The Russian military stepped up its involvement in Syria today, November 15, when pro-Assad forces launched intensive attacks on Syrian rebels around eastern Aleppo. As well as missile strikes from land and sea, aircraft were flown from the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, stationed off the coast.
However, initial footage released by the Russian Ministry of Defense suggested that only Sukhoi Su-33 fighters were launched from the carrier, and most of these carried an exclusively air-to-air load-out. In this configuration, with two medium-range R-27R (AA-10 ‘Alamo’) and two short-range R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) air-to-air missiles apiece, it can be presumed that the Su-33s flew top cover for strike aircraft operating from land bases. Wingtip stations on the Su-33s were occupied by Sorbtsiya electronic countermeasures pods.
Subsequently, Twitter user Yuri L posted a screen grab from a Russian TV report that showed a Su-33 on deck with a free-fall FAB-500M-54 high-explosive bomb on the centerline. Another image showed the same 1,102lb bomb on a munitions trolley on the ship.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Russia had launched missile strikes against Islamic State militants in Idlib province, using missiles and jets flying from the Admiral Kuznetsov. A Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman denied that Moscow’s aircraft were hitting targets in Aleppo.
There was no evidence of Mikoyan MiG-29KR/KUBR multi-role fighters operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov. On November 13 an example of the fighter — apparently a two-seat MiG-29KUBR — crashed in the Mediterranean during operations working up for the latest wave of strikes.
The deployment of the carrier to the eastern Mediterranean was expected to allow Russian Navy Aviation to evaluate and test its recently delivered MiG-29KR/KUBR multi-role fighters, as well as its newly modernized Su-33 shipborne fighters, most of which have received the SVP-24 weapons computer for more accurate free-fall bombing.
Video posted on social media suggests that elements of the MiG-29KR/KUBR contingent were flying over Syria as of November 12. Sources close to Combat Aircraft indicate that Su-33s were already flying combat air patrols from the carrier a day before the latest missile and air strikes, on November 14.
Meanwhile, several reports suggest that at least some of the Su-33s are now detached to Hmeimin air base, home of the Russian Air Force contingent in Syria. If true, this would allow the Su-33s to carry a more meaningful (offensive) payload than is possible using the carrier, which is equipped with a ‘ski jump’ launch ramp but no catapult.
According to USNI News, an unnamed US defense official confirmed that Su-33s had transferred to a land base, but did not reveal whether they had taken part in the raids as of November 15.
On the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Air Force began air strikes against various terrorist and rebel groups in Syria in September 2015. These assisted the Syrian Arab Army and its allies in liberating and securing areas in the north-west and west of Syria.
By mid-March 2016, the Russian Air Force had a detachment of 60 combat aircraft in Syria, including 12 Su-24M/M2s, 12 Su-25SM/UBs, four Su-30SMs, eight Su-34s and four Su-35S jets from Chelyabinsk-Shagol, Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Domna, Voronezh and Dzemgi air bases, respectively.
Then, Putin suddenly ordered the return of the bulk of Russian military forces from Syria. This reduction left a force of just 12 Su-24s, four Su-30s, four Su-34s and four Su-35s at Hmeimin air base. However, new combat helicopters later arrived and joined the Mil Mi-24Ps and Mi-35Ms that had remained at Hmeimin.
Full details of the Admiral Kuznetsov deployment and the embarked air group will appear in the January issue of Combat Aircraft.