Military Wiki
Syrian Arab Air Force
القوات الجوية العربية السورية
Founded 1948
Country  Syria
Branch Air Force
Type Military aviation
Role Aerial warfare
Size 60,000 (including 20,000 reserve)
Part of Syrian Armed Forces
Nickname(s) SyAAF
March We are the Eagles
Engagements Six-Day War
Yom Kippur War
1982 Lebanon War
Syrian civil war
Chief of Air Staff General Issam Hallaq[1]
Roundel Roundel of Syria.svg
Air Force Ensign Flag of the Syrian Arab Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack MiG-23
Fighter MiG-29
Interceptor MiG-25
Reconnaissance MiG-25
Trainer L-39
MBB 223
Transport An-26

The Syrian Air Force (Arabic language: القوات الجوية العربية السورية‎, Al Quwwat al-Jawwiyah al Arabiya as-Souriya) is the Aviation branch of the Syrian Armed Forces. It was established in 1948. Land based air defense systems are grouped under the Syrian Air Defense Force, which split from both the Air Force and the Army.


AT-6 Harvard of the Syrian Air Force

The end of World War II led to a withdrawal of the United Kingdom and France from the Middle East, and this included a withdrawal from Syria. In 1948, the Syrian Air Force was officially established after the first class of pilots graduated from flight schools in the United Kingdom. The embryonic force saw limited participation in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, conducting bombing raids against Israeli forces and settlements. One North American Harvard was lost to ground fire while attacking Ayelet Hashahar on 16 July, and another possibly shot down by Morris Mann (flying an Avia S-199) on 10 June. The Syrian Air Force claimed its sole kill of the war on 10 July when a Harvard supposedly shot down an Avia S-199 flown by Lionel Bloch.

Hafez al-Assad (above) standing on the wing of a Fiat G.46-4B with fellow cadets at the Syrian AF Academy outside Aleppo.

Military governments formed after the war sought to bolster the air force, which began equipping with Fiat G.59s, ex-Egyptian Macchi C.205s and Supermarine Spitfire Mk 22s. In September 1952 the SAF received its first jet aircraft, the Gloster Meteor F.8. Additional Meteors, including the NF.13 night fighting variant, were delivered by the mid-1950s.[2]

The 1950s also saw Syria and Egypt attempt to unify as the United Arab Republic, and this was reflected in the Syrian Air Force with growth in personnel and aircraft. The union did not last. With the ascent to power of the Baath Party and Hafez Al-Assad, himself a former SAF Commander-in-chief, Syria began looking to the members of the Warsaw Pact for help and built closer ties with the USSR. This in turn led to a huge influx of Eastern-made equipment to the Syrian Armed Forces, including the Air Force.

One of two MiG-17s of the Syrian Air Force that landed by error at Betzet airstrip, Israel on August 12, 1968.

In 1955 Syria placed an order for 25 MiG-15s, including several MiG-UTI conversion trainers. These were shipped to Alexandria and assembled at the Egyptian air base at Almazah, where Syrian pilots and technicians were trained to operate the aircraft. The fighters were at Almazah when the Suez Crisis broke out and several were destroyed on the ground by British and French air strikes. On 6 November 1956, a Syrian Meteor shot down an Royal Air Force Canberra PR.7 monitoring activity at SAF bases.[2] One Meteor was lost after another attempted intercept, the pilot and future president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, crashing his aircraft while attempting to land in the dark.[2][3]

Sixty MiG-17s were ordered at the end of 1956 and Syrian pilots were dispatched to the USSR and Poland for training. The first aircraft arrived in January 1957 and by the end of the year two MiG-17 squadrons were defending the capital from their base at Damasucus' Mezzeh Military Airport.[2]

In the Six-Day War, the Syrian Air Force lost two-thirds of its forces with the rest retreating to bases in remote parts of Syria. This in turn helped the IDF in defeating the Syrian Army on the ground and led to the occupation of the Golan Heights.

