Category Archives: Syria

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

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

Russia Claims 71 Out Of 105 Cruise Missiles Downed In Yesteday’s Air Strikes. None Were Shot Down According to The US.

Pentagon Publishes Effective Strike Data. Russia Claims 71 Cruise Missiles Downed.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom launched strikes against targets in Syria on Friday night U.S. time, early morning in Syria. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, told news media that the strikes hit three targets inside Syria.

The targets included a research facility in the Syrian capital of Damascus alleged to be used in chemical weapons production, a storage facility thought to house chemical weapon stockpiles west of Homs, Syria and a command and control facility outside Homs claimed to also be used for weapons storage.

A chart released by the Pentagon showing the three sites targeted by the air strike on Apr. 14.

The last cruise missiles may have landed in Syria for now but the propaganda war is in full swing between the U.S. and its allies as Russia and Syria claim vastly different results from overnight strikes.

Soon after the strikes in Syria ended today Russian news media claimed that 71 cruise missiles were intercepted during the strikes on Syria Friday night/Saturday morning. In a press conference today, Russian Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Colonel Sergei Rudskoy, said Syrian military facilities had suffered only minor damage from the strikes.

By contrast, in a press conference on Saturday morning, April 14, U.S. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told journalists the U.S. and its allies, “successfully hit every target” during the strikes from the U.S., Britain and France. U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., The Director of the Joint Staff (DJS) displayed photos of targets that were hit in Syria during the press conference. “We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets,” Lt. Gen. McKenzie told reporters, in direct contrast to Russian claims that cruise missiles were shot down by Syrian defenses.

The U.S. released the following details on weapons employed in the overnight strike:

From the Red Sea:

USS Monterey (Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser) – 30 Tomahawk missiles

USS Laboon (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 7 Tomahawk missiles

From the North Arabian Gulf:

USS Higgins (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 23 Tomahawk missiles

From the eastern Mediterranean:

USS John Warner (Virginia class submarine) – 6 Tomahawk missiles

A French frigate ship (could not understand name) – 3 missiles (naval version of SCALP missiles)

From the air:

2 B-1 Lancer bombers – 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles

British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets – 8 Storm Shadow missiles

French flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages – 9 SCALP missiles

The above order of battle does not include the F-16s and F-15s aircraft providing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) nor the U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler that provided EW escort to the B-1s.

[Read also: Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria]

One fact that both sides seem to agree on is that all U.S., French and UK aircraft involved in the strike returned to their bases successfully. Ships that participated in the strike remained at sea without armed confrontation from Syria or Russia. This alone marks a victory for the allied forces striking Syria following a week of rhetoric by Russia about defending Syrian interests. Based on this outcome it would appear the U.S. and its allies can strike targets in the heavily defended region with impunity. U.S President Donald Trump tweeted “Mission accomplished!” on Saturday morning.

While claims of success or failure by either side in a conflict are usually manipulated to control public perceptions Russia does have a long reputation for effective and highly adaptive air defense systems, as the U.S. does for precision strike success using cruise missiles. Russia also has a reputation for using media as a tool to craft perception of outcomes, historically to a greater degree than the U.S. But despite Russia’s admittedly dangerous air defense technology in Syria, it would appear the three nations delivering the overnight strikes in Syria achieved their objectives without loss.

One potential factor that may have influenced the effectiveness of some U.S. weapons systems was that the U.S. Administration was very vocal about the upcoming strikes, giving significant advanced warning to Russian-supplied Syrian air defense units. It is reasonable to suggest that Syrian air defense units spent this entire previous week preparing for a predicted U.S. and allied strike on Syria. Based on intelligence gathered by Syrian and Russian air defense crews from the U.S. strike exactly a year and a week ago on Shayrat Airbase in Syria, air defense crews were likely well-drilled and prepared to meet a U.S.-led attack on their claimed chemical weapons facilities. By contrast, this also gave the U.S led trio of nations participating in the strike time to gather intelligence about Syrian air defense capabilities so attack plans could be optimized to avoid losses. This approach appears to have prevailed in this strike.

If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.

The Tomahawk missile, one of several stand-off weapons used in the overnight strikes in Syria, is an older and still effective weapons platform especially in its most updated versions. Tomahawks were first employed in the 1991 strikes against Iraq when 288 of them were fired in the opening days of the war. While first adopted over 35 years ago, the Tomahawk has been repeatedly upgraded but remains somewhat limited by its overall dimensions that prevent it from having a larger engine installed that would deliver greater speed. The missile currently flies to its target at low altitude and subsonic speeds of about 550 miles per hour. This low speed may make it vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems Russia is known for such as its advanced S-400 system, called the SA-21 Growler in the west. However, the low altitude flight profile of an attacking Tomahawk, its ability to use terrain masking for cover and concealment and its relatively small size, significantly smaller than a manned combat aircraft, make it a difficult target for even the most advanced air defense systems.

