An Ilyushin Il-20 ‘Coot’ surveillance aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Force (VKS) was accidentally shot down by Syrian forces defending against an Israeli air raid on 17 September.
The four-engined turboprop with 15 personnel onboard disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea at the same time as the Israeli Air Force (IAF) was conducting air strikes against Syrian government targets in the coastal province of Latakia.
While Russian officials had initially blamed the French Navy, saying that missile firings had been detected from the nearby French frigate Auvergne , they later confirmed that ground-based air defence units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had shot the aircraft down while attempting to target four IAF Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons instead.
“By using the Russian plane as a cover, the Israeli pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defence fire. As a result, the Il-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of [the IAF] F-16s, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system,” Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by TASS as saying. The MoD noted that, while it had been given prior warning of the IAF attack, it came too late to have the Il-20 divert to a safe area.
Prior to this admission by the Russian MoD, a United States official “with knowledge of the incident” told CNN that Syrian ground-based air defences had shot the aircraft down by mistake, and a Facebook post written by the SAA just prior warned that it could and would engage airborne threats out to “at least 100+ km”. That this post was written the day before the loss of the Il-20 suggested that the SAA’s air defence units were on a heightened state of alert, even by Syrian standards, increasing the chances of a mistake such as this.
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