TEL AVIV — Israel’s high-resolution eyes in space are keeping close track of Russian efforts to fortify the flailing regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as evidenced by imagery obtained by Defense News from just one satellite.
Images captured earlier this month from the Eros-B, a dual-use imaging satellite owned and operated by ImageSat International, reveal high operational tempo at Latakia International Airport, where Moscow has based some 12 Su-25 fighters, a similar amount of Su-24 bombers, 16 Mi-35 attack helicopters and a small amount of Su-30 and Su-34 aircraft.
Outsized Antonov 124 and Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft are seen offloading additional cargo, all of which is protected by at least one SAM-22 surface-to-air missile system.
In an image dated Oct. 10, support vehicles and open cockpit canopies indicate high levels of alert while another image taken on the same day shows a foursome of Su-30 attack fighters in so-called fast launch positions at the end of the runway.
Such imagery taken by the relatively low end of Israel’s satellite force represents a mere snapshot of the Jewish state’s persistent ability to monitor areas of interest throughout Syria and beyond.
With more than a handful of satellites orbiting the Earth at 90-minute intervals, Israel has multiple opportunities every day to revisit suspected sites.
Sources here note that as sharp as the imagery of Eros-B may seem, the satellite actually represents the low end of Israel’s Earth orbiting arsenal.
Electro-optic and radar imagery taken respectively from Israel’s Ofeq family of spacecraft and TecSAR synthetic aperture radar satellites provide much higher resolution and yield a far greater amount of data for Israeli intelligence analysts, they say.
“Eros is a commercial derivative of the much more powerful military assets that the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] and the intelligence community are using every day and every night,” said a former official of the Defense Ministry’s military space bureau.
“Each satellite can revisit the same point of interest at least daily. And when you have quite a lot of satellites, it means your coverage of that area is fairly persistent. The impact of these capabilities are significant,” said the former official, who did not agree to be named due to his ongoing work as an officer in the IDF reserves.
IDF officers and their Russian counterparts plan to hold their second round of so-called deconfliction talks in Moscow later next month, with an eye toward establishing a mechanism to prevent unintended consequences in the event that Russian and Israeli aircraft are flying in the same airspace.