The U.S. forces that could be used to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria

Sep 11 2014 - 11 Comments

It won’t be easy to strike all ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq. But the U.S. has already amassed several “useful” weapons systems in the region.

Last year, when the U.S. (and France) seemed to be about to launch air strikes on Syria and its chemical weapons, we explained that the air campaign would probably be a limited air war, opened by the usual rain of cruise missiles shot by warships, submarines and bombers with little to no involvement of the so-called “tacair”, the tactical airplanes.

13 months later, the scenario has changed a bit.

Several F-15E Strike Eagles and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets carrying their PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), are already flying over Iraq hitting ISIS targets five times a day, and they prepare to expand their mission to attack terrorist targets located in Syria.

Whilst last year there was no sign of imminent deployment of F-15s, F-16s or F-18s squadrons to airfields across the region, several warplanes, along with support assets (including tankers and ISR – Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance – platforms) are not only in place, but they are also flying daily missions over Iraq since July.

And, above all, there’s a supercarrier and its powerful Strike Group sailing in the Persian Gulf and pounding militants.

Stand-off weapons, cruise missiles and….stealth bombers?

Since U.S. planes are already freely flying inside Iraqi airspace, it is quite likely they will continue to do so to perform surgical attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq. The aircraft are deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, and Al Dhafra, UAE, but they could also count of Jordan airbases, some of which already host some U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets and Air Force F-16s.

On the other side, Syrian targets will be more difficult to hit: unless Washington will be allowed to use Syria’s airspace any incursion could theoretically require plenty of Electronic Warfare cover and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) support to make Syrian Air Defense harmless. In other words, the unathorized use of Damascus airspace would not be cost-effective along with causing diplomatic issues, as it would require the U.S. to fight a war against Syria (by blinding or destroying Syrian radars and SAM – Surface to Air Missile – batteries) and against ISIS in Syria. And don’t forget that some Syrian Arab Air Air Force planes are fighting their war against local rebels and this raises two issues: deconfliction with SyAAF planes and the risk of being shot down by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) or other Anti-Aircraft weaponry in the hands of the Free Syrian Army.

A more clandestine approach is probably ahead, with a war made of drone strikes, stand-off weapons, and some limited stealth air strikes.

Dealing with drones, as said, they are already operating in Iraq, hence, they could extend their current mission to perform Strike Coordination And Reconnaissance missions in or close to Syria from Incirlik, in Turkey, that has been used as a drone forward operating base, for several years.

Cruise missiles could be fired U.S. destroyers theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles as the USS Cole, currently in the Sixth fleet area of operations.

Some more cruise missiles could be fired by U.S. strategic bombers that would perform some global reach, round trip missions from the US (as well as from Diego Garcia): for sure, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers‘ r/t sorties from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to be followed by some more B-1 air strikes  as done during the Libya Air War in 2011, and possibly B-52 ones.

Wars are always an opportunity to test new weapons systems so we can’t rule out an extended campaign in Iraq and Syria will eventually see the baptism of fire of the F-22 Raptor as a multi-role jet or even the mysterious triangle-shaped bomber spotted over the U.S. few months ago. Six F-22s are already stationed at Al Dhafra, in the Gulf area.

High flying U-2 Dragon Lady aircraft and Global Hawk drones flying from Incirlik, Sigonella or Al Dhafra are already getting the required imagery and will perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) should the need arise.

Even if it will be an American air war, allied air arms will take part in the strike. France was about to fire some Scalp missiles from a handful of Rafale jets in 2013; they will probably ready their “omnirole” fighter jets this time. The UK has already committed some Tornado GR4s to perform reconnaissace and air-to-surface missions, whereas the Italian MoD has affirmed Rome is ready to offer its tanker aircraft (most probably the advanced KC-767 aerial refuelers).

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


  • T-REX

    another problem of violating the Syrian airspace that you didn’t mention is us force could bombard the Syrian army by mistake or on purpose and help the other groups of rebels to gain an strategic advantage.
    USA may use the Excuse of Bombing the ISIS to help the other rebels group such as Al-Nasr

  • Roger Roger

    This will be the Presidents ultimate teat. As if he hasn’t been tested enough. Tell Iran hey you want to save Iraq or Assad ? Tell Putin well if you aren’t too busy in Ukraine maybe you might want to send some volunteers to Syria ? No ? Well we are gonna kick some ass ! Hope you don’t mind and thanks for helping get rid of the chemical weapons. Thats one less thing I have to worry about.

  • giuseppe stilo

    David, a possible use of some AMX by IAF has been rumored in the last few days.

  • pp_muscimol

    After what we have seen in Iraq and Afeghanistan, is better to leave Assad in power and turn heads to the side a bit. A wave of chaos is in the horizon, you don’t want to create another one behind you.

  • big john ok

    Tired of the warmongering by the military industrial complex to justify their fat contracts.Let the Arab League Nations and the rest of the Middle-east lead the fight against ISIS,until they have some “blood” in the game US should keep our forces out of it.

  • Tom Jones

    The only way for the Coalition to properly destroy these terrorist groups is cooperation between established governments. Even if that means working with a country that is suspected of killing its own civilians with chemical weapons. I would rather want them to work fully with us, rather than us sneaking about in their country. As said in other reports by Syria have very advanced Air Defences. It would be safer for a treaty with Assad because I personally dont like having to put our guys at risk because of lack of communication between Ground Forces and the Air Assets.

    Please reply to this post, I want to know other peoples opinion about this matter.

    • Pepe Le Cox

      I agree with you, and as you say, it’s not the same to fly near a SA-3, SA-2 or SA-8 in Kosovo and Bagdad, than near a S-300 air defense complex now in Syrian Goverment hands.

      • Sommerfield

        I imagine that US has assumed a garden of S-300’s exist in Syria at the moment, however, this did not prevent special forces from entering/exiting the country unscathed when they attempted a hostage rescue. Beyond humanitarian reasons, operating in Syria provides another proving ground for western stealth against Russian radar.

    • Tomcat

      I disagree in this scenario. There’s three groups within Syria at the moment. The Assad, ISIL, and the non-radical rebel group. The latter may be pretty well beaten up, but they are the MOST aligned with Western interests. As such, I think the coalition can put their weight behind that group while simultaneously beating back ISIL. The only concern I have is that currently Assad is preoccupied with ISIL. Will this coalition’s actions against ISIL allow him to shift his focus back to the Western supported group?

  • Pepe Le Cox

    Talking of bombing people on cities or near. bombs have no IFF!, they simply fall and destroy everything there, including civilians and FOEs, later in the news, where the bomb explode¡? in a wedding!, oops, sorry guys, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time! (a popular american warmongers quote used as excuse to kill people everywhere)

  • Irany

    we’re not dead to let america attack Syria. They should cross our dead bodies in Iran to do this and that’s impossible.