Appropriately, on Friday, April 13th the U.S. along with French and UK participation, conducted aerial strikes against Syrian chemical production and storage facilities. These strikes reportedly were comprised of a mix of ship and submarine launched missiles and aircraft including B-1 bombers, Tornado, Typhoon, Rafale and Mirage and Raptors.
It was all over in two minutes.
U.S., French and British forces hit three suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities with a total of 105 weapons that all struck their targets within two minutes at about 4 a.m. local time, Pentagon officials said Saturday.
The attack involved ships, aircraft and one submarine operating from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Northern Arabian Sea against three targets — one on the outskirts of Damascus and two others 90 miles to the north.
A total of 76 missiles — 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMS) and 19 Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missiles-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) were fired at the sprawling Barzah Research and Development Center near Damascus, Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the Joint Staff Director, said at a Pentagon briefing.
At the same precise time, the Hims-Shinsar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs, about 90 miles north of Damascus, was hit with a total of 22 weapons — nine Tomahawks, eight British Storm Shadow missiles, three French Naval Cruise Missiles and two French SCALP land attack cruise missiles, McKenzie said.
The third target, the Hims–Shinsar chemical weapons bunker facility also near Homs, was hit with seven French SCALP missiles, McKenzie said.
In the Red Sea, the Ticonderoga-class cruiser Monterey fired 30 Tomahawks and the Arleigh
Burke-class destroyer Laboon fired seven TLAMs.
In the North Arabian Sea, the Arleigh Burke- class destroyer Higgins fired 23 TLAMS, McKenzie said.
In the eastern Mediterranean, the French frigate Languedoc fired three naval versions of the SCALP missile and the Virginia-class submarine John Warner fired six TLAMs.
In the air, two B-1B Lancer Bombers fired 19 JASSMs. Britain flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon fighters to launch eight Storm Shadow missiles. France flew a combination of Rafale and Mirage fighters to launch a total of nine SCALP missiles.
The strike represented the the first employment of JASSM-ER weapons in combat.
Currently, the B-1 can carry 75,000 pounds — 5,000 pounds more than the B-52 Stratofortress — of both precision-guided and conventional bombs. Its weapons include include the Mk-82 or Mk-84 general purpose bombs; the Mk-62 or Mk-65 Quick Strike naval mines bombs; cluster munitions such as the CBU-87, -89, -97 or Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispensers like the CBU-103, -104, -105; the GBU-31 or GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions; the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles; and the GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
The JASSM-Extended Range has a higher survivability rate due to it its low-observable technology incorporated into the long-range, conventional air-to-ground precision-guided missile.
The non-nuclear B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on March 31 for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years to take over strike missions from B-52 Stratofortress bombers.
December, B-1 pilots and crew members told Military.com they were training round-the-clock for the evolving battlespace in the Middle East.
Despite claims by Syria, all of the allied missiles reached their targets without interference from air defense systems.
“We assess that over 40 surface-to-air missiles were employed by the Syrian regime,” McKenzie said, and “most of these launches occurred after the last impact of our strike was over.”
He said the Syrian launches were ineffective and “clearly increased the risk to their own people based on their indiscriminate response — when you shoot iron into the sky without guidance, it will inevitably fall to earth.”
Advanced Russian air defense systems of S-400 and S-300 missiles were believed to be out of range of the three target sites and were not activated, McKenzie said. “There’s no indication the Russian air defense systems were deployed,” he said.
At a Friday night briefing, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in eastern Syria were put on heightened alert to guard against any retaliation for the missile strikes, but McKenzie said “we’ve not seen any military response to our formations.”
McKenzie also said the U.S. was not immediately aware of any civilian casualties that may have resulted from the missile strikes.
“These strikes were a justified, legitimate and proportionate response to the Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons on its own people,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. “We will not stand by passively while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law.”
In addition to the strike aircraft, the mission involved a range of defensive counter-air, tanker refuelers and electronic warfare aircraft, including EA-6B Growlers, to support the operation.
“None of the aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses nor do we have any indication that Russian air defense systems were employed,” McKenzie said. All of the allied aircraft returned safely to bases, he said.
