Syria’s Air Defenses Vulnerable to Air Attack: RAND

SA-6A prominent think tank in Washington D.C. outlined U.S options for a potential strike on Syria in a recent report and detailed the flaws of the Syrian integrated air defense system (IADS).

The lead author of the report by RAND corporation, Karl Mueller, explained in an interview with Military.com that Syrian IADS are something the U.S. military would clearly want to take seriously as a threat – but they are not as formidable as some have suggested.

“Both Iraq and Syria are cases where you have air defenses that are based on Soviet hardware –  with a smaller number of newer systems – they are significantly less modern than what the Russians or Chinese have,” Mueller explained. “This is exactly the type of air-defense system that the Air Force and Navy have been preparing to fight against for decades.”

The study, titled “Airpower Options for Syria: Assessing Objectives and Missions for Aerial Intervention,” details consequences for five courses of action in Syria: establishing a “no-fly-zone,” attacking and neutralizing Syria’s (IADS), creating “safe-zones” for Syrian civilians, enabling opposition forces to defeat the Assad regime, and attacking Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

Syria’s Cold War-era, Russian-built air-defense systems were a large focus of the research – as disabling or destroying them would figure prominently in most of the options entertained by the study.

“We considered how air defenses had fared in previous conflicts such as Kosovo and Libya – and we did a lot of qualitative work about issues impacting the order of battle such as how proficient the people operating the air defenses are – which makes a huge difference,” Mueller said.

Rand broke Syria’s air defenses into large fixed systems and smaller mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems such as the SA-6 and its successors, the SA-11 and SA-17. Rand’s research team estimates the U.S. could easily knock out Syria’s larger systems early in any intervention.

Regarding mobile SAMs, Mueller said the Syrians could use the same tactics the Serbians used during the 1999 NATO action in Kosovo. The Serbians at times kept their mobile SAMs shut off and moved around in order to stay hidden, he explained.

However, Mueller pointed out the risks of Russia transferring modern, long-range S-300 (SA-10) missile systems to Syria.

“These are highly capable SAM systems that could destroy aircraft deep within Turkish or Israeli airspace,” the study writes.

“Russia appears to be using the threat of delivery as a means of deterring a Western military intervention in Syria. In the past, it has made similar threats to transfer S-300s to Iran without following through. Thus far, Moscow has calibrated its support to Damascus based on the levels of assistance Western countries are providing the opposition. Should the pro-opposition camp ratchet up its support for the FSA (Free Syria Army), it could find itself in a tit-for-tat dynamic in which Russia responds by escalating the levels of assistance it provides the Assad regime,” the study writes.

A campaign against Syrian air defenses would begin with an intense air operation attacking SAAF air bases and targets associated with the Syrian IADS, the study states.

“This would involve several hundred strike and defense suppression aircraft and hundreds of sea- and air-launched cruise missiles supported by manned and unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; long range bombers; substantial CSAR forces; and a large contingent of intelligence analysts, targeters, and other personnel involved in campaign planning and management at the air operations center and other locations,” the report says.

Mueller said the authors carefully considered ISR technologies as a key part of the equation when it comes to attacking the Syrian air defenses.

“It would be a carefully choreographed combination of systems. For the first wave, you would rely upon Tomahawks and other sorts of stand-off weapons such as air launched cruise missiles. Also stealthy aircraft are attractive because they can get closer to enemy air defenses without being detected or effectively shot at,” Mueller said.

When it comes to destroying Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, the report’s authors say while weapons could be effective from the air, a ground operation would be needed to ensure all of the hidden stockpiles were identified and destroyed.

“When you are dealing with a large chemical weapons arsenal, if you really wanted to eliminate it in a through way, you would have to do it on the ground because there are so many facilities and stuff can be hidden on the ground,” Mueller said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at Military.com.

26 Comments on "Syria’s Air Defenses Vulnerable to Air Attack: RAND"

  1. Apparently, we know everything about the Syrian Air Defenses and their Chemical Weapons usage. But, we still don't know what went on at our own embassy in Benghazi.

  2. Has there ever been a military action that Rand hasn't been all for? Why don't they just call themselves the "Rubber Stamp of Approval for Defense Contractors"? Is there any question they will come up with whatever "findings" they are paid to pull out of their ass? What a useless piece of crap that bunch has become!

  3. “… RAND corporation, Karl Mueller, explained in an interview with Military.com that Syrian IADS are something the U.S. military would clearly want to take seriously as a threat — but they are not as formidable as some have suggested. ”

    .

    A trivial and worthless ‘explanation’ by RAND — but it’s posted here primarily to plug Military.com, of course.

    RAND’s classified version of that IADS study is likely much more substantive, but merely appends many better internal studies by USAF/DOD. RAND cranks out lots of studies that nobody pays any attention to … but they keep RAND on the Pentagon gravy-train, decade after decade.