The Russian supplied air defense systems in use in Syria that include the S-400 missile and its 92N6E “Gravestone” fire control radar along with other systems are highly mobile and highly adaptive. That means that, while intelligence sources can pinpoint the locations of Syrian air defense systems prior to a strike, those systems can be moved in the hours before a strike to present a different threat posture to attacking missiles and aircraft. Most of the launch platforms for the BGM-109 Tomahawk are large, non-stealthy surface ships, although submerged submarines also launch Tomahawks. The newest version Block IV Tomahawk missile employs several upgrades to its guidance and targeting systems that improve accuracy and flexibility, but may increase time over a target area, making the missile potentially more vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.

It is likely more modern stand-off weapons like the UK’s MBDA Storm Shadow and French SCALP-EG cruise missile along with the new AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range) were highly effective in Friday night’s strike on Syria by UK, France and the U.S. If this were the case the Tomahawks may have served a purpose by engaging relatively lightly defended targets while attacks by the more recent version of SCALP and JASSM-ER missiles could have struck more heavily defended targets.

As with most conflicts the ancient cliché about the truth being one of the first casualties seems to be true in this latest exchange in Syria, but the emerging strike intelligence from the U.S., England and France suggest this round goes to them and a significant blow was dealt to the Russian-backed Assad.

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

 

Here Are The First Photos Of The U.S. Air Force F-16C And F-15C Jets And KC-135 Tankers Returning To Aviano After Tonight’s Mission

U.S. Air Force jets provided cover to both the bombers and the warships involved in the first wave of air strikes on Syria. Here are some interesting shots of the aircraft returning home after their “escort” mission.

As already explained, the “limited air strikes” launched early in the morning on Apr. 14 were supported by several tankers and also by fighter aircraft whose task was likely to cover the fighter bombers and the warships firing their Tomahawks from the eventual threat of Russian aircraft launched from Khmeimim air base, near Latakia, in western Syria.

The aircraft tasked with ensuring air superiority and DCA (Defensive Counter Air) were 31FW F-16Cs, from Aviano AB, Italy, and 48FW F-15Cs, based at RAF Lakenheath but deployed alongside the Vipers at Aviano. They were supported by KC-135R tankers with the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall. The shots in this post, taken by photographer Claudio Tramontin outside Aviano today, show the aircraft loaded with AIM-120C AMRAAM and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles along with external fuel tanks. Interestingly, the Vipers carried also a AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod as well as the Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod). Pilots worn the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Sight) and NVG mounts.

An F-16C from 555th FS recovers to Aviano AB.

493rd FS F-15C about to land after taking part in the raids providing air cover.

The first package included 4x F-16Cs, 4x F-15Cs and 2x KC-135s (plus other tankers along the way); the second one included 3x F-16Cs and 4x F-15Cs.

Image credit: Claudio Tramontin

Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria.

Syria Air War Day 1 explained.

In the night between Apr. 13 and 14 aircraft from the U.S., UK and France launched a first wave of air strikes against ground targets in Syria. What follows is a recap based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.

The “limited” action was preceded by intelligence gathering activity carried out by many of the assets that have been flying over eastern Mediterranean Sea lately. The first sign something was about to happen was the unusual presence of an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone tracking off Lebanon and Syria few hours before the first stand-off weapons landed on Syrian regime’s chemical sites/infrastructure.

The RQ-4, callsign “Forte 10” flew for several hours west of Lebanon, likely pointing its IMINT and SIGINT/ELINT sensors at the Syrian Air Defense batteries in heigthened readiness status. The drone then moved southwest, north of Egypt where it was joined by an RC-135V callsign Fixx74. It was about 23.20 GMT and it looked like the two ISR platforms, after collecting intelligence from a close position, were making room for the incoming bombers.

Here’s the position of Fixx74.

Among the aircraft coming in to conduct their bombing run from the Med, there were French Air Force Dassault Rafale jets from Saint Dizier AB, France, supported by C-135FR tankers and RAF Tornado GR4s with their Storm Shadow missiles, which launched from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. Whilst they did have their transponder turned off, the presence of the bombers and their accompanying tankers was leaked by their radio communications with civilian ATC agencies, such as Athinai ACC, that took place on unencrypted VHF frequencies broadcast on Internet on LiveATC.net.

Interestingly, at least two packages of fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles – actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.

After the first waves of attacks, that involved also U.S. Air Force B-1s from Al Udeid, another Global Hawk drone was launched from Sigonella, to perform BDA (Battle Damage Assessment).

