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Geolocating Russian Military Aircraft in Syria

September 22, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

Over the last week there’s been a great deal of interest in the movement of Russian military equipment and troops to Syria, with images published by AllSource Analysis of al-Assad International Airport showing the arrival of military aircraft supporting Russia’s growing presence.


Today a photograph was shared on Twitter showing what claimed to be the aircraft visible in the above satellite image.


The immediate question is whether or not this image can be verified as being taken at al-Assad International Airport, something that can be easily answered using Google Earth and the original satellite image provided by AllSource Analysis. The first question to answer is where is the camera located? We can see the aircraft are on the left of the photograph, and the white stripes are directly in front of the camera. It’s quite easy to establish that the only location that matches in the satellite image is on the left hand side of the image, with the likely camera position marked in the below image in red.


It’s also possible to identify the four aircraft closest to the camera as Su-30Ms, as shown in the satellite imagery, and the remaining aircraft, while not completely clear, fit with the shape of the SU-25s, also seen in the satellite imagery. It’s also possible to the see distinct markings in front of the Su-30Ms on the photograph, as shown below.


While not visible on the AllSource Analysis image, a radar is visible on Google Earth satellite imagery that’s also visible in the photograph.


Finally it’s possible to use the ground eye view in Google Earth to see that the terrain in the area matches the photograph, with the hills in the background of the photograph clearly visible on Google Earth.


Using these few simple geolocation techniques it is possible to confirm that this photograph shows the recent Russian arrivals at al-Assad International Airport.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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  1. Secret Squirril

    Interesting in that the deployment of the MIG-31s would be less useful in ground attack rolls that are already filled by SU-24m or SU-25s, rather than as an air superiority roll. Given that the opposition has no aircraft. This leaves the next logical interpretation as a pointed threat to western and Israeli air assets.

    • Anonynous

      The deployment is SU-30 with Su-25 not MIG-31. Most airbases deploy a variety of aircraft regardless of threat. The above comment is incorrect, no doubt it protects the air base and ground attack aircraft from other Western aircaft. But to assume its a pointed threat to Israeli assets is a big comment. Secondly, you think Russia has established a base their without Israeli permission, or at the very least a diplomatic conversation before deploying. Most importantly the SU-30 is a strike aircraft which fills the role of deep interdiction in a hostile environment, an aircraft needed considering air defence threats in general in this century. Furthermore the deployment is 4 Su-30 not 100, merely a threat to Israel or any western base in the region.

    • Govern the mente

      So far those MIG 31 jets are totally unconfirmed. And I doubt the credibility of the report. No images have surfaced of them as of yet. This deployment to Latakia seems to make more sense judging by the specific models reported and pictured.
      But if they would be sent to Syria I don’t think they are to be used to threaten anybody, but rather to protect Syria from Israeli air strikes, as they have conducted dozens of strike the past couple of years.

      • Mad Dog

        Really? Airstrikes from Isreal? On Russian equipment? You gotta be kidding! Weapons shipments to Hamas are another story, but this reasoning is a bit far-fetched. A bit more sane reason would be to support Assad, just a s Putin has supported the Ukrainian rebels.

        • anaryl

          Not entirely unforeseeable. Russia is aligned with Iran , Israel’s chief rival in the region. If The Israelis were to suspect the Russians might be transferring nuclear material to the Iranians in Syria, an airstrike would not be out of the question.

  2. Peter

    It seems this site focuses a lot on discrediting Russian claims in Syria and other locations. I don’t see any investigations into US drone strikes and the 90% of casualties that were not the original targets. Nor do I see any investigations into US claims of fighting ISIS in Syria for the past 13 months. Definitely seems to be a bias in this “independent” site for investigative journalism. I see lots of stories that could be done on who supplies ISIS with brand new trucks, why ISIS never attacks Israel or Saudi Arabia, what the US has been doing for the past 13 months, why is the US promoting regime change in Syria, what right does the US have Ukranian or Syrian politics, etc. Do this site do such research or is investigating US misdeeds a taboo topic?

    • Paul

      Love the idea of the ‘who supplies new trucks’ investigation… there does seem to a never ending supply!

    • Dave

      Exactly! Most of the investigations presented here are very single-sided and somehow shallow. Why we can’t see any research on ISIS or Al-Nusra supporters in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or US? Some topics seem to be unmentionable… It would be nice to start with some Toyota trucks investigation.

  3. skylinerd1

    Good to see int he comment section the majority are seeing through Bellingcats totally biast bullshit!!!

  4. Andrey

    Глупые расследования от глупого человека. ВКС РФ официально приглашали корреспондентов на авиабазы в Сирии и все, кто хотели там побывали, а остальные в этом блоге читают вымыслы автора :-)))


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