Analysis: Syrian jets bomb Aleppo during bloody battle for city

A former Syrian MiG-23 on display in Israel after its pilot defected. (Media credit/Bukvoed via Wikimedia)

A former Syrian MiG-23 on display in Israel after its pilot defected. (Media credit/Bukvoed via Wikimedia)

Syrian fixed-wing warplanes bombed the country’s largest city Tuesday, escalating an already bloody battle in the 16-month civil war, according to the Washington Post.

The Post story cites a BBC reporter, who said he saw “what appeared to be Russian-made MiG planes,” but, as is usually the case, mainstream media reports do not go into detail about the kinds of aircraft used in battle.

Syria has four types of Soviet-made Mikoyan fighter jets: MiG-21, 23, 25, and 29. It is unlikely that Syria deployed the MiG-25 “Foxbat” or MiG-29 “Fulcrum” jets in this engagement. The MiG-25 is a speedy interceptor used mainly for air-to-air combat. Also, Syria has as few as 11 MiG-25s in service, depending on the defense analyst you source.

The MiG-29 is also primarily an air-to-air fighter, but it could be used in ground attack engagements.

It is far more likely that embattled President Bashar al-Assad deployed swing-wing MiG-23 attack jets. Syria has 56-60 in service. The MiG-21 is an option, but it is an older aircraft, and Syria keeps most in reserve. The MiG-23 and MiG-21 look very different. The MiG-23 is five feet longer with wings that swing out twice as far as the delta-winged MiG-21.

Syria also has a number of Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-17 ground attack jets. The Su-24 features a variable geometry swing-wing, like the Mig-23, and the Su-17 can easily be confused for a Mig-21 at certain angles, especially from the front. No one would fault a reporter in battle for calling an Su-24 or Su-17 a “MiG.”

Media reports speculate that Assad is using fixed-wing jets to intimidate the rebels with a show of force. The government often uses attack helicopters, like the Mi-25 “Hind” helicopters in service, also of Soviet-era build.

The bold attack with jets directly on Syria’s largest city also shows signs of desperation, which may indicate the regime is losing control. A rebel bombing recently assassinated four of the government’s top security officials.

BBC reporter Ian Pannell reported from the battle.

“It was what happened late in the afternoon that underlined the grave risk to the government of losing ground in what is Syria’s largest city and its economic capital. First came an unmistakeable sound that has so far been absent in this conflict – the roar of fighter jets. What appeared to be Russian-made MiG planes arced through the sky,” he wrote. “We watched as they dropped in, bombing and strafing rebel positions. Dead and wounded civilians and fighters were taken to hospitals and makeshift clinics as the human cost of this conflict continues to grow.”

This report makes inferences based on defense analyst data and is not based on first-hand knowledge or witness statements except those cited. If you were there and want to contribute, email Air Cache.

About John M. Guilfoil

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at guilfoil.j@blastmagazine.com. Tweet @johnguilfoil.