UPDATED: NAVIGATOR ALIVE AND WELL | Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer over the Syrian border on Tuesday 24 November. Apparent footage shows an aircraft bursting into flames at some altitude and coming down rapidly. Two parachutes were seen, indicating the crew ejected. Both the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Air Force operate Fencers over Syria.
Russia later on Tuesday confirmed one of its Sukhoi Su-24s went down, but also said the aircraft and its crew remained well inside Syrian airspace. According to Moscow, the jet was hit by ground fire as it flew at 6,000 meters. Turkey claims the crew of two ignored warning signals.
Pilot dead, navigator Su-24 fled
Rebel forces in the area claim to have found the body of the pilot, who apparently did not survive ejection from the falling aircraft. Wreckage came down inside Syria. Also, a Russian helicopter looking for the pilots was supposedly fired upon by local rebels, destroying the chopper. Fortunately the second crew member was able to flee from his captors – Turkmenistan rebels – with the aid of Syrian special forces, according to Russian sources on 25 November. The navigator is said to be in relatively good condition and is now at Hmeymim Airbase near Latakia, home of the Russian expeditionary forces in Syria.
Today’s shoot down involved two F-16s taking out the Su-24 with one single AIM-9 heat seeking missile, sources say. Others say an AIM-120 radar guided missile was used. The Turkish foreign ministry was instructed by the president to directly contact NATO and the United Nations. NATO will discuss the situation on Tuesday during an emergency meeting.
The border between Syria and Turkey has been a hot spot for quite some time, with Turkish F-16 guarding the airspace and repeatedly chasing after intruders. Most recently, Turkish pilots found Russian Air Force jest in their paths. Ankara then warned Moscow not to fly into Turkish airspace.
The Turkish Air Force has reponded to alleged earlier incidents as well, the most recent incident involving another Russian aircraft. On 23 March 2014, the Turkish Air Force also downed a Syrian aircraft, being a MiG-23 Flogger. In September 2013, a Syrian Mi-8 or Mi-17 Hip helicopter fell victim to a Turkish F-16 as it violated Turkish airspace, according to the Turks.
On the other hand, a Turkish RF-4E Phantom was downed on 22 June 2012, with the loss of both crew members. The recce aircraft was flying over the Mediterranean Sea at that time.
Russian actions over Syria
Russian Air Force Su-24 have been operating from Syria for several weeks now, along with Su-30 Flankers and Su-34 Fullbacks. Over the last week, Russia intensified its actions over Syria as a response to the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai.
The day after Russia ‘officially’ started combat mission over Syria, the first clear images of the various fighter aircraft at Latakia airbase have started to appear. Most notable thing on those images: the Russian identification markings on the Sukhois have disappeared, including the Russian red start and the aircraft’s serial numbers.
Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” ground attack aircraft, Su-24 “Fencer” bombers, Su-30 Flanker multi-role fighters and Su-34 Fullback bombers started arriving in Syria over a week ago. Mil Mi-24 and/or Mi-35 Hinds attack helos are also present, as well as Mi-17 Hip assault helicpters.
The military aircraft started operations this week, with Western watchers wondering what targets exactly the Russians are aiming at. Despite Moscow claiming to fight ISIS, the 28 to 34 aircraft Russia has moved to Syria apparently also target other groups opposing the current Assad government. Reports have come in of bombing in areas that Western intelligence services claim have no ISIS activity whatsoever.
The short term ‘good’ thing about it for Western nations and their allies is that Russian aircraft seem to concentrate their bombings in the western parts of Syria, where there is less activity by the many fighter jets of the US-led Operations Inherent Resolve that engage ISIS forces further away from the Syrian coast and the capital Damascus.
The removal of markings could very well be to help deniability when one of the planes get shot down – ironically a very real possibility given the large umber of Russia-supplied air defense weapons in the area, not to mention Western aircraft flying around also.
