As the Syrian military begins its push to take back opposition-held areas in northwestern Syria, Russia has provided backing through an intensifying aerial campaign.
Among the planes Moscow has used to back the Syrian military's attempted advance is a Russian combat aircraft that some have compared to the US's venerated A-10 Warthog.
The Russian Su-25 Frogfoot is a low-flying tank-like plane that specializes in providing aerial cover and attacking ground targets.
The Frogfoot is a sturdy plane, and according to The National Interest, the plane can keep flying after suffering damage while striking targets with precision-guided munitions.
These systems make it ideal for the kind of operation that the Assad regime and its Russian partners are trying to launch against the opposition.
“The Russian air force will use the Frogfoots to support the Assad regime in the same way the USAF is using the A-10 Warthog to support the Iraqi government,” a former US Air Force aviator told The National Interest.
Russian state-owned media outlet RT reports that since Tuesday Kremlin forces have carried out 40 airstrikes against rebel and ISIS forces throughout five Syrian provinces. The majority of these strikes occurred around the city of Aleppo and in the neighboring province of Idlib, which is completely under opposition control.
(Institute for the Study of War)
At the same time as these airstrikes, the Assad regime is massing a large counter-attack against rebel forces in Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo. The regime offensive initially stalled last week after rebels armed with anti-tank missiles destroyed several Syrian armored vehicles.
Russia launched airstrikes ahead of the Syrian military advance. Iran has also sent additional soldiers to Syria to help bolster the government around Hama, and to prepare for a possible offensive against Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
In the past, Saudi Arabia and other US allies have suggested funneling man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADs) to the Syrian rebels to help shoot down Syrian, and now Russian, fighter jets.
MANPADs are relatively easy-to-use shoulder-launched missiles that could prove to be of pivotal importance against low-flying aircraft, like Russia's Su-25s.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA provided Stinger missiles to anti-Soviet forces, weapons that allowed the mujahedeen to down enemy transport planes and attack helicopters. The use of the missiles bogged down Soviet forces and led to an eventual Soviet withdrawal from the country.
The US has consistently opposed the idea of providing MANPADs and other anti-aircraft weaponry to Syrian rebels, as the weapons could conceivably end up in the hands of al Qaeda or its affiliates and could be used to down a civilian airliner or a US military aircraft.
At least for now, the Frogfoots are largely uncontested in Syria's skies.
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