What happened to the Russian Il-20?

Here’s a text on the lost Russian aircraft, published in Russian by the New Times.


A Russian Il-20M reconnaissance aircraft disappeared from radar screens late in the evening on September 17. All 14 crew members are presumed lost, and some reports indicate that remnants of the aircraft have been located by a Russian navy auxiliary ship that was in the area. Initially, the Russian Ministry of Defense blamed a nearby French frigate, accusing it of firing rockets at the aircraft. Subsequently, the ministry accepted that the aircraft was downed as a result of friendly fire by Syrian S-200 air defenses. At the same time, the Russian MOD transferred blame to the Israeli Air Force, which was conducting air strikes against Syrian military facilities in the Latakia area at the time of the incident. Supposedly, four Israeli F-16 strike aircraft were using the Il-20 as cover while conducting strikes on Syria from international airspace. The whole operation can be seen in the map below provided by the MOD in its official briefing on the incident.

Il-20While the Russian government’s reaction included a strongly worded condemnation of the Israeli Air Force for its role in the incident, the reality is that the Israeli aircraft would not have had the ability or need to use a large, slow Russian turboprop aircraft as cover. They carried out their strikes and almost certainly had departed the area before the Syrian forces had realized they were under attack and activated their air defense systems. The Syrian military has a history of launching air defense missiles late, after incurring damage from hostile forces. The same tactic was used in response to NATO missile strikes on suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April 2018. One suspects that this is done so that Syrian military officials can report to their leaders that they “did something” in response. In April 2018, the response allowed Syrian and Russian officials to make false claims that the air defenses had neutralized a large number of NATO cruise missiles. Whereas the response in that case was in reality completely ineffective, in this case, unfortunately, the late response resulted in an unintended casualty of an allied aircraft.

The political consequences of this incident are likely to be limited. Both Israel and Russia are keen to limit the damage to what has in recent years become a relatively comfortable relationship. The Israeli military not only expressed condolences for the loss of life, but took the almost unprecedented step of publicly discussing an Israeli military operation. The statement noted that Israeli aircraft had already left the scene by the time the Syrian missiles were launched, thus confirming that the Israeli attack on Syria took place. At the same time, it firmly assigned blame to the Syrian forces that launched the missiles, thus rejected any claims of Israeli responsibility for the incident.

Furthermore, the Israeli prime minister highlighted the importance of Russian-Israeli security coordination while confirming Israel’s intent “to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and Iranian attempts to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weapons against Israel.” He also offered to send the commander of the Israeli air force to Moscow to provide to Russian officials all information Israel has collected on the incident. On the Russian side, President Putin warned against making any facile comparisons to the shooting down of a Russian plane by Turkish forces in 2015, since this time the plane was shot down by Syrian forces. He called the incident “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and noted that the result will be additional security measures for Russian military personnel based in Syria. In short, initial calls in the State Duma for a tough response against Israel will vanish quickly and once the condolence calls on the part of Russian officials to the families of those who lost their lives are completed the entire incident will be forgotten in short order.

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4 thoughts on “What happened to the Russian Il-20?

  1. Thanks for the brief analysis. I listened to Komsomolskaya Pravda Radio this afternoon and they already were suggesting that the US was somehow responsible for this incident. The hosts (Mr and Mrs Norkin) also remarked that this incident stoked anti-Semitic sentiments among some of their listeners. See link for details. https://www.kp.ru/radio/26882/3926702/

    In another KP article, they include the “analysis” of (ret) General Ivashov who surmises that the downing of this aircraft was due to diabolical plotting by the US to ensure that the American dollar remains the global reserve currency. Tough to follow their logic. No mention was named of poorly trained Syrian AD crews. https://www.kp.ru/daily/26882/3927222/

    I’m guessing this story will be spun to fit the Kremlin’s anti-US narrative.

    • Sigh, Ivashov. I met him on his last day in the active military. He hasn’t had a new thought since some years before that day.

  2. I will take the liberty to make a few comments concerning the incidents as well as to ‘comment the comments’.

    Namely it is a false assumption to claim the Israeli strikes are undetected. Of course the Israelis minimise exposer for example by attacking from the direction of Lebanon using mountains as cover though this was not the case here.

    What is comes down most to however is 1 stand off and 2 swarm

    Concerning the former IAF aircraft utilise stand off weapons such as glider bombs and missiles very seldom actually exposing their aircraft to Syrian AA defences. The only weapon in the Syrian arsenal which has any sort of chance of hitting such an attacker is the S 200, the sole truly long range SAM the Syrians have. In fact it scored the only confirmed “kill” (there were several unconfirmed claims) against an Israeli aircraft in recent times.

    As far as the latter goes the Israelis usually launch multiple munitions against a given target ensuring that even if some of them are shot down – as they frequently are by Syrian AA defences – enough will get through to demolish or at least seriously damage the target.

    While the F 16 is a Mach 2 capable fighter I hope nobody here is naive enough to think it actually always flies at this speed for the speed it flies at is dictated by requirements of the mission carried out and the developing tactical situation.

    As a matter of fact using a large Russian aircraft as cover would make tactical sense though I do not know if the Israelis did that – neither does anyone else unless he has flown the mission or was privy to IAF operational planning. I beg to opine this neither applies to the blog author.

    What the consequences of the incidents will be only future will tell though I am not expecting much there.

    Last but not least: the amount of idiocy about America in Russian media is only matched by the amount of cretinism about Russia in the American media. The East has truly met the West …

  3. I think,the most important factor is that the Israel didn’t use in a proper way the channels they have with the russians. They sent an inaccurate and late warning.So the plane was caught in the middle of the fight.The rest was just coincidence.

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