Earlier this week, the Russian Ministry of Defense declared that it has withdrawn a flight of Su-24 (Fencer) ground-attack aircrafts from Syria. This declaration came soon after the withdrawal of Russia’s lone aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.
From the Hmeimim Air Base, the Russian base south of Latakia, Russia has conducted thousands sorties against its targets in Syria, which have mostly included anti-government rebels, along with some attacks against ISIS. As of October 26, 2016, there were eleven Su-24 jets present on the aprons of the Hmeimim Air Base.
New satellite imagery on Digital Globe appeared on January 19, allowing a look at what planes are currently based at Hmeimim compared to the assets from January 10, 2017. All of the photographs below show the northern aprons of the air base, while the southern aprons do not have any visible jets.
In the western part of the base, additional jets are visible, including additional Su-24 jets (bottom-right).
The identification of these planes is confirmed when compared to a previous Startfor comparison, from February 4, 2016 satellite imagery of the same location:
Eleven Su-24 jets are visible in the January 10 and 19 satellite imagery, just as there were eleven visible on October 26, 2016. Judging from this available satellite imagery, there are four likely possibilities to explain the presence of eleven Su-24 jets after the declared withdrawal:
- The declared withdrawal of a flight of Su-24 jets from the Hmeimim Air Base will happen, but has not yet occurred, indicating that the Russian Ministry of Defense misled the public in its statement.
- The declared withdrawal of a flight of Su-24 jets from the Hmeimim Air Base was an intentional lie from the Russian Ministry of Defense.
- Jets that were not visible in satellite imagery were withdrawn.
- A new rotation of Su-24 jets has arrived to replace the previously visible Su-24 jets.