from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Degrading Bashar’s Air Power is Possible

August 1, 2013

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Is there anything the United States can do to slow or stop the recent advances being made by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, who are getting valuable help from Iranian and Hezbollah troops?

Unfortunately, the message from the Obama administration and from the Pentagon is "no." From those sources we hear that the only military options are hopelessly expensive and dangerous. CJCS chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey once said 700 sorties would be needed before we even start, to suppress Syrian air defenses, and billions of dollars would be spent. Sen. John McCain has rightly excoriated Gen. Dempsey and the others who are taking this misleading line.

Now we have an expert, and balanced, study of  the military option that makes the most sense: not a no-fly zone but a one-time strike at Bashar’s quite limited air power. The study was by the the Institute for the Study of War, and is found here.

A brief summary: three Naval surface ships, and 100 aircraft, launching air to ground to ship to ground missiles and never entering Syrian airspace, could very seriously degrade the regime’s air power.

Here is McCain’s summary:

“Specifically, the ISW study reports that Assad’s forces are only flying a maximum of 100 operational strike aircraft at present, an estimate that ISW concedes is likely very generous to the Assad regime. The real figure, they maintain, is more likely around 50. What’s more, these aircraft are only being flown out of 6 primary airfields, with an additional 12 secondary airfields playing a supporting role. What this means is that the real-world military problem of how to significantly degrade Assad’s air power is very manageable – again, as I and others have maintained.

“ISW calculates that U.S. and allied forces could significantly degrade Assad’s air power using stand-off weapons that would not require one of our pilots to enter Syrian airspace or confront one Syrian air defense system. With a limited number of these precision strikes against each of the Assad’s eight primary airfields, we could crater their runways, destroy their fuel and maintenance capabilities, knock out key command and control, and destroy a significant portion of their aircraft on the ground. The ISW study estimates that this limited intervention could be achieved in one day and would involve a total of 3 Navy surface ships and 24 strike aircraft, each deploying a limited number of precision guided munitions – all fired from outside of Syria, without ever confronting Syrian air defenses.”

It would be useful for both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to review the ISW study and to ask the Pentagon to respond to it. For if the United States does not act, Iran’s gamble in sending an expeditionary force to Syria will have paid off--with extremely dangerous effects in the entire region.

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