Russian Air Force SU-24 jets have flown so intensively over Syria that they have needed to receive replacement engines, new satellite imagery of a Syrian airbase in Latakia, used to house Russian air assets, has shown.
The images, made available by the ImageSat International (ISI) company, were taken on January 26 by the Israeli Eros observation satellite. They will be exhibited at a conference held on Tuesday at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya.
The images also show various components of the advanced S-400 and the smaller S-22 air defense systems set up by the Russians at the airbase to protect themselves.
These include the S-400’s ‘Big Bird’ acquisition and battle management radar, and four S-400 interceptor missile launchers, as well as a radar under a camouflage net, according to the Fisher Institute.
Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Institute, said the images show an expanded deployment by Russia in Syria.
The images show “more than 30 Russian fighter jets parked at the air field, including 11 supersonic attack aircraft of the SU-24 type,” he said.
The Syrian air force also flies such planes, and one was shot down by an Israeli Patriot battery in 2014. A Russian SU-24 was shot down last November by a Turkish F-16.
Ten lighter SU-25 attack jets can be seen, as well as seven advanced attack SU-34 fighter jets, and SU-30 interception and attack aircraft, Inbar added.
“Other planes apparently were on air operations at the time that the satellite took the photograph,” he said.
“We can also see evidence for a large number of attack sorties, via the maintenance structures set up at the airfield, in which SU-24 jets can be seen getting replacement engines, following erosion caused by high levels of activity by the planes in the Syrian sector,” Inbar noted.
“From the photographs, we can see that the Russians deployed and began to operate a battery of S-400 missiles, and next to that, they deployed an SA-22 missile system,” he said, noting that Iran has also purchased an SA-22 system.
The air defense systems at Latakia “are designed to protect the Russian forces from attacks, and the S-400 appeared after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian jet in November,” leading to initial fears of an escalation, Inbar recalled.
Eros satellites were built by Israel Aerospace Industries, and come equipped with Elbit Electo- Optics (Elbit) Systems cameras.
ISI has purchased two Eros satellites, and ordered a third in 2015 with significantly more advanced capabilities. Images from Eros satellites are sold to civilian and defense clients around the world, including the Israel defense establishment.
Tuesday’s conference at the Fisher Institute will examine space, and the future of humanity. Astronauts, heads of space agencies, and industry representatives from Israel and around the world are scheduled to attend.