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“U.S. and allied airpower could readily destroy its fixed elements in a major campaign and is relatively well prepared to deal with the residual threat that surviving mobile systems would pose to other air operations over the longer term,” the report by the Rand Corp. states.
“However, experience in conflicts such as Kosovo and against less well-armed enemies has demonstrated how difficult completely suppressing even sparse, moderately capable, mobile air defenses can be and how serious the restrictions on U.S. air operations can be as a result.”
Taking out Syrian air defenses “would not be an end in itself, but a means of facilitating other missions over Syria,” the report says.
Syria’s most potent air defenses are Russian-made mobile SA-6 and follow-on SA-11 and SA-17 systems.
Destroying Syrian fixed air defense sites would be relatively easy, while the mobile defenses would be more difficult as they can be moved or hidden.
If U.S. aircraft are used in the anticipated attack, the jets most likely would fly out of the U.S. air base at Incirlik, Turkey, or Britain’s Akrotiri air base on Cyprus, the report said.
A YouTube video posted online recently shows a Syrian SA-11 air defense missile battery moving at the Al Mazzah military airfield in Damascus. Syrian rebels have said the base was used for the Aug. 21 chemical attack on Ghouta and therefore it is considered a major target of U.S. missile strikes that would mainly originate from five guided-missile destroyers deployed in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Obama administration has said its plans for attacks are limited to degrading Syria’s chemical weapons delivery capabilities.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on Wednesday that targets of a U.S. strike will include efforts to “degrade” the capability to use chemical arms “without exposing those chemical weapons to a lost of secruity.”
That includes “air defense, long-range missiles and rockets” used to protect chemical arms, he said.
Some Republicans in Congress are pressing the administration to conduct more extensive strikes that would assist Syrian rebels in ousting the Assad regime.
The Rand report concludes: “Airpower could be used to reduce the Assad regime’s ability to launch large-scale chemical attacks and potentially to make such attacks appear excessively costly or dangerous. However, eliminating Syria’s extensive chemical weapon arsenal would require a large ground operation.”
Airstrikes also could help in “tipping the military balance in favor of the Syrian opposition, enabling it to succeed on the battlefield where it previously could not, either to bring about the fall of the Assad regime or to create a stalemate that might lead toward a negotiated resolution of the conflict,” the report said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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