Combat search and rescue (CSAR) is one of the highest-risk missions that exist on the modern battlefield. The situation is often fluid and very dynamic; the “known” information is extremely small and the risk to the rescue force is usually high. The critical factor to the confidence of the fast-mover pilots flying over denied territory is this: They must trust someone will come for them should things go badly.

Recently, we saw that happen when a Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24M “Fencer” was shot down after allegedly violating Turkey’s sovereign airspace. The downed aircraft, and a wingman, were inside Turkey for a grand total of 17 seconds while flying from east to west at an altitude of 19,000 feet. The aircraft were less than two miles inside Turkey’s southernmost border as they passed through, and while one aircraft veered back to the south, one was engaged by two Block 50 F-16Cs of the Turkish Air Force.

Once the Fencer was stricken and no longer able to fly, both pilots inside ejected, and thus began the Russian Air Force’s attempt to locate and extract their downed airmen.

Inside Russia's Mission to Rescue Its Pilots
Russian Mi-8 helicopter during combat operations in Syria. (Photo courtesy of Sputnik News)

Combat search and rescue missions are often divided in to two categories: immediate and deliberate. The missions define themselves: In one, a force is immediately dispatched to rescue the downed aviators or isolated personnel. In the other, time is taken to build an intelligence picture, a rescue package consisting of ground, rotary-winged, and close air support (CAS) elements, all working in well-planned and organized concert to the goal of repatriating the personnel in question.