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The Trump Era


Coalition Launched 105 Weapons against Syria, None Intercepted

April 16th 2018

Standard Missile 3

As American, British and French ordnance rained down on a trio of Syrian regime targets, Russian air defense systems made no attempt to intercept the weapons, the Pentagon said Saturday.

The attacks may have set the Syrian chemical weapons programs back for “years,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, while acknowledging that the three sites were not the totality of the Syrian chemical weapons program.

The strikes involved ordnance from all three of the western allied nations, from both air and naval assets. Overall, 105 weapons were launched by the three nations. The three targeted areas were:

1) The Barzah Research and Development Center, which McKenzie called the “heart” of the chemical weapons program for the Assad regime and is located in “one of the most heavily defended” areas in the world, very close to the capitol of Damascus. This site was targeted by American forces only, with 57 Tomahawk missiles launched by sea and 19 JASSM-ER weapons launched from a pair of B-1 bombers, accompanied by protective fighter coverage. The U.S. assesses this facility was destroyed. 


2) The Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons facility, located west of Homs, which was hit by all three nations. The U.S. launched nine Tomahawks, the British launched eight Storm Shadow air-launched weapons from a mix of Tornado and Typhoon fighters, and the French launched three naval cruise missiles and two of their SCALP air launched weapons, which are their Storm Shadow equivalent. The U.S. assesses this facility was destroyed.

3) The Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons bunker, about 7 kilometers from the previous site. This was struck only by the French, with seven SCALP missiles. In both locations, the SCALP weapons were fired by Rafale fighter, accompanied by Mirage fighters for protection. This location took “damage,” per McKenzie.

Much had been made about the intensity of the air defense systems in Syria, a combination of Syrian and high-end Russian defense systems. Russian news outlets, as well as social media from the region, had claimed as many as 70 percent of coalition weapons were shot down by Syrian or Russian air defenses.

But the Russian systems did not attempt to intercept the incoming weaponry, and the Syrian system launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last targeted weapon hit its target, according to McKenzie.

Overall, the air defense systems were “remarkably ineffective in all domains,” McKenzie said. Defense News deputy editor Aaron Mehta asks if any American missiles failed during a briefing following coalition strikes on Syria.

However, McKenzie noted the S-400 systems were not turned off, simply not activated, leaving open the option their radar systems were used to tracking incoming threats but the weapons systems were not fired. That those systems were active but not used could also be a sign that the deconfliction line between the U.S. and Russia, which was used to urge Russia not to escalate the situation, had been effective.

At this time, the department believes there were no civilian casualties associated with the strikes, which occurred around 4 AM local time.

Weaponry used

None of the allied air assets entered Syrian airspace, due to the stand-off weaponry used. As a result, there were no F-22s used to accompany the B-1s for air protection.

Instead, the bombers were accompanied by a single EA-6B for electronic warfare suppression, potentially against Russian air defenses, as well as tanker support, according to a Joint Staff spokesman.

The inclusion of the EA-6B is notable, as that aircraft was officially retired by the Navy in 2015 in favor of the more advanced EA-18G Growler, but is still in use by the Marine Corps; its presence indicates that three of the four U.S. military branches took part in the still-unnamed operation.

The 19 launches of JASSM-ER from the B-1 on Friday appear to be the first-ever use of the weapon in combat.

Both JASSM and its extended range version are long-range, air-to-ground missiles made by Lockheed Martin, and they feature a stealthy air vehicle, GPS guidance and an infrared seeker. JASSM-ER has almost twice the range of its predecessor — in excess of 500 nautical miles, while the original version was limited to around 200 — which could have enabled the B-1B to remain at a standoff distance from Syrian air defenses while launching the attack.

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