The Russian military has deployed Tu-22M3 bombers and MiG-31K fighters carrying hypersonic Kinzhal missiles to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
“The long-range aircraft involving Tu-22M3 bombers and MiG-31K fighters with Kinzhal airborne systems were deployed to Hmeymim airfield to participate in the naval exercises of the Russian Navy’s Inter-Fleet Task Force in the Mediterranean East,” the Defense Ministry said. announcement. “Russian Aerospace Force crews conducted flights from their home airfields, covering more than 1,500 km. During the exercise, long-haul aviation pilots will complete assigned missions.
The MiG-31K is a variant of the 1980s Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptor aircraft, modified to fit the new Russian Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ballistic missile. One of six advanced weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, Kinzhal could travel at hypersonic speeds of up to Mach 10, or 7,672 miles per hour, and has an operational range of over 2,000 km when launched from the MiG-31K.
Shoigu inspected Russia’s Hmeymim air base, which was built in 2015 to temporarily house Russian forces intervening on behalf of the Assad government during the Syrian civil war and was permanently transferred to the Russian military in 2017.
Russian exercises in the Mediterranean attracted up to fifteen warships and more than thirty aircraft. The drills would have involved anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations and measures to establish control over parts of Mediterranean airspace. The Russian naval grouping included the Slava– class missile cruisers Varyag and Marshal Ustinovthe Admiral Gorchkov– frigate class Admiral Kasatonov, and the Admiral Grigorovich– frigate class Admiral Grigorivitch.
The deployment was accompanied by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s state visit to Syria to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Sergey Shoigu and Bashar Assad held a meeting to discuss various issues of military-technical cooperation between the countries in the framework of the joint fight against the remnants of international terrorists and some aspects of Russian humanitarian aid to the Syrian population suffering from the restrictive sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries,” the Russian Defense Ministry announced. “The head of the Russian Defense Ministry briefed the Syrian President on Russian naval exercises in the eastern part of the sea Mediterranean,” the statement added.
Three North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies – France, Italy and the United States – conducted large-scale joint exercises in the Mediterranean Sea in early February, according to a Press statement issued by the US Naval Forces Europe and Africa / US Sixth Fleet Public Affairs Office. NATO exercises involved the United States Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG), French carrier Charles de Gaulle‘s Task Force 473, and the Italian Cavour CSG.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National interest.