Tag Archives: Syrian Arab Air Force

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)

Here’s The Video Of The Syrian Su-22 Fitter Being Shot Down By A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet

F/A-18E Super Hornet vs Su-22 Fitter near Raqqa, as seen through the Hornet’s ATFLIR.

On Jun. 18, F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-87 “Golden Warriors” and piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Michael “Mob” Tremel,” shot down a Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter near the town of Resafa (40 km to the southwest of Raqqa, Syria).

The VFA-31 Tomcatters, also embarked on USS George Bush (CVN-77) supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the Mediterranean Sea back then, have included footage of the aerial engagement, filmed with their ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra Red) pod, in their 2017 OIR cruise video.

Here below you can see the relevant part of the cruise video, the one that shows the AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) hitting the Syrian Sukhoi (from two different angles – maybe because other Hornets filmed the scene) and then the Fitter crashing into the ground.


Syrian Su-24s attempting to fly close to U.S. Special Forces in Syria get intercepted and “encouraged to leave” by F-22 Raptors

Two Syrian Su-24 Fencer attempting to fly over a Kurdish-held area in northeastern Syria where U.S. SOF (Special Operations Forces) are operating, get intercepted by U.S. F-22 and encouraged to depart the airspace.

Twice in the last few days, Syrian jets performing air strikes close to where U.S. SOF are operating in northeastern Syria caused coalition aircraft to scramble.

On Aug. 18, U.S. jets were dispatched to intercept the Syrian attack planes that were attacking targets near Hasakah supporting regime forces fighting the Syrian Kurdish forces. About 300 U.S. military operate in the same area, training Kurdish forces who are fighting Daesh.

Syrian pilots did not respond to the radio calls of the Kurdish on the general emergency frequency nor did they acknowledge calls attempted by the coalition on the air safety channel used for communication with the Russian aircraft operating over Syria.

Anyway, by the time U.S. fighters reached the area, the Syrian planes had already left.

Following the first “close encounter” the Pentagon warned Assad regime to not fly or conduct raids in the area where the American SOF are operating. However, on Aug. 19, two Su-24 Fencers, attempted again to penetrate the airspace near Hasakah.

This time, the two Syrian Arab Air Force attack planes were met by American F-22 Raptors (most probably already operating in the same area providing Combat Air Patrol).

As reported by ABC, a U.S. official said the presence of American F-22 aircraft “encouraged the Syrian aircraft to depart the airspace without further incident. No weapons were fired by the coalition fighters.”

This is not the first time the F-22 presence deters foreign military aircraft from harassing U.S. forces.

In March 2013, few months after two Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) attempted to shoot down an American MQ-1 flying a routine surveillance flight in international airspace the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) with fighter aircraft, including the Raptors.

In one very well-known episode, F-22 stealth jets providing HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) to a U.S. Predator flew under the Iranian F-4E Phantoms that had intercepted the drone then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and radioed a famous “you really ought to go home” that allegedly scared the Iranian pilots off saving the drone.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Syrian Su-22 Fitter shot down by rebels over Aleppo

A Su-22 Fitter was shot down by the Syrian opposition earlier today.

On Apr. 5, a SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) Su-22 Fitter was allegedly shot down by the Syrian rebels while flying over al-Eis area in South Aleppo.

Parachuted pilot

As the following footage shows, the pilot ejected from the plane, to be captured and probably beaten by the militants. According to the latest news, the pilot is alive and in the hands of al-Nusra front militants.

It’s not clear who shoot the plane down and how;  unconfirmed reports claim the aircraft was hit by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System).

Some Twitter accounts have published the photos of the captured pilot (with an ID still to be confirmed).


H/T JeanLucTele for the heads-up. Image credit: via @green_lemonnn, Twitter.

Dramatic video shows Mi-24 Hind gunships fighting rebels in Syria

Impressive: Mi-24 Hind helicopters performing rocket runs at low altitude in Syria

The following videos were filmed in Syria in the last hours and show Mi-24 Hind helicopters (Russian  ones, deployed to Latakia along with the rest of the RuAF contingent, according to the first unverified reports), fighting rebels.

The first footage (now removed) shows two Hinds (a type of helo flown also by the Syrian Arab Air Force and frequently used against revolutionaries since the beginning of the uprising) during a rocket attack at very low altitude in Kafr Nabudah, in northwestern Syria. The two choppers can be seen overflying the village and releasing plenty of flares to deceive potential MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) in the hands of rebel forces.

MANPADS have been successfully used against Mi-24/25s in Syria, Ukraine and Armenia.

And here is another video, showing Syrian rebels shooting at an Mi-24 helicopter with their AK-47s. This footage was allegedly filmed in Latakia.

What looks like a mortar can be briefly spotted in this second video at 0:46: did the Mi-24s attack that position in order to wipe out a mortar possibly threatening the RuAF base at al-Assad International Airport?


H/T to Alessandro Borsetti for sending the links to these interesting videos.