This week’s Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet crash at Hmeimim Airbase has brought world focus to the Russian military’s technological advancements. Russia has carried out at least 150 airstrikes against Islamic jihadists in Syria. They have lost three fighter jets since last year, a Mig-29, an Su-33 and most recently this past week, an Su-24. However despite these losses, Russia is touting the Syrian effort as an opportunity to battle test important military technology.
Showing Up or Showing Off? Technological Advancements of the Russian Military
Russia is using the Syrian conflict as a kind of proving ground, testing its new line up of missiles, warplanes and robots. For example, Kalibr missiles came into the picture in 2012 but Russia did not have an opportunity to test them in combat until the Syrian crisis. Warships have fired Kalibr missiles at least a dozen times, thus far.
The Kalibr is actually a family of missiles, one of which has an approximate range of 2,000 – 2,600 kilometers. These missile deployments allow Russia to showcase just how far they have come with this technology, putting the country in league with a handful of others that have successful long range missile programs. The Kalibr is said to be comparable to the U.S. Tomahawk.
Also of note is the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier. It was put into service after 30 years of being idle and was stationed off the Syrian coast in late 2016. For the most part, the military focuses on land missions, therefore the ability to test out Admiral Kuznetsov in a real combat situation provided valuable insight into its capabilities, or lack thereof. The carrier lost two aircraft reportedly because of arrestor gear failure, which caused the planes to roll over the deck when attempting to land.
Is Using Kh-101 Strategic Cruise Missiles Against Syrian Jihadists Overkill?
Some observers call Russia’s recent display against Syria overkill since the rebels are often only armed with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. The situation further illustrates that, indeed, Russia is testing weapons’ capabilities in these live combat situations.
Russian military generals are beaming over the successful launch of Kh-101 strategic cruise missiles. These stealth missiles have nuclear capability and were launched from Tu-95MS strategic bombers. The move may have indeed been an unnecessary show of might but helped the military prove to the world that the missiles are viable.
Russia is also flexing its muscles with its supersonic Tu-160 bomber. It is a long-range fighter jet that has the ability to carry out a strategic mission and then, fly back to its home base. Missions can be launched from Iran with the Tu-160 which opens up a whole new chapter in political and military relations between the two countries.
Iconic Fighter Jets, Helicopters and Robots Join the Fight
One of the most recent additions to the Russian arsenal is an upgrade of an icon, the Mig-29SMT. It was recently deployed on a combat mission to Syria, along with combat helicopters. The Mi-28N Night Hunter helicopter flies night missions and has long range missile capability to boot.
Robots and drones are also being used. The Uran-6 is a demining robot that was used in clearing the Aleppo site. The Uran-6 is controlled remotely and can detect and destroy explosive devices with up to a 60kg TNT yield. The explosives are smashed by the trawl or detonated.