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.
Royal Netherlands Air Forc (RNLAF) F-16s ended operations over Iraq and Syria on Tuesday 28 June. Since deploying to the area in October 2014, Dutch crews chalked up 2,100 mission, during 1,800 of which weapons were deployed. The Dutch jets will return home on 30 June while Belgian F-16s take their place.
The RNLAF operated from Jordan throughout the deployment, first with six jets plus two reserved and eventually with four jets plus two reserves.
The return marks a rare opportunity for RNLAF crews to catch some breath. Dutch F-16s have actively involved in many conflicts for decades. In the early Nineties, Dutch Vipers supported a no-fly zone over Bosnia. Several years later, they took part in the air war over Kosovo. Also, the RNLAF took part in operations over Afghanistan for many years. In 2011, the Dutch saw limited action during the allied campaign over Libya.
The next scheduled deployment is in 2017, when the Dutch take their turn in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states.
Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz has confirmed plans to deploy four F-16 fighters for Middle East reconaissance missions, supporting coalition against so-called ISIS. The MoD decision still needs to be accepted by Polish prime minister and president, but according to MoD Chief, planning is already finished and crews are ready.
The contingent of four fighter aircraft and up to 150 personnel should be based in Kuwait. Further Polish support of coalition effort would be 60 special forces operators, deployed to Iraq. Their tasks would cover advising and training of iraqi special forces personnel.
Aircraft should be present in the operations area before Warsaw’s NATO Summit, beginning on 8th of July. Jastrzabs, as they are known in Polish AF, would be tasked with reconaissance missions only. Polish Air Force flies 48 F-16 block 52+, which are equipped with Goodrich DB-110 reconaissanse pods.
The same recce tasks are now fulfilled in the ISIS’ conflict area by Luftwaffe Tornados. Six German fighter-bombers and Airbus A310 MRTT tanker are now based in Incirlik in Turkey.
The four Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM/BM fighter jets deployed to Jordan to bomb the so-called Islamic State forces in Syria, have only done that four times this year.
The information is included in a letter of Dutch minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert to the Dutch parliament in The Hague.
Communication limits have made the RNLAF jets less useful to international community fighting ISIS / ISIL / Daesh and the United States, which is leading the operations. Since February, when the F-16s were cleared for the Syrian operations, the aircraft only flew seven mission in total in the skies of that nation.
Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 fighter jets hardly see action over Syria despite being cleared to do so earlier this year by Dutch parliament, reports on Tuesday 3 May say. The ageing jets apparently do not have the right communication equipment for combat over the war torn country. Most missions take place over Iraq instead.
Dutch F-16s have been engaged in fighting so-called Islamic State since the fall of 2014, operating from Jordan. They previously flew solely over Iraq until allowed to operate over Syria also earlier this year. In reality, Dutch pilots mostly only see action over Iraq.
Operations over Syria require satellite communication equipment, a feature the Dutch jets do not have. They largely rely on UHF radios. The reports do not say why the jets apparently do not need satellite radios over Iraq.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense in The Hague later on Tuesday stated that its F-16 indeed lack some relay methods, but at the same time said the jets do not operate over parts over Syria because the current mandate prevents it. It’s mostly US aircraft that operate over areas that now see fighting, according to Dutch MoD.
The RNLAF is replacing its F-16s with Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs from 2019 onwards.
The apparent shortcoming begs the question how Belgian and Danish F-16s will support operations over Syria later this year. Both countries operate F-16s identical to the RNLAF, and are preparing to send jets to the area after the Dutch leave next July.