Tag Archives: Syria

Let’s Recap Everything We Know About The Russian Il-20M Shot Down By A Syrian S-200 Missile System Yesterday

The Il-20M was shot down off Syria shortly after an Israeli air strike had hit targets in the Latakia Province.

Written with The Aviationist’s editor David Cenciotti

In the hours following the downing of a Russian military Il-20M “Coot-A” surveillance and control aircraft off the Syrian coast with 15 personnel on board, the leaders of Israel and Russia have expressed regret over the incident.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to express regret for the incident and emphasized that Syria was to blame for the loss of the aircraft and crew.

Russian President Putin was reported as saying the incident was, “A chain of tragic accidental circumstances” in quotes published by the BBC World News and other news outlets.

As the circumstances become clearer about how the large, four-engine turboprop Russian Il-20M “Coot-A” surveillance aircraft was lost previous theories have been debunked. It now appears certain the incident was a result of Syrian anti-aircraft batteries attempting to engage four Israeli F-16s that were striking targets in the region at the time. The Syrian S-200 surface to air missiles accidentally hit the larger, slower Russian Il-20M surveillance plane instead of any of the attacking Israeli F-16s (and possible escorting aircraft).

Early theories about who may be responsible for the destruction of the Russian aircraft included anti-aircraft missiles from the French missile frigate Auvergne off the Syrian coast and even the possible involvement of Israeli F-35I Adir aircraft or the four Israeli F-16s directly involved in the strike over Syria at the time the Russian Il-20M was lost. All of these theories have been dismissed as false.

But even with official acknowledgement of the circumstances leading up to the incident, which appears to be “fratricide” or a tragic “friendly fire” incident between allies, questions still remain. Columnist Joe Trevithick of “The War Zone” wrote after the incident, “Israel has used a deconfliction hotline in the past to alert Russia of impending strikes in Syria. The Israeli Air Force says it did give the Kremlin advance notice in this case, as well, but did not say how much time elapsed between that notification and the first missiles hitting various targets in Latakia.”

Trevithick’s observation has merit. Suggestions that the four attacking Israeli F-16s were using the large, slow Il-20 as a “shield” during the attack as suggested by the Russian MoD also seems tactically implausible to some, although deconfliction over a crowded target area is a problem in aerial combat that dates back to WWI, as is the corresponding threat of fratricide from anti-aircraft fire.

Suggestions have surfaced on social media, including Facebook pages originating in Russia, that the Russian Il-20M “Coot-A” was, “Landing in the Syria defense zone, all of the radar systems were turned off. Israeli planes took advantage of this situation and under cover [of the Russian Il-20M] struck positions of the Syrians. The S-200 air defenses of the Syria struck our plane by mistake.” Others have pointed out that the IFF used by the Russian aircraft should have prevented the “blue on blue” accident.

However, there have been previous episodes of friendly fire, including a famous accident that saw a RAF Tornado shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile in Iraq on Mar 22, 2003. Back then the UK MoD pointed to a “system error” as the cause, linked to failure of the aircraft’s “identification friend or foe” (IFF) system against a backdrop of of “inexperienced US troops, heavily reliant on technology to make decisions”.

Indeed, the IFF is not always reliable and the safety of friendly aircraft is also ensured by coordination, use of “Transit Corridors”, etc.

And EW (Electronic Warfare) support, decoys etc. that have proved to be extremely effective in the past, can have played a role:

Indeed, on Sept. 6, 2007, ten F-15I and F-16 jets attacked a nuclear facility being built in Syria. The success of that mission, dubbed “Silent Tone” (previously unofficially named “Operation Orchard” by international media), was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems from some ELINT aircraft.

Anyway, other contributing factors to the “friendly fire” that brought down the Il-20M may have been defective equipment as well as lack of training/expertise, even though we must also remember that, in June 2012, a Syrian anti-aircraft artillery battery was able to down a Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantom that had violated the Syrian airspace at low altitude over the Mediterranean Sea, thus proving that Damascus’s air defense were (at that time) somehow dreadful for enemy fighter jets.