The Yom Kippur War provided initial success for both Syria and Egypt, though again Israel inflicted more casualties in the air than it endured.

SAF Gazelle captured by Israel in 1982. Behind stands a MiG-23 whose pilot defected in 1989

During the 1982 Lebanon War, the Syrian Air Force fought the Israeli Air Force in the one among the largest air-to-air combat of the jet age, involving approximately 150 aircraft from both sides. In six days (6–11 June 1982) of intense aerial combat, Syrian and Russian sources admit the loss of 24 MiG-23s (6MF, 4MS and 14BN), while shooting down no Israeli aircraft. Russian and Syrian sources continue to claim a modicum of success against Israeli aircraft in this conflict, but have been unable to provide any justification for their claims. Israel claims the destruction of 85 Syrian MiGs.[4] However, at low altitude the Syrian Air Force effectively used Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopters in anti-armour role against advancing Israeli ground forces. In one such engagement, an Israeli tank column was stopped for some hours by SAF Gazelle missile strikes while approaching Ein Zehalta.[5]

Since the Lebanon War, the Syrian Air Force has attempted to procure Russian-made aircraft, but the full extent of this refurbishment is not known, nor are the exact numbers of planes or what types of aircraft are being supplied to the Air Force. This uncertainty is due to the degree of secrecy maintained by the Syrian government with regard to its military. It is known, however, that the Syrians have procured MiG-29s and Su-24s, which should give its Air Force a major improvement, although a rumour regarding the purchase of Su-27s that circulated in the 2010s has proven to be unfounded. In 2008 the Syrian Air Force was reportedly taking deliveries of 8 examples of the MiG-31E from Russia, as well as the MiG-29SMT and Yak-130,[6] although delivery of the MiG-31s may have been cancelled by Russia due to pressure from Western governments.

Syrian civil war

During the initial phase of the Syrian civil war, up to mid-2012, the Syrian Air Force was involved in secondary roles, with no firing from aircraft and helicopters.

The situation changed on March 22, 2012, with an escalation in the use of airpower by loyalist forces,[7] starting with armed Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopter gunships firing rockets and machine guns.[8] The airwar escalated further in mid June 2012, with the use of Mi-24/25 attack helicopters capable of dropping 250 kg aerial bombs,[9][10] while the transport helicopters started dropping barrel bombs, essentially aerial IEDs.[11]

On July 24, 2012, the first attack sorties by fixed wing aircraft were reported by the rebels and recorded on video: initially L-39 COIN armed trainers began using rockets, bombs and gun pods,[7][12] but they were quickly joined by MiG-21s and MiG-23s.[13][14] It took some other weeks before more advanced Su-22 dedicated strike aircraft joined the fight. In November 2012, the first Su-24 medium bombers were filmed dropping their heavy payload on the rebels.[15] In December 2012, conventionally armed Scud missiles and other similar ballistic missiles were fired against rebel positions.[16]

Insurgents counter the Syrian Air Force mainly using truck mounted, medium and heavy machine guns, dedicated antiaircraft cannons, small arms fire and starting in late 2012, MANPADS up to modern Russian and Chinese designs.[17]

In the same timeframe of the escalation in the use of the Syrian Air Force by the government, the insurgents increased the number of anti-aircraft equipment, overtaking different air defense sites and warehouses while receiving shipments of Chinese and Russian sourced material from external sponsors.[18] An overall improvement in accuracy was observed too. This led to several Syrian Air Force jets and helicopters being shot down starting from August 2012.[19] Since insurgents besieged many airports, a high number of downed aircraft was recorded during take-off or landing. Also, many land raids and shelling of airbases led to an increasing number of aircraft and helicopters being damaged or destroyed on the ground.[20]

In spite of occasional shoot-downs, however, the Syrian Air Force remained largely unchallenged with a good overall combat efficiency and a superior fear factor recognized by the rebels themselves.[21]

While increasing proficiency in the use of short range air defense systems, the rebels were not able to make any other bigger air defense system work, despite their ranks being composed of many defected soldiers. Captured Shilka SPAAG were used in ground support, but they were seldom filmed in their air defense role, while there is no confirmed record of use of any captured missile based defense system apart from visual MANPADS: in summer 2013, rebels claimed they started using at least one of the captured 9K33 Osa antiaircraft missile vehicles, showing blurry videos presumed to come from inside the vehicle while firing at regime helicopters.

