Russian warplanes participating in the Kremlin’s military intervention in Syria have been equipped with air-to-air missiles, an official from the country’s Defense Ministry told Russian news agencies.
Igor Klimov, commander of the Russian Air Force in Syria, revealed that on Monday, Russian Su-34 fighter jets flew in Syria for the first time with air-to-air missiles for self-defense.
“Today, Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers have made their first sorties equipped not only with high explosive aviation bombs and hollow charge bombs, but also with short-and medium-range air-to-air missiles,” added a spokesman for the Russian Air Force, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reports.
Klimov said the air-to-air missiles are capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to an estimated 37 miles.
The announcement of the newly equipped Russian bombers comes as Moscow is preparing to expand its military operations in Syria by opening a second airbase for more warplanes and deploying additional troops.
According to the Daily Express, “The al-Shayrat air base – near the central city of Homs – will accommodate the new jets and troops intent on destroying the [Islamic State] militants.”
“The center is already home to several Russian attack helicopters and a team of around 60 soldiers,” it adds.
Russian soldiers arrived there “about a month ago and brought in new equipment,” a local activist told The Times.
Jihadists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for downing a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing all 224 passengers and prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate Moscow’s war against the terrorists.
Russia began bombing targets in Syria in late September, at the request of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Putin’s ally.
The Times reports, “Russian air sorties have been conducted from the Hmeimim air base since the end of September, when the Syrian government urged him to intervene.”
“A force of around 50 aircraft are thought to be deployed at the facility – near the Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, Syria’s main port,” it adds.
Last week, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet, saying it violated Turkish air space.
On Monday, Putin accused Turkey of shooting down the Russian warplane to protect its oil trade with ISIS.
Russia claims its Su-24 bomber did not violate Turkish airspace.
“We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports where they are shipped in tankers,” said Putin.
Had the incident taken place today, the Russian warplane would have been equipped with air-to-air missiles.
The United States has deployed to Turkey a handful of its F-15Cs, specializing in air-to-air combat, to fight ISIS, which has no warplanes.
That “means the real adversary is Russia,” reported The Daily Beast.
The deployment of the F-15C Eagle twin-engine fighters to Incirlik, Turkey, is officially meant to “ensure the safety” of U.S. NATO partners, Laura Seal, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told The Daily Beast.