Russia threatens coalition aircraft over Syria after US Navy shoot down Syrian Su-22

Relations between the west and Russia regarding Syria has always been both problematic and risky but it threatens to become even more dangerous following the shootdown of a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitter” on Sunday. This has prompted Russian officials to describe American, British and French aircraft operating over the war-ravaged country as potential threats. In a statement, the Russian Defence Ministry said;

All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Syrian civil war air force sukhoi su-22 fitterThe US took the extraordinary action against the Syrian Air Force on Sunday when the Su-22 (right) reportedly carried out a strike in proximity to US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The Syrian jet was shot down by a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet and is the first such air-to-air engagement for the type. The US military’s Central Command said in a statement that the shootdown was carried out in accordance of all established rules of engagement and in accordance with terms agreed upon by coalition partners.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry disagrees saying that the US acted in violation of the agreed upon terms of the de-confliction deal both sides pledged to honour. They also claim that the US made no effort to communicate with them before taking the action against the Syrian jet, describing the shootdown as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The Syrian government themselves also claim that the Su-22 was bombing Islamic State forces, not Syrian Democratic Forces, and accused the US of actually helping the terrorist organisation.

The Russians have since suspended their direct line of communication with Washington over the incident leading to their stark warning to the US-led forces. In the last few hours, Downing Street has appealed to the Russians to return to the previously established de-confliction arrangement so as to avoid any future confrontation between coalition aircraft and Russian and Syrian government aircraft.

The Pentagon in Washington responded strongly to the Russian threats made against Coalition aircraft with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford telling reporters;

I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations centre and the Russian Federation’s operations centre — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves.

Under Operation: Shader, the Royal Air Force has been engaged in gathering intelligence and conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. Tornado GR.4 and Typhoon FGR.4 combat aircraft along with Reaper drones continue to fly operations over the region from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

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Russian ECM targets British weapons over Syria

RAF Tornado GR4 Laser guided bomb paveway

The Sunday Express newspaper has run a story claiming that on three known occasions, British weapons employed by RAF aircraft over Syria have been deliberately interfered with by Russian electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment. The article states that sources close to frontline forces have revealed that two Tornado missions and one Typhoon mission was directly interfered with by Russian ground equipment which tried to jam the GPS guidance system fitted to the RAF’s Enhanced Paveway precision guided munitions (PGMs).

The original Paveway series of laser guided bombs employed by the RAF during the 1990s such as during Desert Storm, Bosnia and Kosovo relied solely on laser guidance throughout the attack. However, it was found that poor weather conditions had a detrimental effect on their performance and so a new version was developed that once released is fully autonomous even if there is cloud cover over the target which would otherwise obstruct the laser and prevent accurate guidance. In these instances, it is steered to the target using GPS information transmitted by a satellite and it is this signal that it is claimed the Russians are trying to disrupt.

It is known that the Russian forces in Syria have deployed a 1RL257 Krasukha-4 ground-based electronic warfare system to Hmeymim airbase. The Krasukha-4 is a multi-functional jamming station mounted on a BAZ-6910-022 eight-wheel truck. It was designed with both defensive and offensive capabilities and is claimed to be capable of inflicting physical damage on electronic devices that emit radio signals thanks to its own powerful jamming signal.

Former RAF AWACS commander, Air Commodore Dai Whittigham told The Sunday Express;

It entirely plausible that RAF aircraft have been targeted in this way, possibly because they wanted to see what they could do, or possibly to cause collateral damage. The problem with GPS is that the signal is very weak –it comes from a satellite in space – so it is considerably easier to hack or jam. If you interfere with the aiming system of an aircraft you have to be comfortable with the knowledge that it may cause unintended damage. We have seen that Russia doesn’t care about collateral damage in Syria.

Crews are all trained to deal with electronic interference, as these cases have shown, though, of course, the missions were still aborted. In one way, then, they were successful. But fundamentally it shows that the UK is being responsible in taking no chances that ordnance is going to be dropped in the wrong place

Russia has also been accused of deliberately interfering with drones belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation.