Compared to modern Western air forces fighting against similarly armed enemies, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Syrian Air Force main disadvantage is the low to nil number in small guided weapons which allow the aircraft to fly out of range of small arms fire, AAA and MANPADS, while delivering a precise strike minimizing collateral damage and allowing different targets of opportunity to be hit during the same mission. The Syrian pilots are forced to spend most of the time at low to medium altitude where battlefield threats have their best efficiency. Based on the aircraft type, Syrian pilots use different attack techniques to deliver their unguided munitions: while L-39s use dive attack tactics, all the other types involved are generally performing a low to medium altitude bombing run at high speed deploying a sequence of flare thermal decoys to defend against IR homing missiles and pulling up after ordnance delivery.[22] Instead helicopters are flying at high altitude for a helicopter, minimizing their tactical effect, while increasing collateral damage. Mi-24/25 gunships were observed delivering decoy flares too.[23]

Since the Syrian Air Force frequently attacks opposition fighters with helicopter gunships[24][25] and warplanes[26][27][28] aiming at populated areas with unguided weaponry, the bombings normally cause collateral damage to the civilian population and infrastructure.[29][30]

In July 2012 at the Farnborough Air Show it was announced that Russia would not deliver any new aircraft including the MiG-29M/M2s and Yak-130s while there was still a crisis in Syria, but it would still respect any previous refurbishment and maintenance contracts such as the Mi-25s.[31]

With the start of aerial operations by the Syrian Air Force, in August 2012, intelligence experts assessed that the Syrian Air Force was suffering significant technical difficulties, resulting in less than half of the air force's best counterinsurgency aircraft such as the Mi-25 Hind-D being available at any given time. An increased number of conflict fronts and severe maintenance burdens dramatically worsened the situation which was probably critical already before the beginning of the civil war. These problems were thought by experts to account for initial start in the use of L-39ZA (attack variant) jets in a combat role by the government,[32][33] before further escalations.

Aircraft losses

According to the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) since the conflict began the Syrian military lost 37 helicopters and 24 jets. 40 aircraft were shot down, and 21 were destroyed in opposition attacks on military airports.[34] According to Strategy Page, nearly a hundred fixed wing and over a hundred helicopters have been lost. Some 400 aircrew was killed, captured, or missing.[35]

  • The first loss of a fixed wing aircraft was recorded on 13 August 2012 when a MiG-23 was filmed catching fire in flight, while automatic gunfire was heard on the background while the fighter aircraft was flying at low altitude in a level flight. The pilot ejected, and was captured and interrogated by the rebels on video.[36]
  • The first loss of a MiG-21 was recorded on 30 August 2012. The serial number was 2271. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by heavy machine gun fire.[37]
  • Few days later a second MiG-21, serial number 2280, was shot down and recorded on video on 4 September 2012. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by KPV 14.5 mm machine gun fire.[38]
  • The first recorded loss of an L-39, reported in some media outlets as a MiG, occurred on 13 October 2012, with the pilot ejecting and evading capture before being caught. Al Jazeera managed to interview the pilot.[39][40][41]
  • On 17 October 2012, a Mi-8 helicopter was shot down over Damascus, dramatically exploding in midair. It was likely hit by heavy machine gun fire with some of its improvised aerial barrier bombs exploding.[42]
  • The first confirmed loss of a Sukhoi Su-22 was recorded on 14 February 2013, when rebel forces shot it down using a MANPADS launcher.[43][44]
  • One Mil Mi-17 helicopter was lost in an air-to-air accident when it hit the tail of a Syrian passenger plane on 28 February 2013, with the airliner landing safely at Damascus airport.[45][46]


