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Russia sends hypersonic jets to Syria for naval drills

Russia has deployed MiG-31K fighter jets armed with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and long-range Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bombers to its air base in Syria for naval exercises, according to Interfax, citing the defence ministry.

The Mikoyan MiG-31, first built during the Soviet Union, is a supersonic aircraft currently in service with Russia and Kazakhstan’s armed forces. The MiG-31K planes, which were sent to Middle Eastern countries, were upgraded in 2018 to carry the cutting-edge Kinzhal missile.

The Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, can fly at Mach 10 and is said to be capable of performing evasive manoeuvres in flight. It is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.

The planes are participating in a joint exercise between the Russian Navy and Air Force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where they will be joined by other warplanes, ships, and submarines. The planes sent to Russia’s Hmeimim air base will participate in exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, as part of a surge in Russian military activity amid a standoff with the West over Ukraine and European security.

On January 20, Moscow announced that its navy would conduct a series of exercises involving all of its fleets from the Pacific to the Atlantic, involving 10,000 servicemen, 140 warships, and dozens of planes.

Damascus, the capital of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been a staunch ally of Moscow since Russia launched an air strike campaign in Syria in 2015. Russia also controls the Tartus naval facility, in addition to the Hmeimim air base.

According to Rob Lee, a military analyst at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, Russia sent fighter jets armed with Kinzhal missiles for the first-time last year after expanding the runway at the base to accommodate such aircraft.

He stated that the deployments demonstrated Russia’s growing military presence in the Middle East, as well as its ability to operate in various regions and project power. According to Russian media, the Kinzhal hypersonic missile can reach targets up to 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) away. It is one of several strategic weapons that have been revealed.

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