Russia has deployed a contingent of Su-35 heavyweight air superiority fighters to Qamishli Airport in northeastern Syria, marking the first ever major deployment of Russian fighters to the facility. The airport is very near the positions of Turkish and U.S. forces, which have deployed alongside various auxiliary militia forces to occupy large parts of northern Syria. Unlike Russia which was given permission by the internationally recognised Syrian government to deploy military assets to Syrian soil, Turkey and the United States are widely seen to be in Syria illegally as they have permission of neither the UN Security Council nor of Damascus. The deployment comes as Turkey has threatened to escalate its campaign against the Syrian government with the deployment of heavy weapons, after Ankara placed jihadist militant groups in northern Syria under its protection. The Russian Air Force has frequently intervened on the side of Syrian government forces to intercept Turkish fighters and escort them out of Syrian airspace and to conduct airstrikes against militants backed by Turkey. Su-35s at Qamishli are equipped for air to air combat with R-77 and R-73 air to air missiles. Turkey’s ability to counter these fighters remains limited, particularly since 2016 when a large portion of its Air Force’s officer corps were arrested following a failed coup attempt, and since it has been unable to purchase modern fighter aircraft after being evicted from the F-35 program

The Su-35 entered Russian service from 2014 and saw its first ever overseas deployments to Syria in early 2016. This followed deployments of Su-30SM and Su-34 fighters in September 2015, and a few weeks later of Su-27SM3 fighters, all of which are based on the same Flanker airframe as the Su-35 and participated in the initial stages of operations against various Western, Turkish and Qatari-backed Islamist insurgent groups in Syria. The deployment of the Su-35 in 2016 was seen to be a response to the Turkish downing of a Russian Su-24 in northern Syria, with the Su-35 armed with R-77 missiles sending a strong signal to Turkey and its allies that further attacks on Russian assets would not be tolerated. Alongside the MiG-31BM/BSM heavy interceptor, the Su-35 is considered Russia’s most capable aircraft in terms of air to air combat performance. Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV channel reported regarding the deployment to Qamishli that the Flankers already conducted “several reconnaissance flights” and would “remain at the airport indefinitely.” The development comes amid a broader expansion of the Russian air force presence in Syria including the expansion of Khmeimim Airbase to accommodate Tu-22M long range bombers and MiG-31K strike aircraft, which were deployed the to the country for the first time in May and June 2021 respectively.



Source link