With tensions mounting between Russian and US forces in Syria, there are concerns of a possible escalation and miscalculation that could spill over into a confrontation between the two nations.
In recent days, accusations of violating deconfliction protocols have been hurled back and forth by both sides involved in the conflict. Both sides have reported dangerous engagements almost every day this week, a clear sign of rising military tensions in Syria.
Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, said that on July 26, a US-made MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle of the US-led international coalition flew “dangerously close” to a pair of Russian Aerospace Forces’ Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft in the Al-Bab area at an altitude of 6,200 meters.
Gurinov said the Russian fighters immediately fired decoy flares as detected by their radars in reaction to the MQ-9 Reaper locking its weapons on them. Additionally, on July 25, the Russian military stated that the US-led coalition’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) had broken the deconfliction rules over Syria 12 times daily.
On July 27, another incident was reported as a Russian Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle came under a radio-electronic attack above Syria. However, the drone operators somehow reportedly managed to return it to base safely, TASS News Agency reported.
Russian Orlan-10 #drone faced radio-electronic attack in #Syria, safely returning to base, says Oleg Gurinov, Deputy Chief of Russian Center for Reconciliation.#Bakhmut #Donetsk #Zaporozhye #Crimea #Zaporizhzhia #Crimea #odessa #odesa #blacksea #Zaporizhia #RussiaUkraineWar… https://t.co/18JoKIzVRu pic.twitter.com/MRIEUmDQIA
— 👀dailynewsbyaiart.com✨Thank U ❤️ (@AiHobbyist) July 28, 2023
Elaborating on the incident, Oleg Gurinov said, “At 10:20 a.m. on July 27, a Russian Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicle was subjected to radio-electronic impact on its control circuits in the area of Al-Enkawi settlement in the Hama province, after which an attempt was made to tamper with its navigation field.”
While this already caused alarm bells to ring, given the scope of the incident pointing to the breach of Russia’s red lines in Syria, another escalatory incident was reported less than 24 hours later on July 28.
🔴 Russian state media reports a dangerous incident between a US coalition MQ-9 UAV and a Russian Su-34 fighter bomber over Syria. The UAV allegedly approached the aircraft at 5,000 meters near Nafla in Raqqa province. Tensions rise after a recent close encounter involving a… pic.twitter.com/3x4XODjQTx
— LowBandwidthA.I. (@Lowbandwidthai) July 29, 2023
Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov announced in another statement, “On July 28, at 07:55, at an altitude of 5,000 meters in the area of the settlement of Nafla, Raqqa province, a dangerous approach was once again recorded by an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle of the coalition with a Su-34 aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces.”
In addition, Gurinov’s statement drew attention to the fact that the drone flight was not deconflicted. “Russian pilots, demonstrating high professionalism, took the necessary measures promptly to prevent a collision with a coalition unmanned aerial vehicle,” he added.
On its part, the US Central Command has accused the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets of conducting dangerous interceptions and maneuvers and flying sorties over its military bases in north-western Syria since the beginning of this year. These claims have almost always been accompanied by the underlying concerns of a “miscalculation.”
The US, on its part, has also accused Russia of endangering the safety of its drones. For instance, the US accused Russia of engaging in risky maneuvers near US military drones over Syria earlier this month. The US Air Force published videos as evidence to support its claims.
Furthermore, US Air Force Central (AFCENT) Commander Lieutenant General Alex Grynkewich said that one Russian pilot deliberately positioned his Su-35 fighter aircraft in front of an MQ-9 and activated the afterburner, compromising the operator’s ability to control the drone safely.
Regarding Russia's unprofessional behavior while reacting with U.S. aircraft over Syria, please see the video of today's encounter.
For the full statement by Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, Commander, 9th AF (AFCENT) visithttps://t.co/WKDYPiPT96@CENTCOM @DeptofDefense @usairforce pic.twitter.com/nmSSBxUojO
— US AFCENT (@USAFCENT) July 5, 2023
Not just that, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) also earlier declassified two videos showcasing dangerous maneuvers being conducted by Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
As previously reported by EurAsian Times, both videos appeared to have been captured using aircraft targeting pods or similar sensor systems. One included an F-16V, while the other was recorded from an unidentified aircraft. In both instances, the Su-35 was seen conducting a dangerous maneuver against the USAF fighter.
In a separate incident, a US official revealed in May that in November 2022, a Russian surface-to-air missile missed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone flying over Syria by mere inches.
The missile reportedly detonated 40 feet away from the Reaper, causing damage. However, despite the close save, the drone returned to its base and landed safely.
To deter these incidents, the United States has been incrementally building deterrence.
Earlier this week, a dozen US F-35 stealth fighters arrived in the Middle East to beef up US Central Command’s airpower in the region. Although aimed primarily at Iran’s burgeoning military power, the deployment was also viewed against the claims of harassment made by US Air Force pilots against Russian jets.
Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Sabrina Singh, announced on July 17 that the secretary of defense had directed the deployment of the USS Thomas Hudner destroyer, F-35 fighters, and F-16 fighters to the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.
The US 🇺🇸 military has deployed F-22 Raptor fighter jets to the Middle East, following months of complaints that Russian 🇷🇺 aircraft have been buzzing US bases in Syria 🇸🇾, violating protocols developed to prevent fighting between American & Russian forceshttps://t.co/LtkFEqaHwH pic.twitter.com/Bs4Vs9hI74
— Saad Abedine (@SaadAbedine) June 15, 2023
Moreover, the deployment made military watchers sit up and take notice after the recent arrival of stealth F-22s to Jordan from Europe as part of a temporary rotation aimed at deterring the maneuvers of Russian pilots in the region. This has fueled concerns that an aerial confrontation could be a possibility.
When the USAF jets touched down in Jordan, it was believed to be an overt display of force in reaction to recent activities by Russian military forces in the region, especially in Syria.
The deployment was hailed as significant against several CENTCOM warnings from earlier this year, which claimed that Russian warplanes frequently engage in dangerous air combat with US aircraft, fly sorties over important US bases like the Al Tanf, and gather crucial intelligence.
The deployment of F-35 stealth fighters to the region has given rise to speculations that the jets could encounter Su-35s and the Su-34s of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). In light of recent engagements between the two forces, experts believe an escalation may not be too far-fetched.
A Middle East-based expert told EurAsian Times on the condition of anonymity: “Given the situation in Ukraine, it appears that the increasing number of engagements between the two sides is an unwarranted escalation. The US and Russia know that committing more resources away from the Ukrainian battlefield is not the wisest course of action. At this critical juncture, neither side can afford to risk escalation.
“The US is using the F-22 or perhaps the F-35 less for emergency response and more for deterrence. To my mind, both sides already know this. The USAF needed its best fighters because the Su-34 and Su-35 are pretty damn good, and the F-16 Viper is not really a match.”
Since the US had already deployed a capable stealth fighter jet to the Middle Eastern region, the presence of another has raised eyebrows. While it appears to be aimed at tackling the threat posed by Iran, its deployment to deter Russian troops in Syria has also been underscored.
In one of the fiercest warnings given by the US CENTCOM, the head of the US Air Forces Central Command, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who is responsible for directing American military activities over Syria and 20 other countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, said, “It’s a ripe situation for us to see some miscalculation. It signals a breakdown in professionalism that I have never seen out of the Russian Air Force.”