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Russia’s Foreign Ministry: reports of ‘scores of Russians’ killed in Syria are disinformation

Alexander Mercouris

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Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, has vigorously denied widespread Western media reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries supposedly killed in the recent US air strike in Syria against pro-Syrian government tribal fighters east of the Euphrates river.

These reports have appeared in BloombergThe New York Times, and The Guardian.  They have been followed up by a further report by Agence France-Presse and in The Guardian, sourced to the pro-Jihadi British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that another fifteen Russian mercenaries were recently killed as a result of an explosion at their base in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.

Zakharova’s denial does not touch on the explosion at the base, but does respond in detail to the claims of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of deaths of Russian mercenaries as a result of the earlier US air strike

Reports about the death of dozens and even hundreds of Russian nationals are a classic example of disinformation. There were not 400, 200, 100 or even ten (who died), according to preliminary information, in a clash the cause of which is being investigated. Five people, who allegedly were Russian citizens, may have been killed. Several people suffered wounds but it requires verification, particularly as to whether all of them are Russian nationals.

Zakharova went on to say that the Russians who were killed in the US air strike were private civilian contractors (ie. mercenaries) who had no connection to the Russian military and whose movements in Syria were not coordinated with the Russian military and were not therefore fully known to the Russian authorities

I would like to stress that they are not military servicemen.  The Russian presidential administration and Defence Ministry have promptly clarified that there were no Russian military servicemen in the area targeted by the US-led coalition…..

There is a large number of people from all over the globe in conflict zones, including from Russia and CIS member states.  They have various reasons to be there, including participating in military activities. They do not turn to state agencies when they head off to conflict zones, and use illegal routes. It is difficult to figure out who is doing what there but the Russian Foreign Ministry together with other state agencies has been looking into every such case because one of our goals is to protect Russian nationals abroad

As to who was responsible for spreading the story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the US air strike, Zakharova pointed the finger at ‘Syrian militants’ (ie. Al-Qaeda or ISIS) whilst also blaming the US authorities and the Western media for spreading the stories.

Syrian militants fighting against the government [had been the first to start] spreading this disinformation through their channels.  God knows why they used a picture of the Martian landscape, adding a photo of destroyed military hardware, which could be Ukrainian (a probe is underway) that dates back to June 2014.  We can understand the reason why international terrorists spread such rumours, as well as why US media outlets do that. This information campaign was stoked by Washington, which has been accusing Moscow of interfering in the US presidential election.

The report of the fifteen Russian mercenaries killed in the explosion in Deir Ezzor unquestionably originates from Jihadi sources, as shown by the fact that it is sourced to the pro Jihadi Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fact that the reports both of the air strike and of the explosion at the base concern events in eastern Syria, an area where Al-Qaeda has no significant presence, suggests that the people who are behind these reports are from ISIS, which is known to operate a sophisticated propaganda and disinformation operation, and whose heartland area eastern Syria is.

As I have previously pointed out, a false report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights of the death of the ISIS leader Ibrahim Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi confirms that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has contacts with ISIS, though this does not seem to worry the Western media outlets which republish its reports

This tends to corroborate Zakharova’s claim that what we are looking at is a Jihadi orchestrated disinformation campaign about Russian casualties in eastern Syria, with the likelihood being that is being carried out by ISIS.

Sadly there is no doubt that members of Russia’s ‘non-system’ liberal opposition have also played a role in spreading and giving credence to this story.  Bloomberg’s report of the story unfortunately makes that all too clear.

The reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of dead Russians in Syria – both as a result of the US air strike and because of the explosion in Deir Ezzor – in fact have all the obvious hallmarks of a disinformation operation.

Firstly, though there is no doubt that there are many Russian mercenaries in Syria, it is scarcely credible that ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of them would be gathered together in one place.

Beyond that, for a single air strike to kill ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of people – especially soldiers dispersed over a wide area and taking cover – would be unusual.

Syrian reports in fact said that the total number of fighters  – Syrian and Russian – killed by the US air strike was 25, and this still seems to be the most plausible and reliable figure.

