Regardless of what you might think of operational tactics and technologies employed by the Russian military in Syria, specifically the Air Force and Naval Aviation, valuable lessons are being learned on the gritty battlefield, say experts.
According to Defense Update, while the deployment of Russian military equipment decreased over time, the number of personnel rotated to support missions in Syrian increased.
About a third of the active personnel of the Russian air defense forces rotated to combat deployment in Syria, two-thirds of the aircrews of strategic air forces, and almost all personnel of the military transport.
Su-24 and Su-34 are the two platforms carrying most of the operational burden, with Su-24M flying over half the missions and Su-34 flying 26%. The remaining activity performed by Su-25 close air support aircraft, and Su-30 and Su-35 multi-role fighters each type flying about 8% of the combat missions.
The lessons learned in this conflict shape Russian priorities concerning technology development, procurement and export activities, the report said.
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned, is the likely withdrawal from the ‘heavy/light” platform mix that once ruled the Russian military.
Light and low-cost fighter jets have always been popular in Russia (and the former Soviet Union), represented by MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-21, and MiG-29. Heavier, more capable but much more expensive platforms, such as MiG-19, Su-15, MiG-25, Su-27, and MiG-31 provided the core of long-range aviation and air defense capability, tasked to protect the homeland from enemy bombers.
The last generation of “heavy/light” mix was the MiG-29/Su-27. The unification of Russian aerospace industries under the United Aviation Corporation (UAC) brought the long-standing competition between MiG and Sukhoi design bureaus under one roof, thus settling debates at home, rather than at the Ministry of Defense (MOD).
Furthermore, the realization that modern warfare is more about precision and measured effects (bingo!), rather than grouping large masses are leaning toward the bigger, more sophisticated, versatile and mature Sukhoi (Su-30SM, 35S, and 57), rather than the MiG-35 struggling to complete flight testing and certification, the report said.
The MiG-35 began flight testing in 2018 and is expected to complete certification in 2021. The Russian MOD committed to ordering 14, but only six were contracted so far, part of them are destined for state trials and others will eventually replace the MiG-29s of the air forces’ aerobatic team (Swifts).
Realizing the political cost of indiscriminate mass attacks, and their questionable outcome, Russian air operations tend to be more precise over the recent years, a trend that further reduced the use of legacy platforms such as Su-24M and Su-25SM.
These aircraft were designed for conventional attack with unguided weapons, and their modernization to a level that will support such ordnance would be too costly to pursue.
While 4+ and 4++ generation fighters remain the Russian the export priority, the newly exportable Su-57E variant is becoming the most advanced Russian 5Gen fighter, competing for orders from leading air forces that seek advanced 5Gen capabilities.
In the past, China and India were both interested in joining the development program, but after few years of cooperation, India lost interest due to lack of transparency by Russia, unwilling to share the aircraft source codes. China has also developed its own 5Gen fighter, the J-20, considered to be superior to the Russian Su-57E.
In comparison, an American F-35, a Su-57 rival, conducted its first combat mission in late September, carrying out an airstrike against Taliban forces. While some hailed the operation as a success, others characterized the combat mission as a total waste of resources given the F-35’s superior combat capabilities, Business Insider reported.