These photos of everyday life at Hmeymim say a lot about the Russian Air Force operations in Syria

Dec 22 2015 - 17 Comments

These photos provide lots of details about the operations of the Russian Air Force contingent in Syria.

The Russian MoD has recently made available some really cool photographs showing ordinary day life at Hmeymim airfield, near Latakia, the headquarters of the Russian Air Force contingent in Syria.

By taking a look at the images we can gather interesting details about the jets and helicopters deployed to the airbase in northwestern Syria: payload, mission markings, insignia (or lack of thereof) etc.

The Mi-8AMTSH reportedly carry the “Rychag-AV” active jamming station.

Hip

The 16 Su-30SM Flanker-H multirole aircraft carry both R-27R/ER semi-active radar-guided air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and R-73 short-range AAMs as well as OFAB-250-270 HE unguided bombs.

Su-30SM taxi

Su-30SM crew

The Su-25SM, that started to fly with four B8M1 (S-8) rocket pods are now carrying also a B13L rocket pods to use with S-13 rockets from 5-tube launchers. The OFAB-250 iron bombs are also often carried by the Frogfoot attack planes (the 250 kg bombs are certainly Russia’s most used weapon by tactical planes in Syria) as the images prove. Interestingly, it seems that at least one of the 12 Su-25s (and a Su-34, not visible in the images in this post) deployed to Latakia still lacks the typical Red Star insignia.

Su-25 rockets

Su-25 dusk

Su-25 FABs

The 12 Su-34 Fullbacks carry KAB-500 TV guided bombs and FAB-500 dumb bombs and have been spotted carrying KAB-1500s as well as 4 ODAB-500PMV thermobaric bombs and electro-optical guided KAB-500KRs too. After carrying AAMs for self-protection in the aftermath of the Su-24 shootdown by a Turkish F-16, the Su-34s don’t seem to carry air-to-air missiles lately: the super-MEZ (missile engagement zone) Russia has created over Syria with the Moskva and the S-400 deployed to Latakia has made the Russian planes safe enough to fly without air-to-air missiles…

Su-34 OFAB

On the other side, they have started sporting red star silhouettes (most probably) to mark 10 air strikes: with 12 mission marks, the Su-34 “25 Red” has performed 120 raids (or more).

Su-34 kill markings

Su-34 aircrew

The about 30 Su-24s (it’s not clear whether the lost one was replaced or not), carry OFAB-250-270 HE fragmentation bombs.

Su-24 takeoff

Here below, an unarmed Su-24 (possibly returning from a raid):

Su-24 unarmed

OFABs

Image credit: Russian MoD

  • johngaltfla.com

    Nice story. It’s interesting to learn more about the new evolving Russian Air Force here. Thanks.

  • John Schaeffer

    Nice photos. That S-13 rocket pod looks absolutely huge next to the crew on the ground.

  • InvaderNat

    Cool photos, I like the mixture of weapons the Russians use. Something for every occasion, instead of just dropping (expensive) guided-missiles like candy.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    What’s with all the free fall bombs? Are the Russians just exhausting old munitions?

    • Michael Zverev

      Pretty much, too much old stock left with no use till this fall.

  • ODM

    Amazing photos! I was always disappointed by the lack of quality photographs of Soviet-era aircraft on the ground when I was younger.

  • Exo_Ferret

    nice photo and and beautiful aircraft..

  • Camille Ratel

    impréssionnant!!!! l’armada aérienne russe!!!!

  • Uniform223

    Pretty Cool pictures

  • Marco

    Small and
    quality-poor payloads compared to their paper payloads at least for the Su-24 since
    the beginning.

    Russian
    crews copying US ones in paining the jet with useless symbols/art: once upon a
    time, Soviet/ Russian jets looked more professional compared to the overly
    painted US jets. It was plain grey for interceptors or camo for strikers. Red star
    insignia and bort/serial number. No other BS.

    • Mark Jhorr

      They don’t need to carry large payloads, their base is very close. No need to loiter for targets of opportunity when they can get there double quick.