The Air Force command consists of:[48]

  • 7 Attack squadrons
  • 20 Interceptor/FGA/Reconnaissance squadrons
  • 4 Transport squadrons
  • 1 Electronic Warfare squadron
  • 7 Transport/Attack Helicopter squadrons
  • 5 Attack Helicopter squadrons
  • 1 VIP Helicopter squadron
  • 1 Training Group.

Air bases

Led by jihadist fighters from the Al-Nusra Front and an Ahrar al-Sham battalion, Syrian rebels overran Taftanaz Air Base during the second week in January, 2013.[49][50]


Roundel of Syria.svg

The roundel used by the Syrian Air Force has the same basic design as that used by the Egyptian Air Force. It consists of three concentric circles, with a red outer, white middle and black inner. The unique part of the Syrian roundels is the presence of two green stars in the white circle, which is reflective of the two stars on the national flag. The fin flash is also an image of the flag.

Pre Syrian civil war aircraft inventory

Due to the high security level on everything military the past and the present of the Syrian Arab Air Force is still largely unknown. This makes it hard to judge the real strength of the air force today.[51] Additionally, considerable losses to the opposition forces in the country's ongoing civil war are not accounted for here. The following information is compiled from multiple pre 2012 Syrian civil war sources.

  • Between ~712 to ~991 fixed wing aircraft:
    • Combat/reconnaissance/OCU aircraft: Between ~611 and ~850
    • Training aircraft: Between ~81 and ~117
    • Transport aircraft: Between ~20 and ~24
  • Between ~176 to ~214 rotary wing aircraft:
    • Attack helicopter: Between ~110 and ~123
    • Armed transport/utility helicopter: Between ~146 and ~164
    • Electronic warfare/command helicopter: Between ~25 and ~30
Combat aircraft
Aircraft Origin Type Version In service
(Global Security)[52]
In service
In service
In service
Comments Image
MiG-29  Soviet Union MRCA
42 60[55]
Will be upgraded to M/M2 standard. Contract suspended in July 2012 due to crisis. On the 31st of May 2013 it was announced that a new contract to supply at least 10 MiG 29 M/M2's had been signed.

Between ~75 to ~90
Mig 29 firing AA-10.JPG
MiG-25  Soviet Union Interceptor
Between ~65 to ~80
MiG-23  Soviet Union Fighter
Ground attack

