February 1, 2016
Russia has deployed at least four advanced Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E aircraft to Syria, beefing up its air superiority capabilities in the war-torn region.
The move follows protests from Turkey that a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback bomber violated its airspace on Friday—a claim Moscow denies. In an earlier incident in November, Ankara shot down a Russia Su-24 Fencer that had crossed the Turkish border for about eighteen seconds. Following that incident, Moscow deployed the power S-400 air and missile defense system to Syria and started to arm its fighters with live air-to-air missiles.
“Starting from last week, super-maneuverable Su-35S fighter jets started performing combat missions at Khmeimim airbase," Russian defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told the TASS news agency on February 1.
The addition of the Su-35 provides Russia with more fighter escorts for its fleet of Su-24 Fencer and Su-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft that are operating from the Khmeimim air base, which is located in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province. Those aircraft have minimal air-to-air self-defense capability and are reliant on the Sukhoi Su-30SM and Su-27SM3 Flankers currently in theatre for protection. Russia has also deployed fourteen Su-34 Fullback bombers to Syria, but those warplanes have a significant air-to-air self-defense capability.
It’s not clear how many air superiority aircraft Russia currently has deployed to Syria. Prior to the arrival of the Su-35s, the most capable Russian air superiority fighters in the region were four Su-30SM Flanker-H aircraft. Indeed, while not quite as sprightly due to their greater weight, drag, less powerful engines and somewhat less capable avionics, the Su-30SM is nonetheless an overall more capable system compared to the Su-35 due to the presence of a second crew member. The addition of the weapons system officer helps to ease crew workload during complex air operations.