Is the Ministry of Defense of Russia preparing for air combat with Turkish aircraft?
Originally appeard at Interpolit, translated by Carpatho-Russian exclusively for SouthFront
The distant radar-tracking detection and management aircraft (AWACS) A-50 based on the Il-76 may be used by the ASF [Aerospace Forces] of Russia in Syria. A representative of the United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, developer of the aircraft, reported this to TASS on January 14.
According to the agency’s confidant, this aircraft’s main task is detection and tracking of aircraft targets and surface ships, notification of command points regarding the air and surface situation, and management of fighters and strike aircraft to guide them to air, land, and sea targets. This air command point is capable of tracking up to 300 targets at the same time.
The source also clarified that the aircraft can detect aircraft objects at a distance up to 650 km, and land objects up to 300 km. In addition, the agency’s confidant emphasized that the Russian aircraft even surpasses the American AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) in a number of characteristics.
Note that earlier — on January 12 — the authoritative magazine “Jane’s Defense Weekly” reported that Russia has already begun using the A-50 AWACS (NATO classification: Mainstay — “Stronghold”) in the sky over Syria to support the operations of its own aviation group in this country. According to the source of the publication in the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain, A-50 aircraft appeared over Syria at the end of December.
So, on December 27 the aircraft, flying on a route typical for an AWACS, was noted by the Flightradar24.com resource, on which aircraft transponder signals are displayed in real time. The system, which had no open call sign, was flying at an altitude about 6 km in the northwest part of Syria for four hours, notes “Jane’s Defense Weekly”.
There is no evidence that the A-50s are using the Hmeymim air base. The British source comes to the conclusion that the planes are most likely flying from bases in Russian territory, — possibly from Mozdok airfield, on which long-range Tu-22М3 bombers used to bomb targets in Syria are also developed. A source in the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain noted that the Russian A-50 planes did not attempt to illuminate aircraft of the Royal Air Force or other countries of the western coalition flying in Syrian air space. According to him, “eliminating conflict situations in the air between the Russian and western aircraft is carried out by the Russian and American ground coordination centers”.
Note that already on December 3 the ex-chief of the Main Directorate of international military cooperation for the Ministry of Defense of Russia (1996−2001), Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, commenting on information that the Russian Federation is going to develop in Syria, after Hmeymim, a second air base Shayrat near Homs, noted that the A-50 AWACS is most likely to be added to the Il-20M flying in the sky over the Syrian Arab Republic. The research associate of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Editor-in-chief of the magazine Eksport vooruzheniy [Arms Export], Andrey Frolov, suggested that the A-50U AWCS aircraft would possibly fly from an Iranian airfield (on the Internet have appeared already pictures of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ Su-34 at the Iranian 3rd tactical air base in Hamadan).
What does the emergence in the sky over Syria of the A-50U AWACS aircraft (most likely, the discussion is about the modern version of the aircraft, equipped with a new radar-tracking complex on the Shmel [Bumblebee] modern component base) mean?
It is significant that the A-50U radar-tracking system (this version of the aircraft completed its first flight in 2011) has enhanced capabilities of detecting barely noticeable objects, including those flying at small altitudes, and targets of the “helicopter” variety. The fact is that Kurdish mass media reported more than once that Turkey is unifying the Islamic State and Jabkhat an-Nusra against the aircraft of Russia and the Democratic Forces of Syria (SDF) coalition, using helicopters to transfer IS militants to the city of Azaz, controlled by militants of al-Nusra. At the end of December there was information that the re-deployment of about 850 militants from Deraa to Azaz was completed in this manner. Thus, with the direct participation of Turkish military there was a systematic and coordinated redeployment of the militants who had sustained notable losses from Russian Federation Aerospace Forces strikes and SDF attacks.
Military expert Vladimir Shcherbakov notes that when Russia began to increase the use of its aerospace forces in the SAR while western aircraft were actively operating there, it was immediately understood that a long-distance radar-tracking detection and management (AWACS) aircraft must should be provided.
– Initially the scale of operations was minimum and, judging overall, at that time the command had not yet determined the volume of tasks needing to be resolved.
I recall that originally the aviation group included 32 aircraft (Su-25SM attack aircraft, Su-24M and Su-34 front-line bombers, Su-30SM fighters, aw as well as army aircraft – Mi-24 attack helicopters and Mi-8 multi-purpose). However, the number of planes was then increased to 69 units: in addition to Hmeymim, an aviation group located in the territory of the Russian Federation was added – four Su-27SM, eight Su-34, and also five Tu-160, six Tu-95MS, and fourteen Tu-22М3 were also added.
And if in October the number of flights was small – the military department reported daily about airstrikes and published photos and videos of almost every dropped bomb, and now over 10 days in 2016 there were 311 combat flights which struck over 1097 objects in various Syrian provinces.
Of course, it is possible to manage the stated objectives without an AWACS, but it is better that the A-50 did so all the same. After all, this aircraft is designed for detection of air and land targets, and the distribution and transfer of information to ground command points, where experts engage in further processing of the data. The Il-20M electronic reconnaissance aircraft is capable of conducting a considerable number of specialized tasks, but the domestic AWACS (aviation system for radio detection and guidance) is an aircraft which “holds” the air situation in the vicinity of combat operations and directs aviation actions. And there is nothing terrible about flying from Mozdok.
