Air Defenses

Syria Is No Libya

Syria's sophisticated air defenses would make any action very complicated.

JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey is quoting making the following statements in Buzzfeed:

"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome that not just members of Congress but all of us would desire — which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a stable Syria — that's the reason I've been cautious, is the right word, about the application of the military instrument of power, because it's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome," Dempsey said at a lunch with reporters.

"That said, options are ready," Dempsey said. "If either it becomes clear to me, or I'm ordered to do, so we will act."

Dempsey, who just returned from a 10-day trip abroad to Asia, declined to specifically address what President Obama said on Tuesday about whether or not the United States will intervene in Syria; "I won't go into detail about what those options might be," for possible intervention, Obama said at a press conference. But Dempsey said that the military's posture on the issue has not changed.

"Nothing I've heard in the last week or so has changed anything about the actions we're taking in the military," Dempsey said. "We've been planning and we've been developing options. We're looking to determine whether these options remain valid as the conditions change."

Dempsey warned that the Syrian situation isn't quite analogous to Libya just before the fall of Moammar Qaddafi, because of the Syrian army's superior air force.

"The air defense picture in Libya was dramatically different than it is in Syria," Dempsey said. "In Syria there are five times more air defense systems, some of which are high end air defense systems. The US military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, take longer, and require more resources."...

..."To be effective, a no-fly zone would have to have several elements," Dempsey said. "We would have to knock down some of the integrated air defense system of an adversary."

"They could in fact take exception to the fact that we were enaciting a no-fly zone and then act outside of their borders," he said.

Got that? "Act outside of their borders/" They could, he is saying, shoot down American planes taking off from Cyprus and not even entering Syrian airspace but enforcing a no-fly zone. So even the mere enforcement of such a zone is fraught with peril.

Here, from The Wall Street Journal, is a look at what our people believe Syria has in its possession, from Russia:

SA-5 Gammon Multiple surface-to-air missile systems with a range of 175 miles. Can hit aircraft taking off from Cyprus, where the U.S. has a base. Designed for use against bombers, can be integrated into other air-defense radar systems. Number of systems unknown.

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SA-22 Pantsir-S1 A transportable antiaircraft gun and surface-to-air missile with a range of about 12 miles, this system can be used against a range of targets including cruise missiles, aircraft and helicopters. They were exported from Russia to Syria in August 2008. Numbers: 36 combat vehicles/launchers.

SA-17 Grizzly This missile system, with a range of up to 20 miles, includes an integrated radar that can engage multiple targets coming from various directions. Numbers: total of 10 launchers.

SA-26 Pechora-2M With an operational range of 17 miles, this missile system is better against maneuvering targets but is only effective at lower altitudes. Numbers: total of 96 to 150 launchers and two missiles per launcher.

And so on. There's more. This is very high-stakes stuff. Dempsey sure seems to think doing anything military is a bad idea. It's a massive tragedy, but I don't see what we can do. That Ed Henry question this morning was really irresponsibly framed, and I can see that we're going to start entering a period when White House reporters and Sunday chat show hosts, eager for scoops, are going to be in effect pushing administration officials toward war. To some extent this is Obama's fault for using the phrase "red line," but please, let's not start a third war because the media can't change its mind about what "red line" means.