Note by The Saker: normally, I would place a SITREP in the SITREP section, but since this event has so many people fired up and since Le Dahu provides such an interesting analysis, I have decide to post this as a “Guest Analysis”.
After the Saker’s latest analysis on Putin, Israel and the downed Il-20, I decided to put fingers to keyboard to type out this sitrep of sorts.

Quote 1:

“The bombing raid was near the French frigate the ‘Auvergne’ and in close proximity to the Ilyushin-20 plane from Russia’s Aerospace Force that was about to land,” Konashenkov said.

Vague description of route with no timing indicated. “Close proximity”. Questions: did the 4 F-16s use the ‘Auvergne’ as some kind of waypoint just before launching their missiles? How close is close, a few kilometres or 10’s of kilometres?

According to the Russian infographic provided at the briefing, the flight of Israeli F-16s went past the ‘Auvergne’ on their way to strike Syrian military installations. “At the same time, the Russian radars fixed missile launches from the French frigate Auvergne, which was in that area,” the Defense Ministry said. (TASS article 2:32 18th September). Plus this: “Airspace control has recorded rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne”. (Does anyone have a copy of this MoD statement?)

The Russian Ministry of Defence initially said it detected missile launches in the area from the ‘Auvergne’, at a time when the Israeli aircraft were in the air. This was duly reported by Russian media – this TASS article shows. But the French Ministry of Defence categorically “denied any involvement in the attack.”

In strange twist, this news disappeared out of the media, which was turned into Quote 1(above) as reported in a later Russian MoD press briefing.

Puzzling for the Russian MoD to take this course of action in the immediate hours after the shooting-down. I hope some facts will come to light. I find it troublesome that the Russian MoD would invent a scurrilous story, easy to dismiss and then afterwards liable to ridicule and discredited liars.

Quote 2:

He pointed out that the Israeli command centres and the F-16s’ pilots “could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometres.”

Coming down on final approach from 5 km height, well… everyone could see it then, even if it hadn’t activated its IFF, (NATO SNMG2 ships, US navy ships, Russian Navy, Israel, Cyprus and Turkey).

Debris from the downed IL-20 was found approximately 27km off Baniyas according to Russian officials.

As the Russian MoD infographic mentions that the F-16s were carrying GBU-39 glide bombs, then the presumed launch range is between 110km and 72km, (according to the specific type). We are assuming then that the ‘Auvergne’ was also within this range bracket. (Trying to fill the blanks provided by the Russian MoD).

Quote 3:

“A hotline warning was received less than one minute before the strike, which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety,” he added

To note that this is the hotline. The reality on the ground would have distinctly different, since the Russian Navy AD warning systems would have picked up the Israelis some time before. Similar situation for the Russian coastal defence units.

The newest generation of Russian Navy ships (in particular, the 3 Buyan class & Admiral Grigorovich class ships) has integrated systems with their land counterparts.

Not that it would have helped since the Latakia region gets targeted on a regular basis for years now by Israeli AF, with the Russian Navy not batting an eyelid and possibly having their AD in stand-by mode.

I won’t dwell on this any further given Andrei Martyanov’s detailed recent explanation on 20th September

I’ll leave this here:” The creation of the multi-layered and highly efficient air defense system in Syria capable of protecting military and civil facilities from air attacks is possible with Russia’s assistance already now,” Bondarev said.”

Lastly on this aspect, Syrian social media accounts at the time of the missile attacks seem to suggest a duration of 50 minutes. To my mind, this seems a long time for 4 attacking F-16s (with or without the use of decoys).

The response from one Italian AF tanker suggests it was avoiding unwelcomed attention, off southern Cyprus, by flying further south.

Does anyone have a timeline for the event? I’ve got only this: Loss of Il-20 at 23:00pm Moscow, around 20:00 GMT

Naval presence

Certain articles suggested that the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) ships “inched closer to the Syrian coast” just before the Israeli air strike. On what basis did they formulate this assumption? Other than generally portraying a livid imagination of multi-level assumptions, these don’t add value to trying to appreciate better the short- and medium-term activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. (Rant over).

