Saturday, 5 April 2014

The SyAAF in decay: R-40s used as AGMs in a desperate attempt to relieve fighter-bombers?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

With the whole Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) actively engaging in the Syrian conflict, even Syria's interceptors are being used for air-to-ground tasks in the Syrian civil war. With the fleet of MiG-21, MiG-23BN and Su-22 fighter-bombers overstretched, only a complete overhaul with newly acquired spare parts is to turn the current state of the fighter-bomber fleet around.

While the squadrons operating MiG-21s, MiG-23BNs and Su-22M3/M4 appear to have a lower operational readiness, the recently overhauled fleet of MiG-23MF/MLs, MiG-29s and Su-24MK2s remains fully operational. With only the Su-24s being real fighter-bombers, designed from the start on to perform air-to-ground sorties. In this light, the SyAAF has to fight with what they got. This already led to unconventional measures such as dropping barrel bombs out of Mi-8/17s and adapting Mi-24s for doing the same.

It appears the SyAAF has now gone as far as using MiG-25PD interceptors for air-to-ground tasks, employing air-to-air missiles! The MiG-25PD, originally designed to shoot down USAF bombers flying at high altitude, was cleared for export in the 70's. Thus, many found their way to air forces in Africa and the Middle East, including Syria.

The exact number of MiG-25s delivered remains unknown but is believed to be around forty. Versions are believed to include MiG-25P (later upgraded to MiG-25PDS) and MiG-25PD interceptors, MiG-25R and RB reconnaissance aircraft and MiG-25PU conversion trainers.

Of these forty, an unknown number are still operational at T4 (Tiyas) airbase and at Tadmur (Palmyra) airbase.

A photograph taken in Aqaribat in the Hama Governorate shows an 'innocent' unexploded infrared homing R-40TD laying on the ground. Footage of the missile can be seen here.

The MiG-25PD's last raid over the Hama Governorate reportedly resulted in the launch of two missiles at around fifteen kilometres (9.5 miles) from their target, the first R-40 hit the ground but didn't explode (the example seen above) and the second R-40 exploded in mid-air at around five kilometres distance from the other one. Last week, other MiG-25s launched four other R-40s, then two more followed by another two in the same period. Footage of the SyAAF's MiG-25s flying above the Hama Governorate can be seen here and here

The apparent use of air-to-air missiles for air-to-ground tasks is very uncommon, and is not likely to be even remotely successful, as confirmed by this last raid. Although the result of the other possible raids are yet unknown, it is not likely they achieved a different result than the last one.

The long range air-to-air missile R-40 is the primary armament of the MiG-25, with a maximum of four R-40s carried. The MiG-25PDs are usually armed with two R-40TD infrared-homing missiles and two R-40RD semi-active radar homing missiles, although it isn't uncommon to replace one R-40TD and one R-40RD with a total of four R-60 short range air-to-air missiles on dual launchers. The MiG-25Ps, PDs and PDS's are the only MiG-25s capable of carrying the R-40s, eliminating the MiG-25R(B) reconnaissance aircraft as a possible contender for the launch of these missiles over the skies of Hama. The missile seen is a R-40TD, using infrared ("heat-seeking") guidance.

It is currently unknown if the SyAAF ever received multiple ejector racks (MERs) for their MiG-25RBs, equipped with MERs The reconnaissance configured MiG-25RB can be turned into a bomber, able to deploy up to eight FAB-500Ts, albeit with extremely bad accuracy.

(Special thanks to Luftwaffe A.S. For more on this subject see here)

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  1. Is this footage of a MiG 25 attacking ground forces?