The Russian Ministry of Defense has transferred four modern MiG-29 SMT fighter jets to the airbase in Khmeimim (Latakia, Syria). The fighters were delivered to the department by the MiG Corporation in December 2015.
According to Kommersant, the fighter jets were sent to the region in order to provide practice for as many pilots as possible, as well as to test the aircraft in combat conditions.
Kommersant reports that the first confirmations of the presence of MiG-29 SMTs in Syria appeared. A photograph of such a fighter featured in the Russian Defense Ministry’s photo report, which was published on the official site as part of a press tour of Russian and foreign reporters in Syria. According to Kommersant’s sources in the defense department, this plane was transferred to Khmeimim last week from the 116th Operational Use Training Center at the Privolzhskiy Airbase in Astrakhan. Three other MiG-29 SMT fighters also arrived with it.
At present, the MiG-29 SMTs are the latest fighter jets in the MiG series produced by the MiG Corporation, and probably the most recent military novelty to be used in Operation Vozmezdie (Retaliation), Kommersant notes. Up until 2014, the military possessed 28 such planes. It acquired the planes after Algeria refused to accept them due to claims of poor quality. They subsequently underwent faultfinding, renovation and modification according to the requirements of the Russian Air Force. The MiG Corporation then received an order for another 16 of the planes (costing roughly 17 billion rubles or $290 million USD). The four MiGs which arrived in Khmeimim last week were delivered to the Russian military in 2015 as part of this same contract.
According to Kommersant’s correspondents who are close to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, the transfer of the MiG planes to Syria was intended to achieve several things at once. Firstly, to give the fighter pilots combat experience (in May, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said that 86% of the aviation staff had gained experience in Syria). Secondly, taking into account testing in various military exercises, the military wanted to see how the aircraft perform in combat.
At present, the MiG crew’s primary task is to carry out additional reconnaissance of the area, although sometimes they are given combat objectives. At least one of the planes is known to have dropped 500 kg high-explosive air bombs on a position held by Islamic State militants. The program to test the MiG-29 SMTs will only expand: Kommersant reports that the military may also launch Kh-29L laser-guided cruise missiles.
50 Syrian civilians were recently killed by Russian airstrikes.