Russia’s Entry to Sixth-Generation Warfare: the ‘Non-Contact’ Experiment in Syria

Executive Summary

Russia’s adoption of high-technology assets aims to increase a broad spectrum of military capabilities, but it does not seek to emulate its foreign counterparts or to risk becoming involved in a post–Cold War variant of an arms race. Moscow’s experimentation with cruise missiles during operations in Syria fits into long-known Russian military theoretical works concerning the evolution of modern and future warfare, defined in this context as “sixth-generation” warfare, with its highest form being “non-contact.” The particular origins and leading Russian military advocates of such concepts reveal how high-precision strikes fit naturally into modern Russian military thought and doctrine.

While considerable interest among Western analysts of Russia’s military modernization has focused on the speeches and published articles of the chief of the General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, his comments on the role of the military in operations in Syria since September 2015 are replete with an emphasis on the “limited” application of hard power, culminating in articulating this as an emerging “strategy of limited actions,” in such conflicts. Gerasimov has also referred to “non-contact” warfare and the employment of high-precision weapons systems.

Although most of Russia’s military operations in Syria, with the Aerospace Forces in the lead role, centered around more traditional methods of support of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), a smaller but important element was the Russian Armed Forces’ novel use of high-precision strikes in an operational environment. From Moscow’s perspective, this was judged as a success and allowed teething issues to be addressed, while further developing such advanced capabilities.

An underestimated aspect of the “high-precision” experimentation during these operations also relates to the use of unguided munitions; this was corrected to increase the accuracy of bombing using advanced Russian navigational-attack computer systems onboard aircraft and helicopters through the SVP-24 and its variants. In combat, these systems enabled performance akin to but not equal to precision strikes, and was undoubtedly more cost-effective. This is likely to prove to be a component part of Russian air operations in future conflicts.

While Russia has tried and tested this nascent “non-contact” warfare capability in its operations in Syria, it did so in ways to support ongoing complex operations, as well as to test and refine the use of these systems. Moreover, by successfully deploying and exploiting such high-precision strikes in a conflict, the political leadership was further persuaded of the need for additional and consistent state investment in these capabilities. Those added investments includes the development of hypersonic cruise missiles in the State Armaments Program to 2027, reportedly capable of overcoming any adversary’s air defenses. Equally, these precision weapons play a pivotal role in the conventional hard-power dimension of the 2014 Military Doctrine—the commitment to developing “non-nuclear” or “pre-nuclear” deterrence. Thus, Russia’s dedication to diversifying and deepening the role of high-precision strike weapons in its military inventory is assured a long-term place in Moscow’s defense planning and procurement priorities.

 

Introduction

Whereas Russia’s military operations in southeastern Ukraine since 2014 depended on a level of “plausible deniability”—unrealistic as it may have been to achieve in any meaningful manner—when President Vladimir Putin authorized the use of military force in Syria in September 2015, the operations that ensued required no such secrecy.[1] The Syria campaign, thus, became an opportunity for the Russian Armed Forces to test and experiment with both the means and methods of conducting modern combat. An element of this “testing” related to the role played by high-technology systems and weapons. And this included (in the context of Russia’s military role in the civil war in Syria) systems and weapons covering a broad range: air defense, electronic warfare, or advanced air- and ground-based platforms.[2] Within this wider range of weapons systems trialed in the Syrian conflict was Russia’s first use in combat of high-precision cruise missiles.

This paper examines the implications and role played by the high-precision elements in the prosecution of Russia’s military operations during the course of the conflict. It will avoid replicating the existing work of other specialists on Russian foreign, defense and security policy or on the military itself, or repeating analyses of the political rationale underlying the Kremlin’s decision in the fall of 2015 to risk entering this conflict, even if in a limited manner. Equally, the following study will not assess Russia’s military operations in Syria as a whole, or touch upon the lessons from the conflict that the General Staff may have drawn from these operations.[3]

Instead, the focus of this paper is on the role played by high-precision weapons in the context of Moscow’s increasing adoption of high technology in its further efforts to boost military capabilities. This requires outlining the place such weapons play in Russian military thought; analyzing how these concepts permeate the thinking of the leadership of the General Staff; as well as assessing the use of high-precision strikes during operations in Syria, principally by the Military-Maritime Fleet (Voyenno-Morskoy Flot—VMF) and the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno-Kosmicheskiye Sily—VKS); consideration of the extent to which high-technology navigational attack systems were adopted and exploited in the theater of operation in order to significantly enhance the accuracy of using “unguided ordnance.” The paper concludes with an overview of the doctrinal and strategic import of Moscow’s use of high-precision strikes as a means of “non-contact warfare.”[4]

While this represents an analysis of Russia’s entry into “sixth-generation warfare” and “non-contact capability,” it should be noted that this was not used in isolation from other operations that were “fourth-generation,” or contact-oriented. Moreover, in terms of the sum total of Russian military operations in Syria, the high-precision “non-contact” element is merely a fragmentary feature in the wider application of “hard power.” Finally, while offering an invaluable experience to use and refine these weapons in a combat environment, these were nevertheless used against a non-peer adversary.[5] Nonetheless, this was clearly a new capability for Russia’s Armed Forces to deploy and utilize in combat operations, also featuring the first use of strategic aviation against enemy forces; and marking as it does the country’s entrance into sixth-generation warfare capability, it is highly likely that this non-contact element will continue to feature in Russia’s use of its array of military capabilities in future conflicts. It may well be blended into other military capability tools. That said, the experiment with high-precision strikes in Syria also demonstrates a stand-alone capability with systems increasingly difficult to defend against, especially given Moscow’s plans to invest in hypersonic cruise missiles capable of overcoming the most advanced air defenses in the world.

 

Sixth-Generation Warfare in Russian Military Thought

The origins of Russian approaches toward what they term non-contact warfare (beskontaktnaya voyna), non-contact (beskontaktnyy) elements of military operations, or even the concept of a non-contact operations (beskontaktnaya operatsiya) stem from the leading Russian military theorists inspired by the intellectual legacy of Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov’s Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).[6] In Russian military thought, non-contact warfare is viewed as the pinnacle of “sixth-generation warfare.” And to understand these concepts—including their articulation in terms of the “generations of warfare” as well as how the General Staff perceived them on the eve of Russia’s entry into the civil war in Syria in 2015—it is necessary to examine some of the developments in Russian military theory during the late 1990s and early 2000s. This context is also crucial to comprehending why the General Staff, and in particular the Russian naval and air forces, sought to experiment with and draw lessons from the use of high-precision weapons for the first time in Russia’s history of conflict.[7]

The United States’ military operations since 1991 (Operation Desert Storm) sparked a new round of analysis among Russian military theorists assessing developments along high-technology “non-contact” lines on the battlefield. And in 2013, Lieutenant General A. A. Pavlovsky, at that time the chairperson of the Belarus Border Guards and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, drew heavily upon the writings of those theorists to offer a novel description of some key ideas surrounding “sixth-generation warfare”:

Currently, the object of study of the theory of warfare is sixth-generation wars. The main characteristic features of this period, from the point of view of preparation and conduct of war, are:

  • The organization of military blocs and alliances in order to involve states in financing military programs and conducting military operations;

  • Information confrontation;

  • Creation and use of military space infrastructure;

  • Conducting experimental aerospace and marine operations;

  • Consistent capture, with minimal losses, of advantageous economic and strategic regions of the world;

  • Defeat of key objects of military and economic potential, infrastructure and communications of states.[8]

Pavlovsky continues,

Sixth-generation wars will be radically different from all previous ones. Their main distinguishing feature will be the use of weapons of a new type, high-precision strike,[9] and defensive weapons of various bases of the conventional type, weapons based on new physical principles, information weapons, forces and means of electronic warfare. The main goal that will be pursued in this case is the destruction of the military potential of any state, at any distance from the aggressor, with the preservation of its economy and causing minimal damage to its social infrastructures. In the transitional period to the wars of a new generation, the main theater of military operations will be aerospace.[10]

The meaning was clear: new-generation conflict would be “sixth generation” in its content and design, with the “non-contact element” as its zenith.

Foremost among the Russian military theorists observing these trends in modern and future warfare was Lieutenant General (deceased) Vladimir Slipchenko.[11] In Slipchenko’s writings, he outlines and assesses the hallmarks of “sixth-generation warfare.” Jacob W. Kipp, an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas, who not only wrote about Slipchenko and his peers, but met and interacted with him in the 1990s, observes,

In the aftermath of Desert Storm in 1991, the late Major-General Vladimir Slipchenko coined the phrase ‘sixth generation warfare’ to refer to the ‘informatization’ of conventional warfare and the development of precision strike systems, which could make the massing of forces in the conventional sense an invitation to disaster and demand the development of the means to mass effects through depth to fight systems versus systems warfare. Slipchenko looked back at Ogarkov’s ‘revolution in military affairs’ with ‘weapons based on new physical principles’ and saw ‘Desert Storm’ as a first indication of the appearance of such capabilities. He did not believe that sixth generation warfare had yet manifested its full implications.

However, Slipchenko did believe that sixth generation warfare would replace fifth generation warfare, which he identified as thermonuclear war, and had evolved into a strategic stalemate, making nuclear first use an inevitable road to destruction (from the end of the Soviet Union until his death in 2005, he had analyzed combat experience abroad to further refine his conception until he began to speak of the emergence of ‘no-contact warfare’ as the optimal form for sixth generation warfare). In his final volume, Slipchenko redefined sixth generation warfare as involving the capacity to conduct distant, no-contact operations and suggested that such conflict would demand major military reforms.[12] Slipchenko made a compelling case for the enhanced role of C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] in conducting such operations.[13]

In the view of these Russian military theorists, the generations of warfare reflect the technological developments applied to war over the past several centuries. In several thousand years of human history, there have been five generations of warfare: the first saw edged weapons; the second, gunpowder-based; third, rifled weapons; fourth, automatic weapons including industrialization of warfare, and the fifth, nuclear. Therefore, when Russian military theorists refer to “sixth-generation warfare,” it is in precisely this context.[14]

In Slipchenko’s analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) bombing of Serbia in 1999, he notes the progression in modern warfare to move away from reliance upon Ground Forces, to using precision-guided munitions (PGM) and the increased role played by airpower and the informational aspects of war (which includes psychological operations, electronic warfare and cyber warfare). In terms of the NATO air campaign against Serbia, Slipchenko notes that this evolutionary aspect increased accuracy in air operations against ground targets:

While it took 4,500 sorties (each aircraft returning many times) and about 9,000 aerial bombs to destroy a railroad bridge over a large river in World War II, a bridge like that was destroyed by about 90 aircraft carrying 200 guided aerial bombs during the Vietnam War. And a single aircraft and one cruise missile destroyed such a bridge in Yugoslavia in 1999. You can see how much progress has been made, to the point where high precision weapons are replacing many different forces and devices.[15]

As Russia’s military specialists continued to assess and analyze the development and experience of the United States’ military operations in Iraq in 1991, Serbia in 1999 and Iraq in 2003, they increasingly linked such approaches to the application of space-based systems, and termed this as an “aerospace operation” (vozdushno-kosmicheskaya operatsiya).[16] Increasingly, as a result, Russian military theorists and, in turn, senior planning staffs, began to consider the air and space domains as one integrated sphere. As these discussions further matured, they ultimately fed into Russian military thinking on the blurring of the space and air domains, which was a natural precursor to the reform in August 2015 that merged the Air Force, Air Defense Forces and Space Forces under a single new command: the Aerospace Forces, or VKS. Indeed, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu justified the formation of the new arm of service stating that it was “prompted by a shift in the center of gravity of the armed struggle toward the aerospace sphere.” Shoigu added, “Now the single command unites aviation, air defense and anti-missile defense troops, space forces and means of the armed forces. This makes it possible, in the first place, to concentrate in a single command the entire responsibility for formulating military and technical policy for the development of troops dealing with tasks in the aerospace sphere [vozdushno-kosmicheskaya sfera] and, secondly, to raise the efficiency of their use through closer integration and, thirdly, to ensure the consistent development of the country’s aerospace defense.”[17] With the political decision imminent for Moscow to intervene in Syria, the General Staff and the VKS were presented with an ideal opportunity to road-test such theoretical approaches toward modern warfare in a high-technology-rooted approach.

 

Figure 1: Russian Concept of Command and Control, and Interrelationship of Air, Space and Missile Defense[18]

 

Thus, on the eve of Moscow’s intervention in Syria, Russia’s Armed Forces had the structures in place and a conceptual approach to offer to the Kremlin a limited involvement that captured the essence of an “aerospace operation.” Over time, this naturally changed as the mission itself and the operational environment became more complex.[19] However, at the outset, the VKS was placed in the lead role, tasked with prosecuting an “aerospace operation,” which tied in heavily to close air support operations for Syrian Ground Forces. A component element in this complex process, in this author’s view, was the experimentation with sixth-generation approaches to warfare up to and including the first use of Russia’s burgeoning “non-contact warfare” capability.[20] However, this new, nascent capability, was not used in isolation, a la NATO in Serbia in 1999, but blended into the mixture of other traditional contact operations.

