Contrary To Initial Reports, F-22s Were Indeed Flying And Older, Standard JASSMs Were Used During Syria Strike

Apr 21 2018 - Leave a Comment
By Tom Demerly

AFCENT Changing The Narrative About the Strikes and Weapons Used in Syria.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) made an unusual announcement today revealing to Air Force Magazine that: “US Air Force F-22 Raptors played an integral role in protecting ground forces during and after the multinational strikes against Syrian chemical weapons production facilities on the morning of April 14.”

AFCENT spokesman USAF Capt. Mark Graff released that, “Thanks to its unique fifth generation capabilities, the F-22 was the only airframe suited to operate inside the Syrian integrated air defense systems, offering an option to neutralize [Integrated Air Defense System] threats to our forces and installations in the region, and provide protective air support for US, coalition and partners on the ground in Syria.”

An article published today by reporters and subject matter experts John Tirpak and Brian Everstine of Air Force Magazine said that Air Forces Central Command was “correcting the record” about the April 14, 2018 anti-chemical weapons strikes on Syria.

During the combined air and sea strikes in Syria on the 14th, aircraft and weapons from a coalition of the United Kingdom, France and the United States struck a weapons research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapon storage site and command center that had been associated with chemical weapons delivery and production.

According to multiple press reports, over 100 weapons were employed in the strikes that the U.S claims were successful. Syria and Russia claim a number of cruise missiles were shot down during the strikes and that little damage was done. The U.S. has published strike video of targets being destroyed in the raids. Russia and Syria have not produced tangible evidence of the claims that the raids were ineffective.

One the B-1s involved in the air strikes takes off from Al Udeid, Qatar. Image credit: US DoD via Oriana Pawlyk

Tirpak and Everstine’s report on AFCENT’s announcement reveals that, “Air-to-Surface Standoff Munitions used in the mission were the older, standard version, not the extended range variant.” This statement counters an earlier report in Air Force Magazine, also reported by Tirpak and Everstine, that:

“The [April 14] strike marked the first use of the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range weapon in combat. Two USAF B-1B Lancers from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron launched a total of 19 JASSM-ERs. The two bombers, deployed from Al Udeid AB, Qatar, entered Syrian airspace from the south and were escorted by a USMC EA-6B Prowler.”

New information also reveals that USAF F-22 Raptors were part of the game, ready to repel interception from aircraft and from surface-to-air missiles.
Another interesting part of today’s announcement is that, “F-22s were indeed flying in the area, ready to strike Syrian or Russian air defense systems and other assets if they threatened either coalition aircraft or US ground forces in the region.” This comment is of particular interest since it acknowledges that the U.S. had some type of ground forces in the area during the strikes.

While no specific information is available about the use of U.S. ground forces in this specific instance, it is common doctrine for special operations teams to provide target designation, search and rescue and bomb damage assessment in connection with air operations.

Tirpak and Everstine also quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart in a Military.com report published on Monday, April 16, 2018, that the F-22, “was available, but wasn’t required for the operation as planned.” Lt. Col. Pickart added, “That said, the F-22 is well-suited for the defensive counterair mission it continues to conduct over Syria, protecting coalition forces on the ground and in the air.” Today’s reveal confirms that the F-22 was indeed used in the raid over Syria on April 14.

AFCENT spokesman Capt. Mark Graff also told reporters that, “Fifth generation platforms like the F-22 and the F-35 will continue to serve as the primary platforms capable of operating in the lethal threat rings of Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) environments like those found in Syria,” in his remarks about the April 14 strikes. Capt. Graff’s remarks hint at the possible future first use of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in combat, although no F-35s from the U.S. are known to be in the region at this time. There have been rumors of the Israelis using F-35s, but these theories have been effectively debunked as inaccurate.

Graff went on to acknowledge that the 19 cruise missiles employed against the targets in Barzeh, Syria “were, in fact, not JASSM Extended Range (JASSM-ER) munitions” as reported by the Pentagon immediately following the attack. The cruise missiles employed in the strikes were actually, “JASSM-A, or the standard, non-extended range versions of the munition,” Graff said. Graff did confirm the April 14 strikes were the first use “of any variant of the JASSM.”

Some social media pundits, mostly Syrian and Russian, have disputed claims that chemical weapons were even present in the target areas, claiming there has been no independent verification of the presence of chemical weapons. U.S. news media reported that, “Even though US intelligence agencies did not have absolute certainty Syria’s regime had used the nerve agent sarin against civilians, the Trump administration still felt there was enough evidence to justify retaliatory strikes last Friday,” according to a report published April 18, 2018 by CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Some critics claimed that, if chemical weapons had been present during the coalition airstrikes, the strikes would have released clouds of chemicals into the area potentially exposing the civilian population to the possibility of collateral casualties. These criticisms suggest a basic misunderstanding of the function and delivery of most chemical weapons that employ a two-part “binary” chemical warhead. The chemical weapon payload is delivered to the target as two separate, inert chemicals that only become weaponized upon mixing them together during delivery.

As reported in Air Force Magazine on Monday, Commander of U.S. Air Combat Command, Air Force General Mike Holmes, said that, “When attacking a chemical weapons complex, the release of toxins can be mitigated by hitting it with a large number of weapons, thus burning up the chemicals.” Air Force Magazine went on to report that, “Barzeh was hit by 76 US missiles—19 JASSMs and 57 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles—with about 1,000 pounds of explosives each.” Presumably that number of weapons would mitigate the collateral effects of any weaponized chemicals destroyed by the strike.

Bomb damage assessment photos show the Barzah Research and Development Center used for chemical weapons development before and after the coalition air strikes on April 14, 2018. (Photo: AP)

Finally, Air Force Magazine reported that the Barzeh chemical facility in Syria, “Stored mainly ‘precursor’ chemicals, that had not yet been weaponized, so it should ‘not be surprising’ that there were no dangerous toxins detected after the strike.”

The information released today provides a clearer picture of how the strikes unfolded.

Top image credit: Author