South Front, whose analysis and reporting of the Syrian conflict is both reliable and outstanding, identified the reports of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in the air strike as an obvious case of a disinformation operation and said so even before Zakharova made her denial

On February 7 and on February 8, the English-speaking mainstream media, like Politico, Reuters, CNN, were spreading reports that over 100 pro-Assad fighters were killed in the US strikes. All the reports were based on anonymous sources and were mixed with statements from the Pentagon and the defense secretary to look more reliable. According to these reports, a group of 300-500 government fighters, backed up by battle tanks and artillery, were involved in the alleged attack on the SDF.

On February 8, some infamous figures and media outlets of the Russian media sphere started spreading reports that Russian PMCs had suffered mass casualties in the February 7 incident. The conflicting reports, also based on anonymous sources, included estimates such as “two truckloads of dead bodies”, 10-20 killed, 100, 200, 300, 600.

On February 10, the Russian telegram channel WarGonzo posted 5 audio recordings of an alleged conversation among 3 PMCs. One of the voices provides the number of 177 killed. These audio recordings had also been received by a number of Russian journalists since February 7 and were most likely a forgery.

By February 14, reports had settled at a general number of 10-600 dead PMCs.

Meanwhile, the analysis of open info, including reports from relatives and friends of the PMCs involved in the operation, allowed all the concerned sides to find out that 5 Russians reportedly died in the aforementioned period. However, no details are available.

Independent journalists also noted that no aircraft, which could have been involved in the transfer of the killed and injured PMCs, had been spotted at Khmeimim Air Base since February 7. SouthFront correspondents and sources in Damascus and Deir Ezzor can also not confirm information regarding the hundreds of killed PMCs.

SouthFront’s military experts aware of the situation say that the possible number of the casualties could be higher than 5, but not more than 15-20.

The entire story about mass casualties of Russian PMCs is based on unconfirmed and fake data, that includes a few real facts like the US strikes, some PMCs casualties and the participation of the ISIS Hunters in the incident. The rest is an orchestrated campaign in keeping with the best traditions of propaganda.

The goals of which would be that:

  • the US is able to fight back against the Russians in Syria;
  • Russia is not able to defend its interests;
  • the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back

To which I would only add that in my opinion the primary motive of the Western media and of the members of the Russian ‘non-system’ liberal opposition giving credence to this disinformation is the third of the three cited by South Front: “the Kremlin is not concerned over killed Russian citizens or is not able to carry out any pay back”.

The first round of Russia’s Presidential elections is due to take place on 18th March 2018.  Spreading and giving credence to what looks to have been originally an ISIS disinformation campaign about ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russian mercenaries killed in eastern Syria looks like an obvious attempt to create controversy within Russia about Russia’s intervention in Syria on the eve of the election.

Just consider for example what Bloomberg reports Vladimir Frolov – a columnist of the staunchly pro-liberal opposition Moscow Times – as saying about the story

This is a big scandal and a reason for an acute international crisis.  But Russia will pretend nothing happened.

Clearly a number of Russian mercenaries – or possibly volunteers – got caught up in the US air strike which took place east of the Euphrates, and a number of them were killed.

The number may be higher than the five reported by Zakharova.  She admitted that this number is based on early reports, and that the final total may be higher.

However it beggars belief that it comes anywhere close to the fantastic numbers which have been reported in the Western media.

That ISIS – or whichever Jihadi group is responsible for this disinformation – has greatly exaggerated the number of Russians killed in the air strike is not surprising.

It is hardly unusual in war for one side to exaggerate the number of casualties suffered by the other.  In the Syrian conflict that happens all the time.  All sides – including the US and Russian militaries – are guilty of it.

What is concerning is that this unverified and wildly implausible story of ‘scores’ or even ‘hundreds’ of Russians killed in Syria has spread like wild fire through the Western media as if it were true.

One more example of how when it comes to news about Russia for the Western media anything goes.

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Michael McFaul, what have YOU done to help improve US-Russia relations?

