Category Archives: Syria

Check Out This Cool Video Of Three B-2 Stealth Bombers Contrailing Over Kansas

The stunning sight of a B-2 Stealth Bomber 3-ship formation.

Filmed on Apr. 4, the video below shows three B-2s over Pittsburg, Kansas. The stealth bombers headed southwest then made a wide left turn and headed back northeast presumably back to Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

Although the Spirit bombers fly over Kansas quite often (3 to 5 times per month, according to our readers who live there), the formation with backlit contrails isn’t very common.

The result is quite stunning.

The B-2s are among the assets that might be involved after the very early stages of an attack on Syria, as happened in Libya or during Operation Allied Force in 1999, when the stealth bombers operated directly from Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

Interestingly, there’s been much speculations about what could be done to to spot an impending B-2 strike mission, for instance by watching tanker movements over the Atlantic. As I’ve already commented on Twitter, it’s really difficult, as the past operations taught: for instance, during the Libya Air War, the B-2 used a REACH callsign, usually allocated to tanker, transport and support aircraft, to remain invisible even to HF, VHF and UHF listeners who were able to listen to radio communications in the clear. This is I wrote back in 2011:

“This gives an idea of how the OPSEC problem was faced by the USAF: keeping in mind that aircraft spotters around the world, virtually interconnected by means of forums, websites, messageboards, Twitter, Facebook and any other social networking tool, are today capable of tracking aircraft movements even before aircraft depart their homebases with the various LiveATC.net, Flightradar24.com, ADS-B, etc., they decided to deceive them not using difficult and “suspect” zip-lip ops (no-radio) but masking aircraft callsigns.

The result was satisfactory as the strikes of the B-2s as well as the TLAM attack were almost unexpected in spite of the technology in the hands of the aircraft enthusiasts meaning that there are still ways to achieve strategical surprise, if needed…..”

Anyway, this video shows B-2’s continuous training over CONUS, operational activity aimed to prepare U.S. Air Force stealth bombers aircrews to strike targets all around the world.

Here’s Why The Claim That Two Israeli F-35 Stealth Jets Entered Iranian Airspace Does Not Make Any Sense

Two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, report says. Most probably, just fake news or PSYOPS.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an article, that is slowly spreading through the social media, about an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who talked to Al-Jarida, earlier this month, two Aidr stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

Here’s an excerpt (highlight mine):

“The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program. It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF.

The source added that the seven F-35 fighters in active service in the IAF have conducted a number of missions in Syria and on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He underlined that the fighter jets can travel from Israel to Iran twice without refueling.

There are many weird things.

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

And, above all, although the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

Although the IAF has a long history of pioneering new aircraft and use new weapons systems in real combat pretty soon, this has usually happened for quite complex and daring missions with a real stategic value. In this case, flying a couple of its few new F-35s for a “simple” reconnaissance mission over Iran would not be worth the risk. And what would be the purpose of carrying out this mission and leaking the news? A “show of force” for deterrence? Or to demostrate the world (and the regional opponents) the IAF’s ability to freely operate inside the Syrian and Iranian airspaces, especially after suffering the loss of an F-16I earlier this year?

Indeed, on Feb. 10, 2018, Israeli F-16 fighter jets entered Syrian airspace, striking 12 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was shot down over Israel by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. One F-16I Sufa crashed during the air strikes, after being targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses. Many sources suggested that the first loss of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions. This is true, even though rushing a new and somehow immature aircraft into combat has some inherent risks.

In his story about the F-35I IOC (Initial Operational Capability) at The War Zone, journalist Joseph Trevithik wrote:

With limited numbers of the jets on hand, the IAF will have to decide whether or not to make a statement or make sure the aircraft it does have are in reserve for contingencies that absolutely require their advanced capabilities, such as quelling a more imminent threat against Israel itself or attacking targets over-long range that are defended by an advanced integrated air defense assets.

I completely agree.

This is what I wrote here at The Aviationist about the F-35 Adir’s possible involvement in the air strikes on Syria, you can expand it to consider the even more dangerous scenario in Iran:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

There have been a series ofunconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.

Anyway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will update this post accordingly.

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 FlightGlobal.com, 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