Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

F-16 Attempting Emergency Landing At Lake Havasu, Arizona, Departs Prepared Surface. Pilot Ejects.

F-16 Crash Lands Near Lake Havasu, Arizona. Pilot Safely Ejected.

An F-16C assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing diverted and attempted to land at Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport, Lake Havasu City, Ariz. at approximately 10:35 a.m. today during a routine training flight.

“During landing the aircraft departed the prepared surface and the pilot ejected from the aircraft. The pilot is in good condition and is being transported to Havasu Regional Medical Center,” according to a public release by the U.S. Air Force.

An image showing the F-16 that crash landed on Apr. 24, 2018. (Image credit: Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page)

Luke AFB is a significant U.S. Air Force installation outside Phoenix, Arizona and is used as an F-35 and F-16 school.

A separate report passed on to us by the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page said:

“Lake Havasu local here, just got sent a pic at our airport of the F-16 crash landing. Came in with engine failure, pilot ejected on landing and was walking/safe. About 50 minutes ago. Not sure at originating base, it’s a city/municipal airport we have here in between DM, Luke, and Nellis. Only other info is from somebody who was listening to the local scanner before it landed and it was two F-16’s landing one with engine failure, skidded off runway after ejection, through a fence, flameout, jet ended up inside Craggy Wash which is adjacent to our airport.”

This reported incident continues what has been a series of U.S. Air Force accidents that included the fatal crash of U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Pilot, Major Stephen Del Bagno, from Valencia, California. Major Del Bagno’s fatal accident happened on April 4, 2018.

Image credit: Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page

Lockheed Martin to Propose 5th Gen F-22/F-35 Hybrid to Japan.

New Proposed Stealth Hybrid Fighter to Expand Japanese Fighter Capability. Re-opening the F-22 Production Line might be an option too.

Late Friday, April 20, Reuters journalists Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo reported that Lockheed Martin will propose a new 5th generation low-observable (stealth) combat aircraft to Japan. According to Kelly and Kubo’s article, the two sources who provided the information to Reuters have direct knowledge of the upcoming proposal.

According to the sources with direct knowledge of the program quoted in the April 20 Reuters story, “Lockheed has discussed the idea with Japanese defense ministry officials and will make a formal proposal in response to a Japanese request for information (RFI) after it receives permission from the U.S. government to offer the sensitive military technology.”

Reuters quoted one of the two unnamed sources as telling them, “The proposed aircraft would combine the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them.”

The F-22 Raptor is only used by the United States Air Force and is not exported because some of its capabilities remain a national security asset. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was originally conceived as an export project to provide cost sharing and capability commonality between partner nations as a force multiplier.

The new Japanese aircraft to be proposed by Lockheed Martin will be an air superiority aircraft with a similar role to the F-22 Raptor.

The Japanese rolled out their first domestically built F-35A Joint Strike Fighter from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility on June 5, 2017. Lockheed Martin built four of the first Japanese F-35s in the U.S. and delivered them to Japan. The remaining 38 of 42 total F-35As Japan has planned will be built at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki South facility. Mitsubishi was the builder of the famous A6M Zero fighter used in WWII.

The Reuters report about the new Lockheed Martin proposal is set alongside the existing Japanese Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin design originally designated the ATD-X for “Advanced Technology Demonstrator – X”. This aircraft bears a strong resemblance to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, using the same basic overall configuration. The ATD-X/X-2 Shinshin is a two-seat experimental aircraft whereas the F-22 and F-35 are only single seat aircraft. Only one X-2 Shinshin has been produced by Japan as a technology testbed. It first flew on April 22, 2016.

The reports of the new upcoming proposal from Lockheed Martin could suggest that Japan is considering abandoning its own indigenous fifth generation air superiority development program in favor of a design from another country. One stipulation reported by the source who spoke to Reuters was that any new proposed aircraft from outside Japan must have Japanese engines, radar and other components. This suggests that an additional, new vendor like Lockheed Martin may be primarily an airframe supplier.

The Reuters report did quote the Japanese Ministry of Defense as saying, “We are considering domestic development, joint development and the possibility of improving existing aircraft performance, but we have not yet come to any decision.”

There are a number of motives for Japan to consider a ground-up aircraft development for its own Gen 5+ aircraft. Perhaps the most compelling reason to consider a new direction are the lessons learned from the massive development processes for both the U.S. F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

Both the F-22 and F-35 programs were expensive and groundbreaking in terms of leading the Gen 5 integration of combat aircraft into an air force. The attendant costs of those programs can be amortized and benefitted from in new development aircraft. The implication is they could be both better and cheaper.