McKenzie said the strikes were about double the size of the previous attack ordered by Trump last April 7 against a Syrian airfield in response to a suspected chemical attack north of Damascus with the nerve agent sarin.
In the 2017 response, a total of 59 Tomahawks were launched by the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Ross and Porter and at least one of the missiles was believed to have missed its target.
In the operation aimed at Syria early Saturday, “we are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets,” McKenzie said. “None of our ‘Toms’ experienced any problems.”
As for the Barzah complex near Damascus, “it does not exist anymore,” McKenzie said. “They had three buildings there on the parking deck” at Barzah and “now they don’t.”
“I think the words ‘cripple’ and ‘degrade’ are accurate words,” he said, to describe the impact on the three targets.
Without getting into specifics, McKenzie and White also said that the missile attacks were conducted in a way to limit the possibility that the explosions hitting chemical storage sites would trigger plumes that could cause civilian casualties.
Now, let’s backup about 5 days prior to this on Monday when the Israelis fired 8 ground attack missiles from F-15 Eagles out of south Lebanese airspace. Supposedly the Syrians shot down 5 of the 8 but if Friday’s strikes are any comparison they may not have stopped a single missile.
The Russian military said on Monday that two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out airstrikes on a Syrian air base near Homs on Sunday, the Interfax news agency reported. 14 people were reportedly killed in the strike, at least four of them Iranians.
Interfax cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying the Israeli war planes had carried out the strikes from Lebanese air space. The Russian ministry said that Syrian air defense systems had shot down five of eight missiles fired, while the other three landed in the western part of the base. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that the strike was “a dangerous development.”
Including this little tidbit that proved to be in error:
The station quoted “Russian experts” in Syria as saying that the strike was an Israeli reaction to the understandings reached between Russia, Iran and Turkey in a summit in Ankara last week. They added that Israel was acting as the long arm of the U.S., which has not wanted to attack Syria directly in order not to provoke Russia. The sources said that the attack was coordinated between Israel and the U.S.
This was a strike on the Syrian T-4 airbase also being used by the Iranians and reportedly killed several Iranians there.
Now fast forward to the day after the U.S./Euro airstrikes on the chem facilities.
A “violent explosion” was heard in the southern section of Aleppo province in Syria in an area where Iranian forces were present, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Saturday.
The organization said it did not know the cause of the reported explosion, including “whether it was caused by an explosion in depots of these forces, or if it was caused by an aerial targeting by warplanes for positions of the Iranian Forces and Fatimiyyoun Brigade.” The monitor had no immediate information about casualties.
An explosion occurred on Saturday night at a weapons depot in the Syrian city of Aleppo, Iranian media outlets reported. Al-Arabiya reported that the facility was used by Hezbollah and pro-Iranian militias. From Iranian media
and as a reminder, this isn’t the first time T-4 has been hit by the IDF.
In February, Israel struck the T4 air base after the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace. The strikes by Israel took out the batteries that fired missiles at its fighter jets and also hit Iranian targets, including the drone control center and communications systems. In March 2017, following another strike, Israel’s Arrow system intercepted Syrian air defenses missiles that were shot at Israeli jets.
So here’s my take on all of this.
Obviously the Iranians are making inroads of a more permanent and overt nature in Syria, staying for the long haul. In the bizarro world of the Middle East we have helped to kill off Sunni based ISIS which has opened the door to Shia led militants in establishing themselves there. They now have the land bridge through Iraq and can move men and material much easier than ever before. While Assad let Hezbollah have a limited presence in Syria, probably like most Middle East dictators, afraid to be thrown out by the Mullahs, he has been forced to make a deal with the devil by allowing Hezbollah via the IRGC, etal, to gain a much larger presence in Syria to help combat his civil war and ISIS. The Israelis will have none of it. So while the chem sites were bonafide targets it wouldn’t surprise me that several Iranian sites weren’t hit as well (aside from any Iranian personnel at the chem sites) but not being discussed. The Iranians may well have brought in some equipment, armament and capabilities that the IDF and the West did not want to see gain a foothold there. The IDF hampered the Syrian and Iranian air assets at T-4 and may have helped things for Friday’s attacks but may also have been focused on other targets located at T-4 other than aircraft. The lack of specifics screams as much.
