The Russian Ministry of Defense today, August 16, 2016, announced that Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers and Su-34 fighter bombers had taken off from Iran’s Hamadan airbase in order to strike the Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra) in Syria. This is the first time Russia openly acknowledges it has deployed strategic bombers in Iran.
According to Russia 24, the aim of deploying the bombers in Iran is to shorten the flight time to targets by 60%. The Russia Today channel reported, citing Russian diplomatic sources, that Russia has asked Iran and Iraq to allow Kaliber missiles to pass through their airspace. The Russia Today website added that on August 15, 2016 the Russian Defense Ministry announced the launch of tactical exercises in the Caspian Sea, involving warships bearing cruise Kaliber missiles. According to the ministry, the goal of the exercises is to test the Caspian Sea fleet’s ability to respond to sudden crises, including terror-related crises.
Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani responded to reports on Russia’s use of Iran’s airspace and facilities in attacks on terrorist elements in Syria, saying: “There is strategic cooperation between Tehran and Moscow regarding the war on terror in Syria, and in this field each [country] uses the abilities and facilities of the other.” Furthermore, the Russian daily Izvestia stated that Iran and Iraq have officially authorized Russia to use their airspace for Kaliber MK cruise missile.
On August 11, 2016, Russian media also reported that Moscow plans to turn the Hmeymim base, located in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province, into a fully operational base. Russian Federation Council Defense and Security Committee first deputy chairman Franz Klintsevich said: “After an agreement on its legal status, Hmeymim will become a base of Russian armed forces, all the appropriate infrastructure will be built there and our servicemen will live in decent conditions.” He added that a permanent contingent of Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) could be based at the Hmeymim airbase: “The VKS unit could be increased in accordance with bilateral agreements, but so far, from the perspective of tasks at hand, the forces currently deployed there [at Hmeymim] are enough.” He also noted that nuclear weapons and heavy bombers will not be permanently deployed at the Hmeymim base in Syria as this is against international agreements.
Tu-22M3 Strategic Bombers: A Warning To The West
On July 13, 2016, the Russian news agency Ria.ru published an article on strategic bombers titled “If The Enemy Does Not Surrender… Tu-22M3 Strategic Bombers Come To Visit,” written by Russia Today analyst Alexander Khrolenko. It stated: “On… July 12, six Tu-22M3 strategic bombers took off from Russian territory, delivered an airstrike against [ISIS] facilities… in Syria, and returned to the base airfield… The strategic bombers seemed to be acting as part of a scheduled operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces, as they had before… It is probable that the Syrian events of July 8, when ISIS militants shot down a Mi-25 helicopter with a Russian crew, had an impact on the plans of the RAF. In any case, the connection between the deaths of the pilots and the strike by the Tu-22M3 squad is chronologically quite perceptible. Still, why was the strike made not from land (by thermo-baric ammunition, for example), nor by Kalibr-NK cruise missiles from the sea, but from the stratosphere? Maybe this ‘sign from above’ was not intended only for the Middle East militants.
“The Tu-22M3 long-range multimode missile-carrying bomber is designed to conduct missile and bomb strikes in operational areas of land and sea theaters of war against stationary and moving objects (optically visible and radar-contrast objects, areas and points) by guided missiles and aerial bombs – as a single unit and as part of an aircraft group. The area of combat operations practically in the center of Syria evidently needed to be cleansed of large military groups and modern weapons. And TU-22M3 long-range bombers (combat radius with payload about 7000 km), capable of performing their task at any hour of the day and in any weather conditions, were very effective.
“The Tu-22M3 long-range supersonic missile-carrying bomber (NATO reporting name: Backfire-С) is the most modern modification of Tu-22M. It carries on board powerful weapons for the destruction of ship groups in the sea and military industrial facilities deep in the enemy territory. It can conduct reconnaissance using organic on-board radio-electronic equipment, as well as actively and passively jam attacking planes, fighter-interceptor guidance and control systems, and surface-to-air missile systems.
“Russia can greatly increase the number of mission sorties by its composite air group in Syria… and carrier aviation of the Admiral Kuznetsov cruiser (will be on combat duty in the Mediterranean from October 2016 until January 2017). And the armistice could be left in effect only for those who adhere to its terms, including western instructors of the Syrian ‘opposition groups.’ I think it would be fair.
“Once, Russian leaders warned our Western partners: You’d better not touch Ukraine. They did not listen. And what is the result? The Kremlin’s position on the civil war in Syria was not taken into account until recently either. And it looks like our Western partners are still supplying weapons to Middle Eastern terrorists. What are they hoping for? In the German magazine Der Spiegel, Sergey Karaganov, the Russian president’s advisor, plainly explains to the West: If Russia has to go to war, it will not be the way you are planning.
“The Tu-22M3 strike in Syria on July 12 may be called a tactical warning on the eve of the Russia-NATO Council meeting [that took place on July 13]. Maybe to someone in Brussels and Washington, it is a chance to realize that Russia is smarter, stronger and more determined than the West likes to think.”