The former US ambassador to Russia has proven to be quite adept at chastising Russia at every turn, even in retirement. But what exactly has McFaul done to create an atmosphere of lasting peace between Moscow and Washington?

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It was the summer of 2013 when I had my first and only encounter with Michael McFaul, then-US Ambassador to Russia. It was a Saturday afternoon, and a black sedan pulled into the parking lot of the prestigious Anglo-American School, a private learning facility located in the outskirts of Moscow where foreign diplomats and corporate executives enroll their kids.

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A burly driver opened the door and into the scorching sun appeared, in all his excellency, Michael McFaul. After exchanging brief pleasantries, the ambassador strolled to the bleachers on the opposite side of the field to await the beginning of a children’s baseball game; a bit of an anticlimactic turn compared to the grand entry. I remember thinking to myself at the time, as he took a seat by himself across the pitch, ‘There goes the loneliest man in the world.’

Sooner than I would have imagined, my impression of the ambassador and his unenviable situation in Russia was confirmed. Several months later, McFaul abruptly resigned from his government post after just two years on the job, returning to the dusty halls of academia from where he had first emerged to work in the Obama administration.

Despite his retirement, and being banned from Russia, McFaul continues to elicit inflammatory opinions on ‘Putin’s Russia’ on a regular basis. Few of these verbal fusillades prove helpful at injecting some semblance of sanity back into the US-Russia relationship.

This week, for example, McFaul went head-to-head against Steven Seagal, the Hollywood actor and martial arts expert who was just appointed as Russia’s ‘special representative on humanitarian relations with the US.’ Seagal’s work includes, among other duties, “promoting bilateral ties in a wide range of fields including culture, art, science, education, sports, public and youth exchanges.”

Considering the basement-level status of the US-Russia relationship, it would seem that any attempt to forge bonds between the two nuclear powers deserves some applause, even if it’s just a polite golf clap. That logic doesn’t apply if you’re Michael McFaul. Following the appointment, McFaul promptly fired up his Twitter account to pedantically slam Seagal for using British spelling as opposed to American while announcing his new post. Our esteemed academic, however, broke the first rule of social-media sparring by failing to ensure that his own tweet was grammatically sound.

In any event, McFaul went on to predict that Seagal would ultimately fail to “achieve any success in improving Russian-American relations,” not only because the Hollywood actor has “almost no influence” in the United States, but because – wait for it – “he has no experience in diplomacy.”

As the attentive reader will recall, the lack of diplomatic credentials was precisely the main argument against McFaul’s two-year stint as US ambassador. Not only was the Stanford professor the first non-career diplomat to serve as US ambassador to Russia, he arrived in Moscow with a rather odd CV, which included a doctorate dissertation devoted to the “theory of revolution in an international context.” To complicate his stay in Russia even more, one of McFaul’s very first orders of business in Moscow was to meet with members of the Russian opposition – and at the very same time street protests and color revolutions were becoming all the rage. How’s that for diplomacy?

The story gets better. Judging by a recent request put forward by Russia’s general prosecutor’s office, in which it specifically named Michael McFaul as a person of interest in the criminal case against Bill Browder, the British financier who is wanted in Russia for illegally moving $1.5 billion out of the country, it would suggest that the ambassador was not limited to just meeting with political agitators. McFaul, however, has denied any wrongdoing.

This was just the later innings, as it were, of what appears to have been a doubleheader the professor was playing. Before being nominated to the position of US ambassador, Michael McFaul was a senior adviser of the Obama administration, where he went on to become the architect of the much-maligned US-Russia ‘Reset.’

You know a program is doomed from the start when not even the US State Department is able to correctly translate the idea into Russian. For a man who is so concerned with proper spelling, you’d think he would have gotten that one right.

Yet it was much more than just poor translating skills that ensured the demise of the ‘Reset;’ the failure was a result of Washington’s absolute refusal to cooperate with Russia on the US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Any serious discussion on the US-Russia bilateral relationship is incomplete without mentioning this part of the story.