This “non-contact” capability was never used in isolation; nor can it, in fact, be characterized as representative of Russia’s military operations within the Syrian conflict. And yet, from a Russian General Staff perspective, it has been a highly important development that permitted refinement of these high-precision systems and provided an additional experience-based source for convincing the political leadership that such weapons systems could offer the hard-power cornerstone of Moscow’s “pre-nuclear” or “non-nuclear deterrence.”

 

Gerasimov’s Reflections on Operations in Syria

While the place of sixth-generation warfare in Russian military thought may seem like a theoretical discussion or even abstract, it is perfectly clear that since the start of reforms and modernization of Russia’s Armed Forces over the past decade, such ideas and sources of fresh approaches to modern conflict are in higher demand. Russia’s involvement in military operations witnessed much that was traditional or normal for its Armed Forces. However, it also involved testing and making use of capabilities that were absent in previous operations. While Syria served as a testing ground for numerous Russian hardware and weapons systems, it is also instructive to isolate aspects of these new capabilities. In particular, the Syrian campaign reveals what is new in General Staff thinking and Moscow’s future interests in the adoption of high-technology assets as Russia continues to modernize and develop its force structures to face the security challenges of the 21st century.[21]

Therefore, the theories and discussions advanced by Russian theorists such as Slipchenko arguably came to permeate the thinking of the contemporary Russian political-military leadership, especially in the sphere of high-precision weapons and the increasingly important role these play, including in non-nuclear deterrence. The debate can be expected to continue to strongly influence how Russia applies military force or coercion in the future.

Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff and first deputy defense minister, is Russia’s longest-serving senior officer in this post since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[22] Gerasimov, like his predecessor Nikolai Makarov, continued the tradition of encouraging the development of Russian military science and military art by addressing the annual conference of the Academy of Military Sciences (Akademii Voyennykh Nauk—AVN).[23] His speeches are routinely later transcribed and published in article format in the Russian military media. But his February 2013 speech gained particular notoriety in Western commentary following Russia’s seizure of Crimea in the spring of 2014. At that time, a wave of publicity speculated about a so-called “Gerasimov doctrine,” attributing to him the creation of a Russian version of “hybrid warfare.” This view has since been soundly debunked.[24]

Of course, Gerasimov’s annual speeches to the AVN cover a broad and diverse range of themes, but the frequently recurring ones relate to future warfare, strategic foresight and encouraging the further development of Russian military science, especially in the search for innovative ideas.[25] And since Russia’s entry into the civil war in Syria, Gerasimov has also tended to address the importance of lessons and implications from that conflict for the future development of the Armed Forces and Moscow’s approaches to warfare.

In Gerasimov’s address to the AVN in March 2016, he implied the limited scope of Russia’s operations in Syria:

At the same time, the organizers of the aggression themselves remain in the shadows. The implementation of their plans was prevented by the entry of the Russian Federation into the conflict on the side of the legitimate government of Syria. It is especially important that the actions of the [Russian Federation’s] Aerospace Forces group are selective, commensurate with the conditions of the situation, [and that] strikes are delivered only at military targets. While the results are being viewed under a magnifying glass by our opponents, there is no basis for accusing Russia of violating humanitarian law.[26]

The following year, while not contradicting the limited nature of the operations, Gerasimov stressed the high-precision strike theme:

During the operation for stabilizing the situation in Syria, missions that were new for the troops were often resolved on the spot, taking into account the experience that had been acquired and expedience. Here, the Russian army has shown skill in conducting new-type warfare, organizing coalitions, and working with allies.

Russia’s growing combat might and the capabilities of the Armed Forces to resolve strategic missions on a remote theater of military operations was demonstrated to the world community.

Practical experience has been acquired in planning and conducting air operations, delivering massive rocket and air strikes, and employing air-, sea- and land-based high-tech weapons.[27]

Gerasimov used the opportunity in March 2018 to elaborate more how these high-precision strikes had evolved in Russian military thought, referring to Desert Storm in 1991, as Slipchenko had done, stressing the non-contact phase, followed by a shorter phase of ground-based operations. Here, Gerasimov took the experience of using these weapons in operations in Syria to extrapolate a strategic-level lesson and further development of Russia’s military capabilities—applying the precision-strike systems to Moscow’s non-nuclear deterrence on all its strategic axes:

The change in the nature of armed struggle is a continuous process. Its results, as a specific aspect of the development of military art, are distinctly reflected in the content of recent warfare. They are all substantively different from one another. And each time, the last war was presented as a new-generation conflict. Thus, from the point of view of military art, the war between the international coalition and Iraq in 1991, characterized by a sharp increase in the [US] Air Force’s contribution to the defeat of the Iraqi army, deep envelopments of defensive positions, and delivery of the main strike bypassing defensive lines, is of paramount importance. It included a prolonged non-contact phase and a powerful, short-duration phase of ground contact operations. The war between NATO and Yugoslavia was proclaimed as a new-generation conflict, in which the goals were achieved without the active involvement of ground forces.

The experience of recent local wars, in particular, the operations on Syrian territory, has given a new impulse for improving the system of the comprehensive destruction of the enemy. To increase its effectiveness, special attention is being focused on the development of precision weapons. Groupings of long-range air-, sea-, and land-based cruise missile carriers have been created on each strategic axis, capable of providing deterrence in strategically important regions. The improvement of the structure of command-and-control organs, creation of special information support subunits, and introduction of software complexes have made it possible to reduce the preparation time for the combat employment of long-range precision weapons by one and a half times.[28]

By March 2019, some of this thinking had reached maturity, stressing once again the narrow scope and relatively light touch required during Russia’s application of military force in Syria, and taking this into the formulation of new strategy: a “strategy of limited actions,” which could serve as a basis for similar conflicts in the future:

The Syrian experience has an important role for the development of strategy. Its generalization and introduction made it possible to identify a new practical field: carrying out tasks to defend and advance national interests outside the borders of Russian territory within the framework of the “strategy of limited actions.”[29] The principal implementation of this strategy is the creation of a self-sufficient grouping of troops (forces) on the basis of one of the branches of the Armed Forces having a high degree of mobility and capable of making the greatest contribution to resolving assigned tasks. In Syria, this role was given to Aerospace Forces formations.[30]

While Western analyses and government interpretations of Russian military strategy since 2014 became fixated on “hybrid warfare,” Moscow set about enhancing the hard-power element of conventional high-precision strike capability to develop an entirely new set of competences, ranging from operational-tactical to strategic strike and even feeding into “non-nuclear” deterrence. Consistent in Gerasimov’s speeches to the AVN on the themes related to Russia’s operations in Syria has been the limited nature of the application of military power: “selective, commensurate with the conditions of the situation.” And he has repeatedly stressed that a key element was the use of high-precision weapons (Vysokotochnoye Oruzhiye—VTO): “air operations, delivering massive rocket and air strikes, and employing air-, sea-, and land-based high-tech weapons.” Gerasimov had highlighted the non-contact (beskontaktnyy) phase of Operation Desert Storm in 1991: “a prolonged non-contact phase and a powerful, short-duration phase of ground contact operations.” By 1999, Russia’s General Staff drew lessons from the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which had avoided ground operations. The initial emphasis in Russian operational mission design for the role it played in the civil war in Syria was heavily embedded in as much of a “non-contact,” or limited footprint as possible. Only later in the campaign did it become necessary to involve Ground Forces elements, mainly in the role of advisors and aiding the SAA in artillery strikes. As Gerasimov summarized the lessons from Syria, Russia must prioritize VTO: “To increase its effectiveness, special attention is being focused on the development of precision weapons. Groupings of long-range air-, sea-, and land-based cruise missile carriers have been created on each strategic axis, capable of providing deterrence in strategically important regions.”[31]

Following several years of its operations in Syria, in March 2019 Gerasimov articulated the concept of a “strategy of limited actions,” reflecting Russia’s military actions in Syria and establishing a strategic mechanism for similar operations in the future. In a sense, while this concept emerged over time in the context of Russia’s operations in Syria, its underlying principle was neither entirely new nor alien to Russian military thought. Dimity Adamsky, a professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya, identified the utility of the concept of “reasonable sufficiency” in the Kremlin’s calibration of the limits of Russia’s intervention in Syria: “Seeking a golden range between overshooting and undershooting, it adopted the principle of ‘reasonable sufficiency’—razumnaia dostatochnost. Applied to the Syria context the principle means limiting the scale of military intervention to the minimum possible that would still allow Russia to project influence and promote regional goals.”[32] Critical elements in this strategy of limited actions as applied to the Syrian theater of military operations (Teatr Voyennykh Deystviy—TVD) were the use and experimentation with high-precision strike as well as efforts to enhance the overall accuracy of the VKS during operations against ground targets in Syria. While this is the focus of the following analysis, namely Russia’s experiment with “non-contact warfare,” it in no way denies that Russian operations were predominantly “contact” in the traditional sense and geared toward its overarching goal of supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime through mainly VKS close air support, while also targeting the Islamic State and related groups, including moderate opposition forces to the Damascus government.

 

Russia’s High-Precision Strikes in Syria

The Russian military has a long-held interest in analysis of precision-guided strikes by foreign militaries and in developing such capabilities domestically. This became a growing priority since the reform of Russia’s Armed Forces launched in late 2008 and the subsequent military modernization programs. The intervention in the conflict in Syria, however, proved to be a turning point, offering an opportunity to test and refine the use and role played by such weapons in the burgeoning conventional military capabilities impacting on all branches and arms of service. Precision-guided weapons or precision-guided munitions (PGM) originate as Western concepts, emerging within Russian military parlance due to the translation of the Western terms.[33] In Russian military usage, the term referring to systems designed to accurately strike an enemy target at a distance is more precisely denoted as “high-precision weapons,” or VТО. The official Russian defence ministry definition of the term is as follows:

The current VTO system is complex systems and combat support systems and resources, including: the intelligence system, communication channels, control centers, computer facilities, means of delivery and guided munitions. Depending on the management structure and the type of ammunition, the VTO could solve tactical, operational-tactical, operational and strategic objectives. In the VTO system are: reconnaissance and strike and reconnaissance-fire complexes; air- and sea-launched cruise missiles; some types of short-range missiles; anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems; aircraft guided missiles, cartridges and bombs; individual artillery systems and ASW [anti-submarine warfare] complexes.[34]

The Russian Armed Forces’ entry into the civil war in Syria beginning in September 30, 2015, marked a turning point in Moscow’s approach toward modern warfare. It served as a testing ground for modernized platforms, new weapons systems, electronic warfare, air defense, force mixture experiments, and new approaches toward the means and methods of combat operations. Significantly, for the first time in Russia’s experience of warfare, this involved the use of VTO. It also witnessed efforts to convert unguided missiles and bombs into something akin to precision-guided munitions.[35] Despite expressions of skepticism among Western governments and analysts, Moscow avoided being drawn into a quagmire such as it had experienced in the Soviet-Afghanistan conflict (1979–1989). The negative experiences of Afghanistan and the internal conflicts in Chechnya in 1994–1996 and the second, which began in 1999, were successfully overcome by deploying relatively small forces in as “non-contact” a manner as possible, mainly in support of the failing Syrian Arab Army, demonstrating an (albeit limited) expeditionary force capable of conducting operations in a remote theater. At a later stage, in March 2019, Gerasimov referred to Moscow’s strategy in Syria as one of “limited actions,” with important doctrinal implications for Russia’s approach toward future conflicts.[36]

The Moscow-based military journalist Konstantin Bagdanov noted in Izvestia in late December 2017 that “The Syrian war has become a real testing ground for new weapons and equipment, as well as a kind of ‘exercise’ for testing new methods of warfare with their use. In particular, this concerned the active use of drones, as well as equipping the advanced aircraft controllers operating in the combat formations of the Syrian army with new reconnaissance, command and communications systems, which made it possible to actively interact with artillery and aviation.” Indeed, Russia’s General Staff exploited the Syrian campaign to use it as a real-time training tool. From the earliest stages of Russia’s entry into the conflict, with the VKS in the lead role, the defense ministry announced that the costs for conducting operations were primarily sequestered from the funds allocated for combat training.[37] This cost-effective approach fed into the efforts to maximize the accuracy of unguided munitions. However, the decision to attack targets using VTO, a costly option against the stationary targets involved, seems also rooted to testing and adjusting these precision-guided missile systems based on the results of their use in the TVD.

