Tag 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

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)

Check Out This Cool Video Of Three B-2 Stealth Bombers Contrailing Over Kansas

The stunning sight of a B-2 Stealth Bomber 3-ship formation.

Filmed on Apr. 4, the video below shows three B-2s over Pittsburg, Kansas. The stealth bombers headed southwest then made a wide left turn and headed back northeast presumably back to Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

Although the Spirit bombers fly over Kansas quite often (3 to 5 times per month, according to our readers who live there), the formation with backlit contrails isn’t very common.

The result is quite stunning.

The B-2s are among the assets that might be involved after the very early stages of an attack on Syria, as happened in Libya or during Operation Allied Force in 1999, when the stealth bombers operated directly from Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

Interestingly, there’s been much speculations about what could be done to to spot an impending B-2 strike mission, for instance by watching tanker movements over the Atlantic. As I’ve already commented on Twitter, it’s really difficult, as the past operations taught: for instance, during the Libya Air War, the B-2 used a REACH callsign, usually allocated to tanker, transport and support aircraft, to remain invisible even to HF, VHF and UHF listeners who were able to listen to radio communications in the clear. This is I wrote back in 2011:

“This gives an idea of how the OPSEC problem was faced by the USAF: keeping in mind that aircraft spotters around the world, virtually interconnected by means of forums, websites, messageboards, Twitter, Facebook and any other social networking tool, are today capable of tracking aircraft movements even before aircraft depart their homebases with the various LiveATC.net, Flightradar24.com, ADS-B, etc., they decided to deceive them not using difficult and “suspect” zip-lip ops (no-radio) but masking aircraft callsigns.

The result was satisfactory as the strikes of the B-2s as well as the TLAM attack were almost unexpected in spite of the technology in the hands of the aircraft enthusiasts meaning that there are still ways to achieve strategical surprise, if needed…..”

Anyway, this video shows B-2’s continuous training over CONUS, operational activity aimed to prepare U.S. Air Force stealth bombers aircrews to strike targets all around the world.

Here’s Why The Claim That Two Israeli F-35 Stealth Jets Entered Iranian Airspace Does Not Make Any Sense

Two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, report says. Most probably, just fake news or PSYOPS.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an article, that is slowly spreading through the social media, about an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who talked to Al-Jarida, earlier this month, two Aidr stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

Here’s an excerpt (highlight mine):

“The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program. It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF.

The source added that the seven F-35 fighters in active service in the IAF have conducted a number of missions in Syria and on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He underlined that the fighter jets can travel from Israel to Iran twice without refueling.

There are many weird things.

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

And, above all, although the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

Although the IAF has a long history of pioneering new aircraft and use new weapons systems in real combat pretty soon, this has usually happened for quite complex and daring missions with a real stategic value. In this case, flying a couple of its few new F-35s for a “simple” reconnaissance mission over Iran would not be worth the risk. And what would be the purpose of carrying out this mission and leaking the news? A “show of force” for deterrence? Or to demostrate the world (and the regional opponents) the IAF’s ability to freely operate inside the Syrian and Iranian airspaces, especially after suffering the loss of an F-16I earlier this year?

Indeed, on Feb. 10, 2018, Israeli F-16 fighter jets entered Syrian airspace, striking 12 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was shot down over Israel by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. One F-16I Sufa crashed during the air strikes, after being targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses. Many sources suggested that the first loss of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions. This is true, even though rushing a new and somehow immature aircraft into combat has some inherent risks.

In his story about the F-35I IOC (Initial Operational Capability) at The War Zone, journalist Joseph Trevithik wrote:

With limited numbers of the jets on hand, the IAF will have to decide whether or not to make a statement or make sure the aircraft it does have are in reserve for contingencies that absolutely require their advanced capabilities, such as quelling a more imminent threat against Israel itself or attacking targets over-long range that are defended by an advanced integrated air defense assets.

I completely agree.

This is what I wrote here at The Aviationist about the F-35 Adir’s possible involvement in the air strikes on Syria, you can expand it to consider the even more dangerous scenario in Iran:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

There have been a series ofunconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.

Anyway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will update this post accordingly.