Category Archives: Syria

Russian Antonov An-26 Transport Crashes in Syria. 32 Reported Dead.

The Russian MoD has confirmed the crash. 26 passengers and 6 crew member killed in the accident.

A Russian Antonov An-26 (NATO reporting name “Curl”) is reported to have crashed near Hmeymim Air Base in Syria. News agencies report 32 fatalities. The BBC World News said the aircraft was carrying 26 passengers and 6 crew members when it went down.

Russian news agency TASS reported that, “Around 15:00 (Moscow time), a Russian An-26 transport aircraft has crashed while coming in for landing at the Hmeymim airbase.” TASS indicated this statement was issued by Russian Defense Ministry.

The Antonov An-26 is a twin-engine, high-wing turboprop utility transport aircraft that first flew in 1969. Since then, nearly 1,500 have been built by Russian aircraft company Antonov. In the nearly half-century since the aircraft has been flying it has established a somehow good record for dependability and the ability to operate from undeveloped, rough field airstrips.

While no cause was observed according to immediate reports, the TASS agency news report was updated minutes after it appeared to read, “The defense ministry is investigating the crash, but preliminary data suggests it could be a technical malfunction.”

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.

Top image credit: Fedor Leukhin /Wiki

The Last MiG-25 Foxbats of the Syrian Arab Air Force

After Years of Attrition, Does Syria Still Have Any Effective Foxbats?

Since it first appeared in grainy black and white spy photos in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 (NATO reporting name “Foxbat”) has been an enigma.

The big, boxy Foxbat was initially thought to be a new generation of dogfight-capable air superiority fighter that sparked the development of the U.S. F-15 Eagle. After Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko defected to Japan with one in September of 1976 western analysts learned the MiG-25 was actually a high-speed, high altitude point interceptor designed in response to the development of the canceled U.S. XB-70 Valkyrie. The Foxbat was not a new generation of super maneuverable dogfighter. They also learned the big, bulky Foxbat was not that advanced after all, relying on workmanlike construction, gigantic engines and a relatively simple, massive radar for its intercept capabilities.

But mystery still follows the Foxbat, at least in some services, even if its relevance as a viable combat aircraft has faded.

After the remarkable series of incidents on February 10, 2018, when Israeli aircraft first downed an Iranian UAV then launched a series of airstrikes into Syria in response (It’s complicated), Israel lost an F-16l Sufa, to Syrian SAMs. This incident, one of repeated Israeli incursion into Syrian air space, is combined with the regular activity of U.S. combat aircraft in the region along with delicately simultaneous operation of Russian combat planes in the region. Needless to say, the air space over Syria is extremely dynamic and complex lately.

Enter the mystery Syrian Foxbat(s).

A story appearing in the Russian language weekly news publication “Vestnik” on February 10, 2018, claimed that, “In the course of repelling Israeli air raids, the Syrians used virtually their entire air defense arsenal, including the legendary MiG-25PD interceptors.”  We can’t verify the involvement  of one of the remaining MiG-25s in the air raids though. The publication ran photos of what appears to be two different MiG-25 Foxbats, versions unspecified.

One of the aircraft is viewed from the front with an anonymous (presumably Syrian) man wearing a uniform in front of it. There is no date associated with the photo. The MiG-25 in this photo features a darker nose radome and carries what appears to be a pair of menacing looking AA-6 or R-40 Vympel (NATO reporting name “Acrid”) air-to-air missiles. However, the image dates back to a period preceding the civil war.

This Syrian MiG-25 Foxbat photo from the February 10, 2018 Russian news article shows a missile equipped aircraft with an open cockpit. The photo dates back to several years ago though. (Photo: Vestnik)

The AA-6 is the largest air-to-air missile ever fielded. Introduced in late 1959-early 1960, the missile was designed to complement the mission of the MiG-25, shooting down very large, very fast strategic bombers at very high altitude. It is not an agile dog fighting missile, but a long-range interceptor that locates and guides on its target with a massive and easily detected radar. The missiles are enormous, fully 20.5 feet long and weigh a staggering half-ton each. It doesn’t take much analysis to wonder how effective a giant air-to-air missile like the AA-6 would be against agile, recent generation Israeli combat aircraft, especially since the AA-6 was conceived in 1959 to shoot down a Mach 3 high altitude strategic bomber that never entered service.