If we remember the active phase of operation of the Americans in Afghanistan, when they were bombing AI Qaeda and the Taliban, at that time they AWACS carrier-based planes less adapted for distance flights (especially over land) – the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye. The machine flew from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, followed over the territory of Afghanistan, and then landed on one of air bases controlled by the allied armies. There was refueling and crew change, and the E-2C flew back. As regards the A-50, from Mozdok to Syria is not that long a route, and the plane is designed for longer flights.
Since the A-50 system is used to manage attack and fighter aircraft, and provide guidance to land and air targets, and also carries out its role of an air-based command point, its appearance in Syria means that the operation of the Russian Federation armed forces is gaining another trait, considers the Deputy Director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin.
– In essence, the chief purpose of this aircraft (especially in Syrian conditions) is detection of air targets. In my view, once can say that the Ministry of Defense is considering the possibility of conducting air combat; that is, actual war. With whom? Possibly with Turkey.
In the Syrian sky, a large number of aircraft of the most diverse countries, and the scenario in the air space, must be managed in real time. All the more as Turkey gets closer and closer to ground operations, notes military expert Anatoly Nesmiyan (El-Murid).
– In the event of a large-scale military invasion of Turkish land forces into Syria, this will be accompanied from the air by massed use of aircraft. If such an invasion takes place, and this can not be excluded, since Erdogan has until now still not rejected the idea of creating a buffer zone, then certainly this will occur in that territory ,in which the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces are actively operating.
Earlier the Turks suggested resolving the problems in creating such a zone, through groups of Turkomans under their control and militants in general, but these are now being actively crushed, and Ankara, in fact, has no choice.
But the reason for large-scale intervention (Turkish special troops have already been active on Syrian territory for a long time) can be found. For example, to accuse IS of any act of terrorism and then introduce their armies under this cover. After all, many countries are now allegedly at war with IS, although the “caliphate” finds out about it last …
– In early January the British mass media reported that fighters of the Islamic State could allegedly begin using surface-to-air missile systems, having independently mastered thermal batteries for surface to air air rockets and having designed homing heads for them …
– This is hardly possible from the technical point of view. It is possible that it is an information cover for future possible deliveries of the air defense system. Of course this is, Certainly, as they say, this does not hold water, but on the other hand, why would it not? Almost the same paramilitary formations of Houthis in Yemen use the weaponry of the Yemen army and shoot Scad rockets on the Saudi armies, rather precisely.
Corresponding member of RARAN, Doctor of Military Sciences Konstantin Sivkov, says that the A-50 plane in Syria is necessary, at least because Turks already shot down our frontline Su-24M bomber.
– After the Turkish aircraft brought down the Russian plane at the border with Syria, the Ministry of Defense put into Hmeymim the ZRS S-400 Triumf, which together with the Fort complex of the Mosckva missile cruiser ensures flight safety for the Russian aviation group. The A-50 is necessary for this purpose as well, since it is problematic for the “four hundred” to find air targets at range more than 400 km, especially low-flying ones.
Why is it flying from Mozdok (if it is actually doing so)? Most likely they do not wish to subject such an expensive machine to fire from militants. It is not likely that Hmeymim does not have enough airstrip capabilities to use the aircraft, since heavy aircraft are based there.
But, frankly speaking, I have doubts about whether the A-50 has already been noticed in the sky over Syria. As the British write, the detected aircraft did not try to illuminate the aircraft of the western coalition – NATO officials could easily confuse the A-50 with the Il-76 that it was based on.
More detail about the A-50 aircraft
Mass production of the A-50 aviation complex, or product “A”, which was put into service in 1985, was done at the Chkalov Tashkent aircraft factory. In the armed forces it received the nickname “mushroom” or “flying saucer”, for the characteristic appearance of the locator installed over the fuselage. And until the 1990s these aircraft drew routine duty, sometimes participating in air force training for the USSR and the participating countries of the Warsaw Treaty Organization.
In 1991, during the war in the Persian Gulf, A-50s conducted patrol of air space over the Black Sea – tracking the movement of aircraft of the anti-Iraq coalition which was flying up from airfields of Turkey.
But the A-50 received its first “baptism of fire” over its own territory — in Chechnya, providing a continuous radar-tracking field so as, as experts say, to prevent in 1994 delivery by air to the militants from abroad of weapons and reinforcement. It should especially be noted that on April 21, 1996 the A-50 plane on which equipment had been installed for directional heading on a satellite phone signal, intercepting a signal from Dzhokhar Dudayev’s device, transferred targeting to two Su-25 attack planes. When planes located the target, two rockets were launched on the cortege.
A-50s were also used in 1999 to monitor the actions of NATO aircraft in Yugoslavia.
Currently the Russia Aerospace Forces maintain about 20 aircraft of type A-50 and A-50U. New-generation A-100 “Premiere”, based on serial modification of the Il-76MD-90A aircraft platform, was chosen to replace them.
Take-off mass: 190 tons;
The Maximum patrol duration without refueling: more than 9 hours;
Engines: four turbojet D-30KP each with 12 tons thrust;
Flight crew: 5 people, plus 10−11 personnel for the radar-tracking complex.