Some interesting footage shows the Russians are not only launching air strikes from Iran…
On Aug. 19, at around 10:55LT in the morning, the Zeliony Dol and Serpukhov small-sized missile ships of the Black Sea Fleet, sailing in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, performed 3 launches of Kalibr cruise missiles against facilities of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist grouping in Syria.
According to the information released by the Russian MoD, the cruise missiles targeted a command center and a terrorist base near the Dar-Taaza inhabited area as well as a plant manufacturing mortar munitions and a large depot with armament, in the Aleppo province.
The data collected by the Russians “confirmed the elimination of the planned targets.”
The Russian Defence Ministry published some footage of the launches, of the destruction of their targets and the subsequent Battle Damage Assessment (filmed from a UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) on their Youtube channel.
Operating from Engels and Modzok airbases in southwestern Russia, the aircraft had to cover a distance close to 3,000 km. According to some sources, the aircraft were thus supported by several Il-78M aerial refuelers on their way to the targets and back: actually, it’s not clear whether the Backfire could be refueled since the retractable probe in the upper part of the nose was reportedly removed as a result of the SALT negotiations, but it can be reinstated if needed.
Under the newly signed agreement with Iran, Russian bombers will be able to cut their flight time by 60%, saving money and increasing the ops tempo: the current distance to Syria is roughly 900 km, meaning that more bombs can be loaded in the round-trip mission from Iran.
Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, that has been the headquarters of the Russian aircraft since October last year was unable to accommodate the large (34m wingspan) Russian supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic bombers.
After the first tour of duty in February 2016 the Tu-214R has returned to Latakia. To spy on Daesh (and also on the U.S. F-22s?)
The Tu-214R is the most modern Russian ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft.
Equipped with sensors to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions as well as with all-weather radar systems and electro-optical sensors that produce photo-like imagery of a large parts of the ground the special mission aircraft, the aircraft can fly multiple intelligence gathering missions: it can intercept and analyse signals emitted by targeted systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) while collecting imagery that can be used to identify and pinpoint the enemy forces, even if these are camouflaged or hidden.
Built by KAPO (Kazan Aircraft Production Association) and flown from the company’s airfield in Kazan, the Tu-214R registered RA-64514, serial number 42305014, the second of the two examples of this kind of aircraft built under contract with Russia’s Ministry of Defense (the other being serialled RA-64511), deployed to Latakia airbase in Syria, between Feb. 15 and 29, 2016.
Interestingly, RA-64514 has not finished with Syria yet: on Jul. 29, the aircraft flew from Moscow to Syria, where it landed at 3.23AM LT, as the Flightradar24.com ADS-B tracking show.
Tu-214R route. Screenshot from Flightradar24.com
The aircraft, that features the same types of external bulges of other very well-known intelligence gathering planes, as the U.S. RC-135 or the Israeli B-707 with the Phalcon system, along with minor differences with the first operative Tu-214R, RA-64511, serial number 42305011, will probably spy on Daesh while testing some of its onboard sensor packages: the aircraft is believed to be still under development and the Syrian battlefield has already been used as a real testbed for new weapons systems by the Russian Aerospace Forces since Moscow started the air war in Syria back in October 2015.
According to Matisek, these anti-aircraft systems could be “sniffing” the emissions of the F-22s and other NATO aircraft could be used to “[improve] tracking algorithms, air defense capabilities, and [enhance] the understanding of coalition weapons that are engaging in close air support and precision air strikes.”
Anyway, Syria aside, the spyplane has been pretty active in Europe as well: on Jul. 5, the aircraft flew an interesting mission along the borders of Finland, Estonia and Latvia, similarly to what happened on Jun. 18, 2015, when the aircraft flew from Kazan to Crimea and back, closely following the border between Russia and Ukraine (a mission profile that caused some concern back then).
As already explained, this kind of aircraft usually loiters/circles in a friendly or uncontested airspace at high altitude and at safe distance (but within range of the onboard sensors) from the target(s) of interest or along the border of the enemy country.
The Raptors of the latest Block can drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs on ISIS targets.
The Raptors deployed to Al Dhafra airbase, UAE, are the most up-to-date F-22As flown by the U.S. Air Force.
Assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the modernized Raptors made their debut in Operation Inherent Resolve, the air war on the Islamic State, in April, bringing expanded capabilities in the fight against Daesh.
“What our squadron is bringing to the fight now versus some of the previous squadrons, is we have the most up to date software and hardware loads that an F-22 can carry,” said Lt. Col. David, 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander in a recent Air Force release. “There is a huge advancement in the capabilities of the avionics, the radar system, the sensors and certain electronic features on board the aircraft.”
Although they are rarely requested to attack ground targets, the Alaskan Raptors can now drop 8 GBU-39 small diameter bombs while previously they were limited to carry two 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bay: with the latest upgrade they can be tasked for missions which require greater precision.
An initial air-to-surface capability, including that of dropping the GBU-39 (a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating, blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range, whose integration testing started in 2007) had been introduced with the software increment 3.1 back in 2012.
Even though the odds of using an advanced air-to-air missiles over Syria are pretty low, another important addition to the F-22’s payload is the latest generation AIM-9X (already integrated in most of US combat planes since 2003): on Mar. 1, 2016 the 90th Fighter Squadron (FS) officially became the first combat-operational Raptor unit to equip an F-22 with the AIM-9X Sidewinder.
Noteworthy, the AIM-9X will not be coupled to a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) as the F-22 is not equipped with such kind of helmet that provides the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery (the project to implement it was axed following 2013 budget cuts) but the Raptor will probably benefit of the AIM-9X Block II, that is expected to feature a Lock-on After Launch capability with a datalink, for Helmetless High Off-Boresight (HHOBS): the air-to-air missile will be launched first and then directed to its target afterwards even though it is behind the launching aircraft.
According to the Pentagon, U.S. and Russian combat planes have had some tense moments over Syria.
There have been several close encounters between Russian and U.S. and allied manned and unmanned aircraft over Syria since Moscow deployed a contingent of combat planes to Latakia, in northwestern Syria, at the end of September 2015.
According to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the Flanker-derivative 4++ Gen aircraft was providing air escort for a package of attack planes in Syria when it approached the American plane, to perform a VID (Visual Identification) even though some sources suggested it was the Russian aircraft to be intercepted by a U.S. plane.
Another “near clash” occurred last week, on Jun. 16.
Indeed, as reported by the CNN, U.S. F/A-18s were somehow close to engage Russian Sukhois (still not clear whether Su-34s or Su-24s as there are conflicting reports on the type of aircraft involved) that bombed U.S.-backed Syrian rebels near the Jordan border.
Here’s what happened according to Theodore Schleifer and Barbara Starr:
“The strikes, which the U.S. says killed some New Syrian Army troops, occurred about six miles from the Jordanian border, according to a U.S. defense official.
The U.S. diverted armed FA-18s to the area after the first round of two strikes, and the pilots then tried to call the Russians on a previously agreed-upon pilot-to-pilot communications channel but did not receive an answer.
As soon as the U.S. jets left the area to refuel, the Russians came back for another round of bombing, the defense official said.
“Russian aircraft conducted a series of airstrikes near al-Tanf against Syrian counter-ISIL forces that included individuals who have received U.S. support. Russian aircraft have not been active in this area of Southern Syria for some time, and there were no Syrian regime or Russian ground forces in the vicinity,” a senior defense official said. “Russia’s latest actions raise serious concern about Russian intentions. We will seek an explanation from Russia on why it took this action and assurances this will not happen again.”
The first two bombing runs by the Russians were carried out by two SU-24 Russian jets coming out of their base near Latakia. The jets dropped what is believed to be the equivalent of U.S. 500-pound bombs and possibly cluster munitions, according to the U.S. defense official.”
So, it looks like the American Hornets were pretty close to intercepting the Sukhois (in other reports they were able to visually ID the Russians), tried to contact the Russian planes as these carried out an air strike, but these simply ignored the calls on a previously agreed radio frequency.
The question is what are the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) in place over Syria? Most probably there are strict ROE to prevent escalation and avoid direct confrontation but what would have happened if the U.S. F/A-18 had intercepted the Russian warplanes attacking the US-backed rebels ignoring the American calls?