Russia says it will begin reducing its forces deployed for operations in Syria. The announcement said that the withdrawal will commence with the aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov.
The debut combat deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov was designed to allow Russian Navy Aviation to evaluate and test its recently delivered Mikoyan MiG-29KR/KUBR multi-role fighters, as well as its newly modernized Sukhoi Su-33 shipborne fighters.
Aircraft from the carrier began air strikes on November 15, 2016, when pro-Assad forces launched intensive attacks on Syrian rebels around eastern Aleppo. As well as missile strikes from land and sea, aircraft were flown from the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, stationed off the coast.
Initial footage released by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) suggested that only Su-33s were launched from the carrier, and most of these carried an exclusively air-to-air load-out. Subsequently, Russian TV reports showed Su-33s on deck with free-fall FAB-500M-54 high-explosive bombs on the centerline.
The withdrawal of the carrier less than two months after it began combat operations underscores a less than glowing endorsement of its participation in the campaign. One of the air wing’s Su-33s crashed into the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to land on December 3. The crash was reportedly caused when the arresting wire failed and the fighter, which had been returning from a combat mission over Syria, ran off the deck. The incident followed the earlier loss of one of the ship’s MiG-29KR fighters that occurred following another cable separation on November 12.