    RAND is a direct part of DOD, though nominally a private company. That’s how the infamous military-industrial-complex works.

  4. Flaws?. Meaning no-existent?. 2007 IAF goes to walk around over Syria to bomb a Nuke site and nothing happens to F-15s. Very impresive defense.

  5. Im still puzzled by this writer Everyone in the White House and press said this will be a missile attack only as a retaliation over WMD use. Some here are too gung ho over war to help AL Qaeda and think this will be a NFZ over Syria which we like always win in one night. I think Syria will be a harder nut to crack and think people are too TOOOO over confident about it being easy to control Syrian air space. Lets wait and see Mr Osborn and I hope you like Al Qaeda your cheering there forces on.

  6. I wonder how the Syrian people who supposedly being gassed feel about the US invading. Do they want to be test subjects for American weapons programs or would they rather keep things as they are? Does anyone even care what they think?

  7. A few years ago you couldn't say anything negative about US or US military operations here. Just look at my stat =)

    Nowadays I read the website and things have changed. People are starting to understand that maybe there are false flags.

    Maybe US doesn't care about dictators and human right anyway and that only thing that matters is a US foreign policy that benefits a few filthy people no matter how many are killed.

    Maybe people are starting to understand why more and more countries consider to be the most evil country in the world right now.
    You think I am wrong? Why don't you travel overseas(only 9% americans have passport) and ask people what they think about US foreign policy.
    No matter how heroic others thinks US is, facts are US has been involved in a new war every 40 months.

    Mutilated born infants in Iraq are still looking for those WMD's.

  8. It will be interesting how US will get its cruise missiles through without being short down. From what I've been hearing on NPR, their saying with limited air surveillance, its suspected that old style pre-planned flight cruise missiles will be used hit Syria if the strike does goes down. I hope not, with all the delay tactics going on in political circles, I’m sure Syria moving all their important stuff and people out the way and ending up putting allot innocent people at risk. Hope US Intelligence gets it right.

  9. I dont post very often, and for good reason (yeah, so much meaning and intelligent dialogue to be had on internet forums, right…), but I do check this site as one of my news feeds, and every so often I am compelled to set the record straight when it seems theres no good viewpoint amidst the half-digested, every-man-gets-a-say typical chatter. (sorry if that sounds arrogant, but lets be frank here…)

    1st issue- "Americanz r evul impeerialistz!"

    America is far from perfect. I know, because im an immigrant transplant (Brazil) who came here as a kid, and Ive been living here ever since, so I have the outside perspective as well as the inside, and I consider myself American just as much as I do Brazilian. I love this country as much as anybody else because of what IT WAS FOUNDED ON, essentially boot-kicking the world out of the dark ages (renaissance, classical period, whatever same difference), and also for some great features, moments and people of this wild ride called America weve seen since then. But with my love also comes intense criticism and a desire to see it improved, and believe me much improvement is sorely needed, in all arenas of our society, because that criticism goes hand in hand with love and true patriotism. And yes, our goverment and military do have many a corrupt element, this is true, its unfortunately endemic to our system in its current state.

    However… let me pose a few questions to settle this issue: wherever youre from, is there a police force in your town? Yes, there is. And even if one or two of the police officers are corrupt, sadistic a$$holes, does the police force as a whole more or less follow the law (assuming you dont live in a third world country)? Yes, they do. And as a result, is your town livable and peaceful because of this law-abiding police force, even if they occasionally shoot the wrong person or persecute this other innocent person? (tragic victims of an imperfect world, lets call them) Yes, it is. And would you personally like to invite a random police officer to have a drink with, and invite in to your home for dinner with your family? No, you wouldnt, unless you already knew one of them as a personal friend. Would I? Uhh, no. Nobody would.

    Do you see? Do you see yet?? Its right there in front of you, grab it., see it already!

    No, cant see it? Ok, ill spell it out for you anyway, poor average internet denizen that you are, why make it hard on you, poor thing…

    Ya see, the fact that you dont personally like your local police force, or even if they make mistakes sometimes, or even if some of them are awful human beings, doesnt mean they arent necessary. I know they are, and you know it too. And who else is going to act as an intimidating enforcer of modern international law and global democratic values? (again, not perfect, and often corrupt, but its better than not having one at all…) Europe? No, politically hamstrung and globally deficient military, even if combining all Eurozone armed forces. China? Umm, I believe "lmao" was a term invented for just this occasion. Rus… not even going to finish that one. Lets see whos left? ahh, that would be nobody.

