Category Archives: Syria

U.S. F-15E Downs Iranian-Built Syrian Drone After Airstrike on U.S. Led Forces

Syrian Drone Destroyed by Strike Eagle After It Engaged Anti-Assad Coalition Ground Forces. Second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since Gulf War.

U.S. Special Operations advisors leading anti-Assad Syrian forces came under fire from an Iranian built Shahed 129 drone operated by Syrian pro-government forces on Thursday according to the U.S. Army.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot the drone down.

The incident occurred outside Al-Tanf, southern Syria close to the Jordanian border. An installation in Al –Tanf serves as a forward operating base for British and U.S. special operations teams assisting the anti-ISIL Syrian guerilla group Maghawir al-Thawra or “Commandos of the Revolution”. Maghawir al-Thawra is regarded as an indigenous special operations group who have received training and support from coalition forces to fight the Assad regime.

The U.S. reacted to the drone attack by tasking an F-15E Strike Eagle to locate and destroy the Syrian drone. It was officially the first time U.S. forces had come under air attack by a hostile nation in nearly 20 years and the second air-to-air kill for the Strike Eagle since the downing of an Iraqi Gunship helicopter in 1991.

According to U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the Assad government Syrian drone strike on U.S. advisors and Syrian revolutionary commandos “did not have an effect on coalition forces,”

“The pro-regime UAV, similar in size to the U.S. MQ-1 predator, was shot down by U.S. aircraft after it dropped one of several weapons it was carrying near a position occupied by coalition personnel who are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIL,” CJTF-OIR’s public affairs office released in a statement. “The shoot down follows an earlier engagement in the day in which Coalition forces destroyed two pro-regime armed technical vehicles that advanced inside the well established de-confliction zone threatening Coalition and partner forces.”

Pentagon Correspondent Tara Copp was among the first to release the U.S. aircraft involved in the drone shoot-down incident (Twitter)

A 34-mile region around Al-Tanf has been declared a “de-confliction zone” by coalition forces for the past several weeks. This buffer was established to safeguard U.S. and British supported anti-Assad forces. Several incidents have taken place recently inside this de-confliction zone that have prompted a U.S. response. On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped four bombs killing an estimated 10 pro-Assad combatants and destroyed several of their vehicles.

It is also likely the pro-Assad forces controlling the Iranian made Shahed 129 drone were in close proximity to the drone itself at the time it attacked U.S. advised anti-Assad forces. The Shahed 129 can be controlled by satellite guidance from a remote ground station, but this example was almost certainly controlled by a local ground controller with line-of-sight to the Syrian Shahed 129 when it was destroyed by the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle.

The incident is significant since U.S. ground forces in the region and, in the entire history of the Global War of Terror, have been largely immune from air attacks. The Iranian-made Shahed 129 drone was also employed by Hezbollah in a 2012 operation over Israel. The Israelis downed the Iranian-made, Hezbollah-controlled drone but the incident marked a dangerous escalation in terrorist capabilities.

The Iranian-built Shahed 129 armed drone (Iranian News Media)

 

The U.S. Air Force Has Just Released Photos That Prove The MC-130J Commando II Has Joined The Air War On ISIS

Here is the first in theater (Iraq/Syria) picture of an AFSOC MC-130J Commando II.

The top image shows a U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The photograph was taken by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride on May 29, 2017, and it is particularly interesting because, as our friends at @Airwars noticed, this is the first time the multimission combat transport/special operations tanker, assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), is depicted flying in support of OIR against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

A MC-130J Commando II is refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

The MC-130J Commando II, that has replaced the MC-130N/P Combat Shadow II aircraft, is the modern special operations variant of the Hercules, whose primary roles are HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) of SOF helicopters/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of SOF by airdrop or landing on remote airfields. Interestingly, the aircraft can also be used for FARP (Forward Air Refueling Point) operations to perform covert, nighttime refueling operations in deployed locations where fueling stations are not accessible or when air-to-air refueling is not possible.

The MC-130Js mainly operate at low-altitude and at night, conducting clandestine missions with reduced probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the MC-130J features an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics; fully populated Combat Systems Operator (CSO) and auxiliary flight deck stations; 13 color multifunctional liquid crystal displays; head-up displays; fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation system and global positioning system; integrated defensive systems; low-power color radar; digital moving map display. The aircraft is equipped with new turboprop engines with six-bladed, all-composite propellers; digital auto pilot; improved fuel, environmental and ice-protection systems; enhanced cargo-handling system; Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI), air refueling pods, Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) System; dual SATCOM for voice/data; 60/90 KVA generators; increased DC electrical output, loadmaster/scanner restraint system; and LAIRCM provisions.

The MC-130J’s primary missions are Air refueling of SOF helicopter/tilt rotor aircraft, infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of SOF by airdrop or airland (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

As mentioned before, this kind of asset is capable to perform many tasks, therefore it’s difficult to guess what kind of mission it was flying when it was photographed. For the moment, we can just say that the Commando II has joined the air war over Syria and Iraq bringing the ability to support a wide variety of special operations against Daesh.

H/T @Airwars for the heads-up

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U.S. Air Force Video Shows ISIS Militants Failing To Launch A UAV In Syria

ISIS Unmanned Aerial Vehicle fail as seen from above.

ISIS is known to operate a wide variety of UAVs. Surveillance, Kamikaze, grenade-dropping drones and quadcopters are often dispatched to perform both reconnaissance and bombing missions.

Their ability to drop small bombs with pinpoint accuracy has raised concerns that Daesh fighters could attack Iraqi and coalition troops as well as civilians, not only from the ground, but also from the air.

For this reason, increasingly, U.S. and allied aircraft flying over Syria and Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve are tasked with hunting COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and Daesh-modified drones, their launch sites or production facilities.

However, sometimes kinetic air strikes are not even needed to destroy these small drones.

The following video was taken on Mar. 30, 2017, near Tabqah, Syria.

It shows a Daesh militant attempting to launch a small UAV from a roof. The scene, seemigly filmed from a Reaper or Predator drone, ends with the UAV crash landing in front of the building.

 

US military has launched 59 cruise missiles at airbase in Syria. Here’s what we know so far.

Two U.S. destroyers cruising in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have fired 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles at an airbase in western Syria. The cruise missiles flew across the Russian S-400 MEZ unscathed.

Last night, Alreigh Burke-class destroyers USS Porter (DDG-78) and USS Ross (DDG-71) launched cruise missiles into Syria, in response to the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians on Apr. 4.

On President Donald Trump’s order, 59 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) targeted runway, hardened aircraft shelters, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, radars and fuel points at Shayrat Airbase, the airfield in western Syria from where, according to the intelligence gathered by the U.S., the aircraft that carried out the chemical attacks were launched

The track of the Syrian aircraft that carried out the CW attack on Khan Shaykhn (DoD released)

According to the first reports, all the aircraft based there have been destroyed or severely damaged, including some 30 Syrian Arab Air Force Su-22 Fitter attack planes, several SyAAF MiG-23s and also some Su-24 Fencers according to sources. For sure, considered the status of Assad’s air force, the attack may have had a significant impact on the ability of the loyalist air force to conduct air strikes.

However, later reports say that most of the aircraft based there were evacuated before the strike, and initial footage from Shayrat seems to show at least some areas of the airports, including taxiways, shelters, aprons, etc. with little or no damages.

Update:

Only 23 missiles flew to the Syrian air base and just 6 MiG-23s were destroyed there along with a radar station, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said at a briefing. Where the remaining 36 cruise missiles have landed is “unknown,” he said.

According to Pentagon, the Russians were informed ahead of strike:

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line.  U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

Indeed, Shayrat Airbase is a Forward Operating Base for a few Russian Air Force Mi-35 and Ka-52 helicopters. The status of the choppers, provided some of these were there at the moment of the air strike, is unknown. However, considered that these are not mentioned in the Russian Defense Ministry statement it’s safe to assume they were not damaged by the TLAM attack.

Noteworthy, the TLAMs flew across the MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone) of the S-400 missile battery the Russians deployed to Latakia to protect the Russian air contingent deployed there in 2015.

Did Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft defense system detect the missiles? For sure there are no reports of any of the BGM-109 intercepted by the S-400. 

Designated SA-21 “Growler” by NATO, the S-400 is believed to be able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles. Equipped with 3 different types of missiles and an acquisition radar capable of tracking up to 300 targets within the range of over 370 miles, the Triumph (or Triumf) is a system made of 8 launchers and a control station.

Supported by effective EW (Electronic Warfare) capabilities, the S-400 fires missiles against aerial targets flying at 17,000 km/h.

So, at least on paper, all non-stealth aircraft and missiles would hardly be able to dodge S-400 missiles. Assuming that the Russians probably detected at least some of the Tomahawks flying fast and low towards their targets at Shayrat Airbase it’s not clear why the Trimf did not attempt to intercept any of the TLAMs launched by the US destroyers, considered the reaction by Viktor Ozerov, head of the Russian Federation Council’s defense committee, who said the American attack was “an act of aggression against a UN member […] Cooperation between the Russian and US militaries may be shut down after the US strike.” according to state news agency RIA.

Perhaps, considered that they were informed beforehand, they simply decided to let them pass. The Russian MoD statement does not say mention any Russian air defense system intercepting any of the U.S. missiles launched towards Shayrat Airbase even though some sources have suggested only 23 missiles reached their targets because the other ones were brought down near Tartous by the local S-400 and S-300 batteries.

The S-400 MEZ (source: RT)

 

Anyway, the U.S. TLAM strike marks a shift in Washington’s posture regarding Syria and it represents the first direct action against Assad’s regime after six years of civil war.

Back in 2013, when a U.S. military operation in Syria was being rumored, we published an article that you can read here. Here are some key points of that story, that still apply four years later:

“Forget F-15E Strike Eagles and F/A-18E Super Hornets carrying PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions). Should Washington really get involved in Syria, it will probably be a limited air war, mainly made of cruise missiles, most (if not all) shot by warships or submarines and almost no involvement of “tacair” (tactical airplanes).

[…]

The attack would be conducted by the four destroyers in the Sixth fleet area of operations (USS Gravely, USS Barry, USS Mahan and USS Ramage) [in 2013 these were operating in the eastern Mediterranea], each theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles (actually less, because these warships usually carry a mix of attack and air defense missiles).

High flying Global Hawk drones flying from Incirlik, Sigonella or Al Dhafra, will perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Some sorties will also be flown by U-2s.”

At that time a real air campaign was thought to be considered. The one carried out in the night between Apr. 6 and 7 was probably an isolated air strike in retaliation for the Syrian chemical strikes earlier this week.

 

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Syria claims it shot down an Israeli combat plane; Israel denies: dissecting the latest IAF strike on Damascus

According to a Syrian Army statement, an Israeli jet involved in a raid over Syria was shot down. The Israeli Air Force denies.

Early in the morning on Mar. 17, the Israeli Air Force carried out an air strike near Damascus, in Syria.

The Israeli jets hit Mezzeh Military Airport, an airbase located south-west of the old centre of Damascus, where a local ammunition depot and a few other military installation were reportedly hit with a surgical strike.

Just a few ago, citing French intelligence sources, Le Figaro’s journalist Georges Malbrunot, said the brand new Israeli F-35Is,  had already had their combat debut over Syria on the night of Jan. 12-13 (only one month after being delivered!) targeting a Pantis-S1 mobile SAM system warehouse located at Mezzeh.

Although the IAF has often been quick to put new assets into action, the (obviously unconfirmed nor denied) F-35’s participation in both the January and today’s raids seems to be pretty unlikely.

The Syrian military said a total of four IAF jets breached the Syrian airspace: one aircraft was shot down whereas another one was damaged. At the time of writing, such claims have not been backed by any evidence so far.

Actually, the IAF utilizes weapons with the range and targeting capabilities required to hit the target from inside Lebanese airspace, without intruding the Syrian one. With a range of little less than 50NM, the EO/IR targeting and large 750-lb warhead the Popeye, could easily be the weapon of choice for the Mezzeh raid.

Although unlikely, it is still possible that the Israelis used the Delilah air to surface missile, a low-speed, loitering weapon that could strike moving targets and be reprogrammed after launch. Still, its small 66-lb warhead is a poor choice for a large target such as a warehouse. Same can be said for the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.  The folding wings of the glide weapon give the requisite range but the small warhead makes the weapon a less attractive choice.

While acknowledging the raid “on several targets” in Syria (something quite unusual), the Israeli Defence Forces have denied any of the jets was harmed by the Syrian Air Defence.

“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF [Israeli Air Force] aircraft compromised,” an Israeli military spokesman said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

According to the Israeli military the jets were targeted with Syrian anti-aircraft missiles “of which one was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, heard as far away as Jerusalem, and two others landing in Israel but causing no damage or injuries.”

Some media outlets have reported that one Syrian missile was intercepted by the Arrow-3 anti-missile defense system, Israel’s most advanced Arrow system. However, the Arrow-3 is highly maneuverable system designed to intercept ballistic missiles when they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Other sources said the Syrian SAM was intercepted by a Arrow-2, an air defense system more likely to be employed against an SA-5 considered the size, operating altitude and range of this surface-to-air missile.

Anyway, the one conducted earlier today is just the last of long series of raids carried out (without any apparent issue) by the Israeli Air Force in the last year.

The IAF jets have proved to be able to operate almost freely in (or close to) the Syrian airspace, hitting targets across the country with PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) without the SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) being able to pose a real threat to the Israeli attack planes that most probably enjoy a solid and effective EW (Electronic Warfare) cover during the air strikes. Without even requiring any stealth capability. At least until they need to operate well inside an S-300 or S-400’s MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone).

The last time the Syrian Air Defenses shot down a foreign aircraft was back in 2012, when a Turkish Air Force RF-4E that had shortly violated the Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Image credit: Israeli Air Force

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