Turkey versus Syria: the balance of power

Turkey versus Syria: the balance of power
Turkey versus Syria: the balance of power

The first days of October brought sad news from the Middle East. It all started with the fact that artillery shells, allegedly fired from Syria, fell on the territory of Turkey. The Turks responded with full-fledged shelling. Over the next days, the situation repeated itself several times: someone from Syrian territory fires several shells, after which Turkey inflicts a fire strike on the positions of the Syrian troops. The Turks motivate this choice of target by the fact that only the armed forces of Syria can encroach on them. Why is it the military, and not the insurgents, who are to blame or are appointed guilty? There is no official answer, but there are some assumptions of a political nature. Immediately after the start of the artillery "duels", the Turkish leadership erupted in belligerent rhetoric towards Damascus. It began to threaten a full-scale war if the Syrian military did not stop shelling Turkey.

Many people believe that all these shelling events are too reminiscent of a provocation by the Syrian insurgents, carried out with the direct support of Ankara. In favor of this version, there are numerous statements by Damascus about caravans with weapons and ammunition going across the Turkish-Syrian border. In addition, it is worth considering one quite obvious fact: the administration of Bashar al-Assad, despite all the accusations of suppressing "civil liberties", still did not go crazy in order to ask for a full-scale conflict with one of the strongest countries in the region. And yet, it seems that the shelling of Turkish territories will not stop in the near future: if the version of the provocation of the rebels is correct, then it is beneficial for them to continue to fire on Turkey until it declares war on Syria and helps to overthrow the hated Assad. Turkey, in turn, does not stop expressing angry statements against Damascus and already demands from NATO to help it in view of "regular attacks". The alliance, however, is in no hurry to organize an invasion of Syria, citing a number of complex reasons behind which there is a reluctance to assist Ankara in its political games. Nevertheless, the risk of the outbreak of war, even without the participation of the troops of the NATO states, remains. Let's try to compare the forces of Turkey and Syria and predict the possible course and consequences of such a conflict.




The total number of people in the Turkish armed forces is over half a million. Of these, approximately 150,000 are civilian workers. Nevertheless, a large number of personnel, if necessary, can be mobilized, in the reserve there are about 90 thousand people. About 38 thousand of them are the reserve of the first stage, which can go into operation within a few days after the corresponding order. The most numerous part of the Turkish armed forces is the ground forces (Land Forces). Almost four hundred thousand people serve in them. The ground forces have four field armies and a separate Cypriot grouping. The bases of the ground forces are evenly distributed throughout Turkey, while the corps belonging to the second field army are located closest to the Syrian border. In three corps of each army, with the exception of the 4th, there are armored, motorized rifle, artillery, etc. brigades.

The armament of the ground forces of Turkey is rather heterogeneous, both in the country of production and in age.For example, fighters from different units can use German automatic rifles G3, produced under license, while others - "native" American M4A1. At the same time, newer weapons usually go to special forces. The same situation is observed with armored vehicles. In parts of the Turkish army, there are still more than one and a half thousand American M60 tanks in various modifications, including independently modified vehicles. The newest tanks of the Turkish ground forces are the German Leopard 2A4, the number of which is approaching three and a half hundred. The Turkish army has a large number of armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles to move motorized rifles and direct fire support in battle. For example, there are almost 3,300 M113 armored personnel carriers alone, some of these vehicles are equipped as missile tank destroyers. The next largest armored vehicle is the ACV-300 family, created and being built in Turkey itself. Armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles of this family are in the army in substantial numbers - about two thousand units. Finally, in recent years, the ground forces have received about one and a half thousand armored vehicles of the Akrep, Cobra, Kirpi, etc. The information provided on the state of small arms and light armored vehicles is also true for the gendarmerie - a separate branch of the armed forces, which is actually a kind of internal troops.

It is worth noting the wide range of missile and jet weapons intended for use in the ground forces. In addition to captured or purchased Soviet RPG-7 grenade launchers (according to various estimates, no less than five thousand pieces), Turkish soldiers have anti-tank missile systems TOW, ERIX, MILAN, Kornet-E, Konkurs, etc. The number of all these ATGMs is several hundred and varies depending on the type. The most widespread anti-tank weapon in the Turkish army is the HAR-66 disposable grenade launcher, a licensed version of the American M72 LAW. To protect against air attacks, motorized rifles and infantry have FIM-92 Stinger portable missile systems, including the latest modifications. Until recently, the Turkish army had a number of Soviet Igla MANPADS, but recently they were completely removed from service.