The Russians are known to remove nationality markings in sensitive surroundings, like earlier in Eastern Ukraine. And ‘sensitive’ surely describes the current situation in and over Syria.
UPDATED 21APRIL 2015 | The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) led air strikes on Houthi rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen has got a broad military support from many other Arab nations. As Airheadsfly.com got new data the RSAF F-15S (Strike) Eagles and EF2000 Typhoons didn’t fly into combat alone at all.
If our sources are correct the United Arab Emirates Air Force sent 30 of its fighter jets, mainly Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcons and possibly a number of Dassault Mirage 2000s. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and Kuwait Air Force both said to have contributed about 15 combat jets each. If true, the relatively large RBAF contribution is remarkable, since the country has only about 15 to 17 operational F-16Cs and eight remaining and aging Northrop F-5Es.
The Kuwait Air Force used almost half of its 35 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The Qatar Emiri Air Force scrambled up to ten of its Mirage 2000s, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew six of its Lockheed Martin F-16s into combat in the Yemen.
Air Assets Operation Restoring Hope (known as Decisive Storm until the end of April 2015)
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF):
100 aircraft, including Boeing F-15C Eagle air-superiority fighters, Boeing F-15S (Strike) Eagles, Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon multi-role fighters, Panavia Tornado interdictor / strike aircraft, Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (unconfirmed), Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopter) AS532M Cougar CSAR helicopters
United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF):
30 fighter jets of Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000 type
Kuwait Air Force (KAF):
15 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet multirole fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF):
15 aircraft of the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 type
Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF):
10 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
Royal Jordanian Air Force (RDAF):
6 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/B Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Royal Moroccan Air Force:
6 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
Sudanese Air Force:
3 to 6 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft. Operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia. Moreover the Sudanese Air Force has likely deployed some of its four C-130 Hercules and possible its two Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft in support
Egyptian Air Force:
US Air Force (USAF):
Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.
The air strikes are focusing on Houthi rebel positions, air defence sites, air bases and Sanaa international airport, command-and-control locations and army camps in Sanaa, Saada and Taiz. The first strikes were launched on 25 or 26 March 2015, with ground forces engaged as well in what has been dubbed Operation Decisive Storm. Officially it takes place under the flag of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the members.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
Saudi Arabia has said to have committed a 100 aircraft, as well as 150,000 ground forces. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons that the Royal Moroccan Air Force already had in the United Arab Emirates to fight ISIS in Iraq have also been retasked with supporting the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. Sudan committed three combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-24s (“Fencer”) sources say. Egypt pledged its support as well, but there is no information yet on how many and which aircraft it will sent.
The conflict in Yemen is between loyalist forces that support fled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi / Zaidi Shia rebels. Main focus is the western part of the country. There the loyalist forces have the most support in the Sunnis south – with Aden as the principal city. Whoever control Aden, controls the sea lanes to/from the Red Sea – a main supply route for oil and other goods. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia is said to be pushing towards Aden with a ground force of about 5,000 troops.
The Houthi forces have a strong control of the northern part of the west, mainly north of the capital of Sanaa. They easily took control of the capital last September and are known to be an effective fighting force, meaning the Arab coalition will very likely deploy combat aircraft and maybe helicopters in the close air-support role. In fact, the Saudis deployed armed helicopters (likely Apaches, but this is unconfirmed) on the border when its ground forces clased with Houthi forces.
Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube
During a large part of the 20th century there were two Yemens. North Yemen became a state in 1918, while South Yemen freed itself from colonizer Britain. The two united on 22 May 1990, but unrest has plagued the country since 1993. In the current conflict Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia support the loyalist forces – including military ground and air ops since this week. Iran is opposing the use of weapons by its Arab neighbours, but has so far stayed out of the conflict militarily.
Houthi rebel combat planes
Officially at least, since some sources indicate that Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force pilots are flying combat planes of Yemeni Air Force units who sided or were overrun by Houthi rebels. One or more Iranian ships have also docket in Hudaidah with military equipment and ammunition on board earlier this March.