Photos appeared on Twitter today showing the alleged target of the Israeli F-16 strikes. Originally appearing from the Twitter user @aldin_ww and then shared on the unofficial Russian Aerospace Facebook fan page ВКС РОССИИ, the photo from before the strike showed a large, apparently single story building that appeared to be a warehouse. The photo posted that was claimed to be after the strike showed a similar building destroyed. No claim of the authenticity of the photos has been made by Israeli sources.

Official Israeli sources on Twitter released a series of tweets explaining their version of events surrounding the incident. Included in the Twitter statements from @IDFSpokesperson was the tweet that, “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and confirm the facts in this inquiry.” Further posts on social media claimed that Israel had offered to send the “commander of the Israeli Air Force” to Russia to provide information about the Israeli actions surrounding the incident.

From the tactical point of view, the most interesting IDF statement claimed that the F-16s were already in Israeli airspace when the Il-20 was engaged by the Syrian S-200: a version that contradicts the official Russian MoD stance that the Israeli aircraft used the spyplane as a cover.

So, what has really happened on Sept. 18?

Based on the details available to date, it quite likely that the Syrian S-200 battery, facing multiple target, some real ones and other fake ones possibly generated by decoys and EW activity shot at anything within range. Panic and stress on the Syrian side may have contributed.

As Popular Mechanics remembers, misidentification by air defenses operated by Russian-backed forces led to the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight about 50NM to the northwest of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17, 2014. On Jul. 3, 1988, an Airbus A-300 (registration EP-IBU) operating as Iran Air Flight 655 from Tehran Bandar Abbas to Dubai was shot down by two ground-to-air missiles fired by the USS Vincennes, a Ticonderoga-class warship that was cruising in the Persian Gulf waters that misidentified the airliner as an Iranian F-14.

As the news cycle and social media conversation surrounding the incident continue it would appear that there will be no military response from Russia toward any nation. Russian social media has begun to show posts expressing remorse for the loss of the 15-member crew on board the Ilyushin Il-20M Coot. Names of the crew have not yet been seen on social media.

Top image credit: Dmitry Terekhov/Wiki

Russia Reports Il-20M “Coot-A” Electronic Intelligence Aircraft Lost in Syria During Israeli Air Strike Near Latakia

Confusion surrounds the causes of the loss. U.S. military says they believe the aircraft was shot down by Syrian Air Defense. Russians mention the proximity of Israeli F-16 Jets and French frigate in the area at the time of the incident.

A Russian military Ilyushin Il-20M Coot-A spyplane has been reported as “down” at approximately 2300 local time (2000 GMT) on Monday Sept. 17, in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian coast. There were 14 crewmembers on board the aircraft according to multiple reports.

Russian government media outlet TASS posted that, “On September 17, at about 11:00 Moscow time, the connection with the crew of the Russian Il-20 aircraft was lost over the Mediterranean Sea when the plane was returning to the airbase of Khmeimim, 35 kilometers from the coast of Syria.”

The report in Russian media released early September 18 in U.S. time zones, went on to say, “The ministry specified that the mark of Il-20 went off the radars disappeared during the attack of four Israeli F-16 aircraft on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia.”

In the United States, media outlet CNN immediately attributed the loss of the Russian surveillance and control aircraft to the Syrians, reporting that, “A Russian maritime patrol aircraft with multiple personnel on board was inadvertently shot down by Syrian regime anti-aircraft artillery on Monday after the Syrians came under attack by Israeli missiles, according to a US official with knowledge of the incident.”

The incident happened during an Israeli air strike in Syria being conducted by four F-16s according to CNN and other media outlets. The alleged Israeli strikes were reported to have hit multiple targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

Photos that appear to show anti-aircraft missiles being launched appeared on Twitter and in Arab media. (Photo: Via Twitter)

The Russians media outlets mentioned the proximity of four Israeli F-16s involved in an air strike on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia, western Syria, when the Il-20 disappeared. No other reports have attributed the loss of the Russian Il-20 to the Israeli Air Force or the four Israeli F-16s reported to be operating in the area at the time. A report in Israeli media outlet Haaretz said only, “Unusual strikes attributed to Israel by Arab media: Missiles hit area near Russian military base injuring 10; Syrian military source says some [missiles] were intercepted.” The Israeli media went on to report that, “The attack near Latakia is especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.”