Another reason for the shift in interest to a new Gen5+ direction for Japan’s next air superiority fighter is China. A March 15, 2018 article by Kyle Mizokami in Popular Mechanics quoted Chinese aircraft developer Yang Wei, deputy director of advanced of science and technology at Aviation Industry Corp of China and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying, “We are not complacent about what we have achieved. We will develop the J-20 into a large family and keep strengthening its information-processing and intelligent capacities. At the same time, we will think about our next-generation combat plane to meet the nation’s future requirements.”

China has also been active in expanding its export market for tactical aircraft, although advanced aircraft like the J-20s are likely to remain exclusively Chinese. Japan may look to co-develop a new aircraft that could possibly have limited export appeal in the region, provided the buy-in were lower than F-35.

Japan wants Lockheed Martin to propose a new stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The costs of re-opening the F-22 production line, or even some version of it, have been generally regarded as prohibitive. However, Tyler Rogoway at The War Zone has long been advocating a sale of Raptors to Japan. In the 2016 story “Just Allow The F-22 To Be Exported To Japan Already“. Here’s a short excerpt from Tyler’s latest article on this subject (but I strongly recommend reading the whole story):

“Although Japan has put forward notional Raptor-like designs, what they could also be talking about here is merging the higher kinematic performance and low-observability of the F-22 with the F-35’s smarter attributes—including updated avionics, mission computers, and sensors—as well as new lower-maintenance skin coatings.

[…]

That cost [to put an updated F-22 back into production] may be too high for the USAF to stomach, but for Japan, it’s highly unlikely they will be able to field something superior to an updated F-22 for anywhere near less. It’s also likely that once the U.S.-specific politics of putting the Raptor back into production are removed from the equation, the cost of doing so would drop.

But if Japan is willing to buy an updated Raptor instead of developing a near identical but still unique design, clearly doing so would present a mutually beneficial opportunity. If the U.S. would become a minority stakeholder in an F-22 production line restart of sorts, with the intent on buying a number of airframes to bolster the USAF’s undersized and cherished F-22 fleet, then the opportunity could work out for both parties.

[…]

We will watch how this story develops closely, but if the Pentagon was smart, they would embrace an upgraded F-22 restart with Japan, and if Tokyo is willing to foot the majority of the bill for doing so, the USAF would be nuts not to take advantage of it. “

Indeed, this cost-sharing strategy between the U.S. and Japan would be a significant win-win, especially with the U.S. need for more F-22s. Let’s see what happens.

Top image: A wind tunnel model of Japan’s indigenous gen 5 stealth air superiority fighter. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

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

Why Does the Public Have Trouble Understanding the F-35? Air Force Reserve Pilots Tell Us Why the F-35A is a Powerful Force Multiplier

“Think of the Apple computer when it was first built in the 1970s and the iPhone now. That is the difference we are talking about.”

That’s how U.S. Air Force Reserve Major Scott Trageser, callsign “Worm”, described the single largest benefit of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program for the U.S. Air Force Reserve and USAF along with other F-35 partner nations.

Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf of the Air Force Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, from Hill AFB, Utah, spoke to TheAviationist.com about their Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II aircraft before flying an aerial refueling training mission over the Atlantic Ocean with KC-10 Extender aerial tankers from the 514th Air Mobility Wing of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst last week.

Air Force Reserve F-35A Lightning II pilots Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf meet reporters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst last week. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

“The ability to put all this new software, new radar technology, new electronic warfare in a thing called ‘fusion’ and package it in a low-observable platform. It is a huge advantage. I can get in there and kill their guy before he sees me, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.”

Maj. Trageser and Capt. Tappendorf described perhaps the single most significant force multiplier of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, and likely the most misunderstood.

Think of how you use your smartphone connected with your car: While driving you get directions, find restaurants, make reservations and invite friends for dinner. You can even voice-text them to bring a gift to dinner or change the location of the event while on your way. Your car’s sensors help you stay in your lane and avoid collisions with other moving cars while you communicate. A new app you just downloaded tells you if there is a speed trap ahead or if there are delays along the way. Your smartphone and car integrates to become a driving systems manager, social coordinator and concierge directed by you through voice communication.

