By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The arrival of the Su-34 'Fullback' fighter bomber to Syria could be seen as imminent since the initial deployment of the first combat assets to Syria, and has now finally confirmed to have occurred in recent days. Up to six Su-34s are now believed to have joined the four Su-30SMs, twelve Su-24M(2)s and twelve Su-25s already present at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP, Lattakia Governorate.
In addition to the up to thirty-four combat aircraft, up to twenty Mi-17s and Mi-24/35s, two Il-20s and at least three types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are now deployed in Syria. Especially the UAVs have been active in flying reconnaissance sorties over Idlib Governorate, indubitably soon to be if not already joined by the electronic intelligence (ELINT) configured Il-20s. Although already sighted over Idlib, the Su-24M(2)s have so far refrained from engaging rebel positions. The twelve Su-25s are currently being assembled and are busy with test flights after their delivery by An-124 strategic airlifters just a week ago.
The Su-34s on the other hand managed to reach Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP on their power. The two examples seen below, both carrying a centreline drop tank allowing for extended range are believed to have been part of the contignent deployed to Syria. Both aircraft were photographed while flying over Mozdok on their way to Syria via the Caspian Sea, Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
Another image, this time from Syria, shows what looks like six fighter-bombers alongside an airliner over Idlib or Hama Governorate. The airliner appears to be a Russian Air Force (RuAF) Tu-154, likely used for escorting the Su-34s on their way to Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP.
As construction works at Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad IAP continues and UAVs and Il-20s are meanwhile busy collecting data on the strength and location of rebel positions in Idlib Governorate, the RuAF's aerial assets are being prepared for their first sorties, and it seems that a first move by the Russian expeditionary force is just a matter of time.
Special thanks to Luftwaffe A.S. and ain92ru.