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mardi 1 décembre 2015

Blog repost: Airbases - Russian air ops in Syria

Screen shot of televised Russian military briefing on 17 November 2015
5th unit (battery?) of the 120th ABR

While the relations between Ankara and Moscow have deteriorated since the destruction of a Su-24M by the Turkish air force, Russia is accelerating the preparations to put into service a second air base in the Homs region.

According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Rai, Russia is getting ready to open a second airbase in Syria, 35 km south-east of Homs, in Sha’irat.  With the soon to be operational base, the Russian air group deployed in Syria could reach 100 aircraft.

Since the beginning of the month of November, a number of activities by Russian armed forces on this base have been noted. Four attack helicopters Mi-24 and one transport helicopter Mi-8 have been specifically deployed since the 6th November (probably a support group that can serve, if necessary, as a rescue group to recover shot down Russian pilots), while  heavy artillery has been in place since at least since the 20th of November. According to available data on Flightracker, a wave of heavy transport An-24 aircraft have arrived at the airport in order to make it practicable for fighter jets.

The commissioning of this base will allow Russia to focus its airstrikes in the Palmyra region, and beyond, in Deir ez-Zor, both in the hands of the Islamic State.  In this sense, it signifies a shift in the Russian military presence in Syria, which should focus its efforts against IS, the Lattakia base being used probably for operations against the terrorist groups in the Northern part of the country, and against the IS in Raqqa. This also means that the capabilities provided by the airbase near Lattakia are no longer sufficient given the goals of the Russians and the situation on the ground.

The consequences of Russian-Turkish the tug-of-war on the security balance in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black sea

The destruction of a Su-24M by a Turkish fighter on 24th of November, is likely to generate tensions on the naval theatre in the Pontic and the Levant. Russia has severed military contacts with Turkey: there is no longer a military attaché to the Russian embassy in Ankara, and Moscow has suspended its naval cooperation within the framework of the BlackSeaFor taskforce (moribund since 2008, it must be stressed). If the question of the free movement of Russian ships through the Turkish Straits is, fortunately, has not yet been raised, it remains the case that tensions within the Russian and Turkish naval activities in the eastern Mediterranean is palpable. The Russian naval detachment in the Levant is made up of the following vessels (29/11/2015) :

·         the guided-missile cruiser Moskva
·         the frigate Smetlivy
·         the intelligence ship Vasily Tatischev
·         the tanker Ivan Bubnov

·         3 other support vessels, including the oceanographic vessel Admiral Vladimirskiy
In addition, the conventional attack submarine B-237 Rostov-on-Don (Project 0636.3) still does not seem to have joined the Black sea fleet, so it may still pass into the eastern Mediterranean, and contribute to the protection of the Moskva. For its part, Turkey has two submarines on patrol in the Levant (TCG Bolunay and TCG Burakreis). Suffice to say that the Russian naval group would not make the weight in the absolute against the Turkish ships that could get to the area in the event of hostilities. It is not necessary to exclude that the Russian sending into the area f the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, but this would be a negative signal vis-à-vis the development of the situation: the Kuznetsov is primarily a tool to no go & no fly zones & ASW

Pursuant to articles 20 and 21 of the Convention of Montreux (1936), which governs the crossing of the Straits, Ankara can, if felt threatened,  can decide the closure of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles, the terms of which crossing would then be left to the sole discretion of Turkish authorities. In the current context of tensions with Russia, this would mean implementing a blockade of the Black sea Russian ports. Turkey could decide to take intermediary measures such as, the inspection of ships civilian chartered by Russia to transport materials to Syria, (some of the vessels have been brought from Turkey...). However, this would be an unprecedented turning point with serious consequences for both the Russians and the Turks, and by extension, for the security of the whole region, from the Balkans to the Caspian Sea. The ships of the Russian Mediterranean squadron would be 'prisoners' in the Mediterranean, and would not able to rely on technical support of the port of Tartus, and to a lesser extent, on Cyprus.

Source : Lenta, Turkish, forums, RIA Novosti...

Note:  Shayrat airfield has dispersed reinforced hangars whereas Lattakia is predominantly composed of civilian infrastructure, not suitable for medium and long term military operations & certainly doesn't offer protection for aircraft or personnel.

Other sources:

" The move could see Russia's air fleet bolstered to over 100 war planes, while 1,000 ground troops are also on their way to Syria". 

Al-Shayrat airbase houses 45 fortified aircraft hangers, Elijah J. Magnier from the newspaper said in the report.

Engineers are building a three kilometre backup runway to cater to the new Russian aircraft.

Russia has around 37 war planes and helicopters at Latakia airbase, including Su-34 war planes. 

 Back in September:

Russian planes redirected

Another pro-rebel outlet reported that a group of Russian planes was seen arriving at an airbase near Homs and noted that the fleet may have been transferred there due to the lack of sufficient fortifications at the Hmeimim airbase.

All4Syria cited a source as saying that the planes had been seen landing at the Shayrat airbase, which lies around 25 km southeast of the central Syrian city.

Although the outlet has not been able to confirm the source’s report, it said the lack of bomb-proof hangars at Hmeimim has forced redeployment of incoming aircraft.

“There is a large operational deployment plan for Russian planes arriving at Hmeimim airbase that includes several airbases,” the outlet claimed.

According to the report, the deployment plan includes Hama airbase, the Dumeir and Nasiriya airbases to the north of Damascus and Bley airbase in Eastern Ghouta.

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