Air strike on Damascus military complex shows Syrian Air Defense can do nothing against Israeli Electronic Warfare

Feb 01 2013 - 10 Comments

The Israeli air strike on a weapons convoy and military complex near Damascus, on the night between Jan. 29 and 30 has something in common with a similar air strike, the Israeli Air Force launched in 2007: the bombers entered and egressed the Syrian airspace almost completely undetected by the Syrian air defenses.

On Sept. 6, 2007, ten F-15I and F-16 jets attacked a nuclear facility being built in Syria. The success of that mission, dubbed “Operation Orchard“, was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems from some ELINT aircraft.

It is quite likely that Israel’s EW capabilities, most probably furtherly improved since 2007 (someone speculated Israel is capable to inject malware from its F-16s), have played a major role in the recent strike that hit a target located only 5 kilometers from Assad’s headquarters.

Although the current status of the SAM (Surface to Air Missile) coverage around Damascus is quite difficult to assess, since some of the batteries protecting the capital town may have been sabotaged or hit by the rebels activity, the area is still believed to be heavily defended by several Soviet-made anti-aircraft system (even if most of all not so up to date).

The following image comes from 2010′s survey of the Syrian SAM deployment, published on the interesting Sean O’Connor’s IMINT & Analysis blog.

Although probably outdated, it still gives an idea of how crowded of SAM systems the area surrounding Damascus is.

Damascus SAM coverage

In June 2012, a Syrian anti-aircraft artillery battery downed a Turkish Air Force RF-4E Phantom that had violated the Syrian airspace at low altitude over the Mediterranean Sea, thus proving that Damascus’s air defense are still somehow dreadful for enemy fighter jets.

Even though EW coverage (embedded in the strike package or supporting it from distance) has probably contributed to the successful outcome of the air strike making the bombers somehow “stealthy”, another key factor in last night’s attack was the relatively short distance of the target area from the border and the local orography, that has helped the Israeli jets flying at low altitude achieving some terrain masking.

The following image, drawn by The Aviationist’s contributor Giuliano Ranieri, shows a possible ingress route that exploits the terrain masking provided by the Mt. Heron and overflies a scarcely populated area.

It’s just a hypothesis, still, likely, not too far from the route actually flown by the Israeli fighters.

Possible route

Some videos have been uploaded to Liveleak allegedly showing the Israeli fighter over Damascus at dawn. The one you can watch here has nothing to do with the air strike though: the type of contrails, the type of formation and, above all, the altitude of the planes depicted in the footage are not consistent with the IAF raid.

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  • moriama

    I wouldnt bet on that, we are talking about pantsire and bukm2s.
    ECM? ok lets say all of phased array radars are out of the game what about opticals? in any AD system there are several backup systems, on stand by mode, isolated from environment and concealed.
    the attack simply could have been carried out by dalileh missiles or stand off GBU-39s as stand off weapons,

  • http://lissnup.com/ Anita Hunt

    Great work as always. Still left wondering why the strike was conducted, and disappointed that, however predictably, Israel has not been censured.

    • itai

      Why? Israel prefers chemicals weapons not reaching hizbulah.

  • jack K

    standoff weapons were used. not so impressive when the weapons are used from a distance away. nothing too exciting about this strike

  • winrob

    Obama has seen to it that Israel and our other allies can no longer depend on the US for any significant support. They all recognize this, so expect more such one-nation raids in pro-active national defense.

    • SelectiveMemory

      The irrational anti-Obama comments are getting ridiculous. No U.S. president would have approved an air-strike on Syria, regardless of whether he was Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, Black or White, or whatever.

      Or did you conveniently forget that the unilateral strike on the nuclear power plant happened when a Republican was in the White House? years before Obama took office?

  • phoenix 133

    the syrian air defense force suffred heavley from terrorists attacks i think all modern syrians AD systems are disbled and hidden somewhere in addition the site bombed by the israelis is only 5 KM away from the lebaneses border so the plane could fire without entring syrian air space

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.shepherd.77770 John Shepherd

    So why has the U.S. been saying how hard it would be to use aerial force against Syria?

  • Fool_Brittania

    Undoubtedly there are Russian and Chinese elements in Syria, just as there have been in Iran and elsewhere. Hot skirmishes / wars provide excellent ‘labs’ to test out the latest gadgets in real conditions,

  • Some Schmuck

    The link below has a step by step version of how things unfolded with “Operation Orchard” including details of aircraft used, ingress and egress

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-story-of-operation-orchard-how-israel-destroyed-syria-s-al-kibar-nuclear-reactor-a-658663-4.html