  • su34

    The combat mission marks (10 per red star) were used in WW2 (Great Patriotic War in russian parlance). Since then the practice has been revived in Khmeimim for the first time.
    Others were more perceptive, a long time ago: http://fortruss.blogspot.de/2015/11/russian-pilots-resurrect-wwii-practice.html
    BTW, nothing about the war in Yemen?

  • Daniel Martin

    and effectiveness of the Russian Air Force (well, technically they are now called AirSpace Forces or ASF so I will refer to them as RASF from now on) has the western military experts in shock. Not only are the number of sorties per day about 3 times as much as a US or NATO country could achieve, but the Russian airstrikes are amazingly accurate even though the Russians are flying at over 5000m above ground, well out of reach of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS). They are even flying at night and in bad weather. This is even more puzzling considering that most of the work, at least in quantitative terms, is done by old SU-24s (first deployed in 1974) and SU-25 (first deployed in 1981). In fact, most of the missions in Syria could have been executed by these to excellent but, frankly, ancient aircraft and the main reason for the presence of the brand new and extremely advanced SU-34 is to test out the airframe and its systems (and since the Turks shot down the SU-24, to provide credible air-to-air self defense capability where needed). So what is the deal here? How did the Russians achieve these apparently quasi-miraculous results?

    With something called the SVP-24.

    But first let me give you some background, a bombing 101 crash course of sorts.

    The original bombs of “WWII” technology were simple gravity bombs. Airplanes dropped them by roughly aiming through a basic targeting system and they fell more or less on target. For carpet bombing this was adequate and for precision bombing this was not ideal, but considering the slow speed or aircraft and their low altitude that was okay. However, with the increase in the speed of aircraft a one second delay in releasing a bomb could easily result in a miss by 600-800 meters, if not more. Furthermore, some reinforced targets needed a direct hit (command posts, bridges, etc.). Two main type of guided bombs were developed: laser-guided and TV guided.

    The laser guided bomb work very simply: the aircraft (or ground spotter) “paints” the target with a laser beam, and the bomb has some (limited) ability to glide towards that easily distinguishable spot of light. The TV guided bomb also operates in a simple manner: the weapons system officers centers the bomb’s TV camera on the target and glides the bomb towards it. As long as the bomb is within a specific “envelope” (speed, altitude, angle) the bomb will hit. Or not. Because even one small cloud puff can result in a major loss of accuracy which, again, with the speed at which these aircraft fly today can mean hundreds of meters (if that topic interests you, see this Wikipedia article).

    The advent of satellite guidance ushered a new era for guided weapons. For the first time it became possible to use GPS (or, for the Russians, GLONASS) satellite signals to guide a bomb to a target. Not only were these satellite guided bombs more accurate, they also did not depend on good weather conditions. Their main problem was that they were very expensive to manufacture. The other problem is that most weapons stores were full of thousands of cheap and old unguided bombs. What to do with them?

    The Americans came up with an elegant solution: the JDAM. The Joint Direct Attack Munition kit was a way to convert “dumb” (non-guided) bombs into “smart” (guided) bombs by attaching a special kit to them. You can read more about this in this Wikipedia article. This made it possible to use old bombs, but this was still not cheap, roughly 25’000 dollars a kit (according to Wikipedia).

    The Russians came up with a much better solution.

    Instead of mounting a kit on an old bomb and lose the kit every time, the Russians mounted a JDAM-like kit, but on the airplane.

    Introducing the SVP-24:

    SVP-24
    The SVP-24 system
    SVP stands for “специализированная вычислительная подсистема” or “special computing subsystem”. What this system does is that it constantly compares the position of the aircraft and the target (using the GLONASS satellite navigation system), it measures the environmental parameters (pressure, humidity, windspeed, speed, angle of attack, etc.). It can also receive additional information from datalinks from AWACs aircraft, ground stations, and other aircraft. The SVP-24 then computes an “envelope” (speed, altitude, course) inside which the dumb bombs are automatically released exactly at the precise moment when their unguided flight will bring them right over the target (with a 3-5m accuracy).

