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Hmeymim Air Base /
Martyr Basil al-Assad International Airport

On 30 September 2015, Russia launched airstrikes against ISIL militants in Syria. The Russian military is providing aerial support for ground operations conducted by the Syrian army. The combat unit of the Russian Aerospace Forces included over 50 aircraft and helicopters, including Su-34, Su-24M and Su-25 jets. In addition, space surveillance equipment and UAVs are used. For the first time in a long time, Russia deployed a military facility beyond the borders of the former Soviet states. This is the Hmeymim airbase, the centerpiece of the Russian aerial campaign in Syria.

The Russian airbase in Syria was boosted with hangars to shelter planes from drone attacks and a centralized fuel system, the Defense Ministry said 27 September 2019. The upgrade will also allow for additional aircraft at the strategic base. While it can already be called a “first class airfield,” capable of accepting all types of planes, including heavy transport aircraft and strategic bombers, work is being done to expand the base’s capabilities even further, Khmeimim’s deputy air regiment commander, Konstantin Dolgov, told Russian media. He said the reconstruction of the second landing strip is now in full swing, and the capacity of the airbase will be boosted upon its completion. There were currently 30 aircraft stationed at Khmeimim, with the fleet consisting of Su-35S, Su-34 and Su-24 planes and Mi-35 and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters.

New hangars for those planes have now been put into service, aimed at protecting the aircraft in case of drone attacks, which frequently target the Russian base, but have failed to cause any damage thanks to its air defenses. The hangars’ other purpose is sheltering the hardware from roasting in the hot Syrian sun and prolonging the lifespan of both planes and service equipment. The shade has also improved working conditions for the mechanics, the official noted. Another major bonus is the new centralized fuel supply system, which has allowed a sharp decrease in the time needed to prepare the planes for recycle sorties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted an agreement with Damascus on the deployment of a Russian air force group in Syria for ratification by the lower house of parliament, an entry in the official database of the State Duma confirmed 09 August 2016. On July 29, the Russian cabinet approved the accord on the deployment of the Russian air force group in Syria, and submitted to Putin for its further referral to the lower house of parliament for approval, according to a legislative act published on the official portal for legal information. It is noted in the text that the Hmeymim air facility in Syria, its infrastructure and territory are granted to Russia free of charge. The agreement was signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015.

The name of the air base has been transliterated also in other ways, namely Hemeimeem, Hmeymin, based on the local Arabic name. On 21 January 1994, driving at a too-high speed to the Damascus airport for a skiing trip abroad, Basil al-Assad crashed the Mercedes he was driving, killing himself and his passengers. The accident had great consequence because Basil, then 31, was being groomed to succeed his father, Hafez al-Assad, as dictator of Syria. All indications pointed to the equestrian, martial, and charismatic Basil making for a formidable ruler. After the car crash his younger brother Bashar was brought back from his ophthalmologic studies in London and enrolled in a rapid course to prepare as Syria's next strongman. He perfunctorily ascended the military ranks, and on his father's demise in June 2000 he succeeded to the presidential throne. The airport was named for his older brother.

The combat unit of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which is involved in launching airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) terrorist group, is stationed at the Hmeymim airbase, outside Latakia. The Hmeymin airbase is fully provided with material and technical supplies from Russia, according to the Defense Ministry. Within a short time, the Russian military built dozens of field facilities on the site, including refueling stations and stocks of supplies.

Russia plans to expand its Hmeymim Air Base in Syria to ensure that its operations run smoothly and to enhance its security by adding extra aprons, building barracks and a hospital, as well as assigning extra space for large transport aircraft, etc., an unnamed source in the Russian Defense Ministry told Izvestiya 11 August 2016. The plan first surfaced in late 2015, but its implementation was postponed until the "status of the object was determined," the source added, providing specific details on Hmeymim's future.

In June 2016 Russia rented this Syria airbase to land long-range Tu-142. It apparently went to Syria not to fight the Islamists, but was occupied by its direct business - search for potential enemy submarines in the eastern Mediterranean. Hmeymim is a great jump airfield that allows significantly increasing the range and duration of the search.

Russia wants to expand the aircraft apron or the area where planes are parked, loaded and unloaded or refueled, because the ramp at Hmeymim was too crowded on busy days. Extra artificial hills will also be added to secure the warplanes in case of shelling. The source further said that it was possible that aviation squadrons will be stationed in different areas of the air base to enhance security because "at the moment there is a single 'parking lot' there."

New radio equipment, including air traffic control systems will be deployed to the base. In addition, Russian experts will arrange sites for the Pantsir surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon systems that are tasked with providing air cover for the base. According to the plan, a special area will be assigned for loading, unloading and servicing of the Antonov An-124 Ruslan transport jets so that they don't get in the way of other aircraft stationed at Hmeymim. Russia also plans to build barracks, a dining hall and a hospital at the base.

