Like other manufacturers of advanced military weaponry, Russia has sought – and found in the Syrian conflict – a live battleground for testing and exhibiting its latest and most advanced tools of war. The two most sophisticated Russian armaments on full operational display in recent weeks are the Kalibr NK cruise missile and the Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber.
Western sources commented Sunday, Dec. 13: The cruise missiles launched from a Kilo-class submarine provided visible proof of how President Vladimir Putin is using his intervention in Syria as a showcase for Russian military prowess..
In terms of flexing muscle, the Kalibr NK subsonic cruise missile, or as it is known in the West, the SS-N-30As, takes the prize. Its debut launch from a warship in the Caspian Sea on Nov. 20, not only hit Islamic State and rebel targets, but allowed Russian warships to show their paces in delivering long-range missiles, capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, to targets at a distance of between 990 km (620 miles) and 1,467 km (923 miles) away.
It also conveyed the message to NATO that nuclear cruise missiles fired from Russian Black Sea Fleet warships were capable of reaching any target in Europe.
To counter this message, American and other Western military sources claimed that the Kalibr missiles had missed their mark, either crashing in Iran or blowing up prematurely in mid-air. They hoped to temper the strong impression conveyed to European governments, which suddenly felt exposed to a nuclear-capable missile threat from the Black Sea region as well as from Russian fleet bases in the Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad, which had just received brand-new Kalibr missile shipments.
On Dec. 9, the commander of US forces in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, addressed this situation. He said that Russia had indeed transferred ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad military enclave and conducted nuclear strike drills. He also said: “There is a significant amount of capability in Kaliningrad, including anti-ship weapons, air defenses, and electronic warfare equipment.”
Gen. Hodges spoke the day after the second Russian missile barrage targeted Syria – 17 days after the first. This time, the Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from a Kilo-class submarine, the Rostov-on-Don, which had meanwhile sailed into the eastern Mediterranean. This round too hit their targets, and also conveyed a dual message:
1. The Russians are capable of firing advanced cruise missiles from submarines as well as surface warships, and 2. Russia has established a chain of warships and missiles running 2.500 km from Kaliningrad in the north to the eastern Mediterranean, via the Black Sea.
To boost the air power Moscow is investing in the Syrian war, Russian has brought over half a dozen Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback warplanes. This fighter-bomber is designed primarily for striking ground and naval targets. It excels in destroying small moving targets. Under the conditions in Syria, The Su-34’s rare ability to pinpoint small ISIS or rebel convoys as well as big ones is especially apposite.
This is a brand new warplane, debkafile’s military sources report, which entered the service of the Russia air force only two years ago. It is being tested in Syria for the first time in real combat conditions. So far, the SU-34 has stood up to Russian expectations. They are now testing it further to find out if it can replace the older Su-24 fighter bombers.