The renewed Russian air offensive against the Jihadi fighters in northeast Syria has been marked by the use of some of their advanced missiles.
As widely predicted, the Russian fleet launched Kalibr long range subsonic cruise missiles against Jihadi targets in Idlib and Homs province from the eastern Mediterranean. The Kalibr is the Russian fleet’s long range land attack cruise missile. It was first used to spectacular effect against Jihadi targets in Syria around a year ago, when Kalibr missiles were launched against Jihadi targets in Syria by ships of Russia’s Caspian Sea fleet.
The Russian air force has in the meantime been launching cruise missiles of its own. As previously reported by The Duran, Russia’s heavy bombers were equipped with cruise missiles, and long range subsonic TU95 heavy bombers have been launching them at Jihadi targets (there is no word so far of the far more advanced long range supersonic TU160 heavy bombers participating in the operation).
The cruise missile launched at the Jihadi targets by the TU95 bombers is the long range subsonic Kh-101 cruise missile. Despite a superficial physical resemblance to the Russian fleet’s Kalibr cruise missile, the Kh-101 is actually a completely different and supposedly more advanced cruise missile designed by an entirely different bureau.
It seems that the Kh-101 not only has a longer range than the Kalibr, but it can be re-targeted after launch (making it theoretically capable of destroying mobile targets) and is far more stealthy, making it practically invisible to whatever radars the Jihadis use.
However, perhaps the most spectacular cruise missile the Russians have launched at the Jihadis is the Mach 2.5 supersonic Onyx missile, which was launched by a Russian manned Bastion coastal defence battery located in Syria itself.
This is the first occasion that a supersonic cruise missile has ever been launched at a land target. With its sonic boom and its suddenness and speed of attack the psychological effect of a strike by such a missile must be devastating. Moreover in contrast to a subsonic cruise missile, which can in theory be shot down by ground fire before it reaches its target (there were actually some cases of that happening during the 1990-1991 Gulf War), the Jihadis have no means to shoot down such a missile, and therefore lack even a theoretical defence against it.
For the Russians the use of ground based Onyx missiles against Jihadi targets in Syria serves multiple purposes.
Firstly it enables the Russians to test in battlefield conditions a very advanced weapons system that has never been used before.
Secondly, it enables them to advertise to potential buyers of the Onyx/Bastion system that the Onyx missile has a land attack capability. Onyx was designed and has up to now been marketed as purely an anti-ship missile. The fact that it also has a land attack capability was previously unknown. Potential buyers of the system (eg. the Chinese and the Indians) have now been shown it is more versatile – and therefore more cost effective – than they may have realised.
Lastly, by launching Onyx missiles from a Bastion complex located in Syria itself, the Russians have made known to the US, NATO and Israel that the Bastion coastal defence missile complexes in Syria are manned by Russians and are controlled by Moscow. That should remove any doubts about the skills of their operators, and remove any temptations the Western powers and the Israelis might have to attack them.
The Russians have made it publicly known that the Bastion coastal defence missile complexes they have deployed to Syria stand ready to defend their fleet in the eastern Mediterranean and their bases in Syria from anyone foolish enough to attack them. Combined with the presence of the highly advanced S-400 and S-300MV Antei-2500 anti aircraft and anti missile complexes in Syria, the now advertised use of the Onyx and Bastion systems deployed in Syria makes it clear that the Russians are prepared for any attacks by sea as well.
Lastly, there has been one further deployment of missiles in Syria which has received less attention. Photographs have now appeared confirming the deployment of short range mobile Pantsir anti aircraft combined cannon and missile systems around Aleppo. It is not known whether these systems are being operated by the Syrians or the Russians, but it is more likely that they are being operated by the Russians. Even if they are being operated by the Syrians, it is a certainty that Russian advisers will be present and working alongside them for support and guidance.
Unlike the advanced S-400, S-300MV Antei-2500 and Onyx/Bastion missile complexes deployed to Syria, the short range Pantsir systems are not intended to defend against or deter attacks by the US air force and navy, or by Israel. Rather their purpose is clearly to deter or defend against attacks by the much less sophisticated Turkish air force, which in recent weeks has been in action in northeast Syria as part of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield.
There continues to be a widespread belief that there is some sort of agreement between Russia and Turkey that the Turkish military will not involve itself in the fighting in Aleppo. Whether this is so or not, with the Turkish army and its Jihadi allies now pressing their offensive against the ISIS controlled town of Al-Bab, which is within artillery range of Aleppo, the Russians are clearly taking nothing for granted, and are taking precautions against any possible Turkish foray against Aleppo as well.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.