  10. So let me be clear just in case you think Im just another biased American: I really dont like American society at the current moment, we are a bunch of cultureless emotionally deranged weirdos. i live here i know. And Brasil is a shithole in terms of crime rate, infrastructure, government and economy (getting slowly better though…) but the people and culture there are phenomenal. Guess I cant have it all in one magical happy cake and get to eat it too.

    But let me equally clear: thanks to the often-hated but still strongest and most popular kid on the block that is America and its willingness to step in and actually stand up for modern laws and values in the world, despite its ungodly list of imperfections ill be the first to admit to, the world has enjoyed its longest running period of peace between major superpowers in more than 500 years. Thats a fact. I didnt say any conflict, I mean major wars between major powers. Like 50mil+ dead WW2 kind of war. No offense to anyones lost relatives, but in comparison everything else is inconsequential next to something on that scale.

    Listen, anytime any country or ruling body anywhere in the world, this could mean Syria, China, the Congo or Madagascar (Mada-who? Dont lie, you know the name because you watched the animated movie with your suburban rugrats), anytime ANYONE thinks of doing anything evil in the world, whats one of their first strategic thoughts? Thats right, its "will America find out about this, and will they come after us for it??"

    Wow, well that is a great question to have on the minds of primitive evil doers in backwater $hithole nations as well as prominent but still unpredictable superpowers like China and Russia. Hmm, if I commit a horrible enough crime, will the local police find out about it, and will they come after me? You see, the prevention of 99% of all crime happens on a large scale not so much by physically preventing it after it happens, but by having it never happen in the first place because of the psychological deterrent of trying to avoid the consequences of getting caught. Apparently this works for your run of the mill local thief just as much as your average rogue nation out there. Same principle.

    I dont like it either, but this is the truth of the world you currently live in: no america, no global police force. No global police force, no modern stability to further develop human civilization without the constant fear of major wars/atrocities like we have seen constantly throughout history.

    I sure dont personally like police officers, even though some of them may be swell guys, but man do i feel safe living in a city (Seattle) where I see low crime and police cruisers driving by. Its not a perfect world, but its a necessary temporary solution along the road to making stuff better and eventually handing our descendants a star trek like utopia 500 years from now (hopefully).

    The end of issue #1. you have been formally educated, here is your degree. Go now, go find a job with it and make some money to buy yourself more bobble-heads for your car's dashboard.

  11. 2nd issue- Syrian military considerations.

    It turns out this issue is a little easier to dissect and wrap up. First we need to recognize that Obama is actually somewhat hawkish. He reminds me of one of the mid-20th century presidents like Roosevelt or Ike (who we still like) who generally liked to stay out of the worlds conflicts, except that they felt a need to intervene should the need arise, and secretly planned for it. Obama takes his police commissioner duties very seriously, and will occasionally assist Batman if needed. So, in line with this logic, his administration as well as the Pentagon has been eyeing Syria for a couple years now (i mean, lets face it, theyve had the entire Mideast under an eager microscope for decades now, but with the Arab Spring it suddenly feels like they have willing allies everywhere in the region clammoring for support and military assistance in order to topple their own despots in me-too revolutions, like a garden full of thirsty flowers all screaming for water, at the same time! Merry Christmas, DOD.) Its just that this latest extremely, INCREDIBLY stupid strategic move by Assad to deploy Sarin gas has given the hawksies more green light to bomb his ass into submission than a techno rave.

    So heres how its going to go down:

    1. Congress will meet and approve this bad boy, because whatever credibility the GOP still has to their own voters, let alone to city-dwelling, vote-controlling Americans in general who grow increasingly skeptical of them, relies on their need to appear somewhat strong on foreign affairs and not like willy-nilly pacifists which is what theyve always accused the Dems of being. So Obama will get his legally, congress-stamped official USAF and SPEC-OPS war against Syria, and he already knew he would. the whole "oh wait, this is a democracy, I know lets vote on it!" ploy is really just fantastic PR, textbook politico play to earn legitimacy points at home and abroad.

    2. Shock and Awe, part Deux. Thats right, its going to be that first unforgettable opening ceremony to operation Iraqi Freedom all over again, except diffused over an entire nation, although youll definitely see some sparks fly in Damascus. Like Rand suggested, this will be using cruise missiles and F-22's popping their $200 mil high maintenance femme fetale cherries and other stealth fighters. Once major SAM and other AA sites are gone, in come the carrier launched FA-18s and other stock workhorse birds to mop up other lower priority sites and continue the air war.