The total number of field artillery in the Turkish armed forces exceeds 6100 units, among which there are guns of various types and calibers. The latter range from 60-107 mm in the case of mortars and from 76 mm to 203 for cannons and howitzers. The most powerful barrel armament of the Turkish army is the M116 howitzers purchased from the United States. Their caliber is 203 millimeters, the total number of such guns is about one and a half hundred. Self-propelled artillery is represented by one and a half thousand installations, carrying guns of caliber from 81 mm (self-propelled mortar M125A1) to 203 mm (self-propelled howitzer M110A2). With regard to rocket artillery, Turkey has noticeably succeeded in this direction. Most of its MLRS, such as the T-22 or TOROS 230A, were created independently. Nevertheless, the troops also have a number of American and Chinese multiple launch rocket systems.

Most of the anti-aircraft weapons - about 2,800 units - are barrel systems. Anti-aircraft guns of various calibers are mainly of imported origin: these are American M55 mounts, German Mk.20 Rh202 and Swedish Bofors cannons. The rest of the anti-aircraft artillery was produced in Switzerland at the Oerlikon company, or in Turkey under a Swiss license. In addition to barreled anti-aircraft systems, the Turkish Army has about 250 self-propelled anti-aircraft missile systems Atilgan and Zipkin, carrying Stinger missiles.

Finally, the ground forces have their own aviation in the form of four hundred helicopters. Most of them - transport and passenger - are represented by the American UH-60 and UH-1H, as well as licensed versions of the Eurocopter Cougar.It is noteworthy that currently the Turkish army has only 30-35 attack helicopters. These are the AH-1P Cobra and AH-1W Super Cobra, manufactured by Bell. For reconnaissance and other similar needs, the Turkish army has about one and a half hundred unmanned aerial vehicles of its own production.

The next branch of the military is the air force. According to the views of recent years, it is the Air Force that is entrusted with the main strike functions. Most likely, it is the Turkish planes that will deliver the first strike on the Syrian targets in the event of a full-scale conflict. Among other things, this version is confirmed by the composition of the aviation equipment available to the Turkish Air Force. About sixty thousand personnel maintain and operate 800 aircraft for various purposes. In the structure of the Turkish air force, there are four large formations - air commands. Two of them are aimed at the direct operation of combat aircraft, and the remaining two are responsible for training personnel (Training Command in Izmir) and supplying (Logistics Command in Ankara). In addition, separate teams of tankers and transport aircraft are directly subordinate to the Air Force headquarters.

The main striking power of the Turkish Air Force is the American F-16C and F-16D fighter-bombers. In total, there are about 250 of them. The second attack aircraft is also the American F-4 Fantom II of later modifications. It is worth noting that the number of these aircraft in fighter-bomber configuration is constantly decreasing. Currently, almost all of the existing 50-60 Phantoms have been converted into a reconnaissance version. In the near future, approximately the same number of F-5 fighters will remain in the Air Force. There is no special bomber aircraft in the Turkish Air Force. Long-range radar detection functions are currently provided by a small number of specially modified Spanish-made CN-235 aircraft, which also became the basis for reconnaissance and transport vehicles.

It is noteworthy that the transport aviation of the Turkish Air Force has about the same "variety" of types as the combat aviation, but it loses in the total number. For the transportation of goods and passengers, there are about 80 aircraft of the following types: the already mentioned CN-235, C-130 and C-160. In addition, the Air Force has 80 Cougar and UH-1U helicopters for transport missions.

The main method of aerial reconnaissance in the Turkish Air Force is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. About 30-40 aircraft of five types were purchased abroad, from Israel and the United States. In addition, in the coming years, a number of TAI Anka UAVs of its own design will be produced.

Naval forces. Several centuries ago, the Turkish fleet was considered one of the most powerful in the world, but now it cannot be called that. In addition, not all the equipment of the Turkish Navy can be called sufficiently new and modern. For example, the newest of six Turkish diesel-electric submarines built in Germany under Project 209 began service in the late eighties. However, she is armed only with torpedoes and / or mines. Eight newer boats, the last of which entered service in 2007, are a further development of the same German project.

The situation is similar with frigates and corvettes. Thus, the frigates of the Yavuz and Barbaros projects are a corresponding modification of the German type MEKO-200 and were built in the amount of eight pieces. The Turkish Tepe and G types are actually American Knox and Oliver Hazard Perry. Three and eight used ships of these projects were purchased from the United States. In turn, six B-type corvettes are ships of the D'Estienne d'Orves project bought from France. Admittedly, Turkey is trying to restore its own production of large warships.So, last fall, the first corvette of the MILGEM project entered service. Several more similar ships will be built in the near future.

