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30 March 2015

The Situation in Yemen - An Air Force Assessment

Sources within the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) report 1,200+ sorties flown by now; 500 on the first two days, and “only” 200 yesterday. Sounds like a VERY intensive operation…Georg Mader reports.

The status of the Yemeni Air Force’s (YAF)'s Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) (all heavy surface-to-air missiles [SAM] in Yemen are operated by the YAF, not by the ground forces as reported in the media) was actually better than that of the YAF's flying components. Most aircraft were largely grounded since 2013, for lack of spares. From what we know it is obvious that large parts of the Yemeni GBAD systems were overhauled with the help of Belarussian and Russian specialists. As it is clear that SAMs were indeed launched in the first night, the effort to destroy SAM sites and air surveillance/air defence (AD) assets is not a pointless exercise in munition expenditure. Even a single old SAM site, provided it is technically functional and crewed by men who know how to operate it, can shoot aircraft down. This is why no chances can be taken.

Yemen has gotten a similar upgrade for its SA-3s as Syria, believed to be PECHORA-2M-likes. That said, this force is nowhere that big: It consisted of only three AD brigades equipped with SAMs, and two equipped with AAA. As of early 2000, each of these has operated two battalions (one site per each battalion) of S-75s (SA-2s), and one or two of S-125s (SA-3s), and 2K12 (SA-6s). One SAM-brigade was protecting the city of Sana'a, one Aden, and the exact position of the third is unclear. It could be that it was responsible for defending Taizz. It is possible that they have received some new equipment, but – corrections welcome – MT never found any kind of confirmation for reported delivery of 2S6M1 TUNGUSKA systems to Yemen in 2005.
While the Saudi spokesperson said that 40% of Yemeni AD have been knocked out by now, and it can be assumed that the RSAF at least attempted to hit all seven known positions of the YAF's SA-2 and SA-3 sites (which are fixed in their place since years and thus more than well known), all that can be confirmed is destruction of the SRN-125 Low Blow fire-control radar of the SA-3 site protecting Marib (this site, i.e. battalion, is an element of the SAM-brigade protecting Sana'a) on the first night.

Roundup of the (former) sites:
Marib - 2x SA-2
Haliburton gas or oil facility east of Marib: 1x SA-2 + 2x SA-3
Sana'a - 3x SA-2 + 1x SA-3 (+ SA-6)
Ta'izz - 2x SA-2
Aden - 3x SA-2 + 2x SA-3
Mukalla - 1x SA-2
Ar Riyan (Mukalla airport) - 2x SA-2
Hodeidah - 2x SA-2
Qurayyah - 2x SA-2
Mocha - 1x SA-2

The largest other success of Friday, according to the RSAF, should have been the “destruction of Iranian- and Chinese-originated long-range missiles that were underway to Saudi territory;” taken place in the Sa'ada Province. If true, it would mean that they have caught some Yemeni SCUDs or TOCHKAs in attack in the weapons storage depot at Faj Attah, in Sana'a, the last night.

However, Brig.Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri warned on Saturday that the Houthis would control more of these ~300km short-range surface-to-surface missiles (SSM). His account could not be immediately corroborated, but YAF brigades - equipped with R-17E (SCUD-B) and TOCHKA (SS-21s) SSMs - have joined the Houthis. Yemeni SSMs are also operated by the Air Force, not by the Army). During the war of 1994-1995, former North Yemen fired about 35 TOCHKAs, while former South Yemen fired about 30 SCUDs. Shortly after, Yemen bought North Korean-made SCUDs, after signing a corresponding contract. As of 1999, US intel assessed Yemen to possess 18 R-17Es, and by mid-2000s up to 60 missiles. Whatever the case, Russia – much more than Iran - was supportive of the Houthis.

Brig.Gen. Asiri said the airstrike campaign - now entering its fourth day on Sunday - continued to target SCUD missiles in Yemen, „leaving most of their launching pads devastated.”

But, as we learned in Syria and Libya, this kit does not need any real launch pads.

Sudan has meanwhile increased its participation to four fighter jets, as confirmed by a report, but RSAF sources state that the Sudanese Air Force (SuAF) is yet to fly any combat sorties over Yemen. They are based at Wadi Seidna in North-Omdurman and the Sukhoi Su-24 (FENCER) would be the only Sudanese aircraft with legs to reach Yemen. I personally wonder how they would integrate into a US/NATO-styled Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) with an aircraft like FENCER, as all systems would pop-up alerting hostile aircraft detected…

Nevertheless, images via Sana’a TV suggest that the SuAF has already LOST a FENCER strike-aircraft over the Bani Houshah district of Sana'a, one of just a few acquired in secret from Belarus in 2013.

The pilots of one Saudi RSAF F-15S had to eject over the waters south of Yemen after what officially is named a “technical malfunction.” Both were rescued in assistance by the US-Navy.

The Saudi-led airstrike campaign targeting rebels who control much of Yemen has “pushed them out of contested air bases and destroyed any jet fighter remaining in the Arab world’s poorest country,” Brig.Gen. Asiri has said. And indeed, it seems that the RSAF Plus Coalition did destroy the Yemeni Mig-29s after all. AJE is showing a Saudi video of the targeting and destruction of a row of shelters that usually house the Mig-29s at Sana'a.
Georg Mader

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