The Kremlin has launched a massive barrage of air and sea launched cruise missiles against Daesh targets in Syria in retaliation for the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt last month.
Russia launched the missiles from Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire, Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Additionally, the Russian navy launched its own barrage of the cruise missiles against the self-styled Islamic State according to some reports.
“In accordance to the task assigned by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces concerning enhancing combat air operations in the Syrian Arab Republic, crews of Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 long-range aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out strikes with air-based cruise missiles at the ISIS terrorist objects within the air operation,” reads a statement from the Russian defense ministry.
During the first wave of the Russian raids, a dozen Tu-22M3 bombers struck Daesh targets in Syria’s Raqqah and Deir-ez-Zor provinces. Later, a force of massive Mach 2.0-capable Tu-160 supersonic bombers and quad-turboprop Tu-95MS Bears launched a salvo of thirty-four air-launched cruise missiles against the terrorists in Aleppo and Idlib. “Today as a result of the first massive airstrike 14 terrorist facilities of special importance were destroyed with 34 cruise missiles,” reads the Russian government statement. It’s the first time Russian strategic bombers—particular the Blackjack—has conducted combat operations in recent memory.
There are no details available about the Russian naval cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets. But presumably, the Russians followed a similar game plan as their last series of sea-based cruise missile strikes that were launched from the Caspian Sea. Russia could have once again launched missiles from the Caspian Sea, but it could also have launched those weapons from the Mediterranean.
The Russian air attack consisted of twenty-five bombers backed by eight Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft and four Su-30SM multirole fighters. The Fullback strike aircraft hit a number of targets—including Daesh’s fuel supply. “Su-34 aircraft destroyed two columns of fuel bowsers and about 50 vehicles. As a result, taking into consideration previous airstrikes aimed at oil supply transports (410 fuellers in total) and several infrastructure elements, the illegal fuel export capabilities of the terrorists have been significantly cut,” the Russian defense ministry states.
In total, the Russian expeditionary force in Latakia flew a total of sixty-five combat sorties, according to the Russian defense ministry. The Russians planned to fly 127 combat sorties against 206 Daesh targets‑including the strategic bomber raids. The Russians also apparently provided advanced notice to the United States of their impending operation. “The Russian Defence Ministry had informed the US Air Force Command and other coalition countries’ Commands about the airstrikes in advance,” the Russian statement reads.
Pentagon officials confirmed that Russia had given them prior notice of the operation. “We are aware that over the past several hours Russia conducted a significant number of strikes in Raqqah, some of which may have included sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers,” a senior U.S. defense official told Agency France Presse. “While we do not coordinate or collaborate in any way with Russia on its activities in Syria, I can confirm that the Russians did provide us notice prior to conducting these strikes, via the Coalition Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, in accordance with the safety protocols agreed to in October.”
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered the Slava-class missile cruiser Moskva—which is the Russian flagship in the Mediterranean—and her task force to cooperate with French forces in the region.
France has stepped up its operations in the region following a barbaric terrorist attack on Paris on Friday. The French carrier Charles de Gaulle is set to arrive in the region within days to start bombarding the Daesh forces. According to Putin, Moskva will “cooperate with them as with allies.” While Paris and Moscow are not currently coordinating, French president Francois Hollande is set to meet with Putin on Nov. 26.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Image: Flickr/Creative Commons.