January 12, 2015:
One of the more interesting lessons to come out of the Syrian civil war was the novel use of civilian vidcams (in this case the GoPro) attached to Syrian Army armored vehicles for use in training and analyzing the effectiveness of the troops and tactics. The videos that got out were some of those that proved useful enough to have a voiceover narration added explaining what was actually going on and describing any useful tips or lessons to be learned from watching this action. What that description also showed was some new tactics developed by the Syrians and/or their Russian advisors, often with the help of the vidcams and/or because the vidcams are also used in real-time during combat. When an armored vehicle is put out of action the vidcam usually survives and the video can be examined for useful information on how the crew might have avoided getting hit. Even if none of the vehicle crew survive, watching the video up to the moment the vehicle is his is instructive.
Studying several of these videos revealed that the Syrians also often employ their armored vehicles as a “ready reaction force.” This is not unique as most other armies do this, but with a combination of ground forces and warplanes and helicopters. The Syrian Army never had a lot of high weapons or equipment to begin with and appear to be improvising. The use of vidcams on missions is not unique either, it has been used by over a decade by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the Syrians deserve credit for effectively adapting these old ideas (that predate the 20th century) for their current situation. That videos indicate that Russians are involved but the degree of the Russian contribution is not spelled out. It was known that the Russians had some advisors in Syria, and had shipped lots of military equipment, especially spare parts and tools needed to keep aircraft and armored vehicles operational.
These new tactics appear to involve using accompanying infantry as spotters for the tanks and IFVs (BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicles). The guys on the ground point out targets for the armored vehicles to fire on with 125mm gun or 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-gun. The rebels are equipped with RPGs, automatic weapons as well as roadside bombs, anti-vehicle mines and, occasionally, ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). The Syrian infantry (and pro-government militia) have a better view of the battlefield and can go places the vehicles cannon. Armored vehicles taking information from infantry around them is nothing new, but modern electronics (vidcams and cheap but powerful walkies) make possible new opportunities which the Syrians have taken advantage of to give the infantry more precise and timely firepower and the armored vehicles more protection from attack.