Initially pledging to “shelve” the brainchild weapon system of the Bush administration (just months after McFaul’s ‘Reset’ is announced in March 2009), the Obama administration shifted gears, telling the world it would opt for a scaled-down version of the system instead, all the while holding out the carrot of cooperation to Moscow.

However, unless the Obama administration committed itself to a real partnership with Russia, McFaul’s ‘Reset’ would have to be interpreted for what it arguably was: an elaborate smokescreen to soften up Moscow into believing the White House had honorable intentions. As events strongly indicate, it did not. Fortunately for Russia, it did not fall for the ruse. It got to work developing ways to balance the military scales that were beginning to dangerously tip due to a US-made weapon system on its very doorstep.

That much was underscored by Vladimir Putin’s recent state of the nation address in which he revealed the introduction of advanced weapon systems that make “obsolete” any missile defense shield in the world. Had the Obama administration not taken a cynical and deceptive approach to its ‘diplomatic’ relations with Russia, as demonstrated by McFaul’s fake ‘Reset,’ the world would not be perched on the precipice of disaster as it is today.

These days, the former US ambassador continues to muddy the bilateral waters, dispatching tirades against Russia via Twitter to his 339,000 followers, many of whom share the same jaded views, which has a tendency to occur whenever ideas are cultivated in an echo chamber.

It may go down as the tragedy of our days that the Obama administration, believing Russia was down for the proverbial count, dispatched to Moscow a non-diplomat at the precise moment when diplomacy between the two nuclear powers was more important than ever. In hindsight, it was a dangerous move on the global chessboard that will have ramifications on international politics for many decades to come. Nevertheless, Russia not only survived the challenge, but it looks quite capable of defending its long-term interests.

It is a regrettable conclusion, but I would argue that Michael McFaul and his colleagues in the Obama administration view Russia’s stunning revival, as witnessed on both the military and economic fronts, as a genuine ‘failure of diplomacy’ on their part. Faced with that sort of cynical, duplicitous approach to Russia, the bilateral relationship needs many more sincere ambassadors of peace, like Steven Seagal, working tirelessly on behalf of friendship between the two countries.

Via RT

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Crimea vs. Afghanistan – Which is More Occupied?

Let’s compare Russia’s “occupation” of Crimea with an occupation that the US is not demanding a swift end to: the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

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Both sides of the aisle can agree on this important thing — which has achieved a growing, bi-partisan, academic and popular consensus in the United States during the past four years.

It is this: the second biggest threat to peace on earth and to the global rule of law (right behind either Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, depending on your affiliation) is the 2014 vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia.

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Now, the vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia has another, more common name: ‘The Seizure of Crimea.’

This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the ‘Seizure of Crimea’ has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote.

I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result.

Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea was voting to secede from a coup government. The United States had supported the secession of Kosovo from Serbia in the 1990s despite Serbian opposition.

When Slovakia seceded from Czechoslovakia, the U.S. did not urge any opposition. The U.S. government supports the right of South Sudan to have seceded from Sudan, although violence and chaos reigned. U.S. politicians like Joe Biden and Jane Harman even proposed breaking Iraq up into pieces, as others have proposed for Syria.

But let’s grant for the sake of argument that the Crimean vote was problematic, even horrendous, even criminal. There is no question that Russia had military forces in Crimea and sent in more, something I believe I can non-hypocritically oppose, since I’m not the U.S. government and I advocate for the abolition of the U.S. military.

Even so, how does the “occupation” of Crimea rise to the level of greatest threat to peace on earth?

Compare it to a trillion dollars a year in U.S. military spending, new missiles in Romania and Poland, massive bombing of Iraq and Syria, the destruction of Iraq and Libya, the endless war on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S.-Saudi devastation of Yemen and the creation of famine and disease epidemics, or the explicit threats to attack Iran, not to mention world-leading weapons dealing to dictatorships around the globe by the good old U.S. of A.

I’m sure your average American would rather visit “liberated Mosul” than “annexed Crimea,” but should we deal with facts or slogans?

