Syrian Strikes

“They had three buildings there [Barzah scientific research center] and a parking deck,” McKenzie said.
“Now they don’t.” via USNI.

Davo9GdXcAI0LBF.jpg large
French frigate firing off one of the three MdCN cruise missiles that were part of the strike. Source: Marine Nationale

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

DatZZINXcAAyMtd
Two-seater Rafale B launching with twin SCALP EG cruise missiles under the wings. Source: French MoD

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

Screenshot 2018-04-14 at 23.59.32
Tornado GR.4 sporting two Storm Shadow cruise missiles under the fuselage. Source: British MoD / © Crown copyright 2013 (unmodified news item)

4x Tornado GR.4, launching 8 Storm Shadow cruise missiles

?x Typhoon FGR.4, escort

Operating out of RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus

USAF

Screenshot 2018-04-15 at 00.09.17
B-1B preparing to launch for the raid from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Source: US AFCENT

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.

USMC

VMAQ-2 Transits Souda Bay
No image of the EA-6B from VMAQ-2 which was part of the raid has been released as far as I know. Here is a similar aircraft from the same squadron during a stopover in Crete, Greece, back in 2007. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mr. Paul Farley via Wikimedia Commons

1x EA-6B Prowler, ECM escort

Operated out of Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base, Kuwait

Marine National

fremm-aquitaine-3-c-marine-nationale
FREMM-class frigate Aquitaine (D650), likely the vessel that fired the MdCN missiles. Source: Marine National

1x FREMM-class frigate, launching 3 MdCN

Operating in the Mediterranean

US Navy

Screenshot 2018-04-15 at 08.55.51
Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Monterey (CG-61) launching TLAM missiles from the Red Sea. Source: US Navy via USNI

1x Ticonderoga-class cruiser

1x Arleigh Burke-class destroyer

Operating in the Red Sea, launching a total of 37 TLAM cruise missiles

uss_higgins_ddg-76
USS Higgins (DDG 76) which launched the strikes from the Persian Gulf. Source: US Navy/Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Frederick McCahan

1x Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, launching 23 TLAM cruise missiles

Operating in the Persian Gulf

USS California at sea during sea trials.
Virgina-class SSN underway. Source: Chris Oxley/U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

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

unnamed
BDA pictures of the Him Shinshar. Source: Pentagon

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.

Conclusions

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.

11 thoughts on “Syrian Strikes

  1. Thud

    It’s interesting to note that RAF still must rely on GR.4s to perform strike missions.
    Indeed, Typhoons are simply unable to perform these without a severly limited range and/or ridiculously high tanker support. And this is unlikely to change in any near future due to the poor layout of the airframe for such missions.

    1. Kristian

      The Typhoon doesn’t have full weapons load integrated yet. Storm Shadow is supposed to become available on Typhoon in August if there aren’t any delays.

      1. Thud

        It’s not a matter of weapon integration, it’s a matter of geometry and physics.

        The Storm Shadow can only be hung from the mid-wing wet stations, because:
        (1) the missile is too long to be hung from the inner-wing station (no clearance for the landing gear)
        (2) the missile is too heavy for the inner-wing station
        (3) release of heavy weapons from the inner-wing station has shown to be very tricky when it comes to flight enveloppe clearance/

        Thus, yes, the Typhoon will get the Storm Shadow.. but at the price of not having wing external fuel tank, leading to, as I said in my first comment, extremely short range or the need for ridiculously high tanker support.

      2. Thud

        The kind of range a combat aircraft has with two heavy and draggy missiles under the wings and only one centerline (1 000 L for the FGR.4) fuel tank.

        If I had to make an educated guess, I would say it would be around 60-70% of the Tornado GR.4’s w. two Storm Shadows and two 2 250 L fuel tanks as used in Saturday’s raid, which would top off at around 8,6 tons of fuel (5 internal and 3,6 external).

        Typhoon FGR.4 with one centerline tank would top off at 5,5 tons. I’ll give comparative elements with Ilmavoimat’s legacy Hornets topping off at 7 to 8 tons with two or three 330 gal. fuel tanks, carrying a similar payload of two JASSMs, Super Hornet being at 8,5 to 9,5 tons with such a loadout, and Rafale at 8,2 to 9,8 tons w/ 2 000 L tanks and two SCALP-EG

        I will stand to these approximations and won’t go further into drag and fuel consumption (such data being unavailable publicly in a reliable fashion anyways), but that would not change the outcome by much as M88, F404/414 and EJ.200 are roughly similarly efficient (although I’d point out that the latter will consume slightly more at its higher thrust settings), with the RB.199 being mildly optimized for above medium altitude. Nevertheless, you can clearly see a trend: the Typhoon has roughly a third to twice as little fuel available as its counterparts with similar cruise missile setup.

        It’s really no wonder why I have yet to see any fighter performing operational long range strike dties with a single centerline tank and only heavy ordnance under the wings. It’s completely unviable in a realistic combat environment (which is far from maketing stunts). Even more so if the mission involves low-level penetration.

    2. JBbelgium

      It is true that the Eurofighter has a less than ideal layout of the airframe for air-to-ground operations. As you said the landing gear restricts the size of weapons for the inner pylons. The outer pylons can’t carry heavy weapons. So for the moment it is either droptanks or cruise missiles.

      However this issue will get for the most part solved when the development of the conformal fuel tanks is finished.

      As you said: “Typhoon FGR.4 with one centerline tank would top off at 5,5 tons.”
      Add to that an additional of 2,400 kg (5,291 lb) of fuel both CFT’s combined.
      This gives us a new total of 7,9 tons.

  2. AK

    None of the American, French and British missiles passed the A2/AD zone created by Russian S-300/S-400 SAMs around Russian AF base in Khmeimim and Navy base in Tartus. None of the targets striken were inside Russian A2/AD zone. All the rest of Syrian territory is protected by Syrians.
    Therefore this strike can not be used to judge about possible Western ability to penetrate S-300/S-400 -generated A2/AD zone.

    1. Umm… Everyone in the field surely remembers the nice graphics drawn up by a host of western (and some Kremlin-associated ) media, where the 400 km rang of the S-400 would spell the end of NATO operations over the eastern Mediterranean. Now NATO fighters, not to mention the cruise missiles, flew well within that range (Homs is almost exactly 100 km from Khmeimim), as they have been doing in less public cases earlier as well, and the Russians chose not to challenge them. As said, a political decision which nonetheless has some impact upon the thinking around the ‘impenetrable’ A2/AD bubbles.

      For references, see e.g.:
      http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34976537
      https://missilethreat.csis.org/russia-nato-a2ad-environment/
      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/russia-deploys-advanced-s-400-air-defence-missile-system-in-syria-after-turkey-downs-one-of-its-jets-a6749041.html

  3. RunningBear

    Interesting photo of the EA-6B;

    another below;

    US – Marine Corps
    Grumman EA-6B Prowler (G-128)
    162228 MD 01
    Lajes/Azores (LPLA)
    2018-03-24 (less than a month ago)

    The USMC EA-6B Prowler is participating in the NGJ/ Next Generation Jammer program in association with the USN EA-18G Growler. The delivery for the NGJ program is 2018 (this year)! Maybe the S-400 had a little competition??

    ps: The USMC is considering adding the battle proven?? NGJ to the F-35!

    “Tom Burbage of Lockheed Martin has said that the NGJ would be carried by his company’s F-35 in 2022 or 2023. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has said that unlike previous generations of aircraft, the base EW systems in the standard F-35 will allow it to just attach the pods and perform the mission, without having to make a special electronic warfare version of the F-35.”

  4. Pingback: Syrian Chase – Corporal Frisk

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