Russia has deployed at least one Il-20 Coot spyplane to Syria

A frequent visitor of the international airspace over the Baltic has been deployed to Syria.

Along with the 28 combat planes that have arrived at al-Assad International Airport via Iran hiding under Il-76 cargo planes last week, the Russian Air Force has deployed at least one Il-20 Coot surveillance plane to Syria.

Even though satellite imagery has not yet unveiled its presence on an apron at the airfield near Latakia, an Il-20 Coot spyplane has already arrived in Syria to reinforce the Russian contingent, according to one of our sources.

The Il-20 is an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) platform: it is equipped with a wide array of antennas, IR (Infrared) and Optical sensors, a SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar) and satellite communication equipment for real-time data sharing, the aircraft is Russian Air Force’s premiere spyplane.

Russian Il-20s regularly perform long-range reconnaissance missions in the Baltic region, flying in international airspace with its transponder turned off; a standard practice for almost all ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft. However, at least twice in the last couple of years Russian Coot spyplanes flying close to civilian airports or congested airways were involved in “air proximity” incidents: in March 2014, a SAS Boeing 737 with 132 people almost collided with an Il-20 Coot, about 50 miles to the southwest of Malmö, Sweden; in December 2014, a Canadair CRJ-200 from Cimber Airlines was involved in a near collision with an Il-20 halfway between Ystad, Sweden and Sassnitz, Germany.

In Syria, the aircraft will probably perform intelligence gathering missions, eavesdropping into IS militants communications, detecting their systems’ emissions to build an Electronic Order of Battle of ISIS in the region,  and pinpointing their positions. And, as happened in northern Europe, unless their missions are coordinated, there is the risk of a close encounter with a US-led coalition aircraft involved in Operation Inherent Resolve.

As a side note, there is also a video coming from Syria showing what seems to be an Il-22 Coot-B flying at high altitude: this is an Airborne Command Post derivative of the Coot. Its presence in Syria has yet to be confirmed.

Image credit: FAF

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. This aircraft will also be able to monitor and gather intelligence about the U.S.-led coalition and, since these are war-like conditions, that intelligence may be more valuable that anything it might gather in the Baltic. Hence Russia seeing it as of more value in the Middle East.

  2. Don’t forget to consider that the COOT will also build a Coalition EOB while gathering COMINT of those operations. It would be equally prudent to believe that a Hebrew linguist is on board as well.

  3. “detecting their systems’ emissions to build an Electronic Order of Battle of ISIS in the region”. IS’ best systems are some commercially available smartphones, a bunch of old radios transmitting on open frequencies, possibly some walkie talkies normally used by kids… their best tactical communication network on the battlefield is made of some of their fanatics riding a motorcycle, if not a bicycle… day to day commands are announced at local mosque and finally a bunch of fanatics posting youtube propaganda. An Il-20 is not going to do much there.

    That’s the biggest issue with asymmetric warfare. The advanced parties, simply do not have the ability to par with the obsolete adversary.. and they don’t even understand that, hence they LOOOOOSE.

  4. I share your point of view.

    I’d like to add that the circumstances, although still unpredictable a week ago, showed the Russians deploy in an orderly, open, and quite impressive fashion nearly 30 combat planes plus choppers and armor, in an allied country of theirs, this just a few weeks after the USAF made the buzz with the Raptor package in Germany and eastern Europe.

    So, although the one-day delay deployment of the F22 in Europe was a big first time, I’m more impressed by the Russian on this one. Let’s face it, they made here a clean strategic deployment, and may I say NATO-like.

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