Engineers get fighter jets ready for a sortie. Ahead of the air raid, a reconnaissance drone is sent out on an intelligence gathering mission. It flies eastward, away from the Latakian coast on the Mediterranean and deep into the continent where ISIL controls large swaths of land. The drone will scout for ISIL positions and hardware.
"The Russian air force launches airstrikes on ISIL infrastructure, such as command centers, headquarters, communication nodes, arms, ammo and fuel depots, labs producing IEDs and car bombs for terrorist attacks," Russian Air Force spokesman Col. Igor Klimov said.
The aim of Russia’s air campaign is to prepare the ground for offensive by the Syrian regular army and allied Syrian armed opposition forces who hope to regain control of ISIL-infested lands after jihadist infrastructure has been bombed out.
A US-led international coalition has been pounding ISIL targets in Syria for over a year, but experts agree that lack of coordination with Damascus stalls the progress: allies receive no intel on ISIL targets from the ground, while the regular army gets no chance of benefiting from US air support.
Once reconnaissance drones are back, attack planes take off in groups of two to three to a powerful roar of engines. MiG Mi-24 helicopter gunships take off simultaneously to patrol the airfield's perimeter. Fighter jets are most vulnerable to ground fire during climbs and descents. Choppers provide them with fire support until they are high in the air and out of terrorists' range.
A mission lasts up to 30 minutes. Asked how often sorties are made, Col. Klimov says, "They have a tight schedule, all identified targets get destroyed."
The Hmeimim airbase is situated near the airport. Pilots, guards and maintenance personnel are housed in living units. Armored vehicles and a dozen of refuellers are parked nearby.
Dozens of facilities have been built almost overnight. The compound has it all: a commissary store, a bakery, and mobile bathhouses. "The personnel have all conditions for successful military service," Col. Klimov observes.
On Wednesday, Russia started carrying out pinpoint airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria at the request of the Syrian government. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, during the first two days of the operation the country’s aircraft hit over 10 targets, among them an explosives factory, an arms depot and an ISIL coordination center. The targets were chosen based on intelligence, including air surveillance, gathered and verified by Russia and Syria.