Let’s take one example of an occupation that the U.S. government is not demanding a swift end to: the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

I don’t propose comparing the horrors of the so-called longest U.S. war — as if the wars on Native Americans aren’t real — with World War II or Iraq. I propose comparing them with the people of Crimea voting to make their little piece of land part of Russia again. Which is more barbaric, immoral, illegal, destructive, and traumatic?

Most countries polled in December 2013 by Gallup called the United States the greatest threat to peace in the world (Russia came in as the 12th greatest threat), and Pew found that viewpoint increased in 2017.

Some in the United States seem to share the world’s view of the matter. “The Taliban had surrendered a few months before I arrived in Afghanistan in late 2002,” Rory Fanning tells me, “but that wasn’t good enough for our politicians back home and the generals giving the orders. Our job was to draw people back into the fight. I signed up to prevent another 9/11, but my two tours in Afghanistan made me realize that I was making the world less safe. We know now that a majority of the million or so people who have been killed since 9/11 have been innocent civilians, people with no stake in the game and no reason to fight until, often enough, the U.S. military baited them into it by killing or injuring a family member who more often than not was an innocent bystander.”

Eleanor Levine, active with Code Pink, says, “Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people, not the USA and not NATO.”

“How would you feel,” she asks, “if Afghanistan occupied the USA? How would you feel if your towns and streets were patrolled by an occupying force? How would you feel if your schools, homes, stores, banks, agriculture and jobs, were controlled by Afghanistan? I am betting you cannot imagine this possibility. But try hard to imagine how it would feel. Try really hard to imagine it because it is the everyday experience of Afghans who want to live life as Afghans and raise their children as Afghans in their own country. Try to think, what have Afghan people done to the USA and NATO to deserve continuous interference and control from afar?”

Here’s my proposal. The people of Afghanistan should hold a public referendum and vote immediately to become the 51st U.S. state. Not only would they then have made themselves seized, conquered, attacked, raped, and occupied in the bad, Russian senses of the terms. But if they sent along some photos of themselves in a note to the U.S. Congress, they’d get U.S. troops out of their country and achieve its total independence from the United States by the following afternoon.

Via DavidSwanson.org

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The Russian Su-35 is the plane the US Air Force should fear

The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the top Russian air-superiority fighter in service today, and represents the pinnacle of fourth-generation jet fighter design. It will remain so until Russia succeeds in bringing its fifth-generation PAK-FA stealth fighter into production.

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The maneuverability of the Su-35 makes it an unsurpassed dogfighter. However, future aerial clashes using the latest missiles (R-77s, Meteors, AIM-120s) could potentially take place over enormous ranges, while even short-range combat may involve all-aspect missiles like the AIM-9X and R-74 that don’t require pointing the aircraft at the target. Nonetheless, the Su-35’s speed (which contributes to a missile’s velocity) and large load-carrying abilities mean it can hold its own in beyond-visual-range combat. Meanwhile, the Flanker-E’s agility and electronic countermeasures may help it evade opposing missiles.

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The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the top Russian air-superiority fighter in service today, and represents the pinnacle of fourth-generation jet fighter design. It will remain so until Russia succeeds in bringing its fifth-generation PAK-FA stealth fighter into production.

Distinguished by its unrivaled maneuverability, most of the Su-35’s electronics and weapons capabilities have caught up with those of Western equivalents, like the F-15 Eagle. But while it may be a deadly adversary to F-15s, Eurofighters and Rafales, the big question mark remains how effectively it can contend with fifth-generation stealth fighters such as the F-22 and F-35.

History

The Su-35 is an evolution of the Su-27 Flanker, a late Cold War design intended to match the F-15 in concept: a heavy twin-engine multirole fighter combining excellent speed and weapons load-out with dogfighting agility.

An Su-27 stunned the audience of the Paris Air Show in 1989 when it demonstrated Pugachev’s Cobra, a maneuver in which the fighter rears its nose up to 120-degree vertical—but continues to soar forward along the plane’s original attitude.

