Movements of Russian warships through the English Channel en route to, and returning from, the Mediterranean this winter, where they have provided support for Syrian forces, has given Royal Navy warships and Royal Air Force Typhoons plenty of opportunity to monitor their movements and procedures. Their passage through the Channel, close to the English coast, rather than to the north of Scotland, was clearly intended to show off their presence. At the heart of the Russian flotilla was the Soviet-era aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Despite its age, the 60,000-ton ship is equipped with very capable Sukhoi Su-30 and Mig-29M supersonic fighter-bombers, as well as anti-submarine and general purpose helicopters.
The presence and contribution of Russian air power in the skies over Syria together with the deployment of advanced surface-to-air missile defences, played a decisive role in defeating rebel forces and keeping President Assad in power, while effectively ensuring that Western combat aircraft kept their distance. RAF Typhoons and other NATO aircraft shadowed the Russian warships as they progressed back towards home waters. An update on RAF activities over Iraq and Syria was the subject of the recent Air League Slessor Lecture as reported in the March/April 2017 newsletter.