Lessons learnt from the Russian intervention in Syria

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The information about the killing of an unidentified number of Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner’s group in a series of air strikes by the American forces yet again focused the attention on combat techniques used in this war.

For Poland, the most important lesson therein are the skills the Russians demonstrated in Syria, because the solutions they applied there can also be used against us if it were to come to a clash on our north-eastern border.

There can be no doubt that the Russian army showed off in Syria its best side – its actions had nothing to do with the awkwardness of an elephant fighting against a militant ant, as it took place in 2008 in Georgia. Today, the Russian armed forces are fighting like Western armies, maximising enemy losses while minimising their own. Out of the combat methods shown in Syria, three in particular, we ought to consider a warning.

Closed access

The first warning is the effective anti-access system. Russia has already deployed it at our borders on the Baltic Sea, as well as in the Crimea. Its essence is to provide a shield against airstrikes (both by aircraft and missiles) to its forces, combined with the ability to distance enemy troops so that they cannot break the anti-access “dome”.

In Syria, it boiled down to effectively attacking the enemy with cruise missiles launched from land, sea, and air, as well as air raids using classic ammunition, while ensuring base safety through anti-aircraft missile launchers, mainly S-400, and artillery systems and helicopters of penetrating the area around military bases ready for immediate land attack push-back.

As a result of the anti-access system’s implementation, the air forces of the coalition under the leadership of the United States stayed away from the western part of Syria protected by Russian missiles. Moreover, Turkish aviation did not venture into Syria as long as there was no Russian-Turkish agreement on the matter. Only once during Russia’s intervention, its main base in Humaymim was successfully assaulted by fire from mortars. After this incident, the defences of the complex were further improved.

Similar anti-access domes will also be used in the event of a possible conflict in Europe, because they are mobile and can move along with the progress of the land forces. They could also encompass, for example, airports deep in the enemy territory conquered by airborne forces in order to make them a bridgehead for land forces carried by heavy transport aircraft.

On land and in the air

The second warning is the effective application by Russia of the concept of a war simultaneously in the air and on land, which was developed in the USA for the event of a full-blown conflict in Europe. In Poland, the military website Defence24 brought this aspect to people’s attention. Such a war consists in carrying out flexible operations of combined air and ground forces, in which aviation and missile systems are not simple support, but a key element of an intelligent striking mechanism, which includes special forces groups tracking targets, artillery, mechanised troops and a whole set of manned and unmanned aircraft patrolling from air, observing and hitting only well-identified targets at the most optimal time.

In Syria, the Russians gave a proper demonstration of such actions, smashing the armed opposition against the Assad regime, destroying three-quarters, or even more, of its heavy equipment, and breaking fortified defence lines as they did during the Palmira offensive. Russian soldiers along with the Syrians and Iranians supported by them did not attack on land “Geronimo-style”, as they used to before – rather than that, they would kill the enemy they previously exhausted by real-time coordinated air, rocket, and artillery strikes.

In order to be capable of such actions, the Russian Federation had to equip its forces with state-of-the-art communication and observation equipment, such as drones, personal computers, crypto-communication. Their equipment is no longer inferior to that of the Western forces.

A European war against Russia would resemble that in Syria and we should make ourselves prepared for that. Not a mass of troops, but agile strikes from both the air and the ground; not a seemingly murderous, but in effect not very effective artillery fire, but focusing fire on the most valuable targets on the basis of battlefield economics. No rangefinders, but advanced electronics at the level of a team or even an individual soldier.

Faster, faster

Finally, the third warning is the Russian ability to quickly transfer over large distances whole platoons equipped with modern equipment. The lion’s share of troops in Syria along with their equipment flew in by heavy transport aircraft under cover of fighter and multirole combat aircraft, the rest came by sea to the port of Tartus.

It was not in vain that the Russian army practiced such transfers as part of numerous war games, including Zapad 2017. It did payoff, because the system works well. It is not known whether it would be equally effective to transfer forces in Europe, where it would be difficult for the Russians to gain an advantage in the air. Certainly, however, their air transport is sufficiently efficient to almost pass unnoticed from the depths of Russia to the NATO border, from where they could commence combat activities right away, using the element of surprise and very fast pace of concentration of forces.


The Russian Federation needn’t have used in Syria such advanced weaponry, nor such sophisticated tactics in order to vanquish military opposition. The Russian armed forces practiced as part of a military exercise a completely different war with a more advanced opponent. With us.

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