“They had three buildings there [Barzah scientific research center] and a parking deck,” McKenzie said.
“Now they don’t.” via USNI.
As information about yesterday’s strikes against targets in Syria has been slowly to trickling out throughout the weekend, it is by now possible to piece together a picture of the raid. Perhaps the single most informative piece was the press briefing held by Pentagon.
In short, the following units were involved:
Armée de l’Air
5x Dassault Rafale, launching 9 SCALP EG cruise missiles
4x Mirage 2000-5, escort
E-3FR AWACS and KC-135R/C-135F aerial refuelling aircraft
All aircraft operated out of bases in France
Royal Air Force
4x Tornado GR.4, launching 8 Storm Shadow cruise missiles
?x Typhoon FGR.4, escort
Operating out of RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus
2x B-1B, launching 19 AGM-158A JASSM cruise missiles
?x F-16, escort
?x F-15, escort
?x F-22 Raptors, escort
Numerous supporting assets, including RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV’s for intelligence gathering, E-3 AWACS, KC-135 and KC-10 aerial refuelling aircraft, and likely a single E-11B relay aircraft
Bombers operating out of Al Udeid AB in Qatar, fighters from both Al Udeid and European bases
Edit: updated information corrected the JASSM version from -ER to the baseline version which is also in Finnish use, and included the presence of F-22’s as escort.
1x EA-6B Prowler, ECM escort
Operated out of Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base, Kuwait
1x FREMM-class frigate, launching 3 MdCN
Operating in the Mediterranean
1x Ticonderoga-class cruiser
1x Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
Operating in the Red Sea, launching a total of 37 TLAM cruise missiles
1x Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, launching 23 TLAM cruise missiles
Operating in the Persian Gulf
1x Virgina-class attack submarine, launching 6 TLAM cruise missiles
Operating in the Mediterranean
Alert readers will note that the total amount given is 105 cruise missiles (36 air-launched, 63 ship-launched, and 6 sub-launched), coming in two above the 103 given by Russian sources. The missiles hit the following targets:
Barzah/Barzeh Scientific Research Center
Situated in the western parts of Damascus, the center was hit by 57 TLAM and 19 JASSM missiles.
Sputnik published a video reportedly shot at the scene, which seems to match the location below. It also matches the description given by the Pentagon, in that three large buildings have been completely destroyed.
Interestingly, the dual weapons used says something about the nature of the target. While the TLAM has a rather standard 1,000 lb (454 kg) class blast/fragmentation warhead (i.e. it explodes and creates shrapnel), the JASSM sports what Lockheed Martin calls a “2,000-pound [908 kg] class weapon with a dual-mode penetrator and blast fragmentation warhead” (i.e. it is made to penetrate hardened structures such as bunker before then exploding and creating shrapnel). Another thing to note is that the number 57 does not correspond to any possible combination of the salvos from individual ships, meaning that at least one vessel targeted two different sites.
Him Shinsar chemical weapons storage facility
The bunkers and facilities used for storing chemical weapons were hit by 22 weapons, these being 9 TLAM, 8 Storm Shadow, 2 SCALP EG, and 3 MdCN. This clearly shows the different nature of the target compared to the research center, as the number of missiles is much smaller, but also the fact that 13 out of 20 missiles were bunker-busting Storm Shadow/SCALP EG/MdCN (which are simply different local designations for the same missile, with MdCN being the ship-launched version). The Pentagon briefing described the target as ‘destroyed’, and while it is harder to verify when it comes to underground installations, significant damage is visible in the satellite imagery posted since.
Him Shinshar command facility
The final target was a command facility associated with the Him Shinshar site. This was hit by the last 7 SCALP EG. Pentagon described the facility as having taken ‘damage’, as opposed to the two others which were rated as ‘destroyed’. It is unclear if this is a failure, or simply representative of the different nature of the target. Command facilities might be able to continue to function to some extent even if key buildings are wiped out, which is not the case with a storage facility in which the storage buildings are hit.
In any case, satellite imagery shows what looks like two larger and one smaller hardened building having been targeted and destroyed.
Despite wild claims of the majority of the missiles having been intercepted and the rest having missed, it is clear that the raid was an unequivocal success on the tactical level. The targeted sites have all suffered heavy damage. If the description of the nature of the targets is correct, it is highly possible that the use of sarin has been made harder by the strikes. Obviously, this does not stop the regime from using a whole number of other ghastly weapons and tactics, including barrel bombs, starvation through sieges, and quite possibly industry grade chlorine (which has been featured in numerous attacks in Syria).
Notable is also the fact that several of the weapons and systems used were making their combat debuts. These include the JASSM and MdCN, as well as the Virgina-class SSN. From a Finnish viewpoint, the combat launch of JASSM
(albeit not in the exact version used by the Finnish Air Force) was certainly of interest. However, it should be noted that ‘damaging’ a single command facility virtually undefended by air defences required 7 missiles of the same class as the JASSM, something which puts the Finnish acquisition of (a maximum) of 70 JASSM into perspective.
When it comes to the defences, it is clear that the talk of the S-400 deployment in Syria creating an impenetrable A2/AD-bubble stopping western strikes was not correct. While many of the earlier Israeli strikes had taken place in areas which present difficulties for the S-400 (and supporting shorter-ranged systems) to see and intercept the targets, the strike waves approaching over the eastern Mediterranean would be more or less the perfect scenario for long-ranged SAM-systems, and is very similar to the setup of systems operating from Kaliningrad which often are described as being able to deny NATO access to the Baltic Sea. While it likely was political will that stopped the Russian air defence systems from being activated, the Syrians did their best, with around 40 missiles having been reported by Pentagon as fired. While it is not impossible that some of the cruise missiles were intercepted, it is clear from the pictures linked above that even this barrage of air defence missiles was unable to serious lessen the damage suffered by the Syrians. A significant issue was likely that all missiles struck their targets within an extremely short time span, leaving the individual air defence batteries saturated.