According to Russian military media drawing upon official sources, the main targets of these air attacks were the “positions of terrorists, command posts, factories and workshops, large depots of military equipment, ammunition, fuels and lubricants, special clothing and food, hidden bases that had previously been carefully camouflaged, transshipment and strongholds, launchers with communication centers, targets with weapons and ammunition, training camps, bridges and other objects.” The workhorse of the air operations from the Khmeimim airbase was the Su-24M2, “used to strike at the accumulation of armored vehicles and enemy manpower [as well as] artillery positions—those targets where low accuracy can be compensated for by the power and number of aviation weapons in a salvo.”[38]

The experimental nature of Russia’s military involvement in Syria was also summarized by Bogdanov in another commentary:

Syria has turned into a large-scale training ground, where the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation managed to conduct a meticulous check of the new equipment that is supplied to the troops as part of the 2011–2020 State Armament Program. The intensive operation of equipment at a remote theater of operations made it possible to reveal a significant number of defects, the task of correcting which was promptly set before the defense industry. At the same time, a conclusion was made about the priorities in equipping general-purpose forces, which will be taken into account when making up estimates for the next State Armament Program, calculated until 2027.[39]

On December 22, 2017, Defense Minister Shoigu stated that operations in Syria had involved over 48,000 Russian military personnel, with the VKS having conducted more than 34,000 sorties and naval aviation flying 420 sorties from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. Over a month earlier, on November 7, Shoigu had noted the extent of the utility of the campaign in Syria to the benefit of combat experience for the commanders of Russia’s Armed Forces: “All commanders of military districts, combined-arms armies and armies of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces, almost all division commanders and more than half of the commanders of combined-arms brigades and regiments passed through the grouping of troops with their staffs.”[40]

Bogdanov, besides noting the experimental nature of Russia’s involvement in the conflict and its use as a testing and training ground for its Armed Forces, explains the need for a light footprint in the operations, as well as the enormity of the task in rebuilding and supporting the heavily depleted SAA:

At the first stage, Russia quite rightly did not want to get involved in the Syrian operation more than the air support of the Syrian Arab Army demanded. The idea of a quick non-contact operation dominated minds, while fears of a new Afghanistan still hovered over everything that was happening. At the same time, the combat capability of the Syrian troops and the ability to act independently with the support of aviation from Khmeimim were rated quite high.

However, in practice, it turned out that the SAA is in a much worse condition than expected. The Syrian army as a single force, in fact, did not exist; the organization of hostilities was at a low level. The Syrian military showed poor coordination between the branches of the military. In particular, huge problems were observed in the organization of fire support and support for the offensive from the air, and especially in the interaction of tanks with infantry. The flanks of the attacking groupings were not provided, there were failures in the conduct of reconnaissance and the organization of combat security. On the defensive, the reaction to enemy actions was impermissibly late, which allowed IS [Islamic State] militants to successfully conduct high-speed raids, capturing key points in the depths of seemingly already controlled territory.[41]

In September 2016, a high-ranking Russian diplomatic source told Kommersant that the decision to intervene in the conflict in Syria one year earlier was made based on a number of factors. These included an analysis of the potential threats to Russia’s security based on assessments by Russian intelligence agencies, and President Vladimir Putin’s unwillingness to repeat what, in his view, was the mistake Moscow had made concerning Libya in 2011. In the context of the international response to the events in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine since 2014, the calculus in the Kremlin and Russia’s General Staff was that any Russian military intervention required a light touch. The Moscow-based defense journalist Ivan Safronov explained,

Perhaps that is why the Kremlin decided to limit itself to non-contact [beskontaktnyy] methods of warfare. It was relatively safe (it was believed that the Islamists did not have air defense systems) and a much cheaper option than maintaining army units in a remote theater of operations. By August 26, 2015, the plan had been approved at the highest level: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Syrian counterpart, [Fahd] Jassem al-Freij, signed an agreement on the deployment of a Russian aviation group at the Khmeimim airbase for an indefinite period to fight terrorists. But in order to underline the legitimacy of the actions of its armed forces, the Kremlin needed to receive an official request from Bashar al-Assad. This would mean that Russia is the only one of all the countries fighting in Syria to act within the framework of international rules. As a result, Vladimir Putin got the document only on September 29. But this was not due to bureaucratic or other difficulties—diplomats say that al-Assad was ready to make any concessions in order to receive military support. This month was necessary for the Russian Ministry of Defense to prepare for military operations.[42]

Safronov succinctly captures the overview of Russia’s first uses of high-precision strikes in any combat operation, through its operations in October and November 2015 to launch land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) against ground targets in Syria:

On October 7, Russia used Kalibr cruise missiles in Syria. Then, four ships of the Caspian Flotilla performed 26 launches on the positions of the Islamic State militants. This was the first combat use of such missiles. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported on the results of the strike at a meeting with Vladimir Putin, which was shown by all state television channels. On December 8, the Project 636.3 submarine Rostov-on-Don, while in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, struck with 3M14K (Kalibr-PL) missiles from a submerged position at terrorist targets in Syria.

In November 2015, the Chief of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, reported on the first-ever combat use of Russian strategic missile carriers. Twelve long-range Tu-22M3 bombers flew from Russian airfields and attacked terrorist targets in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. Then, the Tu-160 and Tu-95MS missile carriers launched the latest Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles at militants’ targets in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.[43]

The use of the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile also marked a significant step toward the development of a long-range conventional precision-strike capability for the VKS.[44] Based on its use in Syria, it appears to have undergone an upgrade, taking account of the lessons drawn from the local climactic conditions.[45] This was undoubtedly an important step, arguably in terms of experimenting with these systems, testing them in combat conditions, as well as signaling to other powers that Russia possesses and is capable of using high-precision strikes in modern or future combat operations. As Bogdanov notes, “The military gained experience in the use of strategic cruise missiles (3M14, Kh-555, Kh-101) in a combat situation: ships and submarines of the fleet dealt one hundred strikes, and long-range aircraft—66. The missiles were used at ranges from 500 km to 1,500 km. The Iskander-M missile system was also tested in combat conditions.’[46]

In response to the terrorist attack on the Russia Airbus A321, which disappeared from radar while flying over central Egypt soon after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on October 31, 2015, and resulted in the fatalities of all 224 people onboard, President Vladimir Putin vowed to act swiftly to take revenge for this atrocity. Putin ordered an attack on Islamic State positions in Syria on November 18, 2015, involving the use of long-range strategic aviation, designated Asvozmezdiye za Operatsiyu (Operation Retribution). Some Western sources raised doubts as to whether IS fighters were in these locations at the time of the strikes.[47] However, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Vladimir Putin, “Today, from 5:00 to 5:30 Moscow time, 12 long-range Tu-22M3 bombers struck targets of the IS terrorist organization in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. From 9:00 to 09:40, Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic missile carriers launched 34 air-launched cruise missiles [Kh-101s] at targets in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.”[48]

Reportedly, in addition to these platforms, six more Tu-95MSs and five Tu-160s participated in this first strike. Alexei Ramm elaborated the extensive planning and preparations for the attack: “Planning for the use of long-range aircraft for strikes against IS began long before the Russian President announced Operation Retribution. In particular, the necessary documents, as well as various calculations were not only ready but also communicated to the commanders of the aviation units even before the start of the first air strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces from the Khmeimim airfield. The strategic Tu-95MSs and Tu-160s, equipped with an air-to-air refueling system, were supposed to operate directly from Engels airbase in the Saratov region, where they are based, and for the Tu-22M3s, unable to receive fuel during the flight, they were planned to relocate to the Mozdok airfield, where material and technical means and ammunition were stored in advance for them.”[49] While the defense ministry stressed the use high-precision cruise missiles in this operations, it also appears that it included the use of unguided OFAB-250-270 bombs; although this was compensated for by using the Specialized Computing Subsystem (Spetsializirovannaya Vychislitel’naya Podsistema) SVP-24-22 navigational attack system (discussed below).[50]

In late 2018, the VKS conducted testing of the Raduga Kh-101 using the Pemboy missile-test range in northern Russia, firing 12 of these long-range conventional cruise missiles. As highlighted by Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, such continued tests and refinements appear heavily tied to the operational experience gained in Syria:

The Kh-101 was first used operationally in November 2015 as part of Russia’s support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war. Not all of the initial missile salvos reached their targets. One missile, at least, crashed in Iranian territory close to the city of Shush, 750 kilometers from the Syrian border. The conventional variant of the missile may have a maximum range of around 4,000 km.

The Russian defence ministry has never discussed how many missiles from the early firings suffered some form of failure. Boris Obnosov, the director of Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), of which Raduga is part, said in 2016 that the basic Kh-101 would be upgraded, in part to improve its accuracy. This effort may have been a response to the missile’s initial performance in the Syrian campaign. The 12-shot missile salvo, carried out sometime in the first half of November, could have been to test some of the improvements introduced on the Kh-101 as a result of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ experience in Syria.[51]

Thus, the extent of operational experience gained in Syria using and testing these VTO systems cannot be underestimated, and it served as a catalyst to further promote the wider introduction and investment into high-precision strike weapons in the Russian military inventory. Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis, in Arlington, Virginia, interprets Russia’s use of LACMs as primarily a demonstration of such capabilities, recognizing that other more practical strike options were available, while underscoring that Russia’s LACM capability certainly poses difficulties for NATO planners. Gorenburg also notes the general criticism of these operations using LACMs, given they were employed against a non-peer adversary:

The land-attack cruise missile (LACM) strikes against Syrian targets, launched in October 2015 from relatively small missile ships in the Caspian Sea, were primarily intended to serve as a demonstration of Russia’s capabilities. The attacks were launched from three Buyan M-class corvettes and a Gepard-class frigate and flew over Iranian and Iraqi territory on their way to their targets. They were not necessary for the success of the operation, which could have been carried out perfectly well by Russian aircraft already in Syria. By launching missiles from the Caspian, Russia demonstrated that it could launch strikes from ships well inside Russia’s air defense perimeter. The real goal was to show NATO military planners (and neighboring states) that Russia has a new standoff land-attack missile capability that can be difficult to neutralize.

Russia’s demonstration of new naval strike capabilities continued in December 2015 when Kalibr LACMs were launched against targets from a recently constructed diesel submarine operating in the Mediterranean Sea. This launch of LACMs from hard-to-track submarines further highlighted the potential threat posed by Russian naval vessels against Russia’s potential opponents. These strikes were closely coordinated with the air force, which sent out a sizeable percentage of its long-range aviation to conduct strikes against the Islamic State. This force included five Tu-160, six Tu-95MS, and 14 Tu-22M3 long-range bombers, which launched Kh-555 and Kh-101 cruise missiles and also dropped gravity bombs on targets in Raqqa. These cruise missiles, with a range of approximately 2,000 kilometers, had never been used in combat. While a number of analysts dismissed the tactics used by the long-range aviation as outdated, the goal of the operation was to highlight the combat readiness of the aircraft rather than the kinds of tactics the service would actually use in combat against an adversary that can defend against strikes by strategic aviation.[52]

Russia’s Military-Maritime Fleet was undoubtedly in the leading role when it came to the use of cruise missiles in the conflict in Syria, and it benefited from what some described as the “kalibrization of the Russian Navy.”[53] A much more limited high-precision strike on targets in central Syria was conducted by the VMF in June 2017. Indeed, over time, the numbers of launches of LACMs in any given operation significantly declined. The June 2017 attack involved a detachment of naval assets drawn from the Russian naval force grouping in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Unlike the first strikes conducted by the VMF on October 7, 2015, this operation involved the use of significantly fewer LACMs, suggesting improvement in the use of the systems. On June 23, 2017, the frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Grigorovich were joined in the eastern Mediterranean Sea by the submarine Krasnodar (all part of the Black Sea Fleet) to launch six Kalibr cruise missiles against targets in Hama Province.[54]

According to the Department of Information and Mass Communications of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the need for the strike arose due to the military situation that developed in June 2017 in central Syria. This involved the movement of what the defense ministry described as “Islamic State terrorists” attempting to leave Raqqa in the direction of Palmyra along the so-called “southern corridor.” These forces, without any estimation of the numbers involved, used the cover of night and exploited their local knowledge of the difficult terrain to use various escape routes into Hama Province; apparently, once relocated, they set about equipping command posts in large buildings and constructing weapons and ammunition dumps.[55]

 

 Figure 2: Limited Kalibr Strikes on Targets in Hama Province: June 23, 2017.[56]

 

In this context, the command of the Russian group of forces deployed in Syria organized round-the-clock surveillance of these escape routes and identified the areas to which the militants had relocated. “As a result of a sudden massive missile strike,” the Russian defense ministry’s Information and Mass Communications Department said, “command posts, as well as large depots of weapons and ammunition of ISIS terrorists in the area of Akerbat, Hama province, were destroyed after a precision strike by the cruise missile Kalibr. The arsenal of the militants detonated. The remnants of ISIS militants and facilities were destroyed by air strikes by Russian Aerospace Forces bombers. Turkish and Israeli commanders were promptly informed about the launches of cruise missiles through the channels of interaction.” The official statement added, “the Russian Navy has once again demonstrated the ability to deliver effective strikes against remote targets with Kalibr precision weapons as soon as possible after receiving a combat order.”[57]

This illustration of the lessening in the numbers of cruise missiles used in each of the strikes on targets on Syria since the first use by the VMF on October 7, 2015, fits into an overall pattern that implies learning from the combat testing of such systems. On October 7, 2015, 26 Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from the Caspian Sea. The attacks on November 11 and December 8, 2015, involved 18 and 4 respectively, with the latter witnessing the first launches from a submarine. In subsequent Kalibr cruise missile strikes by the VMF, the numbers on each occasion remained less that ten until October 5, 2017, (ten) and again declined to single digits in the last two attacks in late October and early November 2017. Whereas the earliest VMF cruise missile strikes involved mainly surface vessels, the last five attacks were exclusively submarine-based.[58] Thus, the experimentation with the navy’s use of cruise missiles greatly reduced over time in the number of missiles involved in each strike, as well as the mix of platforms; it commenced with small surface vessels in the Caspian Sea, progressed to a mixture of surface and sub-surface platforms, and culminated in the exclusive use of submarine launches. Moreover, while the decision-making process, which resulted in the use of LACMs against targets in Syria, remains classified, it appears that the VMF was the principal branch of service advocating their use.