Envision a similar, hardened “smart” networking capability flying into a heavily defended airspace, collecting information about ever-changing defenses and defeating them while remaining nearly impossible to detect, finding and automatically prioritizing multiple targets in the air and on the ground even as they change, securely sharing that information with other weapons systems and even employing their weapons against multiple targets, all while going up to Mach 1.5+.

In the F-35, there’s an app for that.

An F-35A Lightning II being maintained by ground crew from Hill AFB during its first visit to Selfridge ANGB in Michigan last year.

Proliferate that force-multiplying capability by sharing it with your most trusted friends who help bring the overall program cost down with a group buy-in, and you have a rudimentary understanding of the F-35 program concept.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as a whole passed a major milestone last week when it accomplished the final developmental test flight of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program on April 12, 2018.

The System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase was a massive, historically unprecedented flight test and development program that has, “Operated for more than 11 years mishap-free, conducting more than 9,200 sorties, accumulating over 17,000 flight hours, and executed more than 65,000 test points to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants” according to U.S. Navy Vice Admiral. Mat Winter, Director, Joint Strike Fighter Program, Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Vice Adm. Winter went on to say, “Congratulations to our F-35 Test Team and the broader F-35 Enterprise for delivering this new powerful and decisive capability to the warfighter.” Vice Adm. Winter’s remarks were published in an April 12, 2018 media release by Lockheed Martin.

An F-35A Lightning II pilot from from Hill AFB wearing his carbon fiber flight helmet equipped with the Rockwell Collins ESA Vision Systems Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS).

Eleven years ago, when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter SDD program began the U.S. Department of Defense said in an official statement that:
“Nine nations are partnering in the F-35’s SDD phase: The United States, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia. Partnership in SDD entitles those countries to bid for work on a best value basis, and participate in the aircraft’s development. Additionally, Israel and Singapore have agreed to join the program as a Security Cooperation Participants.”

But the F-35 program headlines also include speed bumps associated with any major international technology program and there are still many (for someone “too many”) things yet to be fixed.

Defensenews.com’s Valerie Insinna reported in an April 12, 2018 article that, “The Pentagon has suspended acceptance of most F-35 deliveries as manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program office debate who should be responsible for fixing jets after a production issue last year.”

Insinna quoted a Lockheed spokeswoman as saying, “While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon.”

In another March 5, 2018 report by program expert Insinna, she reported that, “Stealth features [are] responsible for half of F-35 defects.”
But the F-35 operators seem to consider these delays minor given the ambition and scope of the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter vision, a program that Time magazine called, “The costliest weapons program in human history.”

Two F-35A Lightning IIs participated in an integrated air superiority and close air support demonstration at Nellis AFB during the Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo in November, 2017.

Commensurate with the massive costs associated with F-35, the program has changed nearly every aspect of the modern battlefield, from gender integration to insurgent tactics.

For the first time ever, a woman took command of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing, the Air Force’s only reserve F-35A fighter wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Colonel Regina “Torch” Sabric assumed command on April 14, 2018 from Col. David “Shooter” Smith, who previously served as the commander since November 2015.

According to an official release from Hill AFB, “Sabric will lead more than 1,200 reservists who train in F-35 operations, maintenance, and mission support, along with a medical squadron. These reservists serve part-time – at least one weekend per month and two weeks per year – and train to the same standard as active duty.”

Colonel Sabric’s command of the 419th marks multiple milestones for U.S. air power that include integration of reserve assets, gender equality and operational deployment of what is arguably the most advanced air combat technology on earth.

An F-35A Lightning II of the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah under a KC-10 tanker during a training mission over New Jersey last week.

At the same time and half way around the globe, the arrival of F-35I Adir aircraft into operational Israeli service on December 6, 2017 has somehow struck fear in Israel’s adversaries and, as part of what was probably a PSYOPS campaign, the presence of the aircraft in Israeli service has sparked unsubstantiated rumors that it has already been used in secret air strikes and missions in Syria or Iran. It is likely that air defenses in the region have already had to make adaptations to try to counter the threat of the new Israeli F-35Is, even though it is unlikely they have yet to be flown in combat. Merely the arrival of Israel’s F-35Is has already begun to change the battlespace in the region, giving Israel a powerful new deterrent.

Before Maj. Scott “Worm” Trageser and Capt. Mark “Quatro” Tappendorf left our briefing to prepare for our refueling mission over the Atlantic, Maj. Trageser told us, “We used to have over 50 fighter squadrons in the combat air force, now we have around 26.” That has made the quality over quantity and force-multiplier integration of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program even more relevant.

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