This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
By Arie Egozi
“Syria has been used as a huge test site for Russian new weapons, and the West, mainly the US, was keeping an eye,” an Israeli expert told .
Last week, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu expressed his satisfaction with the Russian military campaign in Syria and said that it was a good test of new weapons and special-forces units.
In a speech to the lower house of parliament on February 22, Shoigu said that 162 new Russian weapons systems had been tested in Syria and that “only 10” failed to perform up to expectations.
Shoigu told the State Duma that 1,760 combat missions had been flown in Syria since Russia launched a campaign of airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government in September 2015.
He said that “nearly 90 percent” of Russia’s military pilots had gained combat experience in Syria.
Western governments have criticized the Russian air campaign, saying that it has largely targeted rebels rather than Islamic State (IS) militants and has caused substantial civilian casualties.
Russia has given Assad’s government crucial military and diplomatic support throughout the six-year war in Syria, which has killed some 300,000 people and driven many more from their homes.
The Russian air campaign has helped turn the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad, whose forces were under severe pressure and losing ground at the time.
Shoigu also said the mission by Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to the eastern Mediterranean was a success despite the loss of two fighter jets. He said the experience would help avoid “mistakes” in the future.
He added Russia’s special forces “have demonstrated their considerable efficiency” in the conflict and “played a key role in liquidating terrorists, destroying important enemy facilities, and directing air strikes.”
The exact number of Russian troops in Syria has not been made public, but experts put the figure at around 4,000.
Shoigu did not discuss casualties in Syria, which represents Moscow’s biggest military campaign abroad since the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1979-88.
US intelligence agencies have been following closely the use of the new weapon systems in Syria. It gave the Americans indications about the new directions in which the Russian defense industry is going as part of the great effort to modernize the Russian defense forces.