Russia has deployed a pair of stealth jets to Syria, along with a thinly-veiled warning to the Israeli Air Force to keep its distance, the Times of Israel reported.
The presence of the planes in Syria was confirmed by satellite images produced by the Israeli company ImageSat International, which showed the two Su-57’s at Russia’s airbase in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia.
A source in the defense ministry told RBK news agency that the planes were sent to the Hmeimim base “for a test in real conditions.” The jets are said to be a potential rival to the U.S’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which American forces use in patrols over Syria.
An unnamed Russian official was quoted as saying that the Su-57s operating in the area will doubtless serve as a deterrent “for aircraft from neighboring states, which periodically fly into Syrian airspace uninvited,” an obvious reference to Israel, whose warplanes have attacked targets in Syria which posed threats to Israeli security, such as shipments of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.
Russia has routinely exploited the Syrian conflict to use its territory as a testing ground for the latest weapons. A Russian official said earlier this week that Moscow has tested over 200 weapons during the civil war there, now in its eighth year.
“As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” said Vladimir Shamanov last Thursday. Shamanov is a former commander of Russia’s airborne troops, who now serves as head of the Russian Duma’s defense committee.
Russian air force activity in Syria poses risks for American forces, as well. Earlier this month, the Pentagon voiced concern that the risky flying of Russian pilots in Syria could lead to a serious accident or confrontation.
Defense officials noted several recent close calls with Russian planes, including one on February 14, when a pair of U.S. F-22s intercepted two Russian jets over a part of Syria in which the Pentagon says they are not supposed to be operating.