  12. 3. CIA and SOCOM get their hands wet. Once Assad is hiding in his overturned bathtub in the favorite palace of his choosing with the safety blankie his granny sowed for him, were gonna need to get in touch with them rebels yonder. And theyre a pitifully scattered, only partially structured and highly untrained ragtag bunch composed of a sizable portion of zealoty islamists bent on recreating Taliban-land a few clicks north of Israel (which Mossad cant wait to have as a playtime buddy). HOWEVER, theyre all we have to count on as the "opposition". so then its up to our spooks to contact them and establish comms ties and secret backdoor supply routes to give them huge stockpiles of soviet era US weaponry we STILL havent fully disposed of or sold yet (but damn it that doesnt stop us from trying!), as well as an easy excuse to let our zerodark30 boys in to access really whatever stinkin targets they want to get their hands on, and they will, because with a no-fly zone and total air support, easy chopper access from Mediterranean-parked amphibs and ever friendly Israel (lovable paranoid Jews, we love thee), theyre gonna be in, through and every which way up in and around Syrias belly faster than Tiger Woods in a Thailand brothel. Theyre gonna be gunning for the obvious chem sites, but also a whos who list of military VIPs to assassinate, call it the Syrian "most wanted deck of cards" ala Iraq, intel sites, busting out critical POW from stanky dungeous, sabotaging military infrastructure, you know the usual. Just SEALS and DELTA and Rangers as well as the whole extended cozy JSOC family doing what they do best, another day at the office.

    4. Resolution. And like in Lybia, the war will go on until the rebs eventually storm a very whittled down and thoroughly gutted Damascus and officially take over the government and claim victory, of course with Assad nowhere to be found and half of the "deck" still missing. This will take about 3-5 months, and then Obama gets to declare victory and get another American badass notch under his WWF heavyweight wrestling president champion of the world belt. The US and world news media can then spend another 5-10 years criticizing the Obama administration, the Syrian intervention and American foreign policy in general for how utterly disastrous the post-war reconstruction and failed attempts at yet another islamacized pseudo-democracy-in-the-Mideast experiment gone wrong that it will become. however, it will still be better than letting Assad remain in power, and again, it sets that important precedent in the world, that whoever you are, wherever you are, if you do bad $hit, America the police man will come and arrest you. And you will not like it when you are either in jail getting regular deliveries up the Hershey Highway or being hung from the nearest tree. just a fair warning.

    The end of Issue #2. Please stop insinuating all these issues! i have to get to bed at some point!!

  13. The Rand thought that thermo nuclear war would be a good option.These people are crazies.The Dr.Strangeloves – walking over Millions and Millions of Corpses to reach their sick goal of world domination.

  14. What the analyst leaves out is a counterattack on american air bases,ships,operation centers by Hezbollah,Iran,Iraq,Syria.The Russians and Chinese will for sure supply the shiite axis with intelligence,supplies,training.Libya and Kosovo where petty small countries.In Kosovo the air campaign left the serbian army mostly untouched.It was a desaster.

  15. The folly of reusing Bush's national security people should now be dawning on Obama.

    For Assad and attack would be welcomed, such a clear demonstration that the rebels are US puppets will greatly increase the stability of his regime and even bring some of the rebel groups over to his side.

    The Russian navy is in position to pass early warning information to the Syrians on any attack and the newer generations of soviet SAMs are designed to shoot down relatively slow flying cruise missiles. They can expect sales to skyrocket if a good number of missiles are shot down.

    A longer shot is that they might just use the fleet they have to shoot down the missiles as they are launched as a violation of international law while pushing for Obama to be tried as a war criminal.

    There are so many ways our enemies will benefit from an attack you have to wonder what is holding Obama up ? Just take the gun son and shoot yourself.

  16. wrong war wrong time. no money to fight it nor will to win.

  17. Like said a few days ago if Syria gets attacked their neighbor Iran will back them so lets not think lightlly on this matter,chemicalwarefare,somany people leaving to were? Isreal will gladlly take out all missles, lets stop talking or worrying about wallets we cant heal a wound with a dollar bill!

  18. Lets get the war of all wars and aitrmissles out and finally see who is the strongest. Thats what its all about.

  19. It's Israel's neighbor. Let them deal with it. Isn't that what Germany and the US taxpayers give them over 15 billion dollars a year for!

  20. RAND is making RANDom war propaganda again.

  21. If the US bombs Syria I just hope the Russians bomb Saudi Arabia back into the stone age

  22. Syria’s Air Defenses Vulnerable to Air Attack: RAND. Thanks RAND. We never would have guessed. We were thinking submarine borne commandos. How much do we owe you?

  23. The Russians are very good at playing chess. What would we do if the Russian Fleet decided to dock in Syria and park their ships for a year?

  24. ABDELKADER HAMDAOUI | September 5, 2013 at 10:15 am | Reply

    Make sure we target the Russian and the Chinese embassies just as we did in Yugoslavia. Embarking upon a belligerent act on false pretenses again and getting away with it just because as a big bully we can on behalf of our paymasters the Saudis. A bunch of gangsters that's what we have become.

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