That said, there are suggestions that the MiG-25 Foxbat/AA-6 combination can be lethal, or at least was lethal some decades ago. Journalist Tom Cooper reported that, “On February 13, 1981, Israeli F-15s ambushed a pair of Syrian MiG-25Ps and shot one down. In revenge, so the story goes, the Syrians set up an ambush on June 29, 1981. The Syrian MiG-25Ps destroyed one F-15 using two R-40/AA-6 Acrid air-to-air missiles fired from the range of 25 miles.” It is a noteworthy claim since some western sources boast that no F-15 Eagle has ever been lost in air-to-air combat.

Cooper, who filed his report in War Is Boring, went on to write, “There are problems with this [February 13, 1981] story. Neither the Syrians nor the Russians have ever provided any evidence, such as radar tapes or wreckage. Another issue is that the Syrian air force never actually received any MiG-25Ps. Syria acquired several batches of Foxbats, including two of MiG-25PDS interceptors, but no MiG-25Ps. While frequently described as a downgraded export variant of the Foxbat, the MiG-25PDS was actually much better-equipped than the early interceptor variant was. In addition to the powerful Smerch 2A radar of the MiG-25P, it had an infrared search-and-track system under the forward fuselage, radar warning receivers in blisters on the intakes and big chaff and flare dispensers in place of the wing fences. Any source citing ‘Syrian MiG-25Ps’ is of dubious quality.”

In the 1991 Gulf War the MiG-25 performed better, at least in Iraqi Air Force service. On the very first night of the air war over Iraq a pair of F/A-18Cs from VFA-81, the “Sunliners”, flying off of the USS Saratoga were attacked from beyond visual range by a pair of MiG-25PD Foxbats from the Iraqi 96th Fighter Squadron. Iraqi Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Zuhair Dawood downed one of the U.S. Navy F/A-18Cs using an R-40 missile according to a declassified report from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It had previously been reported that the F/A-18C, piloted by Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher, was shot down by ground fire.

A second photo of what appears to be a different MiG-25 also appears in the Vestnik article from February 10, 2018. This second Foxbat has a different nose and radome section and no missile pylons on the wings. This could be a reconnaissance variant of the MiG-25. Still, the photograph is not recent: you can find it online since 2015 although it’s not known when it was taken.

This Syrian MiG-25 from the February 10, 2018 article could be configured for reconnaissance instead of the interceptor role. Note the lack of missile pylons and different nose configuration. It’s not clear when this photo was taken. (Photo: Vestnik)

Beyond these two examples of MiG-25s it is difficult to tell if Syria has any other airworthy Foxbat interceptors.

Satellite imagery from sources like Google Earth and SpaceKnow Analytics, a private satellite imagery intelligence provider, show a large number of MiG-25s sitting around the T4/Tiyas Military Airbase in Homs, Syria just west of Palmyra as recently as May 2016 when ISIS forces attacked the base. Many of the aircraft appear to be parked on non-paved surfaces. Photos posted on the Internet during the last decade show some of the aircraft, covered in dust and sitting on sand. Only a few of the MiG-25s, six by our count on the most recent satellite photo we could find, appear to be sitting on tarmac. This commercial satellite imagery is certainly dated, well over a year old. If you care to, you can arrange for more recent satellite imagery through SpaceKnow Analytics, a pass over the Tiyas Military Airbase and the comparative before/after imagery will set you back about $1,260.00 USD per square kilometer according to the company’s website.

Older, open source satellite images show some of the Syrian MiG-25s at Tiyas Military Air Base in Homs, Syria. (Photo: Google Earth)

A less expensive and more recent alternative public resource for intelligence about the mystery MiGs of the Syrian Air Force is, Flight International World Air Forces reference for 2017. This private intelligence resource lists only 2 MiG-25s in current Syrian Air Force service, likely the two that appear in the photos from the Russian media outlet, Vestnik, in the February 10, 2018 article.

While we cannot be entirely certain that Syria is down to its last two MiG-25 Foxbats, and that it may be possible that only one is an interceptor version, there is little other open source intelligence to suggest there are any more MiG-25s in serviceable condition. Perhaps the best conclusion to make is that both Israel and the U.S. know exactly how many of the boxy Foxbats are still flyable for Syria, and what kind of a threat they may pose.

Twitter images of two Syrian MiG-25 Foxbats from November, 2016 show some pretty dusty examples parked on rough ground. (Photo: WithinSyria via Twitter)

One thing for sure, the rare Syrian Foxbats are like the last white rhinos to a big game poacher. You can bet that if the Syrians cross sabers in the air again with either the Israelis or the Americans, those pilots will do their best to add a Syrian MiG-25 kill mark to the nose of their aircraft.

Top image: one of the mysterious Syrian MiG-25 Foxbat photos seen in a February 10, 2018 Russian news article. The photo first appeared online in 2015 but may date back to several years earlier. (Photo: Vestnik)

Looks Like Russia Has Just Deployed Two Of Its Brand New Su-57 Stealth Jets To Syria

Quite surprisingly, Russia sent two of its Su-57 stealth jets to Syria. So, once again, Moscow will use the Syrian Air War as a test bed for its most advanced “hardware”. But the deployment is both an opportunity and a risk.

Late on Feb. 21, a photo showing two Russian Su-57 jets allegedly landing at Khemimim air base, near Latakia, in northwestern Syria, circulated on Twitter. The two stealth combat aircraft were reportedly part of a larger package of assets deployed to the Russian airbase in Syria, that included also four Su-35S and one A-50U AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft.

Interestingly, the aircraft appeared to be in “clean” configuration, that is to say they didn’t carry the large fuel tanks used for ferry flights last year.

Although the deployment of two Russian 5th generation aircraft (that has not been officially confirmed yet) came somehow unexpected, it must be noted that it’s not the first time that Moscow deployed some of its advanced “hardware” to Syria. For instance, on Sept. 13, 2017, the Russian Air Force deployed some of its MiG-29SMT multirole combat aircraft to Khemimim airbase for the first time. Previously, in February 2016, it was the turn of the still-in-development Tu-214R spyplane to exploit the air war in Syria to test its sensor packages.

As reported several times commenting the above mentioned deployments, Russia has used the Syrian Air War to showcase and test its latest weapons systems. However, most analysts agree that the deployment of the Su-57 is probably mostly meant to send a strong message about air superiority over Syria, where Russian and American planes have almost clashed quite a few times recently (with conflicting reports of the incidents).

Deploying two new stealth jet in theater is a pretty smart move for diplomatic and marketing purposes: as already explained questions continue to surround the Su-57 program as a consequence of delays, engine problems and subsequent difficult export (last year the Indian Air Force reportedly demanded an end to the joint Indo-Russian stealth fighter project). Albeit rather symbolic, the deployment of a combat aircraft (still under development) is obviously also a huge risk.

First, there’s a risk of being hit (on the ground or during a mission: the attack on Latakia airbase or the recent downing of a Su-25 are just reminders of what may happen over there) and second, there’s a risk of leaking intelligence data to the enemy.

This is what we explained in a recent article about the reasons why U.S. and Russia are shadow-boxing over Syria:

USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”. This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

In fact, even though it’s safe to assume that the stealth prototype will not use their radar and that the Russians will escort the Su-57s with Su-30/35 Flanker derivatives during their trips over Syria in order to prevent the U.S. spyplanes from being able to “characterize” the Su-57’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done by the Russians with the U.S. F-22s, it’s safe to assume the U.S. and NATO will put in place a significant effort to gather any little detail about the performance and operational capabilities of the new Russian stealth jet.

By the way, before you ask, the risk of confrontation with their U.S. stealth counterparts has not been mentioned, since it seems quite unlikely at the moment..

