Since publishing the most recent imagery of the Bassel al Assad air base in Syria on Sept. 20, Stratfor has been working with the imagery analysts at AllSource Analysis to obtain higher-resolution satellite photography of the air base.
Higher-resolution images clearly show ground forces deployed in a defensive posture, dispersed throughout the air base. The experts at AllSource Analysis were able to identify seven main battle tanks, likely the seven reported Russian T-90 tanks deployed to the base. A large number of vehicles are still located near prefabricated Russian housing units, though several BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, likely accompanied by the infantry units they normally transport, have also been dispersed to defensive positions.
Several different aircraft have also been identified, spread out along the main runway and concealed beneath camouflage netting. Moscow is aware that the base is being watched closely and is attempting to obscure the overt presence of Russian personnel and equipment. From an operational security perspective, the Russians are concerned about the exact locations and dispositions of their assets at Bassel al Assad air base being known. Between the ability to scramble Su-30 multirole fighters and the reported presence of air defense systems, the Russians have a degree of protection from air attack, but the threat from indirect fire remains. Therefore, the Russians are dispersing their assets across the air base to minimize the risk from artillery attack.
Apart from the aircraft on the runway, recent imagery shows that helicopters have been deployed to the hardstands at the northeastern corner of the runway. The imagery analysts at AllSource Analysis identified at least 12 Mi-24 attack helicopters at these hardstands, all covered with camouflage netting. Combined with the 28 attack aircraft located on the runway, these helicopters offer a significant ground attack capability that Russia could apply toward Syrian rebel forces or the Islamic State.