Russia Boosts Its Air Assets in Syria

2 MINS READDec 12, 2015 | 01:13 GMT

Satellite imagery obtained through our partners at AllSource Analysis show the continued hectic Russian presence at Bassel al Assad air base. An Su-24 can be seen on the runway ready for take off, while what appears to be an Il-20 Coot spy plane is taxiing around the air base. In addition to the Su-25, Su-24, Su-30 and Su-34 aircraft previously deployed to Bassel al Assad, we see more Su-34 aircraft that have recently arrived as reinforcements from Russia. The Su-34 is a more capable strike aircraft than the Su-24, the type that the Turkish air force recently shot down. The Su-34, with a more expansive air-to-air capability, is therefore better able to defend itself relative to the Su-24.

Additional capable air superiority fighters apart from the four Su-30s already deployed to the air base are not visible, but that does not exclude the possibility of their presence. The Russians have also bolstered their air defense capabilities, as can be seen with the deployment of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system to the air base.

As is apparent from recent images, there has been construction work to improve the Shayrat air base as well. Two Su-22 squadrons and one MiG-23 squadron were previously based at Shayrat, but most of their aircraft have long since been decommissioned alongside previous types operated from the base. Some of these aircraft can be seen discarded or decommissioned across Shayrat, including five aircraft on the southwest corner of the air base. With the new construction, a number of helicopters can also be seen deployed at the base. These helicopters appear operational and recently deployed to Shayrat, but it is difficult to assess whether they are Russian or Syrian.

It is clear that the Shayrat air base is gaining importance for the Syrian government and its allies, as recent construction and deployments attest. With more operations taking place in the central-eastern Homs region, including defensive efforts aimed at preventing the Islamic State from severing the critical M5 highway running from Homs to Damascus, the refurbishment of the airfield and its use makes operational sense. As can be seen, the Russians have yet to deploy fixed-wing warplanes to the air base as recent rumors have suggested, though such an eventuality cannot be excluded. 

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