First Deputy Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee in Russia's Federation Council Franz Klintsevich told the newspaper that Russia plans to turn Hmeymim into a fully operational base. Senator Viktor Ozerov said that "we will be able to develop the military base, outfit it with advanced navigation equipment, improve the airstrip, the living conditions and activities of Russia's Armed Forces."

In an interview with Sputnik 11 August 2016, former chief editor of the Iranian news agency MehrNews Hassan Hanizadeh commented on the issue. According to the expert, Russia's initiative to create a full-fledged military base in the Syrian airport of Hmeymim is primarily viewed as an important step towards ensuring security and stabilization in the region. "Middle Eastern countries (Syria itself, as well as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon) only welcome this Russian initiative, because Russia has never pursued the goal of military aggression and colonization of this region; the goal of the Russian military presence is to contribute to the stabilization and ensure security in Syria and the Middle East," the expert said.

The expert also argued that the military bases created by the United States in various parts of the world, by contrast, only bring destruction and undermine safety in many regions. "Russia, in contrast to the Americans, seeks to assist countries in ensuring security no matter where it places its military bases, and not fueling a war. Given the fact that in the Syrian port of Tartus there is a logistics base of the Russian Navy, the establishment of a permanent Russian military base at the airfield of Hmeymim wouldn't pose any threat to the Syrian people," Hanizadeh said.

Although Russia currently uses the Hmeymim airbase to fight radical groups that are trying to overthrow the Syrian government, this is not the real reason why Moscow needs a military base in the Middle East in the long term. Defense analyst Sergei Ishchenko wrote for Svobodnaya Pressa in august 2016 that the base would be "an unsinkable aircraft carrier" [the phrase previously used with reference to US air forces in the UK]. Tackling international terrorism is a short term goal, the former Navy captain maintained. "Moscow's true and main goal is different. We need dozens of Russian attack planes and helicopters [in the Middle East] to provide air cover for our naval group in the Mediterranean," he suggested. "We did not have these capabilities for more than five decades, but we desperately needed them."

The Soviet Union maintained its 5th Mediterranean Squadron that was established to counter the US Navy's 6th Fleet from 1967 until 1992. Ishchenko described the flotilla that consisted of up to 50 warships and auxiliary vessels as a "force to be reckoned with." The analyst added that the lack of air cover was the squadron's only disadvantage. "Fighter cover during the Soviet times was absent. We did not have aircraft carriers until the 1990s. The Kiev-class aircraft-carrying heavy cruisers were outfitted with several Yakovlev Yak-38 strike fighters, but these planes were not really suited for air combat," he explained.

The Soviet Union reached an agreement to station warplanes in Egypt in 1967, but the arrangement lasted until 1972. In the last two decades Russia's only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was deployed to the Mediterranean four times: in 1995-1996, 2007-2008, 2011-2012 and 2014. These missions lasted for a maximum of four months.

This situation changed when Russia and Syria reached an agreement that allows Moscow to use the Hmeymim air base for an indefinite period of time free of charge. "Russia has deployed up to four Sukhoi Su-30SM supermaneuverable fighter aircraft to Hmeymim. They have been tasked with providing air cover for bombers and strike planes taking part in the counterterrorism operation in Syria," Ishchenko noted. Russia, he added, apparently decided not to send more Su-30SMs to the region because there are no aerial adversaries that it needs to fight. If needed, additional deployment could be completed in approximately 24 hours.

Ishchenko maintained that there are grounds to assume that Russia is already using the Hmeymim base to protect its ships in the Mediterranean. "For instance, the Tupolev Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft landed at Hmeymim in June. Clearly it did not land in Syria to fight against Islamists, but was busy performing its main task, searching for submarines of a potential adversary in the eastern Mediterranean," the analyst explained.

About 30 planes and helicopters are located at the Khmeimim airbase of the Russian CSW in Syrian Latakia, said the deputy commander of the air regiment stationed at this base 26 September 2019. In particular, there are Su-35S, Su-34 and Su-24 fighters, as well as army helicopters Mi-35 and Mi-8AMTSH. The military recalled that in December 2017 the bulk of the people and equipment was transferred from Syria to permanent places of deployment. The Ministry of Defense occasionally reports attacks on the base of drones , which usually bring down Russian air defense systems. Another Russian group is located in the Syrian port of Tartus.

Hmeymim Airbase

Basel Al Assad Intl

Overview of the Basel Al Assad Air Field, 27 October 1986

Close up of the Basel Al Assad Air Field, 27 October 1986

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:53:26 ZULU