Charlie's talking points without even changing the order. Ain't no need to lump you in with Ahmie, you were never separate. Catch a plane to the next 'we only hate Zionists' workshop, there might not be a second chance.
By the way, Israel and Syria are at war, for those drunk on Kool-aid.

Sean O'Connor said...

What is your problem? As far as I can tell, you think Israel shouldd be allowed to do whatever it wants, right? Where is the problem with calling an illegal aerial incursion into Syria illegal? Did they have reasons for it? Yes they did. Are there other things going on? Yes there are. I've mentioned some of them here. But none of it, save the Israeli airstrike, had a single thing to do with how Syrian air defenses are laid out. All you're trying to do is pick at one word in one sentence, without ever providing any solid reasoning behind your intrusion, and lump me in with Ahmadinejad and the other nutjobs over there because I have the audacity to not toe the party line behind whatever Israel wants to do. I personally have nothing against Israel or its existance, or its religion for that matter. Do I think they should do a better job following the rules? Yes. Are there others that need to do the same thing? Most certainly, Syria and Iran included. But again, none of that had a single thing to do with Syria's SAM network.

And when did Israel formally declare war against Syria? I must have missed the news that day.

Anonymous said...

Syria formally declared war on Israel, champ. Go catch that plane.

Sean O'Connor said...

Nasrallah is not the Syrian government, and Hezbollah has more to do with Iran at this point than Syria anyway. It's not 1967, either, in case you were confused.

Nice job avoiding everything else.

Anonymous said...

Anti-Semitic straw men just bore me, that's all. Take a model of the USS Liberty to T-town. I know you want to.

Sean O'Connor said...

T-town? And for something that bores you, you're spending an awful lot of time attempting to explain how a single comment makes me anti-Semitic. Which you still haven't actually explained, by the way. All you've done is bluster about a single comment, without actually providing anything resembling evidence to show that a) I am in fact anti-Semitic, or b) my statement was factually incorrect.

For everyone else out there paying attention, this is what is wrong with a lot of people today. They pick something to get all excited about, and anyone who doesn't share their closed-minded viewpoint is defamed. Don't agree with something Israel does? You're anti-Semitic. Don't agree with something Obama does? You're a racist.

At least when politicians have the gall to start ridiculous arguments like this they don't cower behind anonymity.

fijiislands said...

Mr o' Conner you are the man! and anonymous you sucks buddy .

-ex Fijian UN peacekeeper served in Lebanon numerous times

sjolly75 said...

In order to support an international no-fly zone, the Syrian National Council has published maps of Syrian air defences - should be interesting to compare your analysis with inside intel.

danny black said...

Syria declared war on Israel in 1948 and they are still in a state of war, just like dprk is formally at war with rok. Just a pedantic point, apart from that fascinating and great job

danny black said...

that would be "peacekeeper" given how useless unifil proved itself

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a mobile SA-3 location at 34.919010° 35.889880°