Satellite images showing the Russian stealth planes in Syria.
(photo credit: IMAGESAT INTERNATIONAL (ISI))
Israeli satellite imagery has confirmed the deployment of Russia’s newest Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jets in war-torn Syria.
Images of the two planes, being escorted by Russian SU-30SMs to the Russian Khmemeim air force base in the coastal province of Latakia, were first published on Twitter by local activists on Thursday.
On Saturday satellite operator ImageSat International released a statement saying that their Israeli Eros B satellite spotted the two jets, which are not fully operational.
The deployment of the jets comes two months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the war-ravaged country.
The fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters are fitted with a sophisticated avionics system and an active airborne phased-array radar which allows the jet to detect air, ground and naval targets at significantly longer distances.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a total of 12 Su-57s were initially ordered by Moscow; the jets were scheduled to be introduced to Russian forces this year.
Russia has been accused of using Syria as a testing ground for new weaponry, including its Su-34 fighter jet which has since been sold to Algeria. Many other countries, such as Indonesia, India, Uganda and Nigeria are expressing interest in the plane since it became active in the Middle-Eastern country.
Speaking to the Russian news network Sputnik, Vladimir Gutenov, chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament said Friday that while he could not confirm the deployment of the stealth fighters, he “wholeheartedly welcomed” the reports, as the jets “need to be tested in combat conditions – in conditions of [enemy] resistance.”
Furthermore, he said, their presence will no doubt send a message of deterrence, “for aircraft from neighboring states which periodically fly into Syria uninvited.”
As a fifth-generation jet designed for attack roles, it is Russia’s response to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35.
The F-22 was recently deployed to Syria following an attack against US-backed forces by pro-Syrian troops, which included Russian mercenaries, on February 7. The following week, two F-22s intercepted two Russian aircraft several times when they crossed the “deconfliction line” that is supposed to separate US and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.
According to defense officials who spoke to CNN, a Russian SU-34 jet was also involved in the incident, which lasted “several minutes.”
Israel has nine F-35s and is expecting to receive 50 more over the next few years to form two full squadrons by 2022. It has an extremely low radar signature and is supposedly able to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile-defense systems like the Russian-made S-300, which has also been deployed in Syria.
Although the F-35 was declared operational by Israel’s air force in December, the plane is not believed to have been used yet in a combat situation.
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015. Officials from Israel and Russia meet regularly to discuss the deconfliction mechanism implemented over Syria to coordinate their actions in order avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace.