Russian Missiles to Syria Threaten No-Fly Zone

Russian S-300 SAM

The shipment of Russian-made missile systems to Syria would give the regime of Bashar al-Assad a more potent weapon against a Western-led military intervention, including enforcement of a no-fly zone, analysts say.

The S-300 is one of Russia’s most sophisticated air-defense systems. Like the U.S.-made Patriot battery, it uses truck-mounted missiles and radar to strike such targets as aircraft and guided missiles more than 100 miles away.

Syria, which is engulfed in a bloody, two-year-old civil war, has begun payments on a 2010 contract with Russia to buy four of the batteries, with a total of 144 missiles, for $900 million, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Russia may not ship the systems until the second quarter of 2014 despite Assad’s comments this week suggesting the first delivery was made, according to Russian press accounts.

“He has a lot of incentive to make it sound like it happened,” Steven Pifer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview. “Bluster is not an unknown diplomatic tactic.”

President Barack Obama has resisted calls from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others to lead a military intervention in Syria. At least 80,000 people have died in the uprising against Assad, according to a speech this month by Vuk Jeremic, president of the United Nations General Assembly.

McCain, who made a surprise visit to Syria this week to meet with rebels, has pressed the Obama administration to create a no-fly zone. Secretary of State John Kerry has expanded non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. The administration is also reportedly considering supplying equipment such as body armor and night-vision goggles.

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said diplomacy is preferred to military action at this stage of the conflict.

“We have to be very, very careful with some of the [rhetoric], ‘Well, let’s just go in and start bombing, let’s just go in and put in a no-fly zone,'” he said during a May 26 interview with Bloomberg Television. “I wouldn’t like a no-fly zone. If you want to take out the Syrian air force, take it out. Don’t just fly around in circles waiting for it to come up. That won’t be hard to do. But you have to understand, if that doesn’t work, are you then committed to take the next steps?

“I have no use for President Assad. I’ve negotiated with him. He’s a pathological liar. You can’t trust anything he says,” Powell added. “But at the same time, I’m not sure what replaces him. And the conflict will not be over just because he suddenly walks away. I think a new conflict will emerge and we’ll have to determine what role we’ll play in resolving that one.”

Enforcing a no-fly zone would be more complicated if Russia arms the Syrians with the S-300 surface-to-air missiles in part because they would extend the range of its air defenses to include a swath of northern Israel, according to Brookings’ Pifer.

“It would put Israeli aircraft operating in Israeli airspace at risk,” he said.

Indeed, Yaakov Amidror, the Israeli national security adviser, this week warned European diplomats that Syria’s S-300s will never become operational.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • blight_

    Assad needs helicopters and perhaps some data-mining capability like Palantir. Find and identify your enemies. Kill them and their families at night. Drive out the foreigners, contain the locals. The Sunni insurgents that used Syria as a hideout while killing Americans are now killing Alawites.

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    Send in B-2s and bomb those out of existence, me thinks. How is Russia getting away with this?

  • RRGED

    Just for grins and giggles, lets see if our stealth fighters can knock them out.

    • blight_

      We’re still sorting out F-22 ground attack, JSF isn’t at IOC. Depending on the particular block of F-22, it will have some degree of ground attack.

      • wpnexp

        We already employ JDAMs and Small diameter bombs on the F-22. Incremnet 3.1 software also deployed allows for targeting on the fly. But, the S-300 is semi-mobile at best, and would more likely be based at one site to prevent the FSA from attacking it on the move. The SDB combined with the MALD would likely be used to attack the site. The Pantsyr S-1 would not likely be able to do more than knock out one or two SDBs. Thus, a 4 ship F-22 attack using SDBs would likely destroy the target site, including radars, launchers, and C3I nodes. Syria probably could not reconstitute its force after it is attacked without new systems delivered from Russian.

        • Mat

          We have seen how ineffective NATO was against Serbian air defence forces sporting 70s gear , after 80 days of bombing very few mobile lauchers were taken out

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Maybe we should buy the F-15 Silent Eagle……..

  • Anonymous

    So Russia is arming the government while America is arming foreign terrorists and those that want to overthrow the government. While McCain takes photos with people who knife a heart out of a person and eat it.

    Oh America.

  • majr0d

    Not mentioned, but S300’s are a game changer for Israel. They could take out Israeli aircraft as soon as they take off in Israel. They aren’t going to allow the Syrians to have that capability or let it fall into the hands of anyone nearby.

  • IronV

    Makes me think of Wild Weasels! It would complicate matters, but in the end they’d just be prickly targets…

  • Jayson

    Let them duke it out. Assad is a train wreck of a leader with a military of thugs, the rebels are terrorists. Atrocities are done by both sides to each other and the civilians. This is one big conflict we want to keep out of but help keep it a level playing field by not allowing one get an unfair advantage over another and prevent them from drawing in their neighbours to the fighting.

    A hands off approach is best and let them fight it out and decide who will be in charge. They’ll get tired of fighting eventually.

  • jamesb

    If ANYBODY here doesn’t think the Israeli’s and US are ALREADY getting a program ready to neutralize those missiles they ARE on crack…..

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Yeah, we already have one. Its called the JDAM.

      • Stratege

        It could be solved with the Patnsyt-S1 close range SAM.
        While other Russian system is able to neutralize HARM.

  • wpnexp

    I believe this delivery was part of the equation that led to the Europeans deciding that they will send arms to the FSA.

    • Mike

      Hahahaha. Rather the other way around. Educate yourself !

  • greg

    Syria has every right to purchase defensive systems like the S-300. America has been giving Israel it’s most advanced SAMs for many decades. You’ve never heard Syria crying that they would destroy the Patriots if they were delivered.
    Btw, the US has had a S-300 system for over 10 years. I’m sure in that time they’ve figured out ways to defeat it and have shared those with the Israelis.
    This is not a big deal.

  • Hde

    Assad is killing the terrorist that threaten America. More and more are crossing the Syrian border to fight him. Why the hell aren’t we supporting him?
    Oh yea, because Israel doesn’t like him. LOL!

    • blight_

      We like the fact that he is killing terrorists that hate America, it’s just too bad he is in the Iranian sphere along with Hezbollah. If he tries to reach an accord with the West, the Iranians and Hezbollah will turn on him, with no guarantees from the west that any of the Sunni Arab nations will protect him or his regime.

    • tmb2

      “Why the hell aren’t we supporting him?”

      We’re not supporting him because a) he was a major Saddam ally, b) he’s a major Hezzi/Hamas ally and has American blood on his hands (and plenty of Israeli), and c) before Al Qaeda threw their hat in the ring Assad was mostly just shelling his own civilians by the thousands. Killing their own citizens by the thousands has been a family tradition and we’ve frowned on it.

  • Veng

    Maybe the USA should stay the fuck out of yet another Middle Eastern nation’s affairs, because the last several times they’ve done it in the last decade have provided wonderful and amazing benefits.

    Right?

  • Kim

    Russia hasn’t gotten away with anything yet (unless one believes Assad’s boasts).

  • Tony Smith

    Colin Powell:

    “I have no use for President Assad. I’ve negotiated with him. He’s a pathological liar. You can’t trust anything he says,”..

    Colin Powell seems to have conveniently forgotten the moment he lied to the entire world at the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraqi war about (non-existant) Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which he knew at the time to be false, but which statements enabled a war that has ended up in the premature deaths of over a million people.

    Listen to a few Assad speeches and make your own mind up. He’s far less of a pathological liar than Powell, or Kerry or any other Western “leader” that is now braying for yet another war, and are supporting an insurrection in a sovereign nation (against international law) that has ended up killing tens of thousands of innocents.

    • Candidate

      You goto war with the intel you have….not the intel you get 5 years later dumb@ss.

  • Nicky

    Don’t we have E/A-18G’s that can take them out in one swipe or B-2’s that can send Syria to the Stone ages.

    • Guest

      too late, Syria is already in the Stone (or at least the Dark) age…

  • LeeRetArmy

    Syria is an absolute no win situation and the only reason Syria would need that type of system is to keep other nations out. Both sides are nothing more than thugs and terrorists and we should not help either side period.

  • oblatt1

    “He’s a pathological liar. You can’t trust anything he says,” – Colin Powell

    Powell would know LOL

    • Restore Palestine

      yep, Colin Powell made a gigantic ass of himself by lying before the UN on behalf of Dick Cheney & GW Bush band of war criminals.

  • oblatt1

    Shutting down Israels bomb with impunity policy is a big step forward in middle east peace. Its notable that it came from the Russians not from the parade of US leaders who are so in thrall they cant achieve anything

  • marc27

    they forgot to say that s300 is superior to the patriot on reliability.

    • tmb2

      How many aircraft or missiles has the S300 shot down?

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Theoretically yes. To bad the operators of these particular missiles aren’t.

  • Lance

    forget Obama trying to help Islamic radicals in Syria. Libya is not a AL Queda stronghold. McCain’s plan makes the mid est a nightmare for the US. Ohh Syria is buying 10 new MiG-29Ms too. Drop this crap and let Muslim blast away at other radical Muslims keep them at each others throght than threatening the US.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      You are worried about those MiG-29’s? Dang. F-15s have been proven to be superior to them.

      • Gaylord_Gaylordson

        The Russians would have you believe that all of their systems are not just cheaper, but infinitely superior. There’s very little to back that up. The track record of Russian systems is pretty rotten once you get away from statistics and into the real world. With their SAMs still considered to be potent weapon systems, it would be in their best interest to NOT put the S300 in a place where it is likely to be, or possibly will be, destroyed by Western airpower.

        Mig29 definitely has been revealed now, but at one point it was also “superior by far to everything”! Flankers will be the same if encountered. Believe it.

  • William_C1

    Which versions of the S-300 did they get? The older models were introduced in the ’80s and good ECM can probably counter those. The newer models and the S-400 are what to worry about.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      It looks like they are getting the S-300 system. I would think that the S-400 is a bit to expensive for the Syrians right now.

    • blight_

      I’m not too worried about anything export-grade. The Greeks got a comparatively recent export-grade S-300, and chances are the US has had a look at them. The Russians know anything export-grade is likely to be looked at by the United States, Israel and China; so you ensure that deck has no aces. Still has to be good enough to impress people to buy, of course.

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    You know, interestingly, and ironically, I have got an ad by Lockheed-MARTin concerning the MEADS system.

  • STemplar

    this is about Russia driving a wedge between European countries who are arguing over whether or not to arm the rebels. a few anti-aircraft missiles are not going to slow down Israel or the United States no matter how good they are there are plenty of systems for spoofing and taking these weapons out. remember Israel is the country that had assassins on motorcycles attach magnetic mines to the cars Iranian nuclear scientists. I don’t think a few missile sites will be much of a problem for them.

  • Hde

    Israeli jets illegally cross the Syrian border all the time. Why the hell shouldn’t Syria purchase SAMs to defend it’s territory. Oh yea, because Israel doesn’t want them too. LOL!

    • Restore Palestine

      Israel has no respect for International Law and the lives of civilians in neighboring countries.

  • pedestrian

    Israel has the right to defend its national interest, when threat is reality, and has the right to bomb and destroy Russian vessels carrying these air defense systems, as well as fighters in name of trainers, even Russian military staffs are onboard. Russian authorities should be warned by Israel that Israel will not hesititate to bomb Russian ships with Russian flag vissible, either civilian or military, carrying these weapon systems. Russia should recognize shipping these to Syria at its own risks, with tens and hundreds of Russians to be killed by such raids by Israel. Russia may avenge, but Russia will be called the second Nazi in history for striking the soil of Israel.

  • Speedy

    Is Syria a democracy?
    Is the Syrian government killing civilians?
    Are the “Rebels” the cause or the response to the government actions?

    Histroy books MAY show us the answers one day… in the meantime, any side who kills civilians should be put down. Any side who supports the killing of civilians should be exposed and called to justice. (eg, Russia supports a government killing civilians. Russian assests seized, diplomats expelled world wide, totally cut off until they grow up. Also, Israel killing civilians as well? same treatment.) .

    It won’t happen of course, as one side or the other will cry unfair treatment and retaliate. So what will happen? Civilians die, Russians sell weapons, Americans train next generation of terrorists, world gets darker.

    • Restore Palestine

      Is the US a democracy?

  • wmcritter

    Do we support the brutal dictator that is murdering his people? Or do we support the Muslim terrorists that want to take over the country? This is what we call a “lose lose”.

    I know the “nuke ’em all let God sort them out” option is not realistic, but at times it sure sounds like the only real solution.

  • JOE GORAK

    Pedestrian is very naive, Russia won’t take crap from Israel or the US. Anyone attacks a Russian vessel of any type there will be hell to pay and they won’t wait for any BS congressional commitee to approve retaliary action.

  • NoPoliticallyCorrect

    Looks like the Russians are preventing outsider intervention and protecting their ally.

  • Mad Bomber

    “Indeed, Yaakov Amidror, the Israeli national security adviser, this week warned European diplomats that Syria’s S-300s will never become operational.”

    I freaking love Israel-they don’t play games in their foreign policy. They do what needs to be done.

  • hibeam

    Russian Missiles to Syria Threaten No-Fly Zone. Obama counters with BOLD red lines.

  • Restore Palestine

    It’s the other way around – the US and NATO are threatening Syria’s sovereignty, economy and national security with their false propaganda and illegal their no fly zones.

    Syria has every right to arm and defend itself against foreign and terrorist threats (read US & NATO).

    Let’s make this clear, it’s the NATO and the US supported forces working covertly and overtly near and inside Syria. Israel is involved as usual.

    It’s really outrageous that some Western propagandists would call Syria’s import of Russian missiles a threat.

    • Russian Bear

      Totally agree! We, the Russians – support LEGITIMATE government of Syria.

      US just wants to destabilize middle east and conquer the world. No one needs help of US. Iraq didn`t ask for it nor the Syria.

      US must stop igniting the wars across the globe and should start building its own REAL economy.

      Democracy doesn`t work in all countries, including US.

  • KM22

    What are the chances that this announcement is just a attempt by Russia to get the west to back off. I just would be surprised if Russia really ever delivers the S-300 to Syria, or at least while the civil war is still going on. My opinion is that this is a warning to the west that they are backing the Syrian government and hope it will make the west back off, allowing what Russia hopes would be time for the Syrian government to defeat the rebels.

    If they do provide the S-300, the it’s not clear how many batteries this order is meant to be for. Some reports says it’s only for one battery and about 144 missiles. Now one battery would be extremely limited in the area it could cover. Similar to the Patriot, the S-300 uses a single face passive array radar for targeting/guidance. While this radar is on a turntable, that turntable isn’t meant to turn for scanning or rapid direction changes. So a battery is normally assigned a 60 degree sector that it covers. The turntable is so that it can turn if it is ordered to cover a different sector.

    The Russians generally group 6 batteries near to each other, sharing a longer range early warning radar.

    So really even to attempt to protect Damascus is going to require a number of batteries, and I haven’t seen any report that suggests that many systems are going to be sold.

    Then there is the whole training issue. In the middle of a civil war, is Syria going to have the people with the required sort of education and background to be trained on a complex system like the S-300, and enough of those people to man a number of batteries? Even if they did, then training would most likely take a long time before they were really ready for operations.

    So unless Russia is planning to send a number of batteries and provide some of its own men to at least partially operate them, then I just think it most likely is a bluff.

    Even if they sent a few batteries and they were fully operational. I still think they would be destroyed quite quickly in a situation like Syria. As other people have said, the S-300 is semi mobile, and normally operated from prepared fixed sites. In Syria the number of sites is likely to be limited due to needing to keep them away from areas that the FSA might be.

    Now we could debate how ever much we want, about if the F-22 could get close enough to launch SDB, and I think it would be able to. But also remember there is such a thing as a horizon for radars. The S-300 might have a ~200km range, but it can’t see low flying aircraft at that range. So even none stealth aircraft could most likely get within range to launch stand-off weapons at it.

    There are also options, other than using manned aircraft:

    We could also launch cruise missiles at it.

    Or another possibility is ATACMS missiles, launched from Turkey or Cyprus or Iraq.

    If it was Israel that decided to destroy them, then any batteries protecting Damascus would most likely be within GMLRS range from Israel.

    So my opinion is that as long as the batteries can be found, then I don’t see many problems in destroying them. Even if the S-300 and Pantsir-S1 (that would need to provide short range protection) could destroy all income missiles, then the Syrians would still have a limited number of missiles.

    A GMLRS missile, a SDB, or a MALD costs a lot less than a S-300 missile. So if nothing else worked, then it wouldn’t be out of the question to just use a war of attrition and deplete their missile stock.

    I’m not trying to say the S-300 is no good, because as it’s a untested system, it is unknown as to how it will perform. Rather I just think that in a situation like Syria, it would be very limited. I really can’t imagine that Russia would want the S-300 to be tested in such a situation. I would think that it would harm their future sales of the S-300 if it either had no effect or was destroyed quite easily in Syria.

    The thing that could change all this, is if Russia does send it’s own personnel to operate them, or help to operate them. In that case, there is a political issue about what Russia’s response would be if there personnel got hurt in any attack.