Now that the fog begins to clear somewhat around Syria and NATO strikes, some A-Ha (not the wonderful Norwegian 80s pop-music icons) moments begin to occur here and there, around the only battlefield in which NATO is capable to fight and win--media and virtual reality they create. So, some of those who love to fight hi-tech battles on TV and internet begin to make short forays into the reality-based community, trying to gain some sense of reality. I, of course, do not talk about internet warriors and fanboys who demand WW III since, by the virtue of them never having been to any military service closer than through TV screens, they are not sufficiently entertained and adrenaline-infused. So, one of those who tried to get some measure of strategic reality is Reuters' own Peter Apps who posted today his analysis of the whole ordeal on Friday and made some rather interesting conclusions.
Predictably, Syrian government forces have reportedly moved into positions as close as possible to their Russian counterparts, betting – probably correctly – that the United States will be desperate to avoid hitting them. Even a significantly larger strike than the one Trump launched last year will do little to change the war on the ground. Assad has already all but won the six-year war, and has continued to entrench his position this week.
It is always a healthy moment when one starts with what really matters in war--achievement of war's political objectives, not of show of force since, the same as hysteria, show of force may and often does exhibit a weakness rather than strength. It is really encouraging that somebody associated with the media agency known for helping to inflame anti-Assad and anti-Russian hysteria and spews lies, suddenly comes to his own senses to express at least some grasp of warfare.
Both action and inaction now bring the risk of playing into Russia’s hands. The sheer level of force the United States has moved to the Mediterranean – with the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman sailing from Norfolk, Virginia last week – is a potent reminder that Washington’s military clout and reach still far eclipses Putin’s. The fact that it was necessary to take such a step, however, is also an unmistakable sign of weakness.
Here comes this important question of purely tactical nature which many flag-waving uber-patriots miss completely, while, I am sure, Pentagon and not only, is puzzled with what went wrong. The question is not about excellent performance of Syrian AD--what and how about this performance are being unveiled with each passing hour. Russian EW? Absolutely, no doubt it. Massive shooting down of Tomahawks and Scalpel TLAMs? Absolutely. But, but what about JASSMs. It is conceivable that these were they Trump was bragging about in his idiotic twits when spoke about those "Smart" missiles that "are coming". There are still no firm numbers about the number of intercepted JASSMs, what is clear, however, is the fact that many of them were intercepted. If JASSM passes today for "Smart", it kind of puts good ol' Tomahawks, logically, into the category of "Dumb". Obviously, as latest Syria's experience shows, Tomahawks are not an overwhelming threat, as they were positioned as for decades, for truly (not in Saddam Hussein's, or, rather US media, way) highly integrated and EW capable air-defense system.
But JASSMs, "stealthy" and supposedly "Smart", even by preliminary data pouring in didn't fare much better than Tomahawks and this was against Syrian AD assets which are pretty damn old. So, what about "stealth"? Ah, but in the modern signal processing, including well developed now sensor-fusion (or data-fusion) techniques it really doesn't matter for advanced adversary. But that is purely technological aspect, however influential for operational and strategic levels. Truly global, geopolitical issue is this, as Apps concludes:
Therein lies one of the greatest challenges of this situation. In 1990, after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the George H. W. Bush administration was relieved to find that Russia – then still in the hands of Mikhail Gorbachev – was inclined to avoid turning the conflict into a Cold War-style standoff. In the years that followed, successive U.S. presidents became used to acting without such worries. Putin has now successfully signaled that those days are entirely over.
Syrians went out en masse on the streets of Damascus to celebrate an excellent performance of their Air Defense against best what the West have thrown at them and that moral uplift surely was justified. But the main question, and Pentagon desperately wanted to have an answer to it, remained unanswered--what would have been the performance of Russian air defense assets in Syria should they have been directly engaged? Judging by the performance of Syrian 1970s and 1980s technology one can pretty much conclude what it would have been--even basic linear extrapolation gives some impression about massive capability of modern Russian technology. This is technological dimension which matters politically.
|This is NOT Iraq 2003. It is Syria April 13, 2018.
P.S. In related news, there will be new round of sanctions on Russia on Monday. Sure, Russians are scared and about to get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.... wait, what?