    In practical terms this means that every 30+ year old Russian “dumb” bomb can now be delivered by a 30+ year old Russian aircraft with the same precision as a brand new guided bomb delivered by a top of the line modern bomber.

    Not only that, but the pilot does not even have to worry about targeting anything. He just enters the target’s exact coordinates into his system, flies within a defined envelope and the bombs are automatically released for him. He can place his full attention on detecting any hostiles (aircraft, missiles, AA guns). And the best part of this all is that this system can be used in high altitude bombing runs, well over the 5000m altitude which MANPADs cannot reach. Finally, clouds, smoke, weather conditions or time of the day play no role in this whatsoever.

    Last, but not least, this is a very *cheap* solution. Russian can now use the huge stores of ‘dumb’ bombs they have accumulated during the Cold War, they can bring an infinite supply of such bombs to Syria and every one of them will strike with phenomenal accuracy. And since the SVP-24 is mounted on the aircraft and not the bomb, it can be reused as often as needed.

    The SVP-24 has now been confirmed to be mounted on the Russian SU-24s, SU-25s, Tu-22M3 “Backfires” and the Kamov Ka-50 and Ka-52 helicopters, the venerable MiG-27 and even the L-39 trainer. In other words, it can be deployed on practically *any* rotary or fixed wing aircraft, from big bombers to small trainers. I bet you the Mi-24s and Mi-35Ms deployed near Latakia also have them.

    Here are what the various parts of the SVP-24 system look like (photo from the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky):

    СВП-24 на МАКСе

    The SVP-24 proves, yet again, the good engineering, especially good military engineering does not have to be expensive or flashy. In practice the introduction of the SVP-24 in the RASF resulted in a net reduction in operating costs.

    In conclusion, I will note that things are not always rosy and perfect in the Russian military either. In fact, the company producing the SVP-24 had to sue the Russian Ministry of Defense for unpaid money and there was a great deal of opposition inside the MoD to the SVP-24 (probably due to the influence of corrupt competitors). Eventually all problems were resolved, the SVP-24 is being deployed in huge numbers, but it took a long and hard battle to get to this point. So, just like in the USA, corruption in the Russian military remains one of the worst enemies of the armed forces.

    • Ivan Lubenov

      “Not only are the number of sorties per day about 3 times as much as a US
      or NATO country could achieve, but the Russian airstrikes are amazingly
      accurate even though the Russians are flying at over 5000m above
      ground, well out of reach of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS).”

      I stopped reading after this sentence. If you are going to write a story make sure that you have your facts right first, or you will lose the reader, as you just did.

      You clearly don’t understand the US policy in the region, nor do you understand the politics involved in unleashing the full potential of the US military.

      Also, the Russians are using 70s and 80s technology because that is what they have. Their next gen aircraft are in their infancy at best. The SU34 is as outdated as the plane that it was suppose to replace. The US has been using, in combat, next gen aircraft since the first Gulf War, nearly 25 years now. Let that sink in!

      This is just the air force that we are talking about, so don’t even get me started on their NAVY, where they have to have a tug escort a number of their ships because they may brake down.

      But hey, what do I know…..

      • Mark Jhorr

        F-15s and 16’s first flew in the 70’s. SU-34 is by all estimation a pretty advance plane. But even if all your nonsense is correct, they fact is, they are still getting the job done WELL

    • Mark Jhorr

      We have been told how unreliable Russian planes are. Yet here they are, maintaining a relentless sortie rate, very low combat losses, extremely effective results. Hmmmmm AND they look magnificent, the Su-34 and the heavies are stunning machines.

  • Aivar Krisenko

    Andre, my memory is a little bit hazy my friend. You have to remind me who bombed the s..t out of that hospital in Afghanistan just a month ago, which was run by the Doctors without Borders. Were you also upset at Russia when it happened? Was it you playing with all those smart bombs? Happy holidays to you and all chumps out there! Keep up the good work.