But with the Royal Saudi Air Force controlling Yemeni air space since Thursday 26 March, it is unlikely that Houthi planes with Yemeni or Iranian pilots will stand much of a change. In fact, according to several sources on 30 March 2015 the Saudi-led air strikes have destroyed at least 11 fighter jets of the Houthi rebels. The rebels got quite a prize in the third week of March, capturing Yemeni Air Force Al Anad Airbase with apparently up to 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Some sources say that the Houthis never had more than 16 combat aircraft in total, so the exact details are somewhat sketchy.
Russia held a large military flying exercise over the Barents Sea on 6 March, Russian press agency RIA Novosti reported. Over 40 aircraft participated in simulated war games. Involved were Sukhoi Su-24 Fencers, MiG-31 Foxhounds and Ilyushin A-50 Mainstays.
Scenario was a missile attack by enemy forces, to which the Russian forces had to respond. Aircraft were operating from airbases in Chelyabinsk and Perm, with a total of 118 sorties flown.
The Ukraine Ministry of Defence has started planning the purchase of Western-made aircraft. Considering the new active fighting role that the Ukraine military was forced to take up in 2014, sources within the department say there is an urgent need for modern combat aircraft.
At the earliest by 2020 the Ukrainian Air Force should receive an affordable new multi-role fighter and a modern UCAV – or armed drone. In about a decade the armed forces of Ukraine should field a new air fleet.
In the current doubtful economic situation of the Ukrainian state, a balance of affordability and capability will be most logic. Although the Kiev is holding its options open, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are already deemed not to be included in the final selection. More likely is that Ukraine will either choose the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon or strike a leasing deal with Swedish SAAB for the Gripen C/D or new E/F. Both the F-16 and the Gripen are known for their relatively low costs per flight hour and – especially the Gripen – for their easy maintenance.
After Russia pushed Ukraine out of the Crimean peninsula and provided military support and combat troops to the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian air forces faced a sudden change in daily missions they were not prepared for.
“In the 23 years of Ukrainian independence the only experience we had was transport, medevac and reconnaissance. We didn’t have the money nor the training to perform ground attack and other combat missions,” Lieutenant General Sergei Drozdov Deputy Commander of the Air Force Armed Forces of Ukraine said during the recent IQPC Fighter Conference in London. Himself a trained fighter pilot with more than 2,000 flight hours on the Aero L-39, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (“Fishbed”), the MiG-29 (“Fulcrum”) and the Sukhoi Su-27 (“Flanker”) he said: “Our combat aircraft were built mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are inferior to modern aircraft and their in bad physical condition.”
With no money yet for a new modern fighter jet, for now the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence hopes for the best doing indigenous upgrades for another 10 to 15 years on the Russian made fighter jets and ground attack aircraft, plus Czech made L-39 trainers that can be used for light attack. Mothballed jets are brought back into service.
Once more money is in place the future of Ukrainian military airlift is likely to build on the new developed Antonov AN-70 tactical transport aircraft, an aircraft that could even become a competitor for the Western European Airbus A400M, and on the smaller Antonov AN-140.
The Ukrainian Air Force training and light attack fleet could be more exotic in the near future. Although planes like the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 is considered a worthy successor of or supplement to the L-39, a deal with China cannot be ruled out. Involvement and possibilities of Ukrainian aviation industries to participate in the purchase of new hardware is always a key issue in the purchase policy. As late as November Ukrainian officials were discussing the Hongdu (HAIG) L-15 Falcon, at the 2014 Airshow at Zhuhai near Macau in Southern China. Ukraine already produces the Ivchenko AI-222 turbofans for these aircraft.
While the Ukrainian military for now has to soldier on with its old and sometimes renewed hardware, a slow move to more Western aircraft is certainly looming at the horizon. In Kiev the defence ministry is already plotting the path to that future.