Close-Up Images Emerge Of Unmarked MiG-29 Fighters At Russia's Air Base In Syria
The configuration and paint schemes match up with imagery the American military has released of MiG-29s that then headed to Libya.
Pictures have emerged on social media of unmarked MiG-29 Fulcrums parked at Russia's Khmeimim Air Base in Syria last week. The War Zone was first to confirm that these jets had arrived at that Syrian base before they they headed on to Libya, surreptitious movements that U.S. Africa Command has since released additional information about this week. Those aircraft, as well as other combat jets, are now in a position to support forces aligned with rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting for years against the country's U.N.-recognized government.
The pictures offer a clear look at one unmarked Fulcrum and the tail of a second one is also visible in the background. The areas of their tails where national insignia, such as the red star of the Russian Air Force, are typically painted on MiG-29s are clearly painted over. The jets also lack any other discernable markings.
The jet that is the main focus of the pictures appears to be a variant in the MiG-29S series, which are generally identifiable based on the extended strakes leading forward from each of the twin tails. It's not otherwise clear whether this might be an upgraded variant within that series, such as the MiG-29SM. MiG has also crafted a number of customer-specific configurations based on the MiG-29S pattern. The example in Syria does notably lack the extended dorsal hump found on the advanced MiG-29SMT variant, though.
The pictures are also definitely from Khmeimim, but the exact date they were taken is unconfirmed. The social media posts, which first began to appear late yesterday, say the photographs are from May 20. The first evidence of MiG-29s at Al Jufrah Air Base in Libya was from a satellite image taken on May 19.
U.S. Africa Command did say that the Fulcrums, as well as other combat jets, including Su-24 Fencers, flew to the Libyan base over the course of multiple days. Satellite imagery that The War Zone obtained showed MiG-29s had arrived at Khmeimim by May 18 and indicated that all of those jets had departed by May 25.
The aircraft we can see in the picture from Khmeimim is also in a ferry configuration with two drop tanks and no other stores. This, plus the other features of the jet we can see, matches up with imagery, seen below, that U.S. military aircraft grabbed of unmarked MiG-29s heading to Libya, which U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) released this week.
The various social media posts that included the pictures from Khmeimim also claimed that some number of the Russian MiG-29s were also turned over to the Syrian Air Force. There is no evidence to substantiate this, but it would make sense that the regime in Damascus would be looking to get newer Fulcrums to supplement or supplant its existing examples. The Syrian Ministry of Defense recently released videos giving up-close looks at some of its MiG-29s, the state of which was extremely poor, as The War Zone previously reported.
Russia has offered no explanation of the MiG-29 movements themselves. "If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian," Viktor Bondarev, who heads up the Defense Committee in the upper house of Russia's Duma, or parliament, and who was also the commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces between 2015 and 2017, said on May 27, implying that they came from another country. He further dismissed the imagery and other details that AFRICOM has released so far as "stupidity," according to The Associated Press.
However, it's clear that Russia has sent MiG-29s to Libya and the images taken on the ground at Khmeimim of the unmarked jets only further underscores the preposterousness of Bondarev's denials.
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