Six F-35s and eight F-16s ‘on the hunt’ for RuAF Su-35s near Al-Tanf

In the distant geographical expanse from the tumultuous battlegrounds of Ukraine, the power contest between the United States and Russia manifests itself prominently within the confines of Syria. Moscow has recently disseminated reports indicating a series of precarious incidents in the Al-Tanf region of Syria, instigated by US warplanes, which occurred no less than 19 times within a single day.

Russia will unveil the export Sukhoi Su-57E fighter in India - Su-35 fighter jet
Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

In the Al-Tanf region, it has been reported that there were, in total, 19 instances of transgressions. These violations were committed by three pairs of F-35 jets, four pairs of F-16 jets, a pair of Rafale jets, and three MQ-1C coalition multipurpose drones. This announcement was made by Counter Admiral Vadim Kulit, the deputy head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, in his most recent address to the media.

In his observation, it was highlighted that perilous scenarios in the Syrian airspace were frequently engendered by the coalition spearheaded by the United States. In a separate communique, Kulit divulged that a Western coalition’s F-16 fighter jet had ventured into alarming proximity with a Russian Su-35 aircraft near the Syrian southern frontier.

Preceding this event, allegations had been made stating that there had been twenty-six instances of intrusion into Syria’s airspace by the United States coalition aircraft within a mere span of 24 hours. Even though these interactions between the two sides have been characterized as disconcerting by both military observers and officials, this state of affairs has endured for several weeks.

In an episode of alarming novelty and significant peril that unfolded earlier this month, it was asserted by Moscow that two F-35 jets, part of the pro-American coalition, ventured alarmingly proximate to a pair of Su-35s that are under the aegis of the Russian Aerospace Forces. This incident, as reported, transpired in the politically charged landscape of Syria on the 14th of August.

According to the claims put forth by Russia, there was an extensive breach of Syria’s airspace in the Al-Tanf region over the day. The alleged trespassers comprised an array of advanced military aircraft from the coalition. Specifically, these were alleged to include three pairs of F-16s, three pairs of F-35s, two units of Rafale, and a single pair of Typhoon fighter jets. Additionally, two MQ-1C multi-role unmanned aerial vehicles were reportedly involved in the incursion.

In a manner reminiscent of consistent Russian allegations regarding transgressions perpetrated by the international coalition, Western media outlets recurrently disseminate accounts of Russian excesses. The initial inklings of mounting tension between the two factions were unveiled by the US Central Command [CENTCOM].

F-15E Strike Eagle flies more hours per month than the F-35
Photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong

Previously, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who stands at the helm of the US Air Forces Central Command, issued a prescient warning. Grynkewich pointed out with significant anticipation that the circumstances were “fraught with the potential for a grave miscalculation.” He further emphasized a marked deterioration in professional conduct, a phenomenon he declared unprecedented within his experience of the Russian Air Force.

In the aftermath, Russia retorted with its own set of allegations, accusing the United States-led International Coalition of numerous violations. The atmosphere is now fraught with tension, as both nations continue to level accusations of mutual harassment, employing their fighter jets and ground personnel in this escalating conflict. The situation suggests that the US and Russia may be on the precipice of an armed confrontation.

Is a confrontation on the horizon?

It is noteworthy that both the United States and Russia, two global superpowers, sustain a considerable military footprint in the war-torn nation of Syria. In an official capacity, the United States spearheads the International Coalition, a robust alliance that was forged in the heat of 2014. The primary objective of this coalition, as stated explicitly in its founding, is to combat the insidious threat posed by the Islamic State.

Since a certain point in time, the United States has been a significant supporter of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, along with its military branch, the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF]. This support has manifested in various forms, encompassing material aid, financial contributions, and logistical assistance.

As the security situation deteriorated in Syria in 2015, Russia, in stark contrast to the United States’ approach, elected to align itself with the Bashar Al Assad regime and Iran in a bid to confront the insurgent forces. Despite a handful of precarious situations that teetered on the brink of a modest military clash, Russia and the coalition led by the United States have largely succeeded in avoiding direct confrontation with one another.

As the calendar turned to 2023, an unusual surge was observed in the military interactions between the two erstwhile Cold War adversaries in Syria. These heightened engagements suggested an evolving dynamic, indicating that this Middle Eastern nation was subtly transforming into the latest theatre of contention between the two opponents.

In March, a significant acceleration was observed when Grynkewich reported that Russian Su-34 Fullback fighter aircraft were spotted flying directly over Al Tanf, the primary US military base in Syria. He pointed out that a minority of these aircraft were armed with air-to-air weapons, whereas the majority were equipped with air-to-ground munitions, including both radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles.

In a subsequent development that took place in April, the United States Central Command [US CENTCOM] took the step of declassifying two videos. These pieces of footage exhibited Russian Su-35 fighter jets executing highly perilous interceptions of two American fighters in two separate instances. In a twist of irony, the American F-16s have also been implicated in performing similar maneuvers against the Russian Su-35s, underscoring the unabated continuation of this geopolitical game of cat and mouse between the two powers.

The commencement of July was marked by an atmosphere of heightened tension, as allegations arose from the US, accusing Russia of executing perilous maneuvers near US military drones. This incident stoked fears that Moscow may be deliberately orchestrating a scheme to “bring down” another MQ-9 Reaper. During this period, Grynkewich articulated that the Russian pilots had engaged in multiple instances of harassment against the drones throughout the encounter.

In the latter part of that same month, an incident of notable significance unfolded as reported by Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, the deputy chief of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria. On July 26, he noted, an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle, a product of the US and an integral part of the US-led international coalition’s arsenal ventured alarmingly proximate to a pair of Russian Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft within the confines of the Al-Bab region.

In the given circumstances, Gurinov disclosed further information, stating that the Russian jets, upon becoming the target of the MQ-9 Reaper’s weapons systems, immediately responded with the deployment of decoy flares as a form of countermeasure, triggered by the detection of the threat on their radar systems.

F-35 and Rafale fighters cannot meet domestic and foreign demand
Photo credit: Avions Legendaries

Contrarily, assertions made through a series of reports and visual materials, disseminated by proponents of Western ideologies on various social media platforms, conveyed a strikingly different narrative. These sources claimed that an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, actively engaged in combat operations against ISIS over the contentious Syrian airspace, was not merely intercepted, but fell victim to a severe onslaught launched by a Russian fighter jet.

In the ensuing period, the frequency of such developments, reported by both factions, has escalated on a near-daily basis. Observers with expertise in military affairs have expressed growing concerns that these occurrences may be the precursors to an impending military conflict within the region. As more incidents surface, these forewarnings are rapidly transitioning from hypothetical scenarios to alarming realities, thereby accentuating the gravity of the situation.


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