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Syria Loses Its Air Force
by James Dunnigan
July 13, 2012

On June 21st, a Syrian Air Force colonel, flying a MiG-21, flew to Jordan and received political asylum. The colonel joined over 100,000 other Syrian civilians who had fled to Jordan. This was the first time a Syrian Air Force pilot had defected with his warplane. Some 40 other Syrian officers, mainly from the army, have defected, usually to Turkey, in the last year.

The MiG-21 is a 1950s, design and most current users are phasing them out. But because Syria is so poor, their 150 MiG-21s are still the most abundant aircraft in their air force. Fewer and fewer of these MiG-21s are flyable. There are also a hundred 1960s era MiG-23s, ten MiG-25s, and 40 MiG-29s. There are also 20 Su-24 and 60 Su-22 ground attack aircraft. All Syrian aircraft are showing their age, except for the MiG-29s, which are relatively new. Lack of money has meant few flying hours for air force pilots and not enough money to keep all aircraft flyable. Fuel and spare parts are expensive and the air force has a hard time dealing with the payroll and the expense of running its bases.

So far, the Syrians have not used their fixed wing aircraft to attack the population that has been in rebellion for over 16 months. Some helicopters have been used but with this defection, the air force commanders are less likely to trust other pilots. The Syrian Air Force has a dismal record, although their primary opponent for over half a century has been Israel. The Assad family has occasionally used the air force against the Syrian people and seems reluctant to unleash hundreds of combat aircraft on civilians.


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