The Pentagon has provided a detailed breakdown of exactly how the United States and its allies, France and Britain, struck at Syrian regime targets on April 13. As expected, the allied powers used cruise missiles to strike at the regime, both to minimize the danger to aircrews and as a precaution in case Russian air defenses attempted to intercept the attack.
“The United States, the United Kingdom and France, three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, conducted a proportional, precision, coordinated strike in response to the Syrian regime's continued use of chemical weapons,” Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters at the Pentagon on the morning of April 14. “This combined military strike was directed against three distinct Syrian chemical weapons program targets.”
The allied forces struck at three targets in Syria. “Against the first target, the Barzeh Research and Development Center, which is located in the greater Damascus area, we employed 76 missiles,” McKenzie said. “57 of these were Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, and 19 were joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, or JASSMs.”
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The target seems to have been destroyed. “Initial assessments are that this target was destroyed,” McKenzie said. “This is going to set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years. We also note that we've successfully destroyed three buildings in metropolitan Damascus, one of the most heavily defended airspace areas in the world.”
All three allies hit the second target. “Against the second target, the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility, which is located in Syria, just west of Homs, 22 weapons were employed, nine U.S. TLAMs [Tomahawk land attack missile], eight Storm Shadow missiles, three naval cruise missiles, and two SCALP land attack cruise missiles,” McKenzie said. “This target was attacked by all coalition forces—our Tomahawks, the British Storm Shadow, and then the French missiles went against it as well.”
The French struck the third target by themselves using the SCALP missile. “Against the third target, the Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility, we deployed seven SCALP missiles,” McKenzie said. “Again, the initial assessment is that this bunker facility was successfully hit.”
The Launch Platforms
U.S. air and naval forces carried out the American portion of the strike, marking the operational debut of Lockheed Martin’s stealthy AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). A pair of U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bombers—escorted by fighters and U.S. Marine Corps. Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft—launched 19 of the new air-launched cruise missiles. However, the bulk of the strike came from the sea, with the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and a Virginia-class attack submarine delivering the brunt of the attack.
“First, in the Red Sea, the Ticonderoga-class, Monterey, fired 30 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. And the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Laboon fired seven Tomahawks. In the North Arabian Gulf, the Burke-class destroy Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks,” McKenzie said. “In the Mediterranean, the Virginia-class submarine John Warner fired six Tomahawk missiles.”
France, meanwhile, used a combination of naval and airpower to strike at Syria. “In the Eastern Mediterranean the French frigate Languedoc fired three missiles of their naval version of the SCALP missile,” McKenzie said. Additionally, “our French allies flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages, and launched nine SCALP missiles,” he added.
The British Royal Air Force also contributed air assets in the form of Typhoon multirole fighters and Tornado bombers that fired the Storm Shadow—which is the British name for the SCALP—cruise missile against Syrian targets. “Our British allies flew a combination of Tornadoes and Typhoons, and launched eight Storm Shadow missiles,” McKenzie said.
Syrian Air Defenses
Syrian air defenses were totally ineffective against the incoming attack. “None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses, and we have no indication that Russian air-defense systems were employed,” McKenzie said. “We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets. At the end of the strike mission, all our aircraft safely returned to their bases.”
In fact, the Pentagon says that the Syrians only launched missiles—without guidance—after the incoming strike had already hit. “We assessed that over 40 surface-to-air missiles were employed by the Syrian regime,” McKenzie said. “Most of these launches occurred after the last impact of our strike was over. It is likely that the regime shot many of these missiles on a ballistic trajectory. I mean, by that, without guidance. And we assess that the defensive efforts of Syria were largely ineffective, and clearly increased risk to their people based on this indiscriminate response. When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it's going to come down somewhere.”