By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
A video uploaded by Jaish al-Islam's media office revealed the birth of the world's newest air force, operating two L-39ZAs from Kshesh airbase (also known as Jirah or Jarrah). This base was captured on 12th of February 2013 by Ahrar al-Sham. Kshesh was formerly home to 2nd Squadron operating L-39ZAs and one unknown squadron operating L-39ZOs.
The L-39ZA is the light attack variant of the L-39 equipped with a GSh-23L double barreled 23mm cannon and four pylons capable of carrying a 1.290 kg payload. The two outer pylons are wired for carrying R-13 and R-60 air to air missiles. Although both missile types are widely available in Syria, none were seen at Kshesh.
|The caption on the plane reads (above) ''إلا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله'' (There is only one God and Muhammad is his Prophet) and (below) ''لواء الإسلام'' (Liwa al-Islam)|
Jaish al-Islam is, without a doubt, the best equipped brigade fighting Assad. It has the knowlegde, money and will to turn captured vehicles or planes against their former operators. The first example of this was the usage of the 9K33s. against several helicopters of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) Getting two L-39s working is a whole different story, likely made possible with aid from former SyAAF L-39 pilots and technicians. With countless other countries also operating L-39s, Liwa al-Islam could also have hired people from abroad to achieve getting some of the L-39s working. Spares, fuel and munitions could easily be acquired via Saudi Arabia.
Kshesh air base was bombed by the (SyAAF) shortly after the fall of the airbase. Although one L-39 was destroyed, this didn't prevent Liwa al-Islam from working on the other L-39s, from which around a dozen were still intact. It now seems that the united forces of Jaish al-Islam managed to get two L-39ZAs working.
|L-39ZA serial 2111. Both L-39s received a new paint job.|
Yet, this whole move is more to be seen as a propaganda show, and clearly did what it was supposed to do.