In addition to large ships, the Turkish Navy has a large number of boats for various purposes. These are about a hundred missile boats of projects Kartal, Yildiz, etc., as well as 13 patrol boats of four types. Finally, the Turkish fleet has two dozen minesweepers, 45 hovercraft and several dozen auxiliary vessels.

Turkey's naval aviation is small. These are six CN-235M patrol aircraft of Italian design and Turkish assembly, as well as 26 helicopters. The latter are used for anti-submarine and rescue operations. The anti-submarine rotorcraft fleet consists of American Italian-made Agusta AB-204 and AB-212 helicopters (licensed Bell 204 and Bell 212, respectively), as well as Sikorsky S-70B2 assembled in the USA. There are no combat aircraft or helicopters in the Turkish Air Force.

Finally, it is worth saying a few words about the gendarmerie and the coast guard. Formally, these organizations belong to the armed forces, but by the standards of other countries they represent the internal troops and the maritime border guard, respectively. The armament of the gendarmerie is generally similar to that used in motorized rifle troops. At the same time, at its bases you can still find, for example, modernized captured BTR-60 Soviet-made BTR-60s. The Coast Guard has more than a hundred patrol boats and ships of 14 types, the displacement of which ranges from 20 to 1,700 tons.


The Syrian army, at first glance, looks weaker than the Turkish one. First of all, the difference in numbers is striking. The total number of military personnel in Syria slightly exceeds 320 thousand people. About the same amount is in reserve and can be called up within a few weeks. As in Turkey, the largest part of the personnel belongs to the ground forces - about 220 thousand people. At the same time, one should not forget about the results of the civil war going on in Syria. Some of the servicemen went over to the side of the rebels, taking some weapons with them. Also, a number of weapons and military equipment were destroyed during the fighting. Therefore, the figures given refer to the time of the beginning of the first clashes last year. An accurate calculation of the current state of the Syrian armed forces is understandably impossible.

The ground forces of Syria are organizationally divided into three army corps, which include motorized rifle, armored and artillery divisions. In addition, there are several separate brigades, which are armed with "special" weapons. First of all, it is necessary to note the individual brigades armed with short-range ballistic missiles, as well as anti-ship missiles. Also, several separate brigades have been allocated to perform special tasks with artillery, anti-tank missiles and airborne assault forces. Finally, the Syrian border troops are also separated into a separate brigade.

The main striking force of the Syrian armored forces is the Soviet-made combat vehicles T-55, T-62 and T-72. Their total number is almost five thousand units, more than a thousand of which are in storage. These tanks cannot be called fully modern, but with the proper approach to the interaction of troops, even outdated types can pose a certain threat to the enemy. In addition, it should be noted that almost all of the oldest T-55s have been in storage for a long time, and the T-72s are the most massive tanks in the Syrian army, of which there are more than one and a half thousand. The number of other armored vehicles in the Syrian armed forces is almost equal to the number of tanks. At the same time, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, etc. differ in a slightly wider variety of types. For example, both old BTR-152 and new BMP-3 can serve in neighboring units at the same time.The total number of infantry fighting vehicles of three models (Soviet / Russian BMP-1, BMP-2 and BMP3) reaches two and a half thousand, and for armored personnel carriers this figure is one and a half thousand. The newest armored personnel carriers in the Syrian ground forces are the BTR-70, which, combined with the number of armored vehicles for the infantry, prompts certain thoughts regarding the selection of combat vehicles. It seems that the Syrians prefer tracked vehicles with greater firepower to wheeled vehicles.

Syrian field artillery is equipped with Soviet systems of various types and calibers in the amount of 2500 barrels. About a fifth of all the guns are self-propelled and are represented by the 2S1 Gvozdika, 2S3 Akatsiya vehicles, as well as the 122 mm self-propelled guns based on the T-34-85 tank and the D-30 gun, vaguely reminiscent of the old Soviet SU-122. The rest of the artillery is towed. The most massive weapon in the Syrian army is the 130-mm M-46 howitzer - there are at least 700 units. The second largest artillery system is the D-30 howitzer cannon. Self-propelled and towed guns of this type are available in the amount of 550-600 pieces. Syrian rocket artillery has only two types of multiple launch rocket systems. These are the Soviet BM-21 "Grad" (about three hundred combat vehicles) and the Chinese "Type 63" (about 200 towed launchers).

The defense of troops on the march and in positions is assigned to the military air defense. It includes more than one and a half thousand barrel systems, including the self-propelled ZSU-23-4 "Shilka". In addition, a small number of short-range anti-aircraft missile systems, such as the Osa-AK, Strela-1 or Strela-10, have been assigned to the military air defense units. At the same time, the total number of air defense systems in military defense is noticeably less than in individual air defense troops (about them a little later).

