On February 21, the Russian Aerospace Forces deployed additional warplanes at their Hmeimim airbase near the Syrian coastal city of Jableh. According to Syrian pro-government sources, four Su-35 multi-role fighters and four Su-25 attack aircraft escorted by a Tu-154M plane arrived to the airbase.
An A-50U Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) plane was also deployed, according to the sources. The A-50U is equipped with a Vega Shmel-M radar. It can detect a launch of missile or a fighter jet in the range of 650km. The detection range for ground targets is 300km. The plane can remain in the air for more than 9 hours and has an ability to guide friendly fighters and track multiple enemy fighters on the same time. It can also detect ground targets and ships.
— Wael Al Hussaini (@WaelAlHussaini) February 21, 2018
The sources suggested that the new warplanes will support the long-awaited military operation of Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the Eastern Ghouta pocket. The deployment could also be linked to the current tensions between US-backed forces and the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance in the Euphrates Valley.
However, the newly deployed warplanes could be replacing other ones that have been serving in Hmeimim airbase for a long time, according to observers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to withdraw a large part of Russian forces from Syria during a visit to Hmeimim airbase on December 11, 2017. However, Putin noted back then that if terrorists gain an upper hand in Syria, Russia will carry out strikes that “they’ve never seen.”
The Ministry of Defense of Russia has not commented on the deployment of additional warplanes at Hmeimim airbase. This could mean that the warplanes were indeed deployed to replace other ones that had been withdrawn or are set to withdraw soon.