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Russia to base in Syria – permanently

Posted 25 June 2018 · Add Comment

With its aerial intervention having played a major role in pushing back Daesh terrorists in Syria, Russia is now seeking to maintain a presence in the country with permanent bases.

Russia is no stranger to Syria. Throughout the Cold War, the port of Tartus acted as a major replenishment facility for units of the Soviet fleet deploying through the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Soviet air units also periodically visited Syrian air force airbases.
Its presence in the country, together with its influence in the region generally, diminished rapidly following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the shrinking of the Russian fleet. With Russia again playing a more assertive role in international affairs, it is keen to re-establish itself in the region.
Moscow has made it clear that, as a major power once again, it wants to be listened to by the world – particularly by the west. And the Middle East has always been a region where it has sought to play a role, at least partly as a counterweight to the US presence there.
Syria’s Government, under president Bashar Assad, which looked earlier in the decade as though it would be overthrown by one or other of the many opposition or terrorist groups ranged against it, is naturally grateful to Russia for its military backing, notably the thousands of ground-attack missions carried out by fixed-wing and helicopter units based at Hmeimim since 2015.
Hmeimim, situated southeast of the port of Latakia, was purpose-built for the Russian intervention. At the very end of 2017, Russia announced that it intended to make the base permanent, together with the naval facility at Tartus.
Russia has based a wide range of aircraft there, said Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. Over the course of their operations against Daesh, Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer swing-wing strike aircraft and Su-25 Frogfoot close air support aircraft have come and gone regularly, as have Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker-C multirole fighter and Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft.
And, in a piece of showmanship, the new, fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter was also deployed there for a couple of days in 2017.
On the rotary-wing side, a variety of attack and transport helicopters – Kamov Ka-52 Alligators, Mil Mi-28 Havocs and Mi-17 Hips – have also seen extensive service at the base.
Numbers of individual types stationed there have varied, but typically Hmeimim supports around a dozen Su-24s, four to six Su-30s and 34s, roughly the same number of Su-35s, plus MiG-29SMT Fulcrum and varying numbers of Su-25s: “It’s not an insignificant deployment,” said Barrie.
“This is the first time the Russians have done out-of-area operations in a very long time. The sortie generation rate seems to have remained high. Availability [of aircraft] has remained high and they seem to have sustained the operation comparatively well.
“It’s difficult to tell if they will have more bases. I think they will certainly keep Tartus and Hmeimim… [it is uncertain] whether they will have another forward deploying site.”
The layered missile defence system currently installed at Hmeimim will likely stay in place. This is a combination of the long-range S-400 missile, known by NATO as the SA-21 Growler, and the close-range Pantsir-S1 air defence vehicles (SA-22 Greyhound), which match two 30mm cannon with 12 short-range surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.
The Pantsirs saw action in January this year, when the Hmeimim base came under attack by multiple mini-drones armed with explosives and launched by an unknown group.
The effect of the attacks is unclear; there were claims of several deaths among Russian personnel and of several combat aircraft being damaged or destroyed. Russia has denied the claims and said that its ground defences – notably the Pantsir-S1 – had downed the approaching drones.
Indeed, Russia announced this year that it would be arming the Pantsir with a new, miniature missile called Gvozd (‘Nail’), designed to knock down small targets such as drones.
With four Gvozd carried in each of the Pantsir’s 12 missile launch tubes, that would give it a formidable load-out of 48 missiles per vehicle – ideal for dealing with mass attacks by small, cheap drones.
A mobile jamming system – “An interesting bit of kit to go in there,” noted Barrie – has also been seen at Hmeimim.
 

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