The Buzz

Why Russia's Air War in Syria Could Make Its Military Even Stronger

Russia is using the real world experience its has gained in its air campaign over Syria to improve its warplanes. While Moscow’s air war no doubt furthered the Kremlin’s political objectives on the international stage, the campaign also served as a de facto live-fire operational test and evaluation period for Russia’s newest warplanes.

Indeed, the Syrian campaign showed that Russia’s new advanced Sukhoi Su-34 Fullbacks, Su-35S Flanker-E—and possibly the Su-30SM Flanker-H—required minor tweaks to their systems as a result of their recent combat experience. The aircraft required modifications to their flight controls and engines as result of the lessons learned during their deployment.

“The failures were in the control system and the engine. In general, they are not critical,” a Russian defense source told Russian-language Rambler news service. Another source told the Russian news agency that most of the glitches were “little things” and “were eliminated on the spot.” Overall, the feedback from the combat pilots was that the new Flankers performed very.  “All the pilots noted the high quality of aircraft,” a source told Rambler.

It’s not unusual to discover glitches during real world combat operations especially on a new aircraft. In fact, problems are often discovered even on mature aircraft that have been in service for years under wartime conditions. What this does is demonstrate that the Russians are taking home the lessons learned from their Syrian adventure and incorporating that knowledge. Ultimately, that means that the Russian Air Force will only grow more formidable as a threat as it continues to refine its procedures and operating concepts as a result of its real world experiences.

Indeed, the Su-34 was among the best performers during the Russia’s Syrian air campaign—carrying out the bulk of Russian precision guided weapons strikes using weapons like the KAB-500S GLONASS-guided bomb and guided missiles like the Kh-25ML and the Kh-29L. The Russian government is so pleased with the bombers’ performance that it giving Sergei Smirnov, the director of the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association, an award as a result of the Su-34’s performance.

However, Russia now acknowledges that only a fraction of its airstrikes used precision-guidance. The rest of the munitions were dumb bombs like the OFAB-250-270.  Moscow also asserts that their GLONASS-aided SVP-24 Gefest target-acquisition system affords them the ability to drop conventional dumb bombs with greater accuracy. However, such claims are dubious at best—many bomb sights have claimed such capability in the past. But without some means to correct the weapons course on the way down, there is no way to drop unguided aerial munitions from above 10,000ft with any degree of accuracy.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons.