Russia recently revealed that the experience of Russian pilots and ground forces officers had proved to be invaluable in giving 90 percent of Russian military pilots combat experience in Syria. Since 2015 many pilots have flown over a hundred combat sorties in Syria and a few over 400. This would account for so many Russian aircraft types showing up in Syria, sometimes in small numbers for short periods. Russia had earlier revealed that they combat tested a lot of new equipment and weapons in Syria, enabling the new gear to use a sales inducement of “combat tested”.
Russian aircraft flew over 40,000 sorties in Syria so far, so there was plenty of work for Russian pilots to get some combat experience. This was even though most of the sorties did not involve engaging the enemy. In Syria that meant lots of reconnaissance sorties and combat sorties where there was no combat, as in nothing to bomb or weather that prevented such attacks. The combat experience of the pilots wasn’t all that dangerous because there were no enemy aircraft and the Islamic terrorists and irregulars below only had short range anti-aircraft weapons like heavy machine-guns and some portable heat-seeking surface to air missiles. Most of the combat experience came in the form of finding designated targets and bombing them, often with unguided bombs that had to be dropped from low altitudes.
Both pilots and ground troops served in Syria more than once, usually short periods, like three to six months at a time. Since Russia has been in Syria for six years, a growing number of Russian pilots and ground forces officers have served more than one tour.
Russia also confirmed that promising ground forces officers were also sent to Syria for some combat experience and currently most of the commanders and chiefs of staff of units from battalion size up to the divisions, armies and military districts have had some experience in Syria. So far nearly 70,000 Russian troops have served in Syria, many more than once. For the ground force officers the experience often meant going into action as advisors to Syrian officers. This was often in the form of Russian officers leading by example because most Syrian officers had become reluctant to lead their troops into combat due to heavy casualties the Syrian army has suffered since 2011. Russia special operations officers got the most combat experience because they led Russia spetsnaz commandos on combat missions and took a few casualties.