USN F/A-18E Super Hornet Shoots Down Syrian Su-22 Fitter Attack Jet

The unprecedented engagement could lead to a rapidly escalating security situation in the skies over eastern Syria.

byTyler Rogoway|
F/A-18E/F photo


Major events are unfolding on battlefield Syria today—ones that could also have major strategic impact on the conflict and the region. Details remain sketchy, but according to a Pentagon release and other reports, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter attack jet near Ja'Din. The town is located south of the strategic dam at Al Tabqa and west of the Islamic State's defacto capital of Al Raqqa.

At around 4:30 local time, pro Assad forces mounted a offensive on Ja'Din that is currently held by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF fighters took casualties during the onslaught, leading to their retreat. Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force—a maneuver which usually includes flying very low at transonic speeds over the enemy while popping decoy flares—in an attempt to stop the attack. It worked and the aircraft were not called on to directly engage pro-Assad forces on the ground.

As it has become all too customary, the US-led coalition used its "deconfliction" hotline with Russia in an attempt to stop the assault on the area altogether. Then, just over two hours after the ground assault began, a Syria Air Force Su-22 attack aircraft showed up over the area and began dropping bombs of SDF forces located South of Al Tabqa. A USN Super Hornet shot the swing-wing jet out of the sky "in accordance with the rules of engagement and in collective self defense of coalition partnered forces."

A SyAF Su-22 Fitter., AP

The statement issued by CJTFOIR notes that Ja'Din is two kilometers north of the deconfliction line set up primarily by the Russians and the Assad regime, and is clearly marked as an SDF area. It also goes on with the usual boilerplate statements about the need to focus on destroying ISIS and the threat is poses to the world.

Centcom Release 

Here is a bad translation of the official statement from the Syrian government on the incident:

The oldest flight is called (International Alliance) Thursday afternoon to target one of the fighter aircraft in the Rusafa area of the southern countryside tenderness during the implementation of a combat mission against the terrorist organization Daesh in the region led to the crash and the loss of the pilot.

This blatant aggression confirms beyond doubt the truth in support of terrorism, the American position, which aims to try to influence the Syrian Arab Army's ability only force players with allies exercising their legitimate right to fight terrorism throughout the home area especially since this attack comes at a time that achieves the Syrian Arab army and its allies clear progress in the fight against the terrorist organization Daesh who defeated in the Syrian desert on more than one direction.

Also it confirms that exists between the United States and the organization of coordination Daesh terrorist, and exposes the malicious intentions of the United States of America in the management of terrorism and investing in it to achieve its objectives in passing the project US Zionist in the region.

The General Command of the Army and the armed forces as it warns of the serious repercussions of this blatant assault on the fight against terrorism, efforts to confirm that such attacks will not be deterred from its determination and its determination to continue the war against organizational Daesh and Front victory terrorists and groups associated with them and restore security and stability to all the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The Super Hornet involved in the engagement is likely one of dozens operating from the USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean. This would be the first air-to-air kill for the type. It would also be the first time a US fighter aircraft has shot down a manned foreign aircraft for many years, but it is not the first air-to-air engagement between pro-Assad flying forces and US airpower. Just last week a USAF F-15E shot down an armed drone of Iranian origin near coalition forces located close to the southern Syrian town of At Tanf. 

Super Hornets on a mission over Syria., DoD

The downing of a SyAF jet by a coalition fighter signifies a reality that The War Zone has predicted for some time to be nearly inevitable if the diplomatic situation remains as is —that as the common threat from ISIS diminishes, disparate forces and factions with unique agendas in both Syria and Iraq will likely turn their battle hardened forces on one another in a greater power struggle for both countries' futures. The so called "race to Raqqa" is just a sign of this, and the fact that Syrian troops, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, Turkish fighters and Russian special operators have been largely blocked from being able to participate the city's liberation has drastically heightened tensions.

Now we will have to wait and see how Russia reacts to this shoot-down. Moscow has taken greater custody of Assad's airpower and military capabilities following the US cruise missile strike on Shayrat Airfield last April. This engagement could result in enhanced Russian fighter patrols over eastern Syria, and as a result, the skies over the area could become far more volatile than they are today. 

The fact is the US has gone through great lengths to not have an incident like today's aerial engagement occur, even after bombings, strange aerial encounters and menacing from pro-Assad airpower. Don't be surprised if the US and its coalition activate a large no-fly zone over the eastern portion of Syria in an attempt to abate a more chaotic situation should Russia try to counter today's events with their own airpower capabilities. But doing so also all but invites a standoff between Russian and US fighter aircraft. 

Above all else, this shoot down will just make things more complicated for coalition air power trying to support the final assault on Al Raqqa. The need for more caution and air defense assets over the area means less aircraft will be available to focus on dismantling the Islamic State in Syria once and for all. 

We will update this story with more information as it comes available. 

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