Mark Collins – NORAD Note: Russian Bomber (with cruise missiles) Strikes in Syria

Further to this post (note “Comments”),

US Worrying Seriously About Russian Cruise Missiles

from a piece at War on the Rocks:

Why the U.S. Should Be Paying Attention to Russia’s Latest Strikes in Syria

This week, Russia expanded on its campaign in Syria with a series of 34 air-launched cruise missile strikes, perhaps even eclipsing the October 7 cruise missile launches from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla. Just as with the ship-based missile strikes, the United States should pay attention to this air vector of attack from Russia’s mainland, and the deployment of the new Kh-101 missile along with the modernized Kh-55. Russia’s bomber force is not an anachronism, but still breathes life. The sorties targeted Idlib, Aleppo, and the self-proclaimed Islamic State capital of Raqqa, although it is unclear what they actually hit. 

Russian airstrikes come on the heels of Moscow’s official confirmation that the MetroJet airliner was indeed brought down by an Islamic State bomb over Sinai. The introduction of Russian long-range aviation, employing an entirely different family of missiles, is a combination of official retribution, publicity, and capability testing. Russia’s bomber strikes were in part meant for its domestic audience as a reprisal to the Islamic State’s terrorist attack in a manner that goes visibly above and beyond the existing air campaign. 

Beyond the publicity lies a real capability test. From bases in mainland Russia, five Tu-160 Blackjack, six Tu-95MS Bear and 14 Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers set out for Syria with an escort of Su-27SM fighters and deployed what appeared to be a series of Kh-55 air-to-ground missiles (probably the upgraded Kh-555). More interesting was footage of new Kh-101 long-range air-to-ground missiles shown loaded inside Russian bombers in a rotary launcher (its nuclear tipped variant is Kh-102), and supposedly fired. Meanwhile, the large group of Tu-22M3s, Russia’s mainstay anti-ship bomber, made do with a large complement of gravity bombs for the missions…

As recently as this summer, the Russian air force was ridiculed in the West, particularly with respect to its long-range aviation capabilities. Having suffered a large spate of accidents, Russia grounded its Tu-95 bomber fleet in July. In August, I wrote an article for War on the Rocks discussing the impact Russia’s bomber overflights had on U.S. strategic perceptions of Moscow’s intent, despite wearing out its air force. It seems Russian bombers are back, and this time not for show, but to demonstrate the capability to conduct long-range precision strikes. While these aircraft likely represent the smaller operational component of a bomber force that looks much larger on paper, the large arsenal of missiles that even a few Tu-95MS or Tu-160s carry is an important multiplier. The 14 Tu-22M3s that Russia launched simultaneously (out of a supposed 60), on a 4,510-kilometer sprint to Syria, is no doubt of note to the U.S. Navy. This aircraft remains tasked with wiping out U.S. carriers by firing truck-sized Kh-22 (AS-4) anti-ship missiles. Moscow’s bomber force remains a traditional component of its nuclear triad, but also forms a useful element in its quest for conventional deterrence, conferring the ability to reach out and touch the U.S. or NATO allies at great range.

Michael Kofman is a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute [more here] and an Analyst at CNA Corporation. Previously he served as Program Manager at National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own.

Remember way back when the US was worried about a strategic role for the Tu-22M Backfire?  Hmm.  Very relevant on doctrine:

NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


9 thoughts on “Mark Collins – NORAD Note: Russian Bomber (with cruise missiles) Strikes in Syria”

  1. Holy Blackjack, Putinman (with video at link)!

    “Russian Tu-16os launch Syrian air strike from Kola Peninsula, in far northwest Russia, in a global strike show.

    During the night between Nov. 19 and 20, the Russian Air Force conducted a very long-range strike mission against IS targets in Syria: two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers departed from Olenegorsk airbase, in the Kola Peninsula around 21.00z but, instead of taking the usual route through the Caspian Sea and Iran, went westbound, skirted the airspaces of Norway and the UK, flew over the Atlantic until Gibraltair, entered the Mediterranean sea and flew eastbound towards Syria and then eastbound along the usual corridor, back to Russia.

    This video, released by Russia’s MoD shows the Tu-160s (and Tu-95) being armed and launched for the night mission…”

    Mark Collins

  2. Russia was again banging away with cruise missiles from the corvettes in the Caspian yesterday as well as from a sub in the Mediterranean a couple of days ago. Russia and China have really changed the game when it comes to missiles. Any idea what Canada has on our ships for either ship to ship missiles or ship to land missiles? Any word on what the new surface combatants might carry? That is a capability I never read about.

  3. A knowledgeable friend observes:

    “Tu-95/Tu-160 + Kh-101/Kh-102 ALCMs = Global Precision Strike with stealth and range.
    Doctrine to match.
    NORAD has a problem (several, in fact).”

    NATO too, I’d say.

    Mark Collins

    1. The advantage with bombers and cruise missiles, nuclear or not, compared to ballistic missiles is that they do not raise the question of whether an immediate response on launch detection by one’s own nuclear ballistic missiles is needed given the terribly short time window with missiles—MAD, launch on warning, on all that.

      A bomber attack, even if nuclear, still leaves time after strikes for consideration since today such a Russian attack would–given even the maximum potential number of nukes hitting–be much less devastating than all-out ICBM launch.

      Mark Collins

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