By Elena Teslova
MOSCOW (AA) – A Russian Su-25 fighter jet shot down over the weekend by rebels in Syria was flying at a low altitude, leaving it vulnerable to attack from shoulder-launched missiles from man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).
In interviews with Anadolu Agency, Russian experts explained how it became possible to shoot down the aircraft despite the presence of S-400 missile systems in Syria.
The fighter jet was shot down Saturday while flying over the de-escalation zone in Idlib province and the pilot lost his life.
Viktor Komoedov, head of the defense committee in the Russian State Duma, said no air defense system can detect infrared homing, which was part of the guidance system of the MANPADS used by the rebels to shoot down the jet.
“Man-portable infrared surface-to-air missiles are provided with infrared homing that is almost impossible to detect because it does not emit signals. As soon as the homing tracks the thermal wake, it follows it, [and the missile] flies into the source of the warmth, which is usually the [aircraft’s] engine, and blows up. Normally, an infrared homing missile contains only 200-300 grams of explosives, but it is enough to make a machine inoperative,” said Komoedov.
To protect aircraft against MANPADS, the pilot has to use infrared countermeasures, said military expert Pavel Felgenhauer.
“There are several ways to the reduce the risk of becoming a target of infrared homing. First, sometimes the pilot can detect visually a “white tail” from a MANPAD [missile’s] engine. In addition, while flying at low altitudes in a zone of conflict, the pilot has to set heat flares. Although modern portable air-defense systems can fire at a target at an altitude up to 6,000 km, the altitude of 5,000 km is considered to be safe enough,” he noted.
Viktor Zavarzin, a former chief military representative of Russia to NATO, said the fighter jet pilot may have been flying at such a low altitude because he might have been assigned to make a military observation of an area or region.
“The plane was flying so low because probably [the pilot] had something to reconnoiter. Apparently, he had a mission. Only the Defense Ministry can provide an explicit explanation on this point. However, I would like to focus attention on another thing. MANPADS are forbidden for sale or transfer to insurgent forces. Particularly, it is stated in the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. The appearance of these weapons means that helicopters and civilian or commercial airliners are under threat in this zone,” he said.
Over the past week -- including before the downing of the jet -- dozens of civilians lost their lives, and hospitals, mosques, residential areas and refugee camps were targeted in airstrikes by Russian jets and forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Idlib de-escalation zone.
Located in northern Syria near the Turkish border, Idlib province was declared a de-escalation zone last year.
In the de-escalation zone -- endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran -- acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Controlled by anti-regime armed groups, the province has been under intense airstrikes for the last two months.
In January alone, 211 civilians were killed and 1,447 wounded.
Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
While UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, Syrian regime officials say the death toll is closer to 10,000.