Here’s how the Russian Air Force moved 28 aircraft to Syria (almost) undetected

An AN-124 Ruslan escorted by two Su-27s. (Image credit: Wiki)

It’s not easy to move 28 aircraft and keep the deployment confidential.

Satellite imagery released in the last couple of days has exposed the presence of 28 Russian aircraft at al-Assad airfield, near Latakia, in western Syria.

The photographs taken from space gave us the possibility to identify the combat planes as 4x Su-30SMs, 12x Su-25s (based on their color scheme, these are Su-25SMs belonging to the 368th Assault Aviation Regiment from Budyonnovsk) and 12 Su-24M2s along with about a dozen helicopters, including 10 Mi-24PN, Mi-35M and a couple of Mi-8AMTSh choppers, from the 387th Army Aviation Air Base Budyonnovsk.

One of our sources with IMINT Imagery Intel experience, who has had access to the imagery in the public domain, noticed something interesting on one of the Su-30SM: the first on the left (the one closer to the runway threshold) should be equipped with a KNIRTI SPS-171 / L005S Sorbtsiya-S mid/high band defensive jammer (ECM) at the wing tips. To be honest this is almost impossible to verify unless more high-resolution images become available.

Whilst satellite shots provided much details about the deployed assets, they obviously didn’t help answer the basic question: how did they manage to reach Syria undetected?

According to one source close who wishes to remain anonymous, the Russian combat planes have probably deployed to Latakia trailing the cargo planes that were tracked flying to Syria and back on, something that other analysts have also suggested.

There is someone who believes that during their ferry flight, some if not all the formation (each made of a cargo plane and four accompanying fast jets), may have made a stopover in Iran before flying the last leg to Latakia. This would also explain why some Il-76s (with an endurance that would allow a non-stop fly from Russia to Latakia) were observed stopping at Hamadan on Sept. 18-19, just before the Sukhois started appearing on the tarmac at Latakia.

Also interesting is the activity of several Israeli aircraft, including a G550 “Nachshon Aitam,” a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft.

The G550, a so-called CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) asset, flew a mission over the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon on Sept. 20 (and could be tracked online on…).  Just a coincidence?


Top image credit: Sergey Kustov via Wiki. Bottom image credit:


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Interesting to see how none of the people thinks of the actual reason to fly strike planes in formation with cargo planes that have routine experience with international flights.. unlike -arguably- the strike crews. This would not be the first of its kind cargo plane shepherding little buddies.

  2. Sometimes i turn on TV and it tells me each weekend Formula 1 racecars mysteriously materialize in different cities around the globe. I asked a road policemen – and he said he never saw those F1 cars in the traffic! Mystery!!! Cars invisible to road police!!!

    Come on! Fighter jets are as specialized hi-speed awful-economy machines as F1 and IndyCar.
    Who and why would run them to long distance on their own wheels? There are cargo transport vehicles for that.

    Russia has three huge navy cargo ships ( БДК ) cruising to Syria and back non-stop. And the ships are assisted with 3-4 cargo aircrafts per day. Those cargo aircrafts can economically transfer 2 jets inside. Ships can transfer dozen. In one go. And there are months of traffic.

    Of course radars did not saw Su-34 flying – because they did not. They were carried the same economic way as all other cargo.

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