By Bijan Razzaghi
On April 7th 2017 the US Navy launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian Air Force base called Shayrat Air base. The attack targeted Syrian Air Force hardened aircraft shelters , fuel depots and air defenses. This is the only attack so far and it might be the only , yet if things were to escalate and the United States and other allied nations decided to go after Syria’s military this is how an air war might play out.
If such a operation were to occur the Syrians have a number of aircraft and air defense systems that could be used against the coalition these include aircraft and air defense systems and would be targeted first. Syria’s primary strike aircraft are the SU-24 and SU-22 both are used in regular attacks on rebel forces while Mig-29s act as the primary air to air fighters with support of a handful of 8 MIG-31 Interceptors. These fighters are often seen conducting counter air operations in Syria along with older Mig-21 and 23s. The US on the other hand can counter these aircraft using Stealth F-22 Raptors. The F-22 Raptor is low observable and cannot be detected by enemy radars. The F-22s radar the AN/APG 77 can detect the MIGs at long ranges and engage them before they have even seen the F-22. If there was the aircraft closed within visual range of each other the F-22s thrust vectoring 9 g limit and 1.08 thrust to weight ratio could give the Mig-29 little or no chance of winning in a dogfight despite their high g limit of 9 and high thrust to weight ratio of 1.09 the aircraft has no thrust vectoring so the high maneuverability of the Mig-29 is useless in a fight with a F-22. Other Syrian fighters such as the Mig-31 or Mig-21 have no chance with engaging the Raptor ether. This gives the US air Superiority over Syria in any potential showdown. Other US fighters such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet operating from aircraft carriers and the F-35 Lightning II which just became operational yet is not deployed in theater would also do well in battle against these older Russian made aircraft.
Other threats such as air defenses would also have to be neutralised. Syria possess Surface to Air Missiles such as the older static SA-2 SA-3 and SA-5 as well as mobile SAMs such as the SA-6 SA-8,SA-11 and deadly SA-19 and SA-22s (S-300) which constitute the greatest threat. The Syrians also use advanced early warning radars using low band frequency’s designed to detects Stealthy aircraft making these surface to air missiles a threat. It is likely Static SAMs will not be deployed to the Raqqah theater of operations but mobile SAMs might be deployed near IS territory to threaten coalition aircraft. In any case EA-18G Growlers would be needed to support non stealthy strike packages of aircraft such as the F-16 and F-15E while SEAD strikes can eliminate the SAMs under the cover of the Growlers ECM jammers. Tomahawk Cruise missiles can also be employed against static surface to air missile sites. For more threatening SAMs that are integrated through air defense networks such as the SA-11, SA-19 and SA-22 could be countered by F-22s armed with SDBs or F-35s. With both air defenses and aircraft neutralized Coalition air forces would be able to continue their operations against IS uncontested as well as protect Syrian civilians from Assad’s Air Force and SDF forces would be protected from Syrian air strikes.
The next step once the airspace is secure would be to target Syrian artillery that can be used against civilians. Syria possesses deadly BM-21 and BM-27 rockets the BM-21 has a range of 20-30 km while the BM-27 can shoot up to 30-40km. These rocket launchers among Syria’s most deadly artillery pieces and can be used to deploy gas. Because artillery can easily be camouflaged and is mobile aircraft capable of long loiter times such as the A-10C and AC-130 would be used along with RPAs such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. These aircraft can fly for hours and be used to detect enemy artillery pieces before they fire and destroy them.
Once Assad’s forces ability to bomb civilians and defense its airspace is eliminated the humanitarian situation would likely improve as civilians will no longer face threats from heavy weapons and aircraft. This would need to be continuously enforced with a no fly zone as well as a resolution to prevent Syrian heavy weapons from being in firing range of civilian populated towns.