The embattled Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) has received the first examples from a new batch of Sukhoi Su-24M strike aircraft from Russia. TASS says Syria previously had 11 Su-24s in service.
According to Sputnik, a state-owned Russian news agency, the latest delivery of two aircraft was part of a defense contract that was signed between Damascus and Moscow back in 2009.
Sputnik quotes Al-Masdar News, an Arabic news site, which reports that the first two jets will be joined by another eight aircraft in future.
The upgraded Sukhois are described in the Russian press report as being of the Su-24M2 variant, and were apparently transferred from Russian stocks. Production of the variable-geometry strike aircraft ended in around 1992.
However, the same article also quotes Yakov Kedmi, described as a former high-ranking official in the Israeli intelligence services, who says the aircraft’s equipment has been upgraded ‘with the SVP-24 special computing subsystem designed to increase bombing precision.’
This latter indicates that the sub-variant is actually the Su-24M SVP-24, and not the rival Su-24M2.
The privately owned Gefest & T Company developed the Su-24 SVP-24 upgrade in light of combat experience gained by the Russian Air Force in the Chechen campaign. A first modernized Su-24M SVP-24 was tested beginning in 1998 and the Russian Air Force commissioned the upgrade into service in 2008. To date, aircraft from the air bases at Morozovsk and Shagol (Chelyabinsk) have been upgraded to SVP-24 standard and others are to found at the Lipetsk test center.
Described as a low-cost upgrade, the SVP-24 improves navigational accuracy and allows free-fall bombs to be delivered with accuracy similar to that of precision-guided weapons.
Meanwhile, Sukhoi developed the Su-24M2 mid-life upgrade. The first deliveries to the Lipetsk center were made in early 2004, but the Russian Ministry of Defense only ordered the upgrade of 24 aircraft, which are now based at Khurba.
Reportedly three times as expensive as the SVP-24, the Su-24M2 includes an upgraded navigation and targeting system with a new computer, and a new inertial navigation system including a satellite navigation receiver.
Previously, a number of aircraft from SyAAF stocks were sent to the ARZ-514 repair plant at Rzhev to undergo the Su-24M2 upgrade, these being designated as Su-24MK2 for export.
It is therefore likely that the latest deliveries to Syria do indeed involve the Su-24M2, rather than the Su-24 SVP-24, and that these aircraft were taken from Russian Air Force stocks. Indeed, they may involve some of the same aircraft from the Khurba regiment that were previously deployed as part of the Russian air contingent in Syria.
The SyAAF is badly in need of new equipment. According to Sputnik, ‘in the past month the effort against the Islamists has resulted in the loss of two of its aircraft’. Examples of the MiG-21 (July 14) and L-39ZO (July 20) have both been confirmed as lost in recent fighting.
Furthermore, after Russia downsized its combat air contingent in Syria earlier this year, the SyAAF is being expected to take up some of the burden. The beleaguered air arm is reportedly now flying up to 30 sorties a day.