According to multiple media reports on Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry may be sending Hermes missile systems to Syria to counter Turkish tanks and other armored vehicles. The news, which was first reported by Avia.Pro, suggested that the weapon system was being tested in territory currently under the control of the Syrian Arab Republic, while the Russian military would conduct the actual tests.
The Hermes missile system could reportedly destroy multiple enemy armored vehicles from a distance of up to 100 kilometers. That could provide the Syrian regime the ability to destroy the entire Turkish force in a matter of hours.
Whether it would be used in such a capacity is unlikely however, but the message is clear.
Russia recently unveiled the upgraded Hermes guided weapon system at last month’s Army-2020 International Military and Technical Forum, which was held at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Center of the Russian Armed Forces in Kubinka outside of Moscow. The destructive probability from the platform was stated to be 98-99% when fired from even 100 kilometers.
The anti-tank guided weapon system is comprised of several reconnaissance and guidance drones, which can help it detect and even illuminate a target at a distance. In addition, the system also features a compact combat module with launchers for six missiles—and it can deliver salvo fire against six targets at a time. Each of those missiles could carry a high explosive fragmentation warhead with twenty kilograms of TNT.
Whether the platform being deployed in Syria is the same one shown at the Army-2020 event is largely unclear, as other reports suggest the currently deployed system—the Hermes-A—only has a range of 30 km. However, even that would be impressive for an anti-tank missile, especially in the largely open terrain of northern Syria.
Given this latest turn of events with Russia deploying a weapon that could be used against Turkey, it is safe to say the two nations have a complex relationship.
In fact, today Russia and Turkey could even be described as having a truly strange relationship that is akin to “frenemies”—neither friends nor enemies, but something bordering on both extreme ends of the spectrum.
The two nations certainly find themselves at odds in Syria, in part because Syria maintains close relations with Russia while Turkey has become increasingly aggressive in the region.
There is also a lot of bad blood between the two powers. Not only because Russia and Turkey fought several wars over the past few centuries, but Turkey has been a longstanding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and throughout the Cold War was one of only two U.S. NATO military allies to actually border the Soviet Union (with Norway being the other).
Syria was also once controlled by the Ottoman Empire—the forbearers of modern Turkey—for many centuries until 1918. There is little love between the two, and apart from a highly unusual three-day joint military exercise that took part in 2009, the two nations have found little common ground.
Matters have only gotten worse since the start of Syrian Civil War in 2011. This is because the main opposition to the Syrian Arab Republic’s government in Damascus has largely been supported by Turkey, almost to the point that Syria and Turkey have come to blows.
Countering this bad blood is the fact that Turkey is one of Moscow’s best customers for military hardware, and that included the S-400 anti-aircraft platform. The purchase of that platform upset Turkey’s NATO partners, notably the United States, which expelled Ankara from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program over fears the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system could scan and learn too much about the F-35.
Russia’s Testing Ground
Then there is the fact that Russia has largely used Syria as a testing ground for many of its weapons, so it is no surprise that Moscow would want to try out its new Hermes anti-tank platform in the region.
However, the Russian military may want to hope the platform fares better than its newest tank did in field tests. In fact, it didn’t work out so well for Moscow when one of its next-generation T-14 Armata tanks was reportedly destroyed by insurgent forces in Syria earlier this year.