The following observations can be drawn from Russia’s use of VTO in Syria:

  • The use of LACMs was largely successful. The first use involved 26 launches, with some missiles reportedly failing to strike their targets. Later, it evolved to more limited use, showing apparent growing confidence in using fewer LACMs to strike targets;
  • The lead advocate for the use of VTO was the VMF;
  • The VMF “experiment” with the use of cruise missiles began with surface vessels, progressed to a mix of surface and sub-surface ships, and culminated in the exclusive use of submarine launches. This implied a varied experimentation and refinement of the various naval versions of these systems;
  • The VKS’s and VMF’s use of Kh-101, Kh-555 and 3M14 cruise missiles allowed each service to gain invaluable operational experience and overcome “teething issues,” resulting in an overall success in the use and deployment of such high-technology strike systems;
  • Issues may well exist around the depth and breadth of Russia’s VTO arsenal: for example, the Kh-59 appears intended to address the lack of a medium-range ALCM;
  • The range and variety of platforms for Russian LACMs poses a long-term challenge for the defense requirements of peer adversaries;
  • In the long term, Moscow faces the challenge of balancing the production of supersonic LACMs against traditional LACMs in terms of cost and capability;
  • Russian cruise missiles suffer from persistent issues with all-weather capability and the capacity to hit mobile or moving targets.[59]

 

SVP-24 and Freefall Bombs

Much of the criticism of the VKS’s air operations in Syria relates to the fact that most of the ordinance used was unguided rather than the high-precision elements that were frequently highlighted in official Russian defense ministry briefings. High-profile use of LACMs, as detailed above, represents a minute proportion of the overall ordinance dropped during combat operations. The use of general-purpose aviation bombs by the VKS in Syria has been heavily documented.[60] However, defense ministry sources and the Russian military media claimed that the use of highly advanced navigational attack systems compensated for the lack of high-precision ordinance and that these assets were exploited in order to significantly enhance the accuracy of airstrikes.[61] While these claims to greatly enhance accuracy up to and including “high-precision strike” levels are replete within the vast majority of publicly available Russian sources, few analyses have questioned the performance of the SVP-24, or assessed its effectiveness.[62]

In particular, following the early deployment of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft to the Russian Khmeimim airbase southeast of Latakia in September 2015, these platforms were later fitted with the SVP-24 (also known as Gefest), designed by the Russian defense company Gefest & T; this was especially utilized onboard the Su-24M fighter-bombers.[63] Su-25s were also equipped with the navigational and attack complexes OLTS-25 Optical Laser-Television System (Opticheskaya Lazerno-Televizionnaya Sistema). The OLTS-25 enabled higher accuracy in the use of Kh-25 and Kh-29 guided missiles against ground targets. Variants of the SVP-24 have also been developed for use on other VKS platforms, including strategic bombers. Russian sources claim the system ensures high accuracy using, for example, the FAB-500 (four to seven meters from an altitude of 5–6 km).[64]

Illustrating the publicity and attention to this system, in an article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer in October 2015, the Moscow-based defense journalist Alexei Ramm notes, “Representatives of the military department confirmed that the Su-24s involved in the attacks on the Islamic State have undergone modernization, during which they installed SVP-24 complexes, which allow conventional free-fall bombs to hit ground targets with high accuracy.”[65] Ramm accepts that early VKS sorties in the Syrian TVD were initially inaccurate. However, the author explains the improvement in the targeting as heavily tied to exploiting the SVP-24:

In subsequent sorties, the accuracy of strikes increased significantly, which indicates that the crews of front-line bombers most likely began to effectively use the SVP-24 systems installed on their aircraft. Su-25 attack aircraft were also actively involved in night strikes. This suggests that the recently adopted modification of the Su-25SM3 with a new optoelectronic thermal imaging system is being used. However, like the Su-24, attack aircraft struck with conventional FAB free-fall bombs.[66]

 

Figure 3: SVP-24: http://bastion-karpenko.ru/svp-24-gefest/, Accessed February 15, 2021.

 

Numerous commentaries in Russian military media promoted the idea that the SVP-24, originally designed and introduced to the Russian Air Force in 2008 but later heavily exploited during the modernization of VKS platforms used in operations in Syria, marked a breakthrough in enhancing the accuracy of unguided munitions. The recurring theme was that the experience of operations in Syria had tried and tested the system and achieved greater accuracy in striking ground targets.[67]

Lieutenant General (ret.) Dmitriy Lomako, the deputy general director of Gefest & T, explained that the system was in development over many years, drawing upon lessons from the use of Russian airpower in the experience of the conflicts in Chechnya in the 1990s:

We work on intellect for combat aviation, including helicopters. We started in 1996, at a difficult time for Russia and its economy, with a technical specification from the Defense Ministry for modernization of the onboard and ground-based equipment of the Su-24M aircraft, prompted by the well-known events in Chechnya. Even during that stage, we built in a high degree of upgradeability, which subsequently allowed us to modify the SVP-24 for fitting to other aviation systems: the Tu-22M3, Su-33, Su-25, and partially the Il-22 for multiplexing streams from radio stations on various frequencies, relaying, and broadening the scope of net-centric command and control of troops. We are now upgrading the SVP-24 on the Ka-52 helicopter.[68]

Reportedly, such upgrades can be carried on a wider range of VKS platforms over a two-to-three-week period.

An aircraft fitted with this system can perform combat sorties at low or higher altitudes and deliver more accurate strikes. As illustrated in Figure 3 above, the system integrates ground-based, aerial and space-based systems for enhanced targeting.[69] Military analyst Oleg Falichev outlines its critical characteristics that make possible such advances in targeting using free-fall ordinance:

The key feature of the system is not that it guides the munition to the target but that it zeroes the carrier in to the release point and calculates the exact moment for dropping unguided aviation bombs. And this is how it differs fundamentally from the American JDAM: US armorers bolt a tailored single-use GPS guidance kit onto the bomb, whereas the SVP-24 can be endlessly reused with unguided munitions. The SVP-24 specialized computer subsystem consists of several components located both on the aircraft and on the ground. This enables not only navigation and bombing for a previously reconnoitered target but also, when required, retargeting in real time to cater for changes in the operational environment.[70]

Noting the increasingly widespread use of the SVP-24 and its variants, including in VKS platforms in Crimea, Anton Lavrov and Roman Kretsul in an article in Izvestia in July 2020, reflected this tendency to present the SVP-24 as a breakthrough in high-accuracy targeting. “The Russian military praised the effectiveness of the SVP-24. According to the Ministry of Defense, in real conditions it made it possible to achieve accuracy comparable to guided munitions. The accuracy of the Su-24M with it has more than tripled. When dropped from a height of up to 6 km, the deviation of bombs from the target is a few tens of meters,” the authors asserted, adding, “The new system continuously monitors the coordinates of the target and the aircraft itself, calculating the parameters of the fall of bombs after dropping. It automatically corrects for wind, temperature and aircraft maneuvers. The command to use ammunition is issued at the exact time. There were recorded cases of sniper destruction of even point objects by single unguided bombs: detached houses, tanks and militant vehicles.”[71]

A similar theme was pursued by an online Russian defense ministry publication in April 2018, again stressing the high-precision accuracy of the SVP-24 used by VKS platforms:

Through the GLONASS system (note—not GPS!), the coordinates of the target (they are given by ground reconnaissance) and the coordinates of the aircraft are linked to each other. The plane goes to the desired point and drops bombs, in fact, under computer control. In this case, adjusting the trajectory of the bomb is not necessary. The SVP-24 provides alignment of the target with the location of the bomber—adjusted for the trajectory of the bomb, taking into account its ballistics and weather conditions. The calculations are made by the SVP-24 onboard computer complex, which combines aiming, navigation and control devices. The bomb is dropped at an altitude of 5–6 km, where a modern portable anti-aircraft missile system (MANPADS) cannot reach.[72]

Igor Semenchenko, exemplifies these particular themes in an article in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer in December 2017. He praises the overall performance of the VKS in Syria, emphasizing the increased rates in daily sorties as well as their use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), confirming the need to avoid altitudes lower than 5,000 meters and claiming that the onboard sighting and navigation equipment enabled the VKS to hit ground targets with “high accuracy.”[73]

Let us emphasize: initially, there were about 20 sorties per day, but gradually their number increased. In the course of the operation, tactics also changed. Our pilots went to work alone, attacking several targets in a sortie. The methodology of their combat work was based on data from space [as well as] aerial reconnaissance, and only after clarifying all the information received from the headquarters of the Syrian army. As a rule, they attacked from a height of more than five thousand meters to avoid being hit by portable anti-aircraft missile systems of the Stinger type. The onboard sighting and navigation equipment of the aircraft made it possible to ensure that terrorists hit any ground targets with high accuracy.[74]

Semenchenko adds:

The Russian air group created in Syria, consisting only of modern and modernized models of kit equipped with advanced weapons and sighting and navigation systems, made it possible to deliver high-precision strikes against bandit formations throughout Syria without entering the enemy’s MANPADS zone. The widespread use of reconnaissance and strike systems based on reconnaissance, control and communications complexes made it possible to implement the principle of “one target–one missile (bomb).” The superiority of the Russian group in reconnaissance means, electronic warfare, integrated control and engagement systems ensured the non-contact defeat of the enemy with minimal risk to our troops and forces.[75]

Nonetheless, despite this introduction of advanced high-technology (albeit in existence since 2008, though having undergone further improvements), there are certainly questions concerning its actual performance-enhancing characteristics. An anonymous US-based blogger accurately and succinctly describes the SVP-24 and how this system differs from the US Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) approach, which enhances each bomb to effectively transform it into a precision-guided munition:

The SVP-24 special computing subsystem was a different approach. Instead of installing kits on every bomb the Russians opted to install multiple modules, sensors, cameras and displays which would aid the pilot by calculating a targeting solution. The SVP-24 can be installed on any helicopter or plane and can be programmed to fire rockets, unguided bombs, or other packages. On helicopters flying low this makes rocket attacks brutally accurate. On airplanes however due to the unpredictability of wind at different layers of atmosphere planes are forced to fly lower to get more accurate attack windows which will drop the packages closer to target. The higher the plane the more impacted overall accuracy will be. This is generally calculated with the size of the bomb. As some bombs have [an] explosive radius and kill radius (pressure shock wave) that span in the meters (a 2000lb bomb can cover nearly 365 meters/1200 feet in a killing zone) accuracy becomes less important (and precision strikes become more of a play on words).[76]

Most Russian sources make little or no reference to the challenges facing the use of the SVP-24 in combat operations. The blogger correctly identifies some of the limitations of the system, including these atmospheric conditions within which the VKS platforms flew, such as wind factors, and the need to use the system at lower altitudes. The point is that at higher altitudes, despite contrary claims about the system’s performance characteristics, the accuracy reduces. This point was also rightly highlighted by Michael Kofman, the director for Russia and Eurasia at the Center for Naval Analysis, in Arlington, Virginia:

Russian fixed-wing aircraft lacked targeting pods to employ what few precision-guided munitions were available, and there were almost no precision munitions available initially because they had not bought them. Hence, only a tiny percentage of the weapons used in Syria could be considered precision-guided. Under the modernization program, the Aerospace Forces invested in a more accurate targeting system package called Gefest-SVP, which was supposed to provide much higher accuracy for existing unguided weapons. Forced to conduct strikes at altitudes above 4,000 meters to avoid ground fire and man portable air defenses, the Russian air force found that Gefest offered limited improvements in accuracy.[77]

In addition to the flight altitude issues involved, as most of the VKS sorties had to be conducted at altitudes above 4,000 meters to avoid the risks of ground fire of MANPADS, other, no less important factors were at play. Those included the lack of sufficient quantities of high-precision systems, especially early in the operations, as well as an absence of targeting pods. Hence, in the overall VKS operations, only a tiny percentage of precision-guided weapons were used.[78]