} 76
80 66 Upgrade in progress.
Between ~155 to ~190
MiG-21  Soviet Union Fighter
160 200 N/A
Between ~200 to ~220
Su-24  Soviet Union Ground attack MK 20[52] 20[53] 20[54] 20[55]
Russian Navy aircraft during exercise.jpg
Su-22  Soviet Union Ground attack M-2/M-3/M-4
50 50 60 60[56] Total:
Between ~100 to ~120
Krzesiny 49RB.JPG
Electronic warfare
Aircraft Origin Type Version In Service
(Global Security)[52]
In Service
In Service
In Service
Comments Image
Mil Mi-8  Soviet Union Electronic warfare SMV/PP 10 10 N/A N/A
Mi-8 Hip Roving Sands 99.jpg
Trainer aircraft
Aircraft Origin Type Version In service
(Global Security)[52]
In service
In service
In service
Comments Image
L-39 Albatros  Czechoslovakia Jet trainer ZO/ZA 70 ~65 75 N/A Total:
Between ~65 to ~75
Bret Cox L-39 - Reno Race -58.jpg
MBB 223 Flamingo Germany West Germany Primary trainer A-1 35 40 40 N/A Total:
Between ~35 to ~40
SIAT 223 Flamingo D-ECRO Le Bourget 06.67.jpg
MFI-17 Mushshak Pakistan Pakistan Primary trainer 6 6 7 N/A Total:
Between ~6 to ~7
Transport aircraft
Aircraft Origin Type Version In service
(Global Security)[52]
In service
In service
In service
Comments Image
An-24  Soviet Union Transport 1 1 1 1
Antonow an-24.jpg
An-26  Soviet Union Transport 6 5 4 N/A Total:
Between ~4 to ~6
Il-76  Soviet Union Transport M 4 4 4 4
Dassault Falcon 20 France France VIP transport 2 2 2 2
Dassault Falcon (Mystere) 20F-5 (PH-BPS).jpg
Dassault Falcon 900 France France VIP transport 1 1 1 1
Gazpromavia Falcon 900 Ilyin.jpg
Tu-134  Soviet Union VIP transport N/A 2 4 N/A Total:
Between ~2 to ~4
MAGAS Kosmos Tupolev Tu-134 Misko.jpg
Yak-40  Soviet Union VIP transport V 6 6 6 6
PL Jak 40.JPG
Attack helicopter
Aircraft Origin Type Version In service
(Global Security)[52]
In service
In service
In service
Comments Image
Mil Mi-24  Soviet Union Attack helicopter D 36 ~36 36 50[56] Total:
Between ~36 to ~50
Afghan Air Corps Mi-35 helicopters.jpg
SA-342 Gazelle France France Attack helicopter L/M 36 ~35 36 36
Hatzerim 290110 Gazelle.jpg
Mil Mi-2 Poland Poland Attack helicopter 20 10 6 N/A Total:
Between ~6 to ~20
Mi-2URP-G 0a.jpg
Transport helicopter
Aircraft Origin Type Version In service
(Global Security)[52]
In service
In service
In service
Comments Image
Mil Mi-8
Mil Mi-17
 Soviet Union Transport helicopter F
100 100 60
Two Iraqi Mil Mi-17-V5 Hip Helicopters.jpg

Retired Aircraft


The following have served as Commander of the Air Force:


Senior Officers

See also


  1. "Council Implementing Decision 2012/424/CFSP of 23 July 2012 implementing Decision 2011/782/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria". Official Journal of the European Union. 24 July 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Nordeen, Lon; Nicolle, David (1996). Phoenix Over The Nile. Smithonian Instituition Press. pp. 345–347. ISBN 978-1-56098-626-3. 
  3. Nicolle, David (24 September 2003). "Canberra Down!". Retrieved 24 July 2010. 
  4. Krauthammer, Charles (4 August 2006). "Israel's Lost Moment". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  5. Schif, Ze'ev & Ya'ari, Ehud Israel's Lebanon War London Counterpoint 1986 pp160-1 ISBN 0-04-327091-3
  6. "Russia defends arms sales to Syria". UPI. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 24 July 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1
  8. Mar 22 2012 (2012-03-22). "First video of a Syrian helicopter gunship attacking rebels near Azaz, northwest of Aleppo". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  9. Jun 12 2012 (2012-06-12). "Syrian air war escalates: the Mil Mi-24 Hind gunship makes its debut against rebel forces". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  10. Jul 18 2012 (2012-07-18). "New videos show Syrian gunship helicopters dropping bombs on Homs and Damascus". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  11. "Syria's deadly barrel bombs". 2012-09-02. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  12. Jul 30 2012 (2012-07-30). "Syrian Arab Air Force trainer jets turned into attack planes to strike rebel positions". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  13. July 24, 2012 (2012-07-24). "Which figher jets did the Syrian government use to bomb its largest city, Aleppo? — Air Cache". Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  14. Babak Dehghanpisheh (2013-07-29). "Syrian aircraft bomb Aleppo as rebels fight for city". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  15. Nov 16 2012 (2012-11-16). "Assad deploys Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack planes to hit rebels hard". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  17. Location Settings (2012-12-02). "Syrian rebels down aircraft". News24. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  18. "Sudan becomes the newest player in Syria's protracted conflict: NYT - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan". Sudan Tribune. Retrieved 2013-09-03. 
  19. Kaphle, Anup (2012-08-13). "Syrian fighter jet crashes; rebels claim they shot it down - WorldViews". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  20. Tom A. Peter. "Syrian rebels struggle to keep regime Air Force on the ground (+video)". Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  21. Martin Chulov in Aleppo. "Syrian rebel raids expose secrets of once-feared military | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-03. 
  22. Oct 22 2012 (2012-10-22). "Video of Su-22 releasing flares during attack shows Syrian pilots are becoming concerned of surface to air missiles". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  23. Aug 17 2012 (2012-08-17). "Video shows Syrian Mil Mi-25 gunship releasing flares. A sign that rebels got their hands on MANPADS?". The Aviationist. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  24. Bloomfield, Adrian; Willis, Amy (12 July 2012). "Syria: helicopter gunships fire on villagers in fresh massacre". Telegraph Media Group. 
  25. [1][dead link]
  26. Linux Beach (2012-06-30). "BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  27. "Syrian forces push into Douma, residents flee". 30 June 2012. 
  28. "Syria\ Shelling Douma by Al-Assad Military Planes. Saturday, June 30, 2012". YouTube. 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  29. "Syrian regime attacks hospital". CNN. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  30. "Syrian warplanes hammer rebel border town". Al Jazeera. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  31. "Russia Blocks MiG-31 Deal With Syria". Middle East Newsline. 21 May 2009.,3570-Russia-Blocks-MiG-31-Deal-With-Sy.aspx. Retrieved 24 July 2010. 
  32. Chivers, C.J. (2 August 2012). "Syrian Leader’s Weapons Under Strain". New York Times. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  33. August 9, 2012 (2012-08-09). "Syrian government using L-39 trainer jets to attack rebels — Air Cache". Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  36. Spencer, Richard. "Syrian rebels claim to have shot down Bashar al-Assad MiG fighter jet". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  39. YouTube
  40. Syria rebels down fighter jet near Aleppo: watchdog | The Raw Story
  41. Captured Syrian pilot says he did not know he was bombing civilians - YouTube
  43. Channel NewsAsia
  44. YouTube
  45. "PICTURES: Circumstances of Syrian A320 collision remain hazy". 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2013-09-03. 
  48. 48.0 48.1 "Syrian Arab Air Force". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  49. "Rebels 'take control of key north Syria airbase'". 11 January 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  50. Anne Barnard (January 11, 2013). "Syrian Rebels Say They Seized Helicopter Base in the North". Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  51. "Syrian Air Force - Al Quwwat al-Jawwiya al Arabiya as-Souriya". Scramble, Dutch Aviation Society. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 52.4 52.5 52.6 52.7 "Syria - Air Force Equipment". Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 53.3 53.4 53.5 53.6 "Military Balance Files - Syria". Institute for National Security Studies. 2010. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 54.3 54.4 54.5 54.6 "Order of Battle - Syria". Milavia Press. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  55. 55.0 55.1 55.2 55.3 55.4 55.5 55.6 55.7 55.8 "Air force (Syria)". Jane's Defence Information Group. 8 February 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  56. 56.0 56.1 Bennet, Richard M. (22 July 2006). "Syria's military flatters to deceive". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  57. "اغتيال العقيد محمد ناصر..تفاصيل – خفايا – آراء(2-4)". Retrieved 2013-09-03. 
  58. Commander of the Syrian Air Force, General Wadih al Muqabari in the 1950s. Syrian History. Retrieved on 1 June 2012.
  59. Al Moqatel - الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية
  60. 60.0 60.1 Batatu, 1999, p. 226.

Further reading

  • Dijkshoorn, Marco (September 2010). "Syria's Secret Air Arm". Ian Allan Publishing. 

External links

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