Also interesting was the seeming lack of Russian air defenses. If the Russians retaliate with anything meaningful, like maybe in the Baltics, after the Baltic state’s Presidents visiting the White House, then what I’m about to say will likely be incorrect. SECDEF says that air traffic deconfliction notices were given to the Russians in Syria so they may have ascertained that an attack was imminent. Tracking B-1s and Raptors from Al Udeid Air Base Qatar, Tornados from Cyprus, etc wouldn’t be that hard as I’m sure the FSB has eyeballs on bases other than Diego which is probably well painted by Russian satellites. The sea based platforms would give little notice if any but still likely detected before entering Syrian airspace.
Now, remember last April 7th, 2017 when Trump ordered attacks on the Syrian Shayrat airbase that supposedly launched chem strikes against civilians in Khan Shaykhun? The Russians had employed their cutting edge S-400 system in Syria at the air base in Latakia and naval base at Tartus. The discussion then was why didn’t the Russians shoot down our cruise missiles? As Shayrat is over 75km away from those batteries it probably wasn’t that hard to plot a flight plan to keep the missiles out of range.
This time Tartus batteries may have been in range of incoming aircraft and missiles but without knowing their exact flight plans it’s hard to say. UK and French aircraft may very well have used north Lebanese airspace as it’s very lightly defended. Latakia radar most likely spotted UK assets launching out of Cypress. Also, and I suspect this to be the case Friday, the Russians may not have wanted to show their hand to the U.S. regarding their S-400 systems as their direct assets were NOT under attack. Also there is the obvious to consider… if the Russians really believe that their S-400 systems are as good as they think they are and manned by Russian crews, had they shot down an American, UK or French aircraft it would be a blatant act of war. Not even the Russians could spin that. Maybe this also says something about how far Putin will really push his agenda in the Region.
There is also this, maybe the Russians know they have a lack of control over Assad and even his Generals, then there is the IGRC who would have no issues using chem weapons to go after a perceived threat and so what if it fell on Assad’s head, he is likely only a useful idiot to the Mullahs until they can replace him. The Russians may not have had any forewarning about the chem attacks and may very well have been pissed that it happened but can’t let the West know this so when you receive the back channel deconfliction notice the order may have been given by the Russians to watch and analyze but sit on your hands unless directly targeted. This is how I would see the Russians letting the West do their dirty work of reeling in their out of control guard dogs and reminding them both how much they need Russian military technology.
The Russians then call their emergency UN meetings, lodge their protests, make their normal accusations that they know we don’t believe and they know we know… got that? Dog and pony. Remember, the Russians think strategically, they want the buffer zone of Lebanon to Iran against the pro American gulf state region, ie the Saudis, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and the Jordanians, Iraq is in play so the Russians back Iran. Iran is the real goal. If Iran stays protected then the Russians keep their buffer, if Iran falls and goes to the West… or at least loses the Mullahs, then the buffer falls to the West and Sunnis by default. Yes, a mess.
- No surprise the Syrians and Russians made outlandish claims about knocking down our cruise missiles and yet SECDEF made a comment that they were surprised at just how ineffective Syrian defenses were.
- No mention of using F-35 or B-2 platforms. Maybe the USAF, assuming the Russian S-400 systems would stay silent, didn’t want to give them any live target data on our stealth platforms. Remember, the S-400 system isn’t just about missiles but about radar as well. Or maybe they struck and no one is saying anything about it, which is a fresh breath of air compared to the last administration. It looks like most air launched missiles were likely released outside of Syrian airspace or close to it.
- I expect the Russians to get a backhanded punch on Israeli or American assets or proxies just to let us know they can. Probably via Hezbollah or in another area of the world, as I said before, the Baltics. The Russians always like to keep their egos elevated and their sense of honor (ie eye for an eye) in check.