The air strikes required a huge tanker support. There were 7 KC-135 and KC-10 tankers airborne over Southern Europe heading to the eastern Mediterranean Sea: something unusual for a Friday night. At the time of writing, there are 13 (!) tankers up: some are dragging the second package of U.S. F-15s and F-16s back to Aviano, whereas others are repositioning to RAF Mildenhall or Souda Bay after a night of operations:

Another interesting aircraft tracked online in the aftermath of the raid, is a Bombardier E-11A 11-9358 from 430th EECS stationed at Kandahar Afghanistan. The aircraft is a BACN (battlefield airborne communications) asset: BACN is technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to exchange tactical information and communicate. By orbiting at high-altitude, BACN equipped air assets provide a communications link between allies, regardless of the type of the supporting aircraft and in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment. The BACN system is also deployed onboard EQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs. Although we can’t be completely sure, it is quite likely that the aircraft was involved in the air strikes as well, providing data-bridging among the involved parties.

In the end, thanks to ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT we got a pretty good idea of what happened during the first wave of air strikes on Syria. It’s obviously not complete, still quite interesting.

H/T to @AircraftSpots @Buzz6868 @CivMilAir @GDarkconrad @ItaMilRadar @planesonthenet and many others for providing details, hints, links and what was needed to prepare this article. You guys rock!

Sabers Rattle as New Round of Brinkmanship Appears to Unfold Off Syrian Coast.

Syrian Situation Update

The U.S. administration has suggested there may be an impending military response to the claims of a chemical attack on the Syrian city of Douma on Saturday, April 7, 2018. Over 500 people, “were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent,” according to the Syrian American Medical Society, a U.S. backed, Washington-based nonprofit group that provides aid in the region. The report about the casualties, that allegedly include “over 40 people killed” appeared in the Washington Post and other U.S. news outlets.

In response to a prior chemical weapons attack in Syria during April 2016 the U.S. launched 59 cruise missiles at Al Shayrat Airbase where the chemical strikes originated, according to U.S. intelligence sources at the time.

A photo posted on Twitter today by Wael Al Russi, a “Proud Syrian, Supporting Syrian Arab Army & Russia against who ruined out country” according to his Twitter page, claimed that a Russian Su-34 (NATO reporting name “Fullback”) accompanied by “several” Su-30 fighters (NATO reporting name “Flanker C”) was seen carrying a pair of Zvezda Kh-35U anti-ship missiles. The Tweet was accompanied by a long range photo of an Su-34 carrying two large shapes under its wings claimed to be the Kh-35U missiles.

According to reports appearing in Russian and English media outlets, Russian aircraft armed with anti-ship missiles have flown near the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook (DDG-75) following a claimed chemical weapon attack in Syria this past Saturday.

Several U.S. media outlets claimed today that reports of Russian aircraft flying near U.S. ships are false. U.S. Navy spokesman Commander Bill Speaks told the U.S. media outlet Task & Purpose that, “There are elements of that story that are just simply not true,” According to reports on both the Navy Times and Task & Purpose, Speaks said the reports that the ship was being buzzed by Russian aircraft were “completely bogus.”

A photo tweeted by @WaelAlRussi claims to show a Russian Su-34 allegedly armed with cruise missiles that he reports flew nearby a U.S. ship. (Photo: @WaelAlRussi via Twitter)

A separate incident reported over the weekend by Business Insider, Reuters and the French media outlet Le Point alleged that a French Naval multipurpose frigate of the Aquitaine class “was flown over the weekend by at least one Russian aircraft displaying an “aggressive” posture, according to the term we heard.” The text was translated from the original French publication. No photos accompanied the allegations and the type of aircraft was not specified, raising questions about the credibility of the reports.

French reports claimed a Russian aircraft flew in close proximity to one of their ships. (Photo: Le Point)

Russia’s defense ministry told the Associated Press in a Monday, April 9, 2018 report that Israeli aircraft had attacked the Syrian Tiyas Military Airbase west of Palmyra. “Two Israeli aircraft targeted the base Monday, firing eight missiles,” the Russian report claimed. Russia also claimed Syria shot down five cruise missiles of an unspecified type while three of the claimed missiles landed in the western part of the base. Syrian state television quoted an unnamed military official as saying that Israeli F-15 warplanes fired several missiles at the Tiyas base, also known as “T4”.

The conflicting reports in news and social media suggest an escalating concern that the U.S. may strike Syria soon in retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attacks that happened there on Saturday. U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a planned diplomatic trip to several South American countries early this week to monitor the developing crisis in Syria.

Eurocontrol said in a notification published on Apr. 10 that air-to-ground and cruise missiles could be used over the following 72 hours and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption to radio navigation equipment.

Interesting things are currently happening in the region. Here’s a report of the alleged Russian activities:

Here’s the position of NATO/US AEW/ESM platforms this morning:


Top image: NOTAM & navigation warnings in force around Cyprus for Wed 11th April (via @CivMilAir)