Iran, Russia's New Staging Post

Iran, Russia's New Staging Post
Stratfor
Iran, Russia's New Staging Post
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Analysis

Satellite imagery from Aug. 17 shows the continued presence of Russian military aviation at Hamedan air base, west of Tehran. A number of Su-34 fighter-bombers are present, with four aircraft located close to each other at the eastern end of the airfield. Photographs posted online Aug. 15 showed at least three Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers (also known by their NATO reporting name, Backfire) at the air base. Moscow and Tehran have officially confirmed the presence of Russian military aviation assets in Iran. Having previously used the base as a refueling stop, the Russian aircraft now appear to be conducting operations from there, striking targets in Syria since Aug. 16.For Moscow, the benefits of this new arrangement are clear. Previously, the Tu-22M3 bombers had been flying from Russia to strike Syria. Staging air power from Iran shortens flight time, enabling Russian warplanes to fly more sorties and carry heavier payloads, while at the same time reducing maintenance and overall costs. Airfields are available in Syria, but Moscow claims that the Tu-22M3 is not suitable for deployment to places such as Hmeimim air base, southeast of Latakia, thanks to the airfield's small size and lack of capacity to handle large aircraft.

Though this is not the first time Russian Tu-22M3s have visited Hamedan air base, it is the first talk of semi-permanent basing — as opposed to forward staging, refueling and resupplying. This could be the continuation of a trend. After their first airstrikes on Syria, Russia's long-range bombers returned to their bases in Russia. In subsequent sorties, these aircraft stopped briefly at Hamedan to refuel. The satellite imagery, obtained by Stratfor through our partners at AllSource Analysis, confirms that the previously sighted Tu-22M3 bombers have since departed.The presence of Su-34s at Hamedan air base also suggests reasons for Russia's presence beyond airfield suitability; Su-34s are routinely flown from Hmeimim air base in Syria, an airfield much closer to target areas than Hamedan is. One factor contributing to the reallocation of resources could be security concerns. Russia has complained that the tactical and operational security of its air operations in Syria may be compromised, allowing rebels to relocate to avoid incoming airstrikes. Since the rebels have likely planted spotters close to Hmeimim air base to monitor air activity, this is not inconceivable. Staging from Hamedan air base in Iran counters this potential tactic. Furthermore, the deployment of Su-34s to Hamedan air base could also be a means of maintaining a consistent presence there while the larger Tu-22M3 bombers periodically utilize the air base before returning to specialized airfields in Russia.



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