To combat armored targets of the enemy, Syrian soldiers have a fairly wide range of rocket and missile weapons. The simplest of them is the Soviet-made RPG-7 and RPG-29 "Vampire" rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The exact number of these systems is unknown, however, apparently, there are at least hundreds. At the same time, as practice shows, a considerable number of anti-tank grenade launchers ended up in the hands of insurgents. In addition to relatively simple and cheap rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Syria at one time bought a lot of Soviet anti-tank missile systems, from Malyutka to Kornet. The number of complexes varies considerably: there are currently no more than a couple of hundreds of "Malyutoks", and about a thousand of "Cornets". Several years ago, Syria acquired two hundred MILAN ATGMs from France, but for political and economic reasons, further purchases of European weapons were not carried out.

Separate missile brigades are armed with operational-tactical missile systems 9K72 "Elbrus" in its export modification R-300, 9K52 "Luna-M" and 9K79 "Tochka". The total number of launchers of all three complexes exceeds 50 units. In addition, according to unconfirmed reports, there are from 25 to 50 R-300 and Luna-M complexes in storage.

The Syrian Air Force is divided into several dozen squadrons, subordinate to the command of the branch of the military. These are 20 units equipped with fighters, interceptors, fighter-bombers and reconnaissance aircraft; seven shock squadrons with front-line bombers; seven mixed helicopter (carrying out transport and strike missions); five purely attack helicopter; four transport; as well as one training squadron, one electronic warfare squadron and one special helicopter formation for the transportation of command. The total number of personnel of the Syrian Air Force is 60 thousand people. Another 20 thousand can be mobilized within a few weeks. The number of aircraft is estimated at 900-1000 units.

A characteristic difference between the Syrian Air Force and the Turkish military aviation is the presence of a large number of specialized front-line attack aircraft. Currently, Syrian pilots use about 90-110 Su-22M4 and Su-24MK. In addition, over a hundred MiG-23 aircraft, including BN modifications, are either in reserve or undergoing modernization. Syrian fighter aircraft are represented by old Soviet MiG-21 aircraft in fighter and reconnaissance configurations (at least 150 aircraft, some in reserve); already mentioned MiG-23; MiG-25 and MiG-25R (up to 40 units); as well as relatively new MiG-29s, the total number of which is estimated at 70-80 machines.

The Syrian Air Force's helicopter fleet is represented by five types of helicopters. The most massive of them are the Mi-8 and its further development, the Mi-17. More than a hundred of these helicopters are used for transport missions, and about ten more are equipped with electronic warfare equipment. The strike function is assigned to the Soviet / Russian Mi-24, Mi-2 and French SA-342 Gazelle helicopters. The number of modified Mi-2 does not exceed one and a half to two dozen, the rest are available in the amount of 35-40 pieces each.

The Syrian transport aviation uses seven types of aircraft, and some of them (about ten vehicles) are used only for the transportation of the command. Troop transportation, in turn, is carried out by one An-24 aircraft, six An-26 and four Il-76M aircraft. Tu-134, Yak-40, Dassault Falcon 20 and Dassault Falcon 900 are used as passenger aircraft for the transportation of high command.

In the light of the methods of warfare in recent decades, special importance has been attached to air defense, which is designed to protect subunits on the march and in positions, as well as important objects of troops and the country. Syria realized this back in the late seventies and began to build a new air defense system. Air Defense Forces are a separate branch of the Syrian Armed Forces. The total number of personnel of the air defense forces exceeds 40 thousand people. The troops are divided into two divisions. In addition to them, the Air Defense Forces have two separate regiments armed with Osa-AK and S-300V missile systems. The rest of the units are equipped with Soviet-made air defense systems, including the old S-75 and S-200. It is worth noting that the most massive complex in the Syrian air defense forces is still the S-75 (at least 300 units). The second largest is the short-range 2K12 Cube, of which there are about two hundred. The newest equipment in the Air Defense Forces is the S-300V and S-300P family complexes, as well as the 9K37 Buk and Pantsir-S1. It is worth noting that the latter, according to some sources, has already shown its effectiveness in practice, when in June this year, the Turkish reconnaissance officer RF-4E invaded Syrian airspace and was shot down.