A conflicting war of words has emerged on Twitter about the incident. (Photo: Via Twitter)

Israeli media has said the missing Russian aircraft was “35 kilometers (20 miles) from the Syrian coastline” but attributed their report back to Russian sources. One Israeli press report also mentioned the proximity of the French missile frigate Auvergne to the area.

The Russian Defense Ministry was also quoted as releasing that, “At the same time, the Russian radars fixed missile launches from the French frigate Auvergne, which was in that area”

This is the fifth Russian aircraft reported lost in operations near Syria in 2018. A total of 58 personnel have been lost in Russian aircraft over Syria so far this year.

Dealing with the aircraft, this is how The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti described the Il-20 when it first appeared in the Syrian theater of operations in 2015:

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.

Update Sept. 18, 09.00 GMT

According to the Russian MoD the Il-20M was shot down by Syrian S-200 battery after the Israeli Air Force F-16s used the spyplane as cover. It claims IAF jets dropped GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) to attack their targets. The wreckage of the downed aircraft was reportedly located about 30 km west of Banias, Syria.

Picture of airspace over the eastern Med Sea and Syria in the night of Sept. 17, released by the Russian MoD after the downing of the Il-20M.

Update Sept. 18, 12.00 GMT

Here’s the official Israeli stance on the entire episode. According to the IDF spokesperson, the F-16s were already in Israeli airspace when the Il-20 was shot down, anyway, “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian Government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

Top image: FAF via Wiki

Israeli Combat Aircraft Which Participated In The Attack On The Syrian Nuclear Reactor in 2007 Given New Mission Marking

Syrian Reactor Mission Markings for the jets involved in the raid.

On Sept. 6, 2007 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed the nuclear reactor in Dier ez-Zor, Syria as part of an operation named “Silent Tone” (previously unofficially named “Operation Orchard” by international media).

For more than 10 years, Israel never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility in eastern Syria, even though some details about the clandestine mission leaked throughout the years. Then, on Mar. 21, 2018, the Israeli Air Force published a detailed report on its website providing official confirmation along with some details: the raid was carried out by Israeli Air Force (IAF) 69 Squadron F-15I “Ra’am” (Thunder) and 119 and 253 Squadron F-16I “Sufa” (Storm) jets and an ELINT aircraft: as many as eight aircraft participated and at least four of these crossed into Syrian airspace. The reactor was destroyed as planned shortly before being officially rendered active.

“If the nuclear reactor would have been established successfully, Israel could have shared a border with an enemy state which has nuclear capabilities,” Brig. Gen. A. who took part in the raid flying a Sufa, said in an official release. “Beyond that, the IAF’s operational activity against the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the Iranian military establishment may have been limited by the looming nuclear threat. In addition, the activity in Syria over the past years may have turned out different if it had nuclear capabilities, seeing as they might have landed in the wrong hands. The operation is of indubitable historical importance to both the state of Israel and our neighboring countries”.

On Sept. 6, 2018, 11 years after the successful raid, during a ceremony held at the Israeli Ramon and Hatzerim airbases in parallel – the attacking F-15I aircraft from the 69th (“Hammers”) Squadron and F-16I aircraft from the 253rd (“Negev”) Squadron were given special mission markings that commemorate Operation “Silent Tone”. An additional ceremony will be held on September 14th, at the 119th (“Bat”) Squadron, which operates “Sufa” aircraft as well.

The mission marking being applied to a Sufa. (IAF Spokeperson).

The aircraft were given a decal bearing the operation’s symbol: a triangle, which symbolizes a strike sortie, colored in the Syrian flag’s colors (red, black and white in the background with two green stars), and at its center, a radiation hazard symbol symbolizing the nuclear reactor.

According to the IAF website, the mission markings were imprinted by representatives who participated in the attack, representatives of the technical departments who assisted in the attack and the squadron commanders, Lt. Col. G’ and Lt. Col. R’.

The mission marking (Ranann Weiss via IAF)

According to the book “The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War” written by Donald McCarthy, the ELINT aircraft that is believed to have supported the raid was a Gulfstream G550 aircraft equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system by means of that the IAF took over Syria’s air defense systems, feeding them a false sky-picture.

Indeed, the success of the secretive air strike was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind. As we have often reported here at The Aviationist, many sources believe that Operation “Silent Tone” also saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems. Still, since it was not mentioned in the official release, it’s safe to assume the G550 won’t get any mission marking.

Top image: IAF

Here’s An Interesting Video Showing Some Of The Russian Aircraft Deployed To Syria For the Major Naval Exercise In the Med Sea

Tu-142, Su-30SM, Il-78 and Il-20 are taking part in the large-scale drills in the Mediterranean Sea.

An interesting video released by Zvezda shows most of the aircraft taking part in the drills in the Mediterranean sea the Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week in a move Moscow said was justified by a failure to deal with rebels opposed to Syrian President Assad in Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria.

As a Russian-backed offensive on Idlib looms, the Russians have amassed a naval armada in the eastern Mediterranean Sea made of 26 warships (including 2 subs) and 34 aircraft. The air contingent involved in the drills include the Russian Air Force Tu-160 strategic bombers, the Russian Navy Tu-142 Bear-F long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft (two of those were reportedly deployed to Syria a few days ago) and various Flanker variants, including the Su-30SM.

The clip shows some armed Russian Navy Su-30SM taking off from Khmeimim Air Base along with Il-78 Midas and an Il-20 Coot spyplane. Then the Flanker-derivative 4++ Gen aircraft can be seen escorting a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber, with the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom.

You can count seven Su-30SMs and four Il-78 on the ground at the beginning of the video.

Noteworthy, the footage also shows the Su-30SMs refuel from the Il-78 tankers: according to the Sputnik media outlets, Su-30 pilots of the Russian Navy’s fleet air have only recently practiced air-to-air refueling for the first time. That’s why you won’t find many videos online showing the type during AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations, including from inside the cockpit.

Israeli Patriot Missiles Down Unidentified Syrian Sukhoi in Border Incursion

Missile Interception Continues Escalation of Tensions Between Israel and Syria.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reports that Israeli Patriot missile batteries have engaged and downed an unspecified Syrian Air Force Sukhoi attack aircraft. The incident happened on Tuesday Jul. 24 afternoon local time in Israel at the northeastern border with Syria near the Israeli town of Safed.

Reports indicate the Patriot missile battery that downed the Syrian aircraft was inside Safed, Israel, but that the aircraft actually crashed within Syrian borders. The Syrian media has confirmed that one of their aircraft has crashed but maintains it was operating within Syrian airspace. Safed, Israel is only 43 miles from Daraa, Syria across a disputed border territory.

At this hour, it remains unclear if the aircraft downed was a Syrian Su-22 (NATO reporting name “Fitter”) or a Syrian Su-24 (NATO reporting name “Fencer”) according to the IDF. Syria has not specified the type of aircraft lost yet. Both of the aircraft use variable geometry swept wings or “swing wings” and are large ground attack aircraft difficult for laymen to differentiate visually from the ground, even though the nose of the aircraft are distinctly different.

Confused media reports are suggesting different aircraft as being involved in Tuesday’s incident. (Photo: Google)

Syria has lost Su-24s to Israeli air defense systems before. An Israeli MIM-104D Patriot missile battery engaged and downed a Syrian Su-24 on September 23, 2014 near Quneitra, Syria, after the aircraft strayed only 800 meters into Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. That aircraft also crashed inside Syrian airspace after both crew members successfully ejected. Quneitra is considered Syrian territory by many, but was lost to the Israelis in the a succession of border conflicts and remains disputed although claimed by Syria.

Earlier this year on March 18, 2018, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported that a Syrian Su-24 had been shot down by Syrian Jaysh Tahrir al-Sham rebels over the Eastern Qalamoon mountains in Syria.

A Syrian Air Force Su-24M2 may have been the aircraft involved in Tuesday’s shoot-down, but this is unconfirmed. (Photo: Syrian AF via Southfront)

Israeli Defense Forces have reported an increase in Syrian air activity in this border region throughout the morning according to official Israeli sources.
“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The Times of Israel quoted Israel’s former Military Intelligence Director Amos Yadlin as saying, “Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace without the appropriate authorization. Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down.”

Top image: Smoke trails from the launch of Israeli Patriot missiles seen on July 24, 2018 where Syrian aircraft was downed and Patriot missile battery (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90 and IDF)