The Russian Defense Ministry announced on April 12 “the crash of a Russian Mi-28H attack helicopter near the city of Homs“ the previous night. The two pilots were killed in the crash, and their bodies were recovered by Russian special forces who transferred them to Hmeimim airbase in northern Syria. The ministry asserted that “the helicopter was not shot down” but debkafile’s intelligence and aviation sources doubt that claim.
The helicopter that crashed in Homs was the fourth Russian-made military aircraft to be shot down during the last 30 days by advanced shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles possessed by the Nusra Front, ISIS and other groups of fighters.
The speculation that terrorist organizations in Syria, and apparently in Iraq, possess such missiles capable of overcoming the defenses of Russian aircraft became reality when the Mi-28H helicopter was shot down on April 11. The aircraft is equipped with the most advanced defensive system of its kind, the President-S, which is resistant to active and passive jamming.
The system also known as the L370-5 includes a warning system installed on four external points of every aircraft, radar and command and control system that can identify incoming shoulder-fired missiles and cause them to deviate from their paths.
The defense system protects the helicopter from previous generations of such missiles, such as the Strela-2 and Strela-3. But it remains vulnerable to more advanced missiles and that is the reason why the rebels and terror groups have been able to shoot down four Russian-made aircraft in Syria.
On March 12, a MIG-21 of the Syrian air force was shot down with two shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles that locked onto the heat signature of the plane. Fighters from the Jaysh al-Nasr rebel group operating in the village of Kafr Nabudah, in the area of the city of Hama, downed the plane and then killed the pilots after they ejected and reached the ground.
Another Syrian air force plane, a Sukhoi 22, was shot down on April 5 near Aleppo using a single MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems) missile, apparently an advanced one, fired by fighters from Al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front. One of the pilots was killed on the ground, while the other, Khaled Saeed, was taken prisoner.
In yet another recent downing of a Russian-made military aircraft, ISIS announced on April 11 that it had shot down a Sukhoi 22 that had taken off from al-Dumayr Airport in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The fighters used an SA-7 Strela missile with an infrared heat-seeking warhead, considered relatively out of date.
Western intelligence services have no idea how many shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles are in the arsenals of Syrian rebel groups and terrorist organizations. There is no doubt that those weapons pose a major and immediate threat to commercial aviation in Israel and throughout the Middle East.