In an interview in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer published in November 2015, Oleg Falichev raised issues concerning VKS operations in Syria with Major General (ret.) Igor Semenchenko, the first deputy chief of the Operations Directorate of the Air Force General Staff (1997–2003) and the leading advisor to the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security (2003–2013). Semenchenko, like others, drew attention to the role played by the SVP-24 to enhance the role of free-fall bombs during combat operations. He explained that unlike the US concept of using the JDAM to convert conventional bombs into precision weapons, the SVP-24 functions in a markedly different way:

The SVP-24 provides alignment of the target with the location of the carrier, corrected for the trajectory of the bomb, calculated by the onboard computer complex, taking into account the hydrometeorological conditions and its ballistics. Conventional ammunition gains performance comparable to high-precision weapons. Meanwhile, in a combat situation, additional factors are superimposed, which significantly reduce the accuracy of bombing. These are errors in establishing the coordinates of the target, which can reach several meters. An additional several meters of deviation is introduced by determining the location of the carrier according to GLONASS data in the combat zone. Coordinates may be slightly distorted during sharp maneuvering in the target area. The lack of complete information about the hydrometeorological situation and the state of the air environment also affects it.[79]

Taking into account these factors, it is possible to assess the accuracy of the combat use of free-fall bombs using the SVP-24. The probability of hitting a small protected underground structure is 30–40 percent, and the probability of hitting weakly protected ground targets of a medium size can reach 60 percent. With 12–16 medium- and large-caliber bombs on board, the SVP-24–equipped Su-24M is capable of destroying up to two stationary targets of the Islamic State’s military infrastructure in one sortie. Apparently, for this reason, no more than one sortie is conducted per target.[80]

Semenchenko’s analysis is important in further refining the role played by the SVP-24 in enhancing the accuracy of VKS operations in Syria. While the system certainly aids in the delivery of free-fall bombs, it does not equate with “high-precision strike.” Semenchenko rightly notes that by employing the SVP-24, free-fall bombs can be used in a way comparable to but not equal to high-precision weapons.[81] He further adds some of the variable factors that may reduce accuracy in any bombing conducted using the system, ranging from coordinate errors, distortions due to maneuvering during a sortie, to the lack of complete data on the hydrometeorological situation or the state of the air environment.[82] Falichev concurs that a number of variable factors can reduce the accuracy of the SVP-24; however, the system remains a significant target tool for the VKS. As he notes, “Factors arise in a combat environment that significantly degrade bombing accuracy: technical margin of error of the munition itself, imprecision of target coordinates, GLONASS errors, incomplete weather information. Allowing for these, free-fall bombs used in combat can be judged to be accurate to within 50–100 meters, but the SVP-24 reduces that to 15–20 meters.”[83]

 

VKS Air-Launched Precision-Guided Weapons

KAB-250L Smart bomb with gyrostabilized laser-homing head
KAB-500L Smart bomb with gyrostabilized laser-homing head
KAB-1500LG-F Smart bomb with gyrostabilized laser-homing head
KAB-1500L-Pr Smart bomb with gyrostabilized laser-homing head
KAB-250S Smart bomb with inertial satellite-homing system using GLONASS/NAVSTAR
KAB-500S Smart bomb with inertial satellite-homing system using GLONASS/NAVSTAR
RBK-500 SPBE-D Expendable cluster bomb dispenser loaded with 15 self-aiming antitank submunitions
Kh-55 Strategic cruise missile with autonomous autocorrelation inertial-guidance system integrated with terrain contour-matching system, with television-guidance system in final phase
Kh-55SM Strategic cruise missile with autonomous autocorrelation inertial-guidance system integrated with terrain contour-matching system, with television-guidance system in final phase
Kh-555 Strategic cruise missile with autonomous autocorrelation inertial-guidance system integrated with terrain contour-matching system, with television-guidance system in final phase
Kh-59M Air-launched tactical guided missile with television-correlation homing head
Kh-59M2 Air-launched tactical guided missile with command broadcast [translyatsionno-komandnyy] guidance system
Kh-25ML Air-launched tactical guided missile with semiactive laser-homing head
Kh-29L Air-launched tactical guided missile with semiactive laser-homing head
Kh-29T Air-launched tactical guided missile with passive television-homing head
Kh-31AD Anti-ship missile with active radar-homing head
Kh-35U Anti-ship missile with active radar-homing head
Kh-59MK Anti-ship missile with active radar-homing head
Kh-41 Moskit Anti-ship missile with combination onboard control system, which includes inertial navigation system, radio altimeter, and active-passive radar-homing head
Kh-25MP Anti-radar missile
Kh-31PD Anti-radar missile
Kh-58USh Anti-radar missile
9M127-1 Air-launched antitank missile with laser-homing heads
Vikhr-1 Air-launched antitank missile with laser-homing heads
9M120 Ataka Air-launched antitank missile with semiautomatic radio command guidance system
R-60 Short-range air-to-air guided missile with passive infrared-homing head
R-73 Short-range air-to-air guided missile with passive infrared-homing head
RVV-MD Short-range air-to-air guided missile with passive infrared-homing head
R-27T Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with passive infrared homing head
R-27ET Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with passive infrared-homing head
R-27R Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with inertial-semiactive radar-homing head
R-27P Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with passive radar-homing head
R-77 Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with monopulse Doppler active radar-homing head
RVV-Aye Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with monopulse Doppler active radar-homing head
RVV-SD Medium-range air-to-air guided missile with monopulse Doppler active radar-homing head
R-33 Long-range air-to-air guided missile with inertial-semiactive radar-homing head
R-33S Long-range air-to-air guided missile with inertial-active radar-homing head
VKS Order of Battle: http://www.milkavkaz.net/2015/12/vozdushno-kosmicheskie-sily.html.

 

The above table is drawn from a Russian online blogger source, and it is intended to present a snapshot of the high-precision weapons in the VKS inventory. It is worth noting the extent to which, by late 2015, some of these bomb types were being presented in the class of “smart,” or “guided.”[84] Already by late 2015, with the Russian defense ministry heavily pushing the high-precision usage and increased accuracy in bombing sorties by the VKS, this impression appeared to percolate in both Russian and Western sources.

In the Russian defense ministry’s frenzy to “advertise” its “precision strikes” in operations in Syria, numerous commentaries in the military media stressed this aspect of the weaponry used in the campaign. Below, profiling some of the weapons used that benefited from the enhanced SVP-24-based targeting system is that fantasy claim to include a thermobaric weapon (ODAB-500):

  • KAB-500S: high-explosive guided (corrected) air bomb “dropped-forgot.” Designed to destroy stationary ground and surface targets such as warehouses, military-industrial facilities, ships in the parking lot. It can be used around the clock in any weather. Unlike foreign analogs, the main model is not built on GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation but on the recognition of the terrain map.[85]
  • The KAB-250S/LG: the most compact guided aerial bomb in its class. Equipped with a system for receiving satellite coordinates, and its own thermal imaging homing head. The LG modification allows one to aim it using laser target designation. Weight—250/127 kilograms of explosives.[86]
  • RBK-500 SPBE: one-time cluster bomb. Equipped with 15 autonomous homing anti-tank warheads, which are equipped with dual-mode infrared target coordinators. Designed to destroy armored vehicles in conditions of natural and artificial interference. After ejection of submunitions from RBK-500, they release parachutes and begin to rotate around their axis in search of targets.[87]
  • ODAB-500: space-detonating aerial bomb. A kind of high-explosive bomb. But its effectiveness is much higher. In the bow, there is an electromechanical device for spraying explosives. The bomb contains 193 kilograms of high-energy volatile liquid. After the discharge, after a set time, the spraying of the warhead begins, which creates a cloud of a mixture of explosives with air and is undermined by a detonator.[88]
  • Kh-29L: an air-to-surface missile. It has an increased damaging factor of high-explosive and fragmentation action. It is equipped with a laser seeker. The target is illuminated by a laser, along which guidance is made, while the rocket perceives only the required wavelength of light, which ensures a high stability of target locking.[89]
  • Kh-25ML: air-to-surface missile. It aims at the target using a semi-active laser seeker. Target illumination can be carried out by an airborne or ground target designation station. The design of the illumination station and the missile seeker excludes the influence of laser radiation from other sources. The task of the pilots is only to detect and mark the target on the TV display.[90]

Equally, it is worth clarifying that over the course of VKS operations in Syria, primarily tasked with close air support for the Syrian Arab Army and later with Russian Ground Forces assistance in the wider context of counterinsurgency, it is undoubtedly the case that the level of lethality in these VKS strikes greatly improved. In an important assessment of the role of Russian airpower in Syria by Ralph Shield in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, in 2018, the author refers to greater use by the VKS of “precision and near-precision strike,” partly explaining the “greater per sortie kill rates over Russia’s past conflicts.” Shield clarifies:

Battle damage verification against fielded forces is notoriously difficult, particularly against an irregular enemy, and even more so in the midst of an active conflict. That said, enough anecdotal evidence exists for Syria to surmise that the RuAF [Russian Air Force] has achieved at least qualified success in the employment of precision and near-precision technology. Granting that officially released materials present a charitably filtered view, verified RuAF weapon seeker and targeting system videos showing munitions successfully tracking to kills on fixed targets and stationary vehicles demonstrate solid operational confidence and improved per sortie kill rates over Russia’s past conflicts. This impression is corroborated by participant interviews and the judgments of third-party conflict observers that correlate the onset of Russian bombardment with a definite improvement in airstrike lethality. In Aleppo, for example, Russian airstrikes were characterized by those subject to their effects as consistently accurate when deployed against identifiable targets. The fact that its fighter-bombers have been able to obtain this result while operating almost exclusively from a medium altitude sanctuary signals that the RuAF has attained a threshold proficiency in the air-delivery of guided and unguided ordnance.[91]

While numerous factors feed into the VKS performance during their operations in Syria, as Shield asserts, the VKS achieved a “threshold proficiency in the air delivery of guided and unguided ordinance.” Of course, other factors at play include the experience, confidence and professionalism boosted on the part of VKS pilots over the timescale of conducting these operations. However, there is equally no doubt that the exploitation of the SVP-24 and its variants played an important role in the VKS’s success. As noted above, this appears time and again within the Russian sources. For example, in August 2018, like other senior Russian defense officials, Yuriy Borisov, the deputy prime minister for the defense and space industry, lavished high praise on the system: “The SVP-24 is a good tool. It takes into account the aircraft’s flight data for speed, altitude, g-force, attitude, the number and type of munitions and their ballistic characteristics, and climatic conditions up to and including the wind direction and speed, and then calculates the moment to release the munition. Some of the bombing was even with munitions from the time of the Second World War, the cheapest and by default unguided but right on target.”[92]

While it is true that the vast bulk of Russian ordinance dropped on targets in Syria during the course of the VKS operations since September 2015 were unguided or free-fall bombs, the picture this portrays is quite misleading. The use of the SVP-24 undoubtedly played a major part in offering the VKS a capability hitherto unseen in Russian combat operations: it resulted in a major improvement in targeting. Moreover, the SVP-24 was never intended or designed to compete with or be compared to the US JDAM, representing as it does a different approach rooted in a cost-effective mechanism to enhance the accuracy of what would otherwise be unguided ordinance. The SVP-24, as Semenchenko rightly stated, was intended to offer to make unguided free-fall bombs comparable to, but not equal to PGMs. By August 2018, of the more than 18,000 VKS sorties flown, over half had involved using the SVP-24. This exploitation of advanced Russian technology offered a means to improve overall performance in VKS operations.[93]

 

Russia’s High-Precision Strikes as a Non-Contact Capability

Russia’s use of high-precision strikes during its operations in Syria moved beyond simply a theoretical understanding or an aspirational approach to such modern warfare. The ideas and thinking underlying this experiment trace their origins to Marshal Ogarkov’s RMA, and his intellectual descendants such as General Slipchenko, arguing that such “sixth-generation” warfare, with its greatest advances pertaining to “non-contact” operations, was tried and tested in Russia’s military operations in Syria.[94] Unlike US/NATO models of using “non-contact” as an element in military operations, the Russian approach in Syria was to blend this into existing “contact operations,” never losing sight of the overall role of its involvement in Syria as offering support for the SAA, targeting “terrorist groups,” and even going after the moderate Syrian opposition. This relied mainly on the design and formulation of an “aerospace operation,” which, over time, became more complex and demanded additional features of Russia’s “hard power,” including limited use of Ground Forces in support of the SAA.[95] This is not to deny the presence and exploitation of other “soft power” elements, though these lie beyond the scope of this analysis. However, in this context, and with much of the operational environment in Syria offering opportunities for Russia’s Armed Forces to experiment with a variety of hardware and weapons systems, this also included the road-testing of the VTO.

