With the position of the Syrian forces besieged in the desert town of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria remaining extremely precarious – latest reports suggest they were forced to surrender hard-won gains they made there against ISIS yesterday – the Russians have brought the full weight of their air force to bear, striking at ISIS positions near Deir Ezzor with 6 TU22M3 bombers.
The Russian Defence Ministry has released a video of the strike
The TU22M3 is the heaviest bomber the Russians have used in the Syrian war. At the peak of Russia’s intervention between November 2015 and February 2016, the Russian air force regularly used up to 25 TU22M3s in bombing raids in Syria. Since then the number used has been significantly scaled down, and recently the total number of these bombers used in strikes has always been six.
The Russians tend to use the TU22M3 against ISIS in eastern Syria rather than against Al-Qaeda in western Syria. This is not because SU34s and SU24s at Khmeimin air base in western Syria lack the range to strike at ISIS in eastern Syria. As it happens it is known that Russian aircraft from Khmeimim air base have been in action against ISIS near and around Deir Ezzor in recent days. Rather it is more likely to be because the terrain in eastern Syria is more suitable for high altitude strikes by large bombers.
The TU22M3s that took part in the Deir Ezzor strike probably flew from Mozdok air base near Vladikavkaz in the northern Caucasus. These aircraft have the range to reach targets anywhere in Syria from Mozdok, even if they have to fly a circuitous route over Iran and Iraq to get there.
One possible point of discussion between the Russians and the Turks, now fighting ISIS together in northern Syria, would be for Turkey to allow Russia overflight rights for these aircraft across its territory, something which would significantly shorten flight times.
Each TU22M3 can carry up to 25 tonnes of bombs, making this potentially a massive strike. It will need to be if it is to make any difference in what is by all accounts becoming an increasingly critical situation.