Many of the fast jets that were embarked on the Russia aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have been flown to the main Russian air base in Syria, Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery obtained by IHS Jane's shows.
The imagery shows eight Russian Federation Navy Su-33 and one MiG-29KR jets alongside various Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) aircraft at Humaymim Air Base in Latakia province on 20 November.
Kuznetsov can carry around 20 fast jets and is known to have embarked at least eight Su-33s for its current deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean, and at least four of the new MiG-29KR multirole fighters for the first time. One of the new jets crashed on 14 November, an incident that a Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement attributed to an unspecified "equipment fault during an approach for deck landing".
The Russian news website Gazeta published an article on 21 November that cited a source knowledgeable about carrier operations as saying that the MiG-29KR was circling Kuznetsov due to a problem with one of the carrier's four arrestor cables when both its engines failed, forcing the pilot to eject.
The MoD indicated that there were no problems with Kuznetsov's flight operations on 15 November, when it announced that its aircraft had carried out airstrikes against targets in Syria. It released video footage showing Su-33s loaded with unguided bombs and taking off from Kuznetsov, but the MiG-29KRs were not seen flying, hinting they may have been grounded after the crash.
“We don’t think the Russians are flying as many sorties off their carrier as they would want the world to think,” a senior UK military officer knowledgeable about Russian operations in Syria told IHS Jane’s. "We have seen a load of Su-33s and MiG-29s flying out of Humaymim Air Base, doing strikes all over northwest Syria.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options ihs.com/contact