The role of the 4 SNMG2 ships is to watch over, to obtain which is termed “Maritime Situational Awareness” (MSA) of the main Russian Navy ships in the area. So, if they ‘inched over’, it was to keep in the vicinity of the Russian Navy. NATO ships have been doing this kind of mission for years.

Some of the NATO ships got the limelight thanks to a Russian reporter back at the beginning of September, which resulted in a couple of follow-up tweets here and here September. (Personally, the Russian MoD is a bit too coy on this aspect, it ought to put up more social media posts … oh look there’s a US DDG, like this example of the Marshal Ustinov).

The Dutch warship ‘De Ruyter’ as seen by TV Zvezda around the 6/7th September.

Another NATO ship shadowing the Russian Navy Mediterranean group is the HMCS ‘Ville de Quebec” as seen here. The fact is that they were there weeks ago and will continue to maintain a presence for the foreseeable future. They were bystanders just as all of the Russian Navy was off the Syrian coast.

To quote ‘” the known unknowns’, the more pressing concern for military analysts is that of the US destroyers and submarines likely to be off both the west and east side of Cyprus. Did any of them ‘move’ closer to Syria in the run-up to the Israeli strike? What kind of air activity took place in the hours before? There was a P-8 patrol out from Sigonella reported just after the air strike. The timing of this patrol is just tad (slightly eyebrow raising) suspicious.

The situation now

Russian military authorities took a drastic step a day later to cover parts of the eastern Mediterranean with red Flight Restriction zones, (18 Sept – before decision made, 19 Sept):

The areas are still active until the 26th of September. President stated that there will be “steps that everyone will notice.”. Well these NOTAMs & NAVAREA III messages frankly are noticeable by all aviators and mariners.

Pressure points applied to all and sundry, including the western approaches, always used by NATO ships and aircraft. My hunch is the Russian Navy is monitoring all access points to Middle East, until such a time that the relevant intelligence, data and information is fully processed, evaluated, analysed and interpreted for the top ‘brass’. The physical problem is that it seems the Russian Navy is well spread out and they are thin in number, comparing to the increases in US and NATO ships into the region.

Rumour control says the cruiser ‘Marshal Ustinov’ took a sightseeing tour southward, off the Israeli coast. This would be handy, if verifiable, because it may well provide an early detection warning of Israeli AF flights going seawards. Certainly, the US Navy aerial patrols have taken a wide sweep of the area, including this one and this one. Then there is the high-altitude U2 (out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus).

The French Navy ‘Auvergne”

The ‘Auvergne’ (now in Cyprus) is one of 3 that participated in “Operation Hamilton’ Syrian strikes back in April. Onboard are Aster 15 anti-air missiles (operational range said to be 7-30km), along with French cruise missiles known as MdCN (Missile De Croisière Naval). The ‘Auvergne’ (in blue) might have been in company with the ‘Chevalier Paul’. The Russian MoD stated that the Krivak-class Frigate “Pytlivyy” was nearby (in red). Being the closest Russian naval ship, they would have been on hand to monitor, track and relay data on ‘hostile’ activity.

Personally, I am more than sceptical about the role of the French ship in launching Aster missiles. The repercussions would have been enormous, firstly due to the presence of Russian Navy warships in the region. I believe (someone maybe be able to clarify) that the Russian ROE would have allowed in self-defence a counter strike against the ship, (air, sea and land units). (Yes, I know that Macron is unpopular chez nous, but that is a lame excuse to potentially start World War III?)

Was the ‘Auvergne’ presence a convenient bait for Israeli AF or even covert Israeli navy? After all, its position would have been known well beforehand, (with a little help from US sources I guess), due to the proximity of the “Pytlivyy’.

To place into the context of the previous strikes back in April, the French FREMMS took part, with only ship successfully launching a volley of MdCNs. There was safety in numbers, backed by US Navy ships, USAF, RAF and FAF aircraft. The group of ships launched literally a swarm of over 100 missiles.

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