Widely exported, the Flanker has yet to clash with Western fighters, but did see air-to-air combat in Ethiopian service during a border war with Eritrea, scoring four kills against MiG-29s for no loss. It has also been employed on ground attack missions.

The development history of the Su-35 is a bit complicated. An upgraded Flanker with canards (additional small wings on the forward fuselage) called the Su-35 first appeared way back in 1989, but is not the same plane as the current model; only fifteen were produced. Another upgraded Flanker, the two-seat Su-30, has been produced in significant quantities, and its variants exported to nearly a dozen countries.

The current model in question, without canards, is properly called the Su-35S and is the most advanced type of the Flanker family. It began development in 2003 under the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO), a subcontractor of Sukhoi. The first prototypes rolled out in 2007 and production began in 2009.

Airframe and Engines

The Flanker family of aircraft is super-maneuverable—meaning it is engineered to perform controlled maneuvers that are impossible through regular aerodynamic mechanisms. In the Su-35, this is in part achieved through use of thrust-vectoring engines: the nozzles of its Saturn AL-41F1S turbofans can independently point in different directions in flight to assist the aircraft in rolling and yawing. Only one operational Western fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has similar technology.

This also allows the Su-35 to achieve very high angles-of-attack—in other words, the plane can be moving in one direction while its nose is pointed in another. A high angle of attack allows an aircraft to more easily train its weapons on an evading target and execute tight maneuvers.

Such maneuvers may be useful for evading missiles or dogfighting at close ranges—though they leave any aircraft in a low-energy state.

The Flanker-E can achieve a maximum speed of Mach 2.25 at high altitude (equal to the F-22 and faster than the F-35 or F-16) and has excellent acceleration. However, contrary to initial reports, it appears it may not be able to supercruise—perform sustained supersonic flight without using afterburners—while loaded for combat. Its service ceiling is sixty thousand feet, on par with F-15s and F-22s, and ten thousand feet higher than Super Hornets, Rafales and F-35s.

The Su-35 has expanded fuel capacity, giving it a range of 2,200 miles on internal fuel, or 2,800 miles with two external fuel tanks. Both the lighter titanium airframe and the engines have significantly longer life expectancies than their predecessors, at six thousand and 4,500 flight hours, respectively. (For comparison, the F-22 and F-35 are rated at eight thousand hours).

The Flanker airframe is not particularly stealthy. However, adjustments to the engine inlets and canopy, and the use of radar-absorbent material, supposedly halve the Su-35’s radar cross-section; one article claims it may be down to between one and three meters. This could reduce the range it can be detected and targeted, but the Su-35 is still not a “stealth fighter.”

Weaponry

The Su-35 has twelve to fourteen weapons hardpoints, giving it an excellent loadout compared to the eight hardpoints on the F-15C and F-22, or the four internally stowed missiles on the F-35.

At long range, the Su-35 can use K-77M radar-guided missiles (known by NATO as the AA-12 Adder), which are claimed to have range of over 120 miles.

For shorter-range engagements, the R-74 (NATO designation: AA-11 Archer) infrared-guided missile is capable of targeting “off boresight”—simply by looking through a helmet-mounted optical sight, the pilot can target an enemy plane up sixty degrees away from where his plane is pointed. The R-74 has a range of over twenty-five miles, and also uses thrust-vectoring technology.

The medium-range R-27 missile and the extra long-range R-37 (aka the AA-13 Arrow, for use against AWACs, EW and tanker aircraft) complete the Su-35’s air-to-air missile selection.

Additionally, the Su-35 is armed with a thirty-millimeter cannon with 150 rounds for strafing or dogfighting.

The Flanker-E can also carry up to seventeen thousand pounds of air-to-ground munitions. Historically, Russia has made only limited use of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) compared to Western air forces. However, the capability for large-scale use of such weapons is there, if doctrine and munition stocks accommodate it.