 

 

 

 

Kuznetsov battle group heading back towards western Europe

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe Russian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has begun its journey back to its base at Severomorsk having concluded air operations over Syria in support President Assad’s government forces. Between November and December 2016 the carrier’s air group conducted over 400 sorties over Syria alongside Russian Air Force aircraft flying from land bases but lost two aircraft in accidents. As well as air strikes, the accompanying warships that made up the carrier group also conducted powerful cruise missile strikes in November in the form of Kalibr missiles launched from the frigate Admiral Grigorovich.

Speaking to Russian news service RT.com the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, praised the involvement of the carrier stating,

All combat tasks assigned to the aircraft carrier group have been accomplished

Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (D37) at West India Dock May 2016The carrier group’s return journey to its base in Severomorsk will likely mirror its journey to the war zone in October which will see the Russian ships transiting through the English Channel as they head toward the northerly base from the Mediterranean. During its journey south the carrier was the focus of intense NATO activity with the Royal Navy assigning two warships – the Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (right) and Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond – to escort the group through the UK’s area of interest. The RAF also conducted an intelligence gathering effort aimed at the battle group involving the RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. It is likely that a similar operation will be mounted on the group’s return journey.

The deployment of the carrier to Syria has given observers a chance to assess its combat effectiveness which despite the fanfare by Russian media has been judged as being of minimal importance in the conflict by western analysts. The carrier’s air wing conducted only a small fraction of the estimated 19,000 sorties Russian aircraft have made over Syria and the Sukhoi Su-33s and Mikoyan MiG-29Ks it carries did not offer any advantage over the Russian Air Force’s aircraft deployed in-theatre. Additionally, the loss of an Su-33 during a landing accident in December saw the air wing flown to land bases in order to continue their operations while repairs were conducted to the arresting gear used to recover the fast jets.

On the other hand, despite the carrier’s reputation for mechanical breakdowns and being unsuited to real combat operations, the Russians have proven – to their credit – that the Admiral Kuznetsov can deploy far from its home port and project Russian air power. Having done it once they can certainly do so again.

 

British MPs pushing Prime Minister to let RAF drop aid in to Aleppo

RAF A400M Atlas AirbusA cross party group have submitted a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May demanding that the RAF begin dropping aid in to the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria. In the letter the signatories stated that “100,000 children are facing the slowest death” unless RAF transports drop food and medical supplies to the population.

Quoted in the Guardian newspaper, the letter to the PM said;

With our Royal Air Force already operational in the air over Syria, we are calling on you to urgently authorise the air-dropping of aid to besieged civilian populations. It is simply not acceptable that during the biggest aid operation in the UN’s history, and in the full glare of the world’s media, nearly 100,000 children are facing the slowest, cruellest death because we cannot reach them with food and medical supplies.

Labour MP Alison McGovern who helped draft the letter added;

The situation in Aleppo is beyond desperate. Those who said ‘never again’ after Rwanda, after Srebrenica, may have meant it, but we have failed. The least the UK can do is recognise that this is our last chance to save lives in Aleppo. Therefore, we must heed the call of the White Helmets, and start aid drops. This is far from ideal – a route by road for aid would be better – but the [Syrian] regime has offered no such route.

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe biggest concern for any plan to drop aid in to Aleppo is just how Assad’s Syrian government and his Russian allies would react. The skies over the city have seen heavy Russian and Syrian air activity in the last few days after Russia ended its suspension of air operations. The fresh air strikes have included aircraft from the Russian Navy’s carrier, the Admiral Kuzentsov (right), and cruise missile strikes from surface ships in the Mediterranean.

Moscow has said they would be open to allowing aid in to the city providing it was under the right conditions although just what those conditions are remain unclear. With Russian state sponsored news service RT running stories claiming that the White Helmets (Syrian civil defence – a volunteer, non-government organisation who work to rescue civilians caught up in the fighting) are supporting the rebels and having links to terrorism it is unlikely that Moscow will allow the RAF or any other western coalition aircraft to drop supplies to them in Aleppo. The biggest problem the Russians and Syrians have with the White Helmets is their release of videos of civilian casualties who have been caught up in their air strikes and which runs contrary to claims they are carrying out precision strikes against terrorist factions.

A Foreign Office spokesperson responding to the letter said;

Our priority is the protection of civilians in Syria who face an appalling humanitarian situation. We call on the Assad regime and their Russian supporters to bring about an end to terrible crisis immediately. We will continue to look at all options with our international partners to alleviate the suffering of millions of Syrians.

