For years now, Syria has been the foremost proving ground for major military powers to test their equipment in real combat conditions. The first half of 2018 has proven no exception and in fact demonstrates that this trend is as, if not more so, popular as ever.
In May 2018 alone both Israel and Russia separately announced the combat debut of two different fifth-generation stealth fighter-bomber aircraft in Syria within days of each other. While both claims of these respective planes carrying out combat operations in Syria are unverified they are nevertheless worth evaluating.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu publicized a video showing Russia’s fifth-generation Su-57 (T-50) stealth fighter-bomber launching what appears to be a Kh-59MK2 long-range subsonic cruise missile (see video on the right), which can deliver a warhead of 700 pounds (almost 320 kg) of explosives at targets over 550 km away. Shoygu claimed the aircraft launched the missile in combat over Syria last February, which coincides with a brief two-day deployment of a pair of stealthy Sukhoi Su-57s to the country.
It remains unclear if the missile Shoygu showed on video was actually fired in Syria at an enemy target. A Syrian source cited by Al Masdar News dubiously claimed that the Su-57s targeted positions belonging to Jaysh Al-Izza (“Army of Glory”) group in the towns of Kafr Zita and Al-Lataminah in the countryside of Hama Governorate.
In a recent article in The Daily Beast, on the other hand, military analyst David Axe outlined several reasons to be extremely skeptical over the Kremlin’s claims of a February test launch, pointing out that Moscow “seems determined to portray its stealth fighters in the best possible light as prospects fade for mass-production of the troubled warplanes.”
He notes that the Su-57 “currently lacks many of its planned electronics and sensors and has been cleared to carry only a few different kinds of munitions” and in its public appearances to date has only carried “dummy bombs and missiles that are strictly for display.” (This is also true of the Lockheed Martin F-35, but hasn’t stopped it from attaining Initial Operating Capability (IOC) with the US Air Force and Marine Corps, and the Israeli and Italian air forces, so the Su-57 could well prosper operationally despite these shortfalls--Ed.) Citing experts, Axe illustrates that there is nothing in Shoygu’s video presentation to indicate that the missile launch did indeed take place in Syria rather than “some remote air force testing site deep in Russia’s interior.”
While this may well prove the case, Russia has in the past used its deployment in Syria to gauge the effectiveness of its equipment. For example, it has launched several of its long-range 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles at targets across Syria since 2015, a missile it hitherto never used in a war zone before (see also Louis Martin-Vézian, “Comprehensive Infographic about the Russian Intervention in Syria — December 2015 Update,” offiziere.ch, 08.12.2015).
The Syrian conflict also saw the combat debut of the flashy Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber and marked the first time many of Russia’s strategic bombers – such as the Tupolev Tu-95 Bears and Tu-160 Blackjacks – conducted long-range bombing runs, flying directly from Russia, over an actual war zone. (end of excerpt)
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