Of course, questions exist concerning the interpretations of non-contact strikes. Is this about the use of long-range unmanned means of attack and non-kinetic means of attack specifically against adversary infrastructure, industrial-economic objects, political objects and distant military infrastructure or assets; if so, is this a new capability? If, however, “non-contact strikes” is interpreted as the use of these means of attack against adversary military targets at large (in theater), then it may be a new sub-capability of a greater strike capability. Some of the things that comprise the offensive component, on the other hand, are new. Old capabilities would include aircraft with unguided munitions, rocket and tube artillery. New capabilities include those displayed in Syria, such as unmanned aerial systems, new types of EW systems, precision-guided weapons, etc. Some of these can be considered a non-contact strike capability.[96]

From the perspective of Russia’s General Staff, the use of VTO in Syria was a clear success. Of course, the earliest strikes revealed shortcomings, and it seems that the use of “non-contact” capabilities were adjusted over time. The VKS was in the lead role for the aerospace operation; however, the first use of cruise missiles came from the VMF, with the 26 Kalibr cruise missiles fired against ground targets in Syria on October 7, 2015. This level of attack, with some reported missiles falling short of target, was never repeated.[97] The entire process of using cruise missiles against targets in Syria witnessed clear development and evolution, implying growing confidence that smaller numbers of missiles could be used to strike the designated ground targets. As noted, in the experience of the VMF, the platforms started with exclusively surface vessels, progressing to a mixture of surface and sub-surface ships, culminating in the last five attacks only involving submarine launches. The General Staff appears to have used the experiment with cruise missiles in Syria to convince the political leadership to invest long-term in populating the Armed Forces with increased numbers and varieties of VTO as part of Moscow’s future “non-nuclear deterrence,” vis-à-vis peer adversaries.

Thus, when General Gerasimov, in his speech to the AVN in March 2018, outlined future high-technology threats to Russia stemming mainly from the United States, he asserted that the answer lies in Moscow’s development of VTO capability, to include developing and procuring supersonic cruise missiles capable of overcoming enemy air defenses:

Our answer is not long in coming. Contemporary models of armaments, including fundamentally new types of weapons, are being adopted and deployed. The mass production of new models of weapons has begun in the interests of equipping the Armed Forces with them. “Avangard,” “Sarmat,” and the latest “Peresvet” and “Kinzhal” weapons have demonstrated their high level of effectiveness and successfully passed the test of the “Poseidon” and “Burevestnik” complexes. Work is planned for the creation of the “Tsirkon” sea-based hypersonic missile.

There is no doubt that we are leaders in this field in comparison with the world’s technologically developed countries. Thus, recently, a decision was made on conducting scientific and design work on the development of ground complexes of mid- and lower-range hypersonic missiles. The creation of new models of weapons will not drag Russia into a new arms race. The number of new complexes sufficient for deterrence will be created within the framework of the planned military budget.[98]

Although, as observers have noted, the majority of Russia’s military operations in Syria were not in the category of “non-contact,” the element being blended into the overall experimentation should not be ignored or underestimated; clearly, the General Staff had solid reasons for advocating the use of cruise missile testing in such a combat situation. However, in the Western and Russian sources covering these operations in Syria, there is almost universal underestimation of the extent to which the targeting of sorties flown by the VKS were markedly enhanced in their accuracy to deliver on target using genuinely innovative Russian high-technology navigational and attack systems based on the SVP-24 and its variants. While open to criticism—the SVP-24 may not replicate “high-precision” strikes—a number of former senior Russian air force officers have nonetheless noted that it offers a capability “comparable to high-precision strike”; improvement in any operational environment is surely advantageous.

Returning to the theme of Moscow’s first use of cruise missiles in military operations during its involvement in the conflict in Syria, this also has strategic implications. While tested at the operational-tactical level in the Syrian TVD, the primarily aerospace operation ultimately led to testing such systems from multiple platforms—air-, sea- and land-based. Moscow has a long-held interest in turning to conventional high-precision strike as an added layer of strategic deterrence. In 1992, this was expressed, albeit as an aspiration in a statement issued by the Presidium of the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet, On Priorities in Russian Federation Military Policy, dated April 1, 1992. The statement read as follows, “Forces with high-precision weapons and the delivery systems for them should become the main factor of deterring large-scale conflicts and local wars from breaking out against Russia and the other CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] member states.”[99] Building on the origins of the RMA, former deputy defense minister Andrei Kokoshin coined the phrase “non-nuclear deterrence” (neyadernogo sderzhivaniya) or “pre-nuclear deterrence” (pred’iadernoe sderzhivaniya); in 2010, this entered the lexicon of Russia’s Military Doctrine.[100] The General Staff and defense ministry have pointed to the use of VTO in the Syria campaign to convince the political leadership that the conventional element of “non-nuclear” deterrence lies in such high-precision weaponry.

While the further adoption of high-precision strike systems undoubtedly boosts Russia’s strategic deterrence, questions persist regarding production costs and capacity. To date, these weapons have mainly been tested only in the Syrian TVD; whereas, the capability may be more restricted against a peer adversary. In 2014, Defense Minister Shoigu claimed that the VTO stock would increase “30 times by 2020.”[101] However, assuming such targets are achievable in the first place, as Barry Watts explained in 2013, “even in the case of very inexpensive PGMs [VTOs], resource constraints and institutional preferences can confront even a major power with the prospect of running out during high-intensity operations.”[102] Watts was commenting on the US; yet, despite Shoigu’s promises, Moscow also faces such constraints.

The figures for manufacturing a Kalibr cruise missile in Russia are classified as secret; though widely differing estimates can be found in the Russian military media, ranging anywhere from $750,000 to $6,500,000 per missile. By contrast, the production cost of a US Tomahawk cruise missile is around $1,500,000.[103]

The Kalibr missile’s producer is Novator, based in St. Petersburg. The Moscow-based military observer Igor Ischenko pointed out that in the first six months of 2016, Novator had produced 47 Kalibrs. But based on the defense ministry’s plans to introduce this cruise missile in greater numbers into the VMF, Ischenko posited this would demand around 1,500 missiles ready for service at any one time. Moreover, this number is on the extremely conservative end of the amounts that would be required for training and testing.[104]

 

Conclusion

In this context, a more cost-effective and, naturally, less high-profile element relates to the exploitation of unguided ordinance with the SVP-24 variants to achieve an increased level of lethality—as came out of Russia’s experiments in Syria with high-precision weapons. Indeed, this may well prove to be more useful to Moscow in its future involvement in regional conflicts, as it is certainly more cost-effective. During its operations in the Syrian TVD, Moscow demonstrated that it has harnessed a “non-contact warfare” capability. But it used this in a limited manner, folded into support for existing operations. It nonetheless clearly judged this to be a success, offering valuable combat-based experience to test and refine these systems.

At the strategic level, such “non-contact” capabilities feed into strengthening Russia’s non-nuclear deterrence. And evidently, these systems will continue to receive considerable state investment in the years ahead to include the introduction of hypersonic conventional strike systems such as the Tsirkon, posing considerable challenges for peer adversaries in the event of conflict. While, this new capability was tried and tested in the Syrian TVD, it is quite a different question as to its utility in the context of any future conflict with a peer adversary. Moreover, Moscow would need to have the capacity to produce and use enough of these weapons to overcome enemy air and missile defense systems, while maintaining enough in reserve for the contingency of conflict escalation. Moreover, it remains an open question as to how these systems correlate with each other. How is the further development and introduction of precision-guided weapons influencing Russian strategic military thought? And, how does the political-military leadership calculate and determine the optimum balance in the future between precision, unguided and nuclear weapons arsenals?

Through the limited experiments with the use of VTO during its operations in Syria, Moscow has demonstrated the entry of its Armed Forces into the realm of “sixth generation warfare” and its pinnacle of “non-contact” capability. For now, however, the nature of application has still proven to be quite limited.

 

Notes

[1] The author wishes to express his gratitude to the following individuals for reviewing and commenting on an earlier draft of this paper: Dmitry Adamsky, Charles K. Bartles, Lester W. Grau and Guy Plopsky.

[2] See: Rajan Menon, Eugene Rumer, Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post-Cold War Order, MIT Press 2015, pp.83–85. “Yuriy Borisov rasskazal o primenenii rossiyskoy voyennoy tekhniki v Sirii,” Gazeta.ru, December 17, 2018; Aleksey Ramm and Andrey Laykovskiy, “Dron v boyevykh usloviyakh Zamnachal’nika Gosudarstvennogo tsentra bespilotnoy aviatsii podpolkovnik Andrey Laykovskiy — o primenenii BPLA v Sirii, osobennostyakh podgotovki operatorov i novykh apparatakh dlya Vooruzhennykh sil,” Izvestia, October 12, 2018, https://iz.ru/785792/roman-kretcul-aleksei-ramm/dron-v-boevykh-usloviiakh.

[3] See, for example: Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, “Russian Lessons Learned From the Operation in Syria: A Preliminary Assessment,” in Glen E. Howard and Matthew Czekaj (eds.), Russia’s Military Strategy and Doctrine, Washington DC, 2019, pp.379–410; Michael Kofman and Matthew Rojansky, JD, “What Kind of Victory for Russia in Syria?” Military Review, January 24, 2018, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/Online-Exclusive/2018-OLE/Russia-in-Syria/.

[4] Aleksei Ramm, “Kuda letit bespilotnaya aviatsiya Versiya dlya pechati Obsudit’ na forume Vooruzhennyye sily proyavlyayut vse bol’shiy interes k BPLA,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, January 21, 2021, https://nvo.ng.ru/armament/2021-01-21/1_1125_aviation.html; Irina Dronina, “Ministrov v voyennoye vremya ne menyayut Versiya dlya pechati Obsudit’ na forume Kreml’ stavit na tekhnologicheskiy proryv i posledovatel’nuyu modernizatsiyu armii i flota,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 22, 2018, https://www.ng.ru/armies/2018-05-22/8_7229_shoygu.html.

[5] Vladimir Vashchenko, Vladimir Dergachev, Artur Gromov, “Rossiya oprobovala na boyevikakh flot i novyye krylatyye rakety Dmitriy Yevstifeyev,” Gazeta.ru, October 7, 2015, https://www.gazeta.ru/social/2015/10/07/7808867.shtml.

[6] The late Russian military theorist, Major General Viktor Ryabchuk, writing in 2001, identified many of the themes currently pursued by Russia’s political-military leadership in its ongoing pursuit of military modernization to meet the challenges of combat operations in the 21st century: “The primary future trends in scientific work will be determined by the requirements and course of military reform. From the standpoint of the study of military science, the following are among the tasks confronting military science: developing the concept, forms and methods of information warfare; validating the tactical and technical requirements for fundamentally new types of weapons; providing scientific support for the development of automated troop command-and-control systems that use computer networks; utilizing artificial intelligence systems; further developing the theory of military art; enhancing the effectiveness of military education by broadly computerizing the education process in military institutions of higher learning and in troop training; upgrading the forms and methods of comprehensive logistics support for troop actions; optimizing the forms and methods of military-scientific research; developing the study of military science, military systemology, military conflictology, military futurology and other new branches of military science; and improving the methodology of military science.” Viktor Ryabchuk, “Izucheniye i metodologiya voyennoy nauki,” Russkaya Mysl’, No. 6, November–December 2001.

[7] V. I. Demin, Voyna i vooruzhennaya bor’ba, Moscow: Ira-press, 2001; A. F. Klimenko, “Globalizatsiya i yeye vliyaniye na voyennuyu politiku i voyennuyu strategiyu,” Voyennaya Mysl’, No. 5, 2002; V. Makarov, “Informatsionnaya voyna: sushchnost’, formy, i metody protivoborstva,” Armiya, No. 5, 2001; V. I. Slipchenko, Beskontaktnyye Voyny, Moscow: Izdatel’skiy dom Gran-Press, 2001.

[8] A. A. Pavlovsky, “K voprosu ob evolyutsii razvitiya teorii voyn i voyennogo iskusstva v istorii chelovechestva. Voyny XXI veka,” Nauka i Voyennaya Bezopasnost’, No.1, 2003, pp. 9–12.

[9] Author’s emphasis.

[10] Ibid. Author’s emphasis.

[11] Vladimir Slipchenko, Voina novogo pokoleniia: Distantsionnye i beskontaktaktnye, Moscow: OLMA-Press, 2004; Vladimir Slipchenko, Beskontaktnye voiny. Moscow: Izdatel’skii dom: Gran-Press, 2001; Vladimir Slipchenko, Voina budushchego, Moscow: Moskovskii Obshchestvennyi Nauchnyi Fond, 1999.

[12] Author’s emphasis.

[13] Jacob W. Kipp, “Russian Sixth Generation Warfare and Recent Developments,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 9, Issue 17, The Jamestown Foundation, January 25, 2012, https://jamestown.org/program/russian-sixth-generation-warfare-and-recent-developments/.

[14] Makhmut A. Gareev and Vladimir Slipchenko, Future War, Foreign Military Studies Office, 2007, pp. 14–15; Chekinov S. G, “Predicting Trends in Military Art in the Initial Period of the 21st Century,” Military Thought, July 2010.

[15] Makhmut A. Gareev and Vladimir Slipchenko, Future War, Foreign Military Studies Office, 2007, p. 17.

[16] Anatoly I. Khupenen and Oleg Falichev, “Vozdushno-kosmicheskoye bessiliye,” Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, December 1, 2014, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/22954; Alexander Tsymbalov, “Zadacha – obespechit strategicheskuyu mobilnost,” Vozdushno-Kosmicheskaya Oborona, June 28, 2012, http://www.vko.ru/operativnoe-iskusstvo/zadacha-obespechit-strategicheskuyu-mobilnost; Boris F. Cheltsov, “Voyennaya doktrina trebuyet utochneniya,” Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, April 25, 2007, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/4315; Makhmut A. Gareev, “Na ‘myagkhuyu silu’ naydutsya zhestkiye otvety,” Vozdushno-Kosmicehskaya Oborona, February 4, 2014, http://www.vko.ru/strategiya/na-myagkuyu-silu-naydutsya-zhestkie-otvety.

[17] See: Roger McDermott, “Russia Reforms Aerospace Defense Structures—Again,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 12, Issue 151, The Jamestown Foundation, August 11, 2015, https://jamestown.org/program/russia-reforms-aerospace-defense-structures-again/.

[18] Recreated and translated by author from: Vladimir Lyaporov, “Integrated Command and Control Entity Required,” Vozdushno-Kosmicheskaya Oborona, December 31, 2015, http://www.vko.ru/oboronka/trebuetsya-edinyy-organ-upravleniya.

[19] The author is indebted to the Israeli analyst of Russian airpower, Guy Plopsky, for highlighting the role played by the concept of “aerospace operations,” in the recent development of Russian military thought, and for his sharing the following unpublished paper: Guy Plopsky, “Strategic Air Defence in Contemporary Russian Military Thought.”

[20] Reporting in the Russian military media on the annual conference of the Academy of Military Sciences in March 2018, supports the idea that the senior leadership of Russia’s Armed Forces considered that elements of their operations in Syria had indeed involved the use of “non-contact” warfare. See: V. Khudoleev, “Voennaia nauka smotrit v budushchee,” Krasnaya Zvezda, March 26, 2018.

[21] O. V. Tikhanychev, “O roli sistematicheskogo ognevogo vozdei’stviia v sovremennykh operatsiiakh,” Voyennaya Mysl’,” No. 11, November 2016, pp. 16–20.

[22] Oleg Falichev, “Mobilizatsiya voyennoy nauki Novym prezidentom Akademii voyennykh nauk izbran,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, January 19, 2021, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/60452.

[23] On December 25, 2020, Gerasimov was elected president of the AVN. Viktor Khudoleyev, “Impul’s k razvitiyu voyennoy nauki,” Krasnaya Zvezda, January 22, 2021, http://redstar.ru/impuls-k-razvitiyu-voennoj-nauki/.

[24] Charles K. Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” Military Review, January–February 2016, pp. 30–38; Michael Kofman, “Russia’s armed forces under Gerasimov, the man without a doctrine,” Riddle, April 1, 2020, https://www.ridl.io/en/russia-s-armed-forces-under-gerasimov-the-man-without-a-doctrine/. A detailed examination of the historical background to the Gerasimov ar­ticle in 2013 can be found in: Steven J. Main, “You Cannot Generate Ideas by Orders: The Continuing Importance of Studying Soviet Military History—G. S. Isserson and Russia’s Current Geo-Political Stance,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2016, pp. 48–72.

[25] General Gerasimov noted that during military operations in Syria, President Putin involved himself in the planning on a very regular basis, as well as setting operational aims. Asked about Putin’s involvement in overseeing Russia’s military operations in Syria, Gerasimov said, “I usually report to the minister of defense on a daily basis, morning and evening, on the state of affairs and the progress in mission performance, and he reports to the president. Once or twice a week, the minister reports to the president in person, presenting the requisite documents, maps and video materials. Sometimes, the Supreme Commander in Chief [Putin] himself comes to see me, sometimes the defense minister and I go to him to report. The president identifies the targets [and] the objectives; he is up to speed on the entire dynamic of the combat operations—and in each sector, moreover. And of course, he sets the objectives for the future.” See: Viktor Baranets, “Nachal’nik Genshtaba Vooruzhennykh sil Rossii general armii Valeriy Gerasimov: ‘My perelomili khrebet udarnym silam terrorizma,’ ” Komsomolskaya Pravda, December 26, 2017, https://www.kp.ru/daily/26775/3808693.

[26] Valery V. Gerasimov, “Po opytu Sirii,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, March 7, 2016, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/29579.

[27] Author’s emphasis. Valery V. Gerasimov, “Sovremennaia voiny i aktual’nye voprosy oborony strany,” Vestnik 2, No. 59, 2017.

[28] Author’s emphasis. Valery V. Gerasimov, “Vliianie sovremennogo kharaktera vooruzhennoi bor’by na napravlennost’ stroitel’stva i razvitiia Vooruzhennykh Sil Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Prioritetnye zadachi voennoi nauki v obespechenii oborony strany,” Vestnik, 62, No. 2, 2018, pp.16–22.

[29] Author’s emphasis.

[30] Valery V. Gerasimov, “Razvitie voennoi strategii v sovremennykh usloviiakh. Zadachi voennoi nauki,” Vestnik 67, No. 2, 2019, pp. 6–11.

[31] Gerasimov, “Po opytu Sirii,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, Op. Cit; Gerasimov, “Sovremennaia voiny i aktual’nye voprosy oborony strany,’ Op. Cit; Gerasimov, “Vliianie sovremennogo kharaktera vooruzhennoi bor’by na napravlennost’ stroitel’stva i razvitiia Vooruzhennykh Sil Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Prioritetnye zadachi voennoi nauki v obespechenii oborony strany,” Op. Cit; Gerasimov, “Razvitie voennoi strategii v sovremennykh usloviiakh. Zadachi voennoi nauki,” Op. Cit.

[32] Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, “Moscow’s Syria Campaign: Russian Lessons for the Art of Strategy,” Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 109, Ifri, July 2018, p. 7.

[33] The problem of defining precision-guided weapons is addressed in: Vitaly Tsymbal, “The Growth of the Strategic Role of Highly Intelligent Weapons and the Problems of Controlling their Growth and Proliferation,” Nuclear Control, June–July 1997, pp. 39–43.

[34] “Vysokotochnoye Oruzhiye –VТО,” Russian Ministry of Defense, http://xn--d1abichgllj9dyd8a.xn--90anlfbebar6i.xn--p1ai/encyclopedia/dictionary/[email protected], accessed February 15, 2021.

[35] M. Y. Shepovalenko, Siriyskiy Rubezh, Moscow: Tsentr Analiza Strategiy i Tekhnologiy (CAST), 2016, pp.112–113.

[36] Valery V. Gerasimov, “Vektory razvitiya voyennoy strategii,” Krasnaya Zvezda, March 4, 2019, http://redstar.ru/vektory-razvitiya-voennoj-strategii/.

[37] Konstantin Bogdanov, “Pokoreniye voyny Kakiye uroki vynesla iz Sirii rossiyskaya armiya,” Izvestia, December 27, 2017, https://iz.ru/688413/konstantin-bogdanov/pokorenie-voiny.

[38] See: Igor Semenchenko, “Ni razu ne promazali Na siriyskom TVD poluchen unikal’nyy opyt,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, December 19, 2017, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/40474; Alexei Ramm, ‘Shestnadtsat’ udarnykh dney Kratkiye itogi deystviy rossiyskoy voyennoy aviatsii,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, October 20, 2015, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/27621.

[39] Konstantin Bogdanov, “Rossiyskaya operatsiya v Sirii: voyennyye i politicheskiye aspekty,” Natsional’naya Oborona, No.11, 2020, https://oborona.ru/includes/periodics/geopolitics/2017/1221/144623069/detail.shtml.

[40] Bogdanov, “Pokoreniye voyny Kakiye uroki vynesla iz Sirii rossiyskaya armiya,” Op. Cit.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ivan Safronov, “Khronika pikiruyushchikh bombardirovshchikov,” Kommersant, September 26, 2016, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3094571.

[43] October 7 also marks Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Safronov, “Khronika pikiruyushchikh bombardirovshchikov,” Op. Cit.

[44] The Israeli airpower analysts Guy Plopsky noted the significance of the Kh-101 for enhancing long-range precision strike: “In this regard, the integration of the Kh-101 on the Tu-95MS dramatically expands the legacy bomber’s conventional strike capability, which until recently, was limited to dropping unguided bombs, transforming it into a formidable long-range precision-strike platform capable of accurately engaging hardened targets in heavily defended areas. At present, Russia is also outfitting its Tu-95MS bombers with SVP [navigational attack] systems (developed by ZAO Gefest i T), which will enable Russian bomber crews to retarget their missiles before launch. This will further enhance mission flexibility, allowing modernized Tu-95MS bombers to strike not only fixed but also relocatable targets. The ability of the Kh-101 to cover very large distances also reduces the Tu-95MS’s (and Tu-160’s) need to rely on in-flight refueling for long distance missions. This, as several analysts have noted, makes the Kh-101 a particularly valuable asset given Russia’s relatively small fleet of aerial-refueling tankers and limited overseas basing options. A modernized Tu-95MS can carry up to eight Kh-101 ALCMs on four externally-mounted two-station pylons, while a Tu-160 can carry up to 12 such missiles on two internally-mounted six-station rotary launchers.” Guy Plopsky, “The Kh-101 and Syria: Maturing the Long-Range Precision-Strike Capabilities of Russia’s Aerospace Forces,” Balloonstodrones.com, October 18, 2017, https://balloonstodrones.com/2017/10/18/the-kh-101-and-syria-maturing-the-long-range-precision-strike-capabilities-of-russias-aerospace-forces/.

[45] “Kh-101 Air-Based Cruise Missile Improved after Syria Campaign—Designer,” Interfax, January 24, 2018.

[46] Bogdanov, “Pokoreniye voyny Kakiye uroki vynesla iz Sirii rossiyskaya armiya,” Op. Cit.

[47] “Syrian Rebels Say Russia Is Targeting Them Rather Than ISIS,” New York Times, October 1, 2015; “Top 5 Ways Putin Has Won Big in Syria and Why Europe Is Embracing Him,” Informed Comment, January 26, 2016. See, for example, the harrowing footage here on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BvzF_ WCmVg.

[48] Alexei Ramm, “Debyut v siriyskom nebe U letchikov dal’ney aviatsii otlichnyye professional’nyye navyki,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 30, 2015, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/28277.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid. Ramm notes, “The work was somewhat complicated by the high-flying weight of the Backfires [Tu-22s], caused by the large amount of fuel required for the return flight to Mozdok without refueling. Tu-22M3s were forced to carry out bombing from a direct flight without performing maneuvers that would increase the accuracy of strikes. True, according to the Russian Aerospace Forces interlocutor with the VPK [Military-Industrial Commission], the accuracy of the hit met the declared characteristics, and minor deviations were compensated for by the number of aircraft weapons and their power.”

[51] Douglas Barrie, “Kh-101 missile test highlights Russian bomber firepower,” The Military Balance Blog, February 8, 2019, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/military-balance/2019/02/russian-bomber-firepower.

[52] Dmitry Gorenburg, “What Russia’s Military Operation in Syria Can Tell Us About Advances in its Capabilities,” PONARS Policy Memo 424, March 18, 2016, https://www.ponarseurasia.org/what-russia-s-military-operation-in-syria-can-tell-us-about-advances-in-its-capabilities/.

[53] Arnaud Sobrero, “Russian Submarines: Still a Relevant Threat?” The Diplomat, February 11, 2021.

[54] Evgeny Podzorov, “Yuvelirnaya tochnost’ Russkiye Kalibry unichtozhayut IGIL v Sirii,’ Russkiya Vesna, July 1, 2017, https://rusvesna.su/news/1498853824.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Evgeny Podzorov, “Yuvelirnaya tochnost’ Russkiye Kalibry unichtozhayut IGIL v Sirii,” Russkiya Vesna, July 1, 2017, https://rusvesna.su/news/1498853824.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Artem Krechetnikov, “Kaspiyskim ‘Kalibrom’ po Sirii: zachem eto bylo nado?” BBC Moscow, October 8, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/russian/topics/blog_krechetnikov; “Video raketnykh udarov VKS RF v Sirii,” Izvestia, November 3, 2017, https://iz.ru/666851/video/video-raketnykh-udarov-vks-rf-v-sirii; “Kaspiyskaya flotiliya vypustila 18 raket ‘Kalibr’ po IG v Sirii. Video,” RIA Novosti, November 3, 2015, https://ria.ru/20151120/1325098502.html; “Rossiya vpervyye nanesla udar po IG s podvodnoy lodki,” Ntv.ru, December 8, 2015, https://www.ntv.ru/novosti/1581597/; “MRK ‘Zelenyy Dol’ i ‘Serpukhov’ vypolneny puski krylatykh raket ‘Kalibr’ po tselyam terroristicheskoy gruppirovki ‘Dzhebkhat an-Nusra’ na territorii Sirii,” Russian Ministry of Defense, August 19, 2016, https://function.mil.ru/news_page/country/[email protected]; “Video: Noveyshiy fregat ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ udaril ‘Kalibrom’ po terroristam v Sirii,” Flot.com, November 15, 2016, https://flot.com/2016/%D0%A1%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%8F328/; “Video: Dva fregata i podlodka ‘Krasnodar’ vypustili shest’ ‘Kalibrov’ po terroristam v Sirii,” Flot.com, June 23, 2017, https://flot.com/2017/%D0%A1%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%8F174/; “Admiral Essen unichtozhil ‘Kalibrami’ ob’yekty IG v Sirii,” RIA Novosti, September 5, 2017, https://ria.ru/20170905/1501782578.html; “Rossiyskiye podvodnyye lodki unichtozhili ob’yekty IG v Sirii raketami Kalibr,” RIA Novosti, September 14, 2017, https://ria.ru/20170914/1504761180.html; “Rossiyskaya podlodka atakovala boyevikov, napavshikh na voyennuyu politsiyu v Khame,” RIA Novosti, September 22, 2017, https://ria.ru/20170922/1505317570.html; “Voyennyy ekspert: Kalibry atakuyut samyye vazhnyye ob’yekty terroristov v Sirii,” Radio Sputnik, October 5, 2017, https://radiosputnik.ria.ru/20171005/1506277308.html; “Podlodka Velikiy Novgorod nanesla zalpovyy raketnyy udar Kalibrami po terroristam v Sirii,” Tvzvezda.ru, October 31, 2017, https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201710311742-3d94.html.

[59] Author’s interviews with Western specialists on high-precision strike weapons, Russian SMEs, Brussels, London, Washington DC, January 12–15, 2021.

[60] See for example: “Russia/Syria: War Crimes in Month of Bombing Aleppo,” Human Rights Watch, December 1, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/01/russia/syria-war-crimes-month-bombing-aleppo.

[61] See: M. Y. Shepovalenko, Siriyskiy Rubezh, Moscow: Tsentr Analiza Strategiy i Tekhnologiy (CAST), 2016.

[62] Very few Western commentaries question the precision accuracy claims around the use of the SVP-24 and its variants in combat operations in Syria. See: Hadi Gholami Nohouji, “Cost Effective Aerial Campaign: Russian Airstrikes in Syria and the SVP-24,” Southfront, September 1, 2017, https://southfront.org/cost-effective-aerial-campaign-russian-airstrikes-syria-svp-24/; Michael Peck, “Did Russia Really Build a Smarter Smart Bomb?” The National Interest, March 14, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/did-russia-really-build-smarter-smart-bomb-15484.

[63] In addition to the basic SVP-24 complex intended for installation on the Su-24M, the following variants of the complexes have been developed: SVP-24-22 (for the modification of Tu-22M3strategic bombers); SVP-24-33 (for modification of carrier-based Su-33 fighters); SVP-24-27 (for modification of MiG-27 fighter-bombers and for export); SVP-24-25 for modernization of the Su-25 attack aircraft). G. A. Belyayev, “Boyevyye vozmozhnosti samoletov, osnashchennykh SVP-24 ‘gefest,” Unpublished paper, Ufa University, July 2020.

[64] “Novaya sistema ‘Gefest’ pozvolyayet ispol’zovat’ nekorrektiruyemyye boyepripasy kak vysokotochnyye,” TASS, August 25, 2017, https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/4507779; “Pritsel’no-navigatsionnyy kompleks SVP-24 ‘Gefest’ budet modernizirovan,” Topwar.ru, May 8, 2019, https://topwar.ru/157691-pricelno-navigacionnyj-kompleks-svp-24-gefest-budet-modernizirovan.html.

[65] Aleksei Ramm, “Siriyskiy start rossiyskikh letchikov,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, October 5, 2015, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/27415.

[66] Ibid.

[67] “Russia’s advanced technology helps use unguided munitions as precision bombs,” TASS, August 25, 2017, https://tass.com/defense/962079.

[68] Oleg Falichev, “Intellekt dlya samoletov,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, August 14, 2018, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/44363.

[69] Oleg Falichev, “Bomby dlya khalifata,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 25, 2018, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/43350.

[70] Falichev, “Intellekt dlya samoletov,” August 14, 2018. It is unclear if the Russian system relies on satellite navigation (GPS or GLONASS), but the laser guidance may be unaffected by satellite navigation jamming.

[71] Anton Lavrov Roman Kretsul, “Molot ‘Gefesta:’ morskiye bombardirovshchiki udaryat s osoboy tochnos,” Izvestia, July 20, 2020, https://iz.ru/1037376/anton-lavrov-roman-kretcul/molot-gefesta-morskie-bombardirovshchiki-udariat-s-osoboi-tochnostiu.

[72] Nikolai Poroskov, “Umnyy pritsel dlya rossiyskikh aviabomb,” Zvezdaweekly.ru, April 17, 2018, https://zvezdaweekly.ru/news/20184161558-AcFeK.html.

[73] Igor Semenchenko, “Ni razu ne promazali Na siriyskom TVD poluchen unikal’nyy opyt,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, December 19, 2017, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/40474.

[74] Ibid. Author’s emphasis.

[75] Ibid. Author’s emphasis.

[76] The blogger also details, “Each aircraft, being fixed or rotary-wing, will have a series of external sensors installed such as a guidance camera, GLONASS module, terrain-following radar, weather and pressure sensors, as well as sensors reading the direction and speed of the aircraft, etc. The pilot would input the target destination and the system would use all the available sensors to calculate multiple attack vectors and windows, which the pilot would have to fly through for the package to be automatically released to hit target.” See: “The Great Game: JDAM Vs SVP-24,” The Tacticians Database, October 16, 2016, http://tactdb.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-great-game-jdam-vs-svp-24.html.

[77] Michael Kofman, “Syria and the Russian Armed Forces: An Evaluation of Moscow’s Military Strategy and Operational Performance,” in Robert E. Hamilton, Chris Miller, Aaron Stein (Eds), Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 2020, pp. 52–53.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Author’s emphasis. Igor Semenchenko and Oleg Falichev, “Ot ‘vozmezdiya’ ne uyti,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 30, 2015, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/28274.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Author’s emphasis.

[82] Igor Semenchenko, Oleg Falichev, “Ot ‘vozmezdiya’ ne uyti,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 30, 2015, https://www.vpk-news.ru/articles/28274.

[83] Falichev, “Intellekt dlya samoletov,” Op. Cit.

[84] The identity of the blogger or group of Russian bloggers responsible for this site is unclear. However, among Western Russian military SMEs, it is considered to be fairly accurate. It is, as noted, only provided here to offer a Russian-based source that portrays the extent of progress in the VKS of procuring high-precision or higher-precision strike weapons. Author’s interviews with Russian military SMEs, Berlin, London, Oslo, Washington DC, Stockholm, January 21–22, 2021.

[85] Oleg Falichev, “Bomby dlya khalifata,” Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 25, 2018, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/43350: “The KAB homing head does not use the object itself, but landmarks to know its exact coordinates and aim at a target that does not stand out from the landscape. This makes it more reliable when using modern electronic warfare equipment, when GPS/GLONASS signals can be suppressed. Weight—560 kilograms [of which] 195 kilograms of explosives.”

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid. Falichev adds these details: “‘The IR coordinator has a 30-degree viewing angle and scans the area at 6–9 rpm. After detecting the target and determining the point of detonation of the warhead using an on-board computer (approximately at an altitude of 150 m), defeat is carried out. A copper blank with a diameter of 173 millimeters and weighing one kilogram accelerates to two thousand meters per second and is capable of penetrating up to 70 millimeters of armor, the blow is applied to relatively weakly armored areas (roofs of towers and engine-transmission compartments). Weight—500/15 kilograms of elements of 14.5 kilograms.”

[88] Ibid. Falichev adds, “A volumetric explosion creates a powerful wave of excess pressure, and then a backward wave that pulls air into the resulting vacuum (therefore, such bombs are often called vacuum bombs). The effective range of the blast wave against enemy personnel in open areas is more than 50 meters. Weight—500/193 kilograms of explosives.”

[89] Ibid. The author notes, “The image captured by the GOS is broadcast on a television screen in the cockpit. The retention of the illumination beam is provided by an automatic tracking system. The missile itself chooses the most advantageous trajectory for approaching the target, striving to hit it at the highest possible angle in order to penetrate the least protected structures and armor of vehicles. Weight—660/116 kilograms of explosives. The flight range is 8–10 kilometers.”

[90] Falichev adds, “Accurate retention of the beam on the target is provided by an automatic tracking system. At the end of the trajectory, the rocket makes a ‘slide.’ Designed to engage small-sized mobile and stationary targets. Weight—300/90 kilograms of explosives. The flight range is 8–10 kilometers.”

 

[91] Ralph Shield, “Russian Airpower’s Success in Syria: Assessing Evolution in Kinetic Counterinsurgency,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 218–219.

[92] Falichev, “Intellekt dlya samoletov,” Op. Cit.

[93] Falichev, “Intellekt dlya samoletov,” Op. Cit; Semenchenko, “Ni razu ne promazali Na siriyskom TVD poluchen unikal’nyy opyt,” Op. Cit; Semenchenko, Falichev, “Ot ‘vozmezdiya’ ne uyti,” Op. Cit.

[94] Vladimir Slipchenko, Voina novogo pokoleniia: Distantsionnye i beskontaktaktnye, Moscow: OLMA-Press, 2004; Vladimir Slipchenko, Beskontaktnye voiny. Moscow: Izdatel’skii dom: Gran-Press, 2001; Vladimir Slipchenko, Voina budushchego, Moscow: Moskovskii Obshchestvennyi Nauchnyi Fond, 1999. See: Jacob W. Kipp (ed), M. A. Gareev, If War Comes Tomorrow: The Contours of Future Armed Conflicts, London: Frank Cass, 1998; Jacob W. Kipp, “The Labor of Sisyphus: Forecasting the Revolution in Military Affairs during Russia’s Time of Troubles,” in Thierry Gongora and Harold von Riekhoff (Eds.), Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs? Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000, pp. 87–104; Jacob W. Kipp, “Thinking about Future War: Views and Comments from Moscow,” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Spring 2007.

[95] See: Roger McDermott, “Russia Reforms Aerospace Defense Structures—Again,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 12, Issue 151, The Jamestown Foundation, August 11, 2015, https://jamestown.org/program/russia-reforms-aerospace-defense-structures-again/.

[96] Author’s interviews with specialists on Russian airpower, London, Tel Aviv, Washington DC, January 26–28, 2021.

[97] M. Y. Shepovalenko, Siriyskiy Rubezh, Moscow: Tsentr Analiza Strategiy i Tekhnologiy (CAST), 2016, pp.112–113.

[98] Valery V. Gerasimov, “Razvitie voennoi strategii v sovremennykh usloviiakh. Zadachi voennoi nauki,” Vestnik 67, No. 2, 2019, pp. 6–11.

[99] Author’s emphasis. See: Security, Disarmament, Conflicts, RAU, Moscow, 1992.

[100] See: Andrei Kokoshin, O sisteme neyadernogo sderzhivaniya v oboronnoi politike Rossii, Moscow: Moscow University Press, 2012; V. I. Poletayev and V. V. Alferov, “O neyadernom sderzhivanii, ego roli i meste v sisteme strategicheskogo sderzhivaniya,” Voyennaya Mysl’, No. 7, July 2015, pp. 3–10; A. N. Bel’skiy, D. A. Pavlov, O. B. Klimenko, “Aktual’nye voprosy obezpecheniya voyennoy bezopasnosti Rossiiskoy Federatsii,” Voyennaya Mysl’, No. 1, January 2015, pp. 3–10; Voyennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoy Federatsii’ [Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation], 2014, https://rg.ru/2014/12/30/doktrina-dok.html, Section 12, point G; and Section 21, point M; V. A. Sobolevskiy, A. A. Protasov, V. V. Sukhorutchenko, “Planirovanie primeneniya strategicheskikh vooruzhenii,” Voyennaya Mysl’, No. 7, July 2014, pp. 9–27; A. V. Nedelin, V. I. Levshin, M.E. Sosnovsky, “O primenenii iadernogo oruzhiya dlya deeskalastii voennikh dyestvii,” Voyennaya Mysl’, No. 3, May–June 1999, pp. 34–37.

[101] Piotr Butowski, “All missiles great and small: Russia seeks out every niche,” International Defence Review, August, 26, 2014.

[102] Barry, D. Watts, The Evolution of Precision Strike, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2013, http://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/Evolution-of-Precision-Strike-final-v15.pdf.

[103] Maksim Solopov and Aleksandr Artemev, “Rassledovania RBK: skolko tratit Rossia na voinu v Sirii,” RBC, October 28, 2015, http://www.rbc.ru/investigation/politics/28/10/2015/562f9e119a79471d5d7c64e7; “Rockets galore – Modern warfare is expensive. But it is to become less so,” The Economist, September 29, 2012.

[104] Sergei Ischenko, “Slishkom krupnyi ‘Kalibr,” Svobodnaia Pressa, September 8, 2016, http://army-news.ru/2016/09/slishkom-krupnyj-kalibr/.