Russian Technology Failed in Syria

In the months following the Joint U.S, French, and British attack against the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities it has become clear that Syrian air defenses failed to meaningfully degrade the limited strike.

Assad was either incapable or unwilling to engage coalition with his air defense systems. He sent his fighter aircraft away from Syria before the strike and his missiles engaged only after weapons fired from coalition aircraft had impacted their targets. The missiles were not guided as Coalition forces did not detect any lock-on, reporting that 40 Syrian missiles were “fired at nothing” following the airstrikes.

Russia has continued to claim without evidence that 71 missiles were intercepted by Syrian Air Defense while the Pentagon holds that no missiles or aircraft were engaged successfully.

Russian MFA missile claim twitter

Russian media went on the claim the Pantsir S1 showed “almost 100 % effectiveness” yet goes on to claim that the sites struck were not protected by air defenses.

Here you can see satellite photographs of two of the target zones hit by the strike. In these photos, one can clearly see the effect of multiple impacts on several different buildings. Some buildings are no longer standing and others are hollowed out.

In this video of the strike (shot in Damascus), it’s clear that Syrian Air Defense did not effectively respond to the salvo of cruise missiles. At time mark 1:10 you can see several dozen cruise missile hit their targets in a very short period of time.

The intercept ratios the Russians are putting out also casts doubt on the veracity of their claims. Russian state news agency Tass claimed that the Syrians managed to down 71 missiles using a combination of 112 mismatched interceptors ranging from the 1960s vintage S-125 to the Strela-10 (a Stinger equivalent, sometimes mounted in pods on armored vehicles).

The success of either of these systems is unlikely because their age, design intent and the conditions they were operating in. The S-125 and S-200 for example were are not designed to hit low flying targets like cruise missiles and Strela is more suited to slow-moving targets like helicopters.

The ratio of hits is also unusually high( like Putin’s numbers during the last election). Western nations often fire at two to four interceptors to ensure target destruction, Syria is claiming that it’s dated air defense systems managed to achieve an 80% hit ratio firing less than two interceptors per missile, at midnight using air defense systems from the 1960s.

No video evidence of interceptions or crashed American missiles has surfaced either. The only videos we have are of dozens of allied missiles impacting Damascus.

Pictorial evidence also points to a complete failure of Syrian Air Defense. One photo seems to show interceptors being fired at a 45-degree angle and continuing skyward. While this would match an intercept trajectory for a bomber or fighter flying at high altitude, it doesn’t add up when you are trying to intercept a cruise missile designed to hug the ground.

Given the extensive damage, one can only conclude that even if the Syrians did manage to engage American missiles, the response was completely ineffective. All three targets were hit multiple times and many of the buildings were completely demolished. Those left standing look to be hollowed out.

The lying on the Regime is understandable. The Regime needs the propaganda to keep itself going. It has a well-known tendency to exaggerate numbers. It has claimed absurd success rates against Israeli aircraft and missiles despite having only a single confirmed kill against the IAF in the last 36 years.

Just a few weeks ago they the regime declared that it had intercepted nine Israeli missiles, only to redact the claim when it was relieved that there were no missiles and the regimes sensors had malfunctioned.

I believe Russia’s interest in perpetuating this lie is two-fold. First, Russia’s defense industry is vital for the functioning of the Russian state. They need to be able to sell weapons. The Russians then, are attempting to cover up just how badly outmatched some of their air defense systems were by legacy American, British and French aircraft using new missiles.

Second, the operational success of the American strike threatens Russia’s own conventional deterrence. Some systems like the Pantsir S1 are still in service with the Russian military, as are the Buk missile systems. The failure of these systems against a well tried, (even cliche) American mode of attack is not only embarrassing but undermines their conventional deterrence vis-a-vis NATO, which would be able to generate much more firepower in a war against Russia.

Add insult to injury, the Pentagon has claimed no stealth aircraft took part in the business end of the strike and that EA-6B Growlers provided electronic warfare support. B-1B Lancers, and French Typhoons, and British GR4 Tornados delivered all airborne munitions with F-22s sitting back to protect troops against possible retaliation.

When you add it all up it paints a dire picture for Russian air defense. Not even their propagandists have claimed that any of their legacy systems actually engaged an allied aircraft. With strike ranges on the order of 370 km for the JASSM and 1600 km for the TLAM. Allied aircraft and ships would be outside the range of even the S-400 air defense systems and most almost all anti-ship missiles.

In a war over the inability of the Russian made air defense systems to mitigate an American missile attack, let alone engage the airplanes that launched them poses a significant problem for the Russians. Supposedly, the S-300 would do better, but there a fewer of them and the capacity of the force has limits, especially when you consider that a full-scale attack would involve several hundred missiles. The invasion of Iraq involved 802 tomahawks alone.

 

 

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Syria Attack 2018

Following the Douma sarin attack, eyes have once again focused on the prospect of military action against the Assad regime. President Trump expressed revulsion at the attack and continues to threaten military action through his Twitter account.

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Israel’s Declassified Airstrike

In March of 2018, the Israeli government officially admitted that it conducted an air strike against Syria’s nascent nuclear program in 2007. Haaretz published an extremely detailed article with accounts from those involved. The admission is a rare step for a nation that often prefers ambiguity over transparency and gives us an interesting glimpse into the workings and status of both the Israeli military as a fighting force               and for U.S-Israel relations.

Below is a list of observations I made while reading the article.

 

2007 Syria reactor strike.
The reactor before and after the strike.

 

Israeli Denials Are Often About De-escalation

From the article is it clear that the mission was kept secret for 11 years for political reasons, not military security. After the bombs fell, Israeli military intelligence and Mossad were much more concerned that embarrassing Basher Al-Assad than revealing operational secrets. Face-saving Military retaliation was the overriding concern, not revealing Israeli operational methods.

Israel Is Still Using The Prussian Method

Although by far the most competent military in the region, the Israeli Defense Forces are not a hegemon. As a military of conscripts and reservists, the IDF cannot be constantly mobilized. A mobilization that gets the IDF up to fighting strength could also alert enemies to its intentions. If Israel massed troops in the Golan to defend against Syrian retaliation, they risked tipping off the Syrians and compromising the mission.

Israel then, is still operating on a Prussian-style doctrine where it focuses power where it is needed quickly, rather than an American-style doctrine where a professional military is kept ready to deploy at all times.

Israel Consulted With The United States Before The Strike

In American discourse, Israeli military actions are often framed as completely independent actions. that is, they are taken regardless of external influences, and often in spite of them. This article makes clear that the U.S government was consulted months before the operation and was kept in the loop almost until the decision to bomb the reactor was made.

If this holds true for more recent strikes the U.S government could still be privy to sensitive information. Israeli air strikes against regime and Iranian targets in Syria are a possible example.(although these are also mostly unconfirmed.)

The United States Benefits

In Syria, the U.S used Israel as both a source of intelligence and a means of achieving a strategic objective while minimizing political costs to itself. It is clear from the report that the United States saw an attack on Syria’s reactor as politically unviable given the failure of intelligence (in both senses) in Iraq. The U.S could not afford another blunder, so it fell on the State of Israel to play policeman.

George W. Bush’s statement “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” is indicative of his intentions. He (and by extension the U.S government) was clearly willing to give Israel a free hand to protect itself and police the region while shielding the United States and the Bush administration from the political consequences.

Israel Has Self-Imposed Restraints

In contrast to its hyper-aggressive public persona, the Israeli government was extremely concerned about the environmental and human damage that could have resulted from the destruction of an operational reactor. The Haaretz article makes clear that this was a serious bone of contention within Olmert’s government and that Israel may have thought twice about blowing up the reactor if it had gone hot.

Syria Does Not Want War With Israel

In 2007 Assad’s army was at full strength. Despite this, and the recent Israeli failure in Lebanon, Assad allowed his reactor to be destroyed without so much as firing a shot in return.

The reason for this quite becomes obvious one looks at the course of the Syrian Civil War. In 2007 The Syrian army was unprepared to do much more than terror bomb civilians and kill protesters. As is the case in many dictatorships, the military is a tool of domestic politics, rather than an all-purpose fighting force. Its raison d’être is to protect the regime. In a direct confrontation with Israel, Syria would have been crushed, and Assad knew it.

 

We Don’t Need to Restart the Nuclear Arms Race

About a week ago retired Navy Vice Admiral named Robert Monroe penned possibly the worst opinion piece I have ever read. Entitled “Only Trump can restore America’s ability to win a nuclear war” the article was riddled with factual inaccuracies and terrible policy perceptions.

Here I’m going to take a few quotes from the article and demonstrate exactly why it’s such rubbish.

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Achtung Drone

On January 5th a swarm of thirteen drones operated by Syrian rebels attacked two Russian bases in Syria. While the attack was unsuccessful, it was the first of its kind, and indicative of the type of warfare that we can expect to witness in the future in regard to unmanned vehicles. While militants have used small drones to attack government forces before, they were never used en masse in a “swarm”.

In this capacity, they have the power to transform warfare.Read More »

Destroying the Focal Point

The non-use of nuclear weapons has been a phenomenon of the past 70 years. Since the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been fired in anger despite massive stockpiles, hair-trigger alerts, and the nuclearization of every weapon from ICBMs to 155mm artillery.  This peculiar behavior has been analyzed and rationalized over years, giving rise to theories concerning escalation spirals, limited nuclear war, mutually assured destruction and disarmament.
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It’s Time For a New Israeli-Arab Peace Process

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has set off a firestorm in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Across the spectrum, states, terrorist organizations and U.S allies have repudiated the move as a threat to the peace process or a provocation. Protests have erupted in the West Bank and Gaza with some Palestinian factions calling the move a “declaration of war and Hamas calling for a third Intifada.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat went as far as to declare it the end of the decades long U.S brokered peace process and refused further negotiations until the decision is reversed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas made his own fiery speech denouncing the move and  proclaiming Jerusalem to be the “Capital of Palestine” (fun fact. I got slightly nauseous typing that).

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North Korea Builds a Missile That Can Hit My House

Following a two and a half month hiatus the North Koreans are back to testing missiles.

Fired on a lofted trajectory North Korea’s new Hwasong 15 ICBM flew 4,475 km high and 950 km downrange on its maiden flight. If the missile were fired on a normal trajectory it would have a range of 13,000 km; long enough to strike my house in the D.C suburbs and the entirety of the continental United States.Read More »