Now that it appears that we are on the brink of action against Syria, an interesting analysis of what could take place has been provided by the Institute for the Study of War.
According to ISW, the key to protecting the rebel forces is to degrade the ability of Syria's Air Force (SAF) to attack rebel positions, a key strategic advantage that the Assad regime has over its opponents. Rather than using a major military operation to destroy the entire SAF and Syria's Air Defense System, ISW notes that the use of Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) by the United States could result in sufficient damage to the SAF infrastructure that it would be rendered inoperable. This limited strike would:
1.) Be relatively inexpensive.
2.) Require no "boots" on Syrian soil.
This strategy would not permanently destroy all SAF aircraft and infrastructure, rather, it would damage them sufficiently that it would take some time to repair, giving the rebel forces some breathing space and would send the Assad regime a strong message. It would also prevent Syria from receiving aerial resupplies from both Iran and Russia. This proposed strike plan would not degrade or destroy Syria's rather significant Integrated Air Defense System nor would it establish a No Fly Zone.
It is estimated that Syria possesses up to 100 combat ready fixed wing aircraft out of a total inventory of between 375 to 575 MiG 21/24 and 23/29 and Su-22/24 legacy Soviet-sourced fighters. These fighters required a highly trained pilot and significant maintenance man-hours to remain in combat mode. In total, there are roughly 27 airbases with varying capabilities, six of which are considered primary bases that are still under Assad regime control. There are an additional 12 secondary bases that could support ongoing operations against the rebels but are not currently in support mode. Here is a map showing the 6 primary air bases:
To accomplish the goal of handicapping Syria's Air Force without any American aircraft entering Syrian air space, ISW recommends the use of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles or TLAMs. TLAMs have a payload of 1000 pounds and a range of 1000 nautical miles meaning that they can be fired from international waters in the Mediterranean Sea or the Persian Gulf. Each missile costs an estimated $650,000 and there are currently 3700 in inventory.
Here is an informative little video showing how effective the TLAM can be and the four ways that it can be armed:
As well, ISW suggests that Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) could be used; they have a range of only 200 nautical miles, have a 1000 pound payload and require manned aircraft (in this case, the F-15E) for launching. There are currently 1000 plus in inventory at a cost of $700,000 each.
Here is a video showing how effective these missiles can be:
The initial strike would result in the SAF being unable to operate for at least a week while repairs to runways, control towers and fuel storage took place. A followup strike would target the Syrian Air Force fixed wing aircraft inventory. If the SAF moves the remaining aircraft to one of the twelve secondary bases that it still controls, these will be a tertiary target.
To attack the six primary airbases, the following would be required:
1.) Tiyas: 109 TLAMs
2.) Damascus International Airport: 78 TLAMs
3.) Bassel el Assad International Airport: 66 TLAMs
4.) Al-Qusayr: 53 TLAMs
5.) Damascus-Mezze Air Base: 40 TLAMs
6.) Dumayr: 24 TLAMs
That's a total of 370 TLAMs at a total cost of $240.5 million plus, of course, the cost of getting them into the theatre of operations in the first place.
This analysis by ISW is, at the very least, interesting. That said, we've been told before that the cost of war would not be excessive both financially and in human terms and look how that turned out as shown here:
Everything always looks so simple, neat and clean on paper and PowerPoint, doesn't it? Admittedly, without boots on the ground, military casualties should be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, the same can never be said for civilians.