Khmeimim hangars complete and operational

A new video revealed Russian aerial hangars on Khmeimim air base for the first time

(Source: @LAndriukaitis/DFRLab)

On August 28, Channel One Russia, a Kremlin-run media outlet, reported on the presence of Russian aerial hangars on Khmeimim air base, providing the first visual evidence of their use. These images showed the final product of the protection measures that Russian military has implemented to guard against drone attacks; it also suggested that Russian military presence in Syria will be long term.

The DFRLab has been tracking Russian activities and developments around the Khmeimim air base in Syria and first reported on the construction of the hangars in November 2018. The Khmeimim base serves as one of the main projections of Russian power in the war-torn country. Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s promises to withdraw from Syria and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statements that the war has come to an end, Russian forces remain active in the region.

Location of the new hangars in Khmeimim airbase. (Source: GoogleMaps)

Satellite imagery that surfaced in November 2018 showed that the Russian military started constructing the hangars that year. Khmeimim suffered a number of attacks throughout 2018, including both drone and mortar attacks, and reportedly received damage to the aircraft stationed in the base. The construction of the new aircraft hangars started in June 2018, with the first foundation already visible by July 2018.

High resolution satellite imagery compared with an image from September 26, 2017. (Source: @aldin_ww, left; Google Maps, right)

Yet, up until August 2019, no photos or videos in which the new hangars were visible had surfaced from the base itself. The first such video appeared on Channel One Russia on August 28, 2019.

Geolocation confirmed that the hangars visible in the video were located in the northern part of the Khmeimim base. The reporters seen in the video were standing on the southernmost part of the hangar structure.

Geolocation confirmation of the hangars. (Source: Youtube/archive, top; Planet.com, middle; GoogleMaps, bottom)

As the surfaced video suggests, the structures were constructed as open hangars, providing only limited protection. These hangars mainly provide protection from aerial attacks; despite little reinforcement, they should be sufficient to protect from small caliber mortar and improvised drone attacks. Behind the reporter in the video was a defensive barrier, which revealed that the security measures implemented before the construction of the hangars were still in place.

Using available daily satellite imagery, the DFRLab was able to further examine the air base. Historic satellite data showed that the construction was completed between November and December 2018.

A comparison of November 2018 and December 2018 satellite imagery showed that the hangars were completed by December. (Source: Planet.com)

Sources reported various attacks, including militant-launched missile attacks, targeting the Khmemim air base throughout 2019. Yet the combination of air defenses and the new security measures implemented on the base seems to have successfully repelled these attacks. No reports of damaged aircraft surfaced on official sources, media outlets, or in open-source research.


Lukas Andriukaitis is an Associate Director with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.

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