Finally, the Syrian naval forces. Compared to the Turkish ones, they are few in number and rather poorly equipped. So, only four thousand people serve in the Syrian Navy. Another two and a half are in reserve. Until recently, the Syrian navy included two Project 633 submarines purchased from the USSR; now they have been withdrawn from the Navy. The largest surface warships in Syria are two Project 159 frigates / patrol boats, also acquired from the Soviet Union. Ships with a total displacement of more than a thousand tons carry RBU-250 anti-submarine bombers and 400-mm torpedo tubes. There is no built-in missile armament, air defense is carried out only at the expense of MANPADS taken on board. Also, the Syrian Navy has three dozen missile boats. These are Soviet boats of Project 205 Mosquito, armed with P-15U Termit missiles (20 units), as well as Iranian Tir boats, modified to use similar weapons. The list of combat boats is closed by patrol boats of the Soviet project 1400ME (no more than eight) and no more than six Iranian MIG-S-1800.It is noteworthy that the Syrian fleet has a relatively large number of minesweepers. Seven ships of this class were purchased from the USSR and belong to projects 1258, 1265 and 266M.

Despite its small size, the Syrian Navy has a naval aviation squadron. It includes more than a dozen Mi-14PL anti-submarine helicopters and five Ka-27PL helicopters of a similar purpose. In addition, half a dozen Ka-25 helicopters are used as multipurpose vehicles.


As you can see, the armed forces of Turkey and Syria differ significantly in both qualitative and quantitative terms. Moreover, in a number of cases, even the concepts of the composition of one or another branch of the armed forces differ. For example, the Syrian Air Force, unlike the Turkish, still has special front-line bombers. Turkey, in turn, adopted NATO tactical standards and abandoned this type of winged technology. It is difficult to say whether this decision was correct or not.

It is worth paying special attention to the Turkish F-16 fighter-bombers. Turkey has 250 of these machines and it is quite obvious that they will become the main striking force in the event of a full-scale conflict. NATO countries have long preferred to fight from the air and "descend" to ground operations only when the risk of losses of ground forces will be reduced to a minimum or when the need arises. Based on such views on the conduct of war, one can understand the desire of Syria to purchase new anti-aircraft systems: with modern air defense systems, the war is unlikely to end with the complete and unconditional success of the attacking side. The correct use of air defense systems by the Syrian military can greatly complicate the lives of Turkish pilots, up to the almost complete impossibility of making bombardments. Of course, such a development of events looks unlikely due to the obsolescence of most of the Syrian air defense systems. At the same time, the Turkish Air Force also cannot be called ultra-modern. It is worth noting that in the event of a conflict, the Syrian Air Force will most likely only defend itself. It is hardly worth waiting for strikes on the administrative centers of Turkey: a breakthrough to large enemy targets would be associated with too great a risk for the Syrian pilots.

As for the naval forces, the Syrian fleet is unlikely to be able to compete with the Turkish one. The Turkish Navy lags far behind the fleets of the leading states, but Syria in this respect does not even catch up with Turkey. Therefore, the Turkish naval forces, if necessary, are capable of destroying Syrian ships and boats right at their bases, including without air support. Unfortunately, on this point Syria has almost nothing to oppose, except for the already outdated Termit anti-ship missiles.

The land operation is of the greatest interest for analysis. Perhaps the Turks, having looked at the European experience in Libya, will not send their infantry to Syria and will entrust the ground part of the war to local rebels. However, in this case, even regular air and artillery strikes may not have the desired effect, at least at first. Recent months have clearly shown that the forces of Damascus are in no way inferior to the insurgents, and in some cases they even win. Therefore, the transfer of responsibility for the ground operation into the hands of the so-called armed opposition threatens to change the nature of the war in the direction of its protraction. Naturally, air support can provide sufficient help, but the structure of Syria's air defense will significantly complicate it. If the Turks nevertheless decide to move independently to Syrian territory, then they will face serious opposition there. In this case, as is very often the case, the guarantee of victory will be the experience of soldiers and commanders, as well as the coordination of troop actions.

In terms of experience, it is worth remembering the history of the armed forces of Syria and Turkey.So, the Syrian army, starting from its very formation in the forties of the last century, regularly participated in wars. The last major conflict involving Syria is the Gulf War. Turkey last actively fought in 1974, during the hostilities in Cyprus. It is quite fair to assume that the Syrian military is better prepared in such conditions, and the high command not only has experience in fighting, but even managed to take part in several wars at once. Accordingly, in terms of combat experience, Turkey is likely to noticeably lose to Syria.

Summing up, it is necessary to say the following: the Syrian and Turkish armies differ significantly, and on certain points, one country, then another, "wins". This makes it difficult to make accurate forecasts of the course of events. However, forecasting is difficult only if NATO countries refuse to support Turkey in the intervention. If the United States, Great Britain, Germany and other members of the Alliance decide to help Ankara in its "struggle for the freedom of the Syrian people," then the result of the military conflict will most likely be sad for both the current Syrian leadership and the entire country as a whole.

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