 

800 British troops to deploy to Estonia in response to increased tensions with Russia

British Army Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle Poland 2015

The 800 troops that will be committed by Britain to Estonia will help form one of four NATO battalions in the region that are being assembled amid growing tension between the west and Russia. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Theresa May who called for the international community to put additional pressure on Moscow regarding Russian actions in Syria.

What we have seen, sadly, is that the Russians are already able to unleash attacks on innocent civilians in Syria. What matters is that we put pressure on Russia to do what everybody agrees is the only way that we are going to resolve this issue, which is to ensure that we have a political transition in Syria, and that’s where we should focus our attention.

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe announcement comes in the wake of Britain and other NATO countries putting pressure on Spain (also a NATO member) to refuse permission for the Russian carrier group currently sailing in to the Mediterranean to dock in the country for refuelling and replenishment of supplies. In the wake of the protests the Russians decided to first withdraw their request and then deny they ever made one in the first place. The Spanish government stated they had received confirmation from the Russian embassy in Madrid that they were withdrawing their request however a Russian military spokesman then said that the Russian defence ministry had made no such request in the first place.

 

UK and NATO navies prepare to escort Russian aircraft carrier on the way to the Mediterranean

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navy

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier of the Russian Navy (Xinhua News)

British and NATO forces are making plans to escort a Russian carrier battle group as it sails from its base at Severomorsk to the Mediterranean. The Russian force headed by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier includes the powerful Kirov-class battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) which the Russian Navy have put back in to operation this year after a two year absence. The force left its base at 1200hrs GMT and is expected to near UK waters by the end of next week.

A source said to be close to NATO told the British newspaper The Telegraph;

It’s not catching us by surprise, we are working up what to do and we are all over it. The most likely thing is that they will go through the North Sea, down the Dover Strait and through the Channel…They might even stop off the North East coast to fly for a bit.

RAF Typhoon Tu-160 BlackjackLaunched in 1981 and displacing nearly 60,000tons, the Admiral Kuznetsov has an air wing comprising of Kamov helicopters and perhaps most importantly a number of Sukhoi Su-33 multi-role combat aircraft. The Royal Air Force’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force comprising of Typhoon FGR.4 fighters based at RAF Lossiemouth are therefore preparing to see a spike in the number of launches during the period that the carrier is in the vicinity of the UK. The QRA pilots in the UK are used to intercepting Russian bombers having already carried out a live interception of two Tu-160 “Blackjacks” earlier this month but it is exceptionally rare for them to intercept Russian fast jets from home soil. British Typhoons have however intercepted a number of Russian fast jets over the past few years whilst operating as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission.

At least two Royal Navy warships have been earmarked to escort the Russian carrier group around British waters. They will be supported by RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft that as will as help track the fleet will also analyse electronic emissions made by the Russian radar and communication systems to assess their capabilities.

There has been much speculation that the Russian force is sailing to the Mediterranean in order to participate in Russia’s ongoing military campaign in Syria. This has not been entirely denied by Russian media nor has it been confirmed. The Russian state-run RT news service which broadcasts in predominantly western countries published the following statement from the Russian Navy;

Particular attention will be paid to ensuring the safety of maritime navigation and other maritime economic activities of the Russian Federation, as well as respond to new types of modern threats such as piracy and international terrorism.

This is not the first time the Kuznetsov and its escorts have cruised around the British Isles. In 2011, the Type 42 destroyer HMS York shadowed the carrier for a week which due to severe weather took shelter in international waters in the Moray Firth, 30 miles from the UK coast while the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon escorted the carrier in 2014. In the previous encounters the Russians have adhered to international laws and not violated UK waters or airspace.

The Russian’s careful use of wording regarding the deployment is interesting given that US and Russian envoys are meeting in Switzerland this weekend in an effort to reach some kind of agreement over the situation in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as well as delegates from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Qatar in Lausanne to discuss ways to create a new and more permanent ceasefire in the ravaged country.

Even though the Russians aren’t confirming that the carrier will join in military operations there the fact it is sailing to the Mediterranean means it’s very presence could have an influence on the negotiations.