By Bijan Razzaghi
The recent operation in Syria targeting the Assad Regimes chemical weapons capability allowed analyst to understand the survivability of 4th generation platforms against targets in contested airspace. On the night of the 14th allied Tornado GR4s, Rafales and B-1Bs all launched stand off weapons from outside Syrian airspace. This included the Storm Shadow and JASSM. These weapons hit there assigned targets long after allied aircraft had left the area. These aircraft would likely have encountered heavy SAM and AAA fire if they had entered Syrian airspace, as none of them are stealth. The ability to deploy long range air to ground munitions allows 4th generation aircraft engage targets in denied airspace with relative safety.
Syria’s air defense capabilities included the advanced medium range BUK missile system and short range Pantsir system. Less sophisticated longer range SA-2s and S-200s are also operated. In addition the presence of Russian S-300 and 400s allowed for the complete denial of Syrian airspace. These systems create a very dangerous environment for non-low observable aircraft as recently seen with the loss of an Israeli F-16I.
4th generation aircraft also offer the ability to carry larger payloads then stealthy 5th generation aircraft due to the use of external stores. This allows 4th generation such as the F/A-18E and Rafale to deploy a great volume of ordnance than their stealthy counterparts operating in denied airspace. All NATO 4th generation aircraft with exception of the Tornado GR4 possess a robust air-to-air capability which allows them to counter hostile aircraft that might depart denied airspace to intercept them.
If a future operation were to take place decision makers can effectively utilize 4th generation platforms to counter threats in A2/AD environments to counter a larger volume of targets. 4th generation aircraft also make up for the limited payloads of 5th generation aircraft.