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Syria’s MiG-25s fly again

Syria’s MiG-25s fly again

01 April 2014

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows MiG-25s at Tiyas Air Base in Syria on 1 January 2014. (CNES 2014, Distribution Astrium Services/Spot Image S.A./IHS)

Video footage coming out of Syria has revealed that some of the country’s MiG-25 ‚Foxbat‘ aircraft are operational.

The Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF) acquired an unknown number of MiG-25s – one of the fastest military aircraft ever fielded – from the late 1970s in four variants: MiG-25P and MiG-25PD interceptors (the former was subsequently upgraded to the PD standard to become the MiG-25PDS), MiG-25RB reconnaissance bombers, and MiG-25PU trainers.

The SAAF was believed to have retired its MiG-25s by 2011. This impression was bolstered by satellite imagery showing numerous MiG-25s left in the open at Tiyas Air Base (also known as T4) rather than stored in hardened aircraft shelters.

Satellite imagery of the base taken on 3 November 2013 shows 28 MiG-25s, the majority of which are on parking areas around the runway, but 12 have been towed into the desert, suggesting they are derelict. Imagery taken on 1 January suggests none of the 28 aircraft were moved over the following two months.

Nevertheless, a video released by an insurgent group on 8 August 2012 suggested some MiG-25s might be operational at the Tadmur (Palmyra) Air Base, which is 60 km to the east of Tiyas. The video showed two seemingly active MiG-25PD/PDS interceptors and one MiG-25PU trainer on the tarmac at a base the group identified as Tadmur. No MiG-25RB reconnaissance aircraft were sighted.

This assertion was confirmed by the two videos released in March, both of which showed a lone MiG-25 flying over Uqayribat, a town 60 km north of Tiyas Air Base and a little further from Tadmur.

While it is unclear which MiG-25 variant can be seen in the footage, the group that released one of the videos claimed the aircraft being viewed had just returned from a bombing mission, meaning it would have to be a MiG-25RB, which has a limited – albeit inaccurate – ground-attack capability.

ANALYSIS

It now seems the SAAF never formally phased out its MiG-25s, with most of them simply being set aside as scarce fuel was needed elsewhere. As its Su-22, Su-24 and MiG-23 fleets are worn down by their frequent usage and sporadic hits by insurgent air defences, the SAAF has increasingly started to use aircraft less suited for the air-to-ground role, such as its MiG-23MF/ML, MiG-29 and now even MiG-25RB aircraft.

It is also plausible the MiG-25 will return to the skies in order to protect SAAF ground-attack aircraft flying close to the Turkish border in the wake of the shooting down of a Syrian MiG-23 by a Turkish F-16. MiG-25PD/PDS interceptors armed with R-40RD semi-active radar homing and R-40TD infrared homing missiles might cause the Turkish Air Force to think twice before engaging Syrian planes again. janes

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