Russia this week officially confirmed it has based Tu-22M Backfire bombers at Hamedan airbase in Iran for strike missions over Syria. Pictures show several Backfires being prepared on the ground in surroundings resembling those of the Iranian desert.
Backfires have seen use over Syria a number of times already, supporting forces loyal to president Assad in their fight against rebel forces. A number of videos showed up of the Backfires apparently ‘carpet’ bombing rebel positions, which raises fear of even more civilian casualties in war torn Syria.
Previously, the bombers flew all the way from Russia for missions over the area. Basing the aircraft in Iran allows for much shorter missions.
The basing of the bombers also means Moscow is getting a stronger foothold in the area, which wil be reinforced when the sole Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov supposedly arrives in the Mediterranean this Fall. The ship should bring Ka-52 attack helicopters in theater,m according to sources in Moscow.
The movements are also concerning in light of the flickering conflict in South East Ukraine, where Russian and Ukranian weapons and personnel are facing each other. Russia’s latest movement could be seen as a way to shield off the entire Black Sea from any Western militaries taking an interest in the Ukrainian situation.
UPDATED 20 November | For the first time the Russian strategic bomber fleet has been waging war in modern combat, launching long-range air strikes against targets / areas in Syria last night.
UPDATE | More footage has appeared of Russian bombers launching cruise missiles or dropping bombs, some of them under the watchful eye of -rather surprisingly – Iranian F-14 Tomcats. See here.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defence the attack fleet last night included 5 Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack”, 6 Tu-95MS “Bear”, 14 Tupolev Tu-22M3s “Backfire, 8 Sukhoi Su-34 “Fullback” and 4 Sukhoi Su-27SM “Flanker” all flying in from land-bases in Russia with flights lasting 4 hours and several thousands of miles. With at least the fighter aircraft probably supported by IL-78 “Midas” tanker aircraft.
Sources in Western capitals have acknowledged their governments were informed far ahead of the Russian operations this time, which included the launch of 34 cruise missiles. The attacks were concentrated on the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor areas, as well as Aleppo and Idlib. The Russian planned 127 sorties against 206 targets, with 82 sorties against 140 objectives done. Syrian troops are said to have started a ground offensive about 15 to 25 miles from Idlib.
Part of the Russian Expeditionary Wing based at an Syrian military airbase near Latakia (Khmeymim) also went airborne. The wing now consists of eight fighter-bombers (4 Sukhoi Su-30SMs, 4 Sukhoi Su-34s), 12 strike/bombers of the Sukhoi Su-24M “Fencer” type, 12 close-air support and attack aircraft of the Sukhoi Su-25SM “Frogfoot” type, a dozen Mil Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters and 4 Mil Mi-8 “Hip” assault helicopters.
25 extra long-range aircraft
Moscow plans to augment the wing for now with 25 extra long-range aircraft (likely bombers and tanker aircraft), eight Su-34s and four Su-27SMs all operating from land-bases within the Russian Federation on lengthy strike missions to Syria against forces such as ISIL/Daesh.
Apart from Russia, French warcraft bombed targets they say are from ISIL/Daesh as well during the same night in Northern Syria, in what could may have been jointly co-ordinated attacks. France is stepping up its military operations in the area after ISIL has claimed responsibility of the terror attacks in Paris during the weekend. The attacks claimed the lives of at least 129 people. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle – with on board Rafale multi-role fighters – is steaming towards the Eastern Mediterranean.
During the political week of Sweden in July, when all politicians of all parties are together in Visby on the island of Gotland, two Russian bombers executed a simulated attack on the major Swedish naval base of Karlskrona and performed a narrow fly-by of Gotland. “This kind of behaviour is very aggressive,” Swedish quality newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) quotes a Swedish intelligence officer on 1 November 2015.
According to DN, new information shows that two Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers went straight for Karlskrona on 4 July 2015, after taking off from an airbase in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. Apparently the Russian bombers changed course only 15 to 30 seconds before entering Swedish airspace. They seemed to ingore the two Royal Danish Air Force F-16s and two Swedish Air Force JAS 39C Gripen jets scrambled to intercept.
The Backfires then headed north to Gotland and passed the strategic island just east of its territorial airspace, while practically all Swedish politicians were on it for the final days of the yearly main political event. The earlier released official statement of the Swedish Ministry of Defence on the incident did not include all these details.
Both Sweden and Finland have been strengthening their cooperation with NATO, causing both political and military protests from Moscow. While a full membership of the military alliance has not been asked for, the government in Finland recently ordered a quick investigation into the pros and cons of NATO membership to make a more fundamental decision on to join or not to join in 2016.
Sweden so far doesn’t go for full NATO membership, but more and more Swedish politicians are advocating in favour of joining while Russia is – in their eyes – acting more and more aggressively towards the Scandinavian nations.
Will the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II be the today’s Spitfire and topple incoming modern versions of the V-1 flying bomb of World War 2? If the US Navy and Lockheed Martin have their way: “yes”.
It is called the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and meant as a huge extra asset to protect a Carrier Battle Group or Amphibious Battle Group against incoming cruise / anti-ship missiles that can been launched at long ranges by for example Russian-made and -owned Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bombers.
At the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA, Lockheed Martin is moving its NIFC-CA slowly to the next phase: a live-fire test planned for somewhere in the coming two years. The plan is that a US Navy or US Marines F-35B or F-35C uses a NIFC-CA sensor, and/or Link 16 transferred data of a ship’s Aegis radar plus the Grumman E-2D Hawkeye as airborne relay station to get a more complete threat image of the operations zone on beyond-visual range distances.
Possible incoming anti-ship missiles will then be destroyed using a ship-launched Raytheon SM-6 missile, while adaption of the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) is likely considered as an airborne alternative to equip the F-35 with a cruise missile kill capability.
During World War II Royal Air Force pilots used the strong wings of their Supermarine Spitfire planes to topple and actively crash incoming Nazi-German V-1s, while the flying bombs were en route to their targets. Although the F-35 will not use the same technique the Lockheed Martin NIFC-CA project somewhat might turn the Lightning II in today’s state-of-the-art Spitfire.
While Norway reports business as usual, from Latvia, Estonia and Sweden total different reports have come in on 8 December on recent Russian military air activity in the area. The Russian Air Force sent a few of its rare sights – over the Baltics that is – out over sea during over the weekend: Tu-95 Bears and Tu-22M Backfires.
The strategic bombers were co-acting with Russian navy vessels during a maritime training exercise. Although closely watched by NATO, Sweden and Finland, sources say that none of the planes intruded airspace of other nations. But especially in Sweden the matter of nuclear capable planes has been noticed.
“Russia has been flying Tu-95 strategic bombers over the Baltic Sea. I doubt this has ever happened before. Certainly not in recent decades,” former Swedish Foreign Minister and currently “entrepreneur in future and peace” tweeted in response. With the current Swedish government waiting for the next elections only two months after it started its job, Mr. Bildt is still a main voice on foreign affairs for the largest Scandinavian country.
But Bildt’s statement has been somewhat downplayed from Latvia, where a defence sources say that it has happened as recently as September this year and many times before that. One thing is certain though, Moscow’s geopolitical game is getting noted.