Drones Are Dropping Like Flies From the Sky Over Syria
Shoot-downs are becoming commonplace
Syria is buzzing with drones. There are days when the people of Idlib governorate can simultaneously see Russian Orlan tactical UAVs, Iranian Ababil, Mohajeer and Shahed-129s and CIA or U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reapers circling the same air space.
It’s not much different over southern Syria. There it’s Hezbollah from Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Israel, Jordan and the United States that are operating UAVs.
Frankly, I ceased counting all the shoot-downs of various mini-UAVs over Syria ages ago. Small commercial-style drones are relatively easy to knock out with small-arms fire. But considering the crowd of larger UAVs, it’s hardly surprising that the various combatants have begun shooting these down, too.
Stills from different videos showing Iranian-made Shahed-129 UAVs operated over Syria over the last two years
On June 8, 2017, a U.S. Air Force F-15E shot down an IRGC-operated Shahed-129 over eastern Syria. The UAV in question was armed and threatening U.S. allies, according to the American-led coalition. For U.S. pilots, such interceptions are practically routine. After all, they began shooting down Iranian UAVs over Iraq eight years ago.
A week later on June 15 and again on June 16, Syrian air force MiG-23MLDs reportedly shot down over Dera’a two Italian-made Selex ES Falco UAVs operated by Jordan. Apparently, both kills were scored with R-24R missiles. The use of such a hefty weapon — a medium-range, semi-active radar-homing missile — might seem like overkill, but it’s the only weapon that’s compatible with Syrian MiG-23s and is also effective against this type of targets.
Notably, a handful of Syrian MiG-23-pilots are quite experienced in this kind of operation. In the period 2006 to 2008, several of them claimed to have shot down up to two dozen Israeli UAVs. Back then, they would get a handsome financial bonus and two or three weeks of leave. Under current circumstances, it’s doubtful that the regime of Pres. Bashar Al Assad can afford such luxury.
Stills from different videos showing Iranian-made Mohajeer-4 UAVs, and — lower right corner — a Russian-made Orlan-10 over Syria
On June 18, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter shot down a Syrian Su-22 fighter-bomber of the SyAAF after the Sukhoi dropped bombs on or near the positions of the pro-U.S. militia forces. Contrary to what even his own government has reported, the Syrian pilot actually ejected safely and survived.
Finally, on June 20, another U.S. F-15E shot down another of the IRGC’s Shahed-129s — the fifth air-to-air victory of the month in the Syria war. The CJTF-OIR claims the UAV was armed and threatening U.S. allies on the ground.
To the best of this author’s knowledge — and despite countless claims by Tehran — Shahed-129s cannot carry weapons. The Iranians lack the necessary technology. However, one cannot exclude the possibility of them getting some help from China in this regard.