Top image credit: Aleksandr Markin – T-50 (51), CC BY-SA 2.0

EQ-4 Global Hawk Drone Deployed to UAE with a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node Payload Reaches 20K Flight Hours

One of the RQ-4B Global Hawk drone converted into EQ-4 has logged 20,000 flight hours operating as a “flying gateway” for other aircraft involved in the air war on ISIS.

On Feb. 13, one of the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones reached 20,000 flight hours. The UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is one of the three RQ-4Bs converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors: it’s primarily a data and communications bridging node that supports multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. The crews who operate these particular flying gateways call them: “Wi-fi in the sky.”

“This milestone was the original lifespan of the aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Pipes, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Superintendent deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, in a public release. “It’s exciting to see where this technology and this aircraft can take off too and how it can help those who are downrange.”

The aircraft (based on the photo the example “A2019”, an RQ-4 Block 20 converted into EQ-4), reached this milestone at its deployment base of Al Dhafra, UAE, from where the Global Hawks equipped with a Battlefield Communications Airfield Node payload are regularly launched for missions that can last 24 hours, or more. For instance, the very same aircraft surpassed the 10,000 flying hours in March 2015 during a 30.5-hour mission.

“From being a manned aircraft pilot, getting 12-hours in the air was a long day…you needed a day or so to recover before going up on your next mission,” said Major Manuel Ochoa, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk pilot from the 99th Air Expeditionary Recon Squadron stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. “When it comes to this plane, you can cycle pilots without having to land and that is a great benefit.”

Missions flown by the BACN platforms are extremely important. As explained several times here at The Aviationist, BACN is a technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to transfer information and communicate.

The U.S. military uses various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together.  For example, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange target information with a U.S. Navy F/A-18.  However, the F/A-18 could not exchange information with a USAF B-52 or B-1 bomber.  The advanced F-22 can connect with other Raptors via datalink but can only receive over the standard, legacy Link-16 datalink used by most allied aircraft.

This lack of compatibility between different platforms is a major obstacle in all those theaters where air assets from many services are called upon to provide support for ground troops of different nations.  Additionally, the complicated joint operations required to engage a modern integrated air defense system are greatly simplified by exchanging target information via datalinks.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4s, all assigned to 380th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Al Dhafra Air Base to support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve).

An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours Feb. 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)


The BACN system is also used to link ground troops and Forward Air Controllers (FACs)/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment.  For instance, in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead.  Moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal in a combat situation.

E-11A aircraft (Bombardier Global 6000 advanced ultra long-range business jets that have been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload) with 430th Expeditionary Electronic Squadron deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan have been involved in this kind of missions (some of those trackable on the Internet as highlighted several times) since they arrived in theater for the first time 9 years ago.

By orbiting at high-altitude for long times, BACN equipped air assets can provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky.  For example, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from a battle area while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces FAC on the ground.  The A-10 pilot could wait until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that the original story refers to BACN as “Battlefield Communication Airfield Node”.

This Video Shows U.S. MQ-9 Reaper Drone Destroying a Russian-made T-72 Tank in Syria

The U.S. Air Force Central Command has released the video of a T-72 tank destroyed by a drone in Syria.

The following video shows a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone destroying a Russian-made T-72 main battle tank in Syria in what U.S. officials have defined a “defensive strike against pro-Syrian government forces”. The second one in less than a week.

According to Reuters the air strike took place near Al Tabiyeh, Syria, on Sunday. The U.S. military said the tank was destroyed after it moved within firing range of the U.S.-backed forces. Although the Pentagon said no U.S. or SDF forces were killed by the tank no detail about the type of weapon used in the strike – either a JDAM or Hellfire – has been provided.

The strike came few days after a major clash with pro-Assad forces and coalition forces overnight between Feb. 7 and 8 in Deir el-Zour Province: the U.S. launched significant air power to protect coalition advisors and Syrian Democratic Forces in a series of raids that may have left 100 or more of the pro-Syrian government personnel dead. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command said the U.S. forces on the ground called in coalition strikes for more than three hours, involving F-22 stealth aircraft, F-15Es as well as MQ-9 Reaper drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters.