Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15 fighter jets finally arrived at Incirlik airbase, Turkey, on Friday 26 February after weeks of reports and rumours. The jets were accompanied by an Airbys A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The F-15s are two seat F-15S variants, capable of precision strikes in Syria. Saudi Arabia earlier this month stated it contemplated sending strike aircraft to Turkey for operations over Syria, but it remained unclear wether or when aircraft would actually be deployed.
Riyadh is opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a thought shared by Ankara. The sending of warplanes could escalate the military situation in but especially in the skies over Syria. Russian and Iranian jets have been operating over the country in support of Assas, while Western allied aircraft rage war against Islamic States forces in Syria.
UPDATED 16 February | The Royal Saudi Air Force is about to send combat jets to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, to start bombing runs against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) in Syria.
Update | News surrounding the deployment is vague at best. Most recent info is that the Saudi jets will deploy to Turkey ‘by the end of February’, sources in Riyadh say.
Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Cavusoglu confirmed the Kingdom’s plans Saturday 13 February 2015. Saudi quarter makers already inspected Incirlik and see it fit for operations, Cavusoglu said to Turkish journalists.
With the substantial Russian combat air expeditionary wing operating inside Syria, the RSAF probably will not only deploy air-to-ground attack dedicated F-15S/SA Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado IDSs – or a mixture of those – but very likely add a dedicated counter-air/air escort element to the ops. That task could either be done by the Typhoons or Saudi F-15C and D Eagle air-supiority fighters.
According to sources in Ankara and in Riyadh the Saudis are even considering a land operation, with troops being flown into Incirlik to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. If that plan will be executed, it may mean involvement of Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from Incirlik as well, but so far that plan is just a plan.
The Saudis are calling an end to the leadership of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is more or less supported by Moscow – at least for the time being.
Germany is still in the process of working towards full strength with its Tornado aircraft over Syria. Four more Tornado jets left Germany since Monday 4 January for the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. The German Bundeswehr is expecting to reach full strength and mission capability mid-January.
Two Tornados took off from Schleswig-Jagel airbase in northern Germany on Monday and headed south. Two additional Tornados left Büchel airbase on Tuesday and also fly to Incirlik. Another two will fly to Turkey next week,
So far, the jet In Incirlik have only been used for orientation flights in Turkish airspace. Recce flights over Syria will start as soon as full strength is reached, using the Tornado’s infrared and optical image equipment.
The bombing of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) forces in Syria and Iraq has mainly become a limited Western war. The Arab nations of the coalition no longer take part in it. Meanwhile, Germany is on course to join the coalition.
Apart from Syria and Iraq themselves that is. According to fresh reports it’s mainly the United States, Russia and France who currently operate in the entire region. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has been reluctant to fly into Syria, especially since Moscow sent its expeditionary wing to Hmeymim Airbase near Latakia on the Syrian coast. The RAAF focuses on Iraq only, from the beginning and now. The Royal Air Force and Royal Netherlands Air Force do take part in operations in Syria.
Many of those nations are now actively involved in the military operations in the Yemen, where some rivalising forces are supported by Iran – seen as a opponent by all Arab nations mentioned above. The shifting of involvement is – however – also considered a political one now that the conflict especially in Syria has become more complicated with the Russian armed forces involved.
Climax in Syria
An illustration of the troublesome and fluent situation in the skies over Syria from last Tuesday, 24 November: a Turkish F-16 downed a Russian Air Force Su-24 Fencer, with Moscow saying that the strike aircraft posed no threat to Turkey, and Ankara admitting the aircraft flew inside Turkish aerospace for only 17 seconds. It was the climax so far in a conflict that mainly sees the US, Russia and France in action. Their forces only sometimes cooperate in bombing raids against the ISIS, with the Russian adding an extra volatile touch by bombing all forces opposing the government army of Syria.
A Turkish Air Force F-16 shot down a Syrian aircraft near the Turkish-Syrian border on Saturday 16 May, sources in Turkey report. The incident is the latest in a series of air-to-air engagements between the two countries over the last 3 years.
The Syrian aircraft – of unknown type so far, but presumably a helicopter – is said to have violated Turkish airspace. The F-16 scrambled from Incirlik Air Base and used two missiles to shoot down the intruder. A search for the wreckage is ongoing. Reports say the aircraft came down on the Syrian side of the border.
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.
The incident that sparked it all was the downing of a Turkish RF-4E Phantom on 22 June 2012, with the loss of both crew members. The recce aircraft was flying over the Mediterranean Sea at that time.