A closer look at the warplanes provides the confirmation that all the aircraft, including the Su-25s and the Su-34s, were removed the standard Russian Air Force markings and the typical Red Star: most probably the Russians don’t want their symbol to be shown off along with the wreckage of a plane in case one is shot down or crashes in Syria.
By the way, the insignia were overpainted on the Su-30SMs and the Su-24Ms as well, even if these are not clearly visible in this video; however there are screenshots in the social media that prove the same applies to Flankers and Fencers.
Since then, the RuAF contingent has launched more raids, some of those conducted by the six Su-34 Fullback bombers, the most advanced tactical jets in the Russian inventory, deployed to Latakia just a couple of days before they were used for the first time in combat.
The following interactive map by @Radicalenzyme shows the location of all the known attacks so far.
As the RuAF Su-24s, Su-25s and Su-34s deliver their unguided and guided munitions on ISIS (and, according to some reports, Free Syrian Army) targets there is some concern that the lack of coordination with the US-led coalition may cause some trouble sooner or later.
Considered the number of sorties launched by the coalition (from 1 to 6, according to the daily reports by U.S. CENTCOM) the risk of mid-air between Russians and U.S. planes is still quite low. Beginning on Oct. 2, Su-30SMs have appeared next to the attacking Russian planes: they are equipped with good air-to-air radars, useful to have an idea of the “picture.”
According one of our sources with deep knowledge of Operation Inherent Resolve, who wishes to remain anonymous “with a growing presence of Sukhois across Syria and little notification, we can’t completely rule out that different packages will one day come a bit too close each other. Can you imagine what happens the first time an escort plane supporting a strike package starts tracking a Russian plane, or vice versa? The best solution is to divide the Syrian airspace into different areas and assign them to the different parties.”
Interestingly, a Russian Air Force Tu-154 using callsign RFF7085 could be tracked online on Flightradar24 during its flight to Latakia on Sept. 28, likely exposing the route followed by the six Su-34s trailing their accompanying Tu-154.
As the below image shows, the aircraft flew in international airspace over the Caspian Sea, to Iran and entered Syrian airspace after flying over northern Iraq: did the Su-34s have all the required diplomatic clearances to fly north of Baghdad or did they simply “sneak” into Syria by hiding under the cover of the transport plane?
Hard to say.
Last week, US officials said that the first 28 Russian combat planes hid under the radar signature on the larger transport aircraft, in an attempt to avoid detection but there are chances that the flights had all the required clearances from the Iraqi Air Traffic Control agencies and were conducted as a standard long-range ferry flight: one tanker/airlifter, using radio and transponder, supporting multiple fast jets.
As already explained, the entire operation was closely monitored by the Israeli Air Force, that during and after the deployment launched several missions of G.550 Eitam CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) and G.550 Shavit ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) aircraft off Lebanon to gather intelligence on the Russians.
But, the Israeli spyplanes were not only “watching” the Sukhoi Su-30, Su-24 and Su-25 deploying to Latakia: they were most probably more interested in the Syrian Arab Air Force aircraft that were launched to greet and escort the Russians into the Syrian airspace. In fact, it seems that most if not all the formations of combat planes trailing the Il-76 cargo planes, were intercepted and escorted to Latakia by Syrian planes, including SyAAF Mig-29 Fulcrum jets, according to a source who spoke to The Aviationist under the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the Russian planes deployed to Syria have reportedly flown their first local (familiarization) sorties. It’s not clear whether they were accompanied by Syrian planes but, for sure, Israeli ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) assets were pretty active all day on Sept. 24, circling between Cyprus and Lebanon as their tracks collected by ADS-B on FlightRadar24.com show. Closely monitoring the Russians? Or the Syrian Migs? Most probably, both ones.
Top image: file photo of a Serbian Mig-29 (Wikimedia); bottom screenshots credit: Flightradar24.com