The Russian deployment to Hamadan air base in Iran continues to make waves. The US has complained – wrongly – that it violates previous UN Security Council ceasefires prohibiting the supply of military aircraft to Iran. Has it actually however changed the military picture in Syria itself?
In my previous article discussing the Russian deployment to Hamadan I said the deployment was essentially a political statement since the TU22M3s operating from Hamadan have the range to bomb targets anywhere in Syria from bases in southern Russia. Moreover they can do this with a full bomb load.
Whilst it is true that the shorter distance from Hamadan to Syria significantly reduces the flight time, making it possible for the TU22M3s to respond more quickly and to fly to Syria more often, these sort of heavy bomber aircraft are more likely to be used against fixed or semi-fixed targets than shifting targets, making this arguably less important.
It is not just TU22M3s that are however flying from Hamadan. SU34s are doing so as well. The Russians have now released a video showing SU34s carrying out strikes in Syria. They say these SU34s took off from Hamadan, though the video is careful to show no film of the base itself or of the Russian aircraft stationed there.
In the case of the SU34s the shorter distance from Hamadan to Syria makes a significant difference, avoiding the need for mid air refuelling or carriage of extra fuel tanks, and reducing flight times to targets considerably. Moreover SU34s are tactical strike aircraft, more suitable for use against shifting targets. Basing SU34s at Hamadan significantly therefore increases the effectiveness of their strikes by comparison with what would be the case if they were flying from Russia.
Whilst it remains the case therefore that the use by the Russians of Hamadan air base in Iran is an important political signal, it has a greater military significance in relation to the fighting in Syria than I suggested in my previous article.