Sensors and Avionics

The Su-35’s most critical improvements over its predecessors may be in hardware. It is equipped with a powerful L175M Khibiny electronic countermeasure system intended to distort radar waves and misdirect hostile missiles. This could significantly degrade attempts to target and hit the Flanker-E.

The Su-35’s IRBIS-E passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar is hoped to provide better performance against stealth aircraft. It is claimed to able to track up to thirty airborne targets with a Radar-cross section of three meters up to 250 miles away—and targets with cross-sections as small 0.1 meters over fifty miles away. However, PESA radars are easier to detect and to jam than the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars now used by Western fighters. The IRBIS also has an air-to ground mode that can designate up to four surface targets at time for PGMs.

Supplementing the radar is an OLS-35 targeting system that includes an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system said to have a fifty-mile range—potentially a significant threat to stealth fighters.

More mundane but vital systems—such as pilot multi-function displays and fly-by-wire avionics—have also been significantly updated.

Operational Units and Future Customers

Currently, the Russian Air Force operates only forty-eight Su-35s. Another fifty were ordered in January 2016, and will be produced at a rate of ten per year. Four Su-35s were deployed to Syria this January after a Russian Su-24 was shot down by a Turkish F-16. Prominently armed with air-to-air missiles, the Su-35s were intended to send a message that the Russians could pose an aerial threat if attacked.

China has ordered twenty-four Su-35s at a cost of $2 billion, but is thought unlikely to purchase more. Beijing’s interest is believed to lie mostly in copying the Su-35’s thrust-vector engines for use in its own designs. The Chinese PLAAF already operates the Shenyang J-11, a copy of the Su-27.

Attempts to market the Su-35 abroad, especially to India and Brazil, have mostly foundered. Recently, however, Indonesia has indicated it wishes to purchase eight this year, though the contract signing has been repeatedly delayed. Algeria is reportedly considering acquiring ten for $900 million. Egypt, Venezuela and Vietnam are also potential customers.

Cost estimates for the Su-35 have run between $40 million and $65 million; however, the exports contracts have been at prices above $80 million per unit.

Against the Fifth Generation

The Su-35 is at least equal—if not superior—to the very best Western fourth-generation fighters. The big question, is how well can it perform against a fifth-generation stealth plane such as the F-22 or F-35?

The maneuverability of the Su-35 makes it an unsurpassed dogfighter. However, future aerial clashes using the latest missiles (R-77s, Meteors, AIM-120s) could potentially take place over enormous ranges, while even short-range combat may involve all-aspect missiles like the AIM-9X and R-74 that don’t require pointing the aircraft at the target. Nonetheless, the Su-35’s speed (which contributes to a missile’s velocity) and large load-carrying abilities mean it can hold its own in beyond-visual-range combat. Meanwhile, the Flanker-E’s agility and electronic countermeasures may help it evade opposing missiles.

The more serious issue, though, is that we don’t know how effective stealth technology will be against a high-tech opponent. An F-35 stealth fighter that gets in a short-range duel with a Flanker-E will be in big trouble—but how good a chance does the faster, more-maneuverable Russian fighter have of detecting that F-35 and getting close to it in the first place?

As the U.S. Air Force would have it, stealth fighters will be able to unleash a hail of missiles up to one hundred miles away without the enemy having any way to return fire until they close to a (short) distance, where visual and IR scanning come into play. Proponents of the Russian fighter argue that it will be able to rely upon ground-based low-bandwidth radars, and on-board IRST sensors and PESA radar, to detect stealth planes. Keep in mind, however, that the former two technologies are imprecise and can’t be used to target weapons in most cases.

Both parties obviously have huge economic and political incentives to advance their claims. While it is worthwhile examining the technical merits of these schools of thought in detail, the question will likely only be resolved by testing under combat conditions. Furthermore, other factors such as supporting assets, mission profile, pilot training and numbers play a large a role in determining the outcomes of aerial engagements.

The Su-35 may be the best jet-age dogfighter ever made and a capable missile delivery platform—but whether that will suffice for an air-superiority fighter in the era of stealth technology remains to be seen.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring .

Via The National Interest

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