In this article, we will provide technical insight on the Tomahawk missile attack against the Sayarat AFB in Syria. This missile attack happened on April of 2017. It was executed by 2 cruising Arleigh Burke destroyers after accusations that the Assad Regime used chemical weapons against civilians. The decision of the attack was made during a period when President Donald Trump was accused by American media of being Putin’s Friend.
Regardless of the political aspect of this incident, various reports and satellite photographs have shown that the Sayarat AFB was heavily hit by the salvo of Tomahawks.
This is a follow on article about the Operational Lessons from the Tomahawk missile attack in Syria (article is written in Greek, though Chrome Browser could help translate parts of it) which was published during last April.
Interestingly, some other reports have indicated that around 23-36 missiles have been shot down by the combined Integrated Russian-Syrian Air Defense System that consists of an S-400 battalion Hi-SAM, a S-300 VM anti-missile system, several SA-6 Gainful medium range AA autonomous missile batteries, a few Buk M2 and newly arrived Pantsir S1 hybrid (gun and missile system) SHORADS.
Most of those systems were covering strategic value target like the Capital of Syria, Damascus or the ports and airfield of Lattakia. Sayarat AFB is located nearly 150 km away of Lattakia and is a medium size airforce base. It is used mainly by Syrian frontline strike fighters like Su-22 or newer frontline bomber Su-24 Fencer.
During the missile attack various ammo bunkers along with Hardened Aircraft Shelters were hit. Some of them were destroyed but some other withstood the 450 kg HE warhead of the BGM-109 Block IV Tomahawk missile.
But the real questions are:
- What is the possibility of those low-flying Tomahawk missiles being shot down by the combined Syrian-Russia Anti-Air/Anti-Missile Batteries?
- Greek Airforce is one of the few combat airforces, having access to sub-strategic cruise missiles like Tomahawk. In the HAF (Hellenic Airforce) inventory around 100 air-launched Scalp-EG missiles are operational. They are loaded on the Mirage 2000-5 mk2 aircraft. What lessons could be gained from this cruise missile strike that might be useful to the Aegean Theater?
- Could some missiles really have missed their targets?
To find out we will use the Air/Naval Operations Simulator CMANO and a slightly modified version of the scenario Confrontation near Tartus,2017 by Mark Gellis .
The cruise missile Tomahawk has some remarkable characteristics:
- Tomahawks fly in a low altitude around 10-70 meters (30-200 feet)
- They carry a 450 kg HE warhead capable of penetrating most of the structures
- Alternatively 166 dual purpose sub-munitions are carried against soft targets
- Effective range exceed 1700 km, making it an ideal weapon carried by ship, cruising from safe distance. In our simulation case two Arleigh Burke destroyers are located south of Cyprus.
We will simulate two possible flight paths of the Cruise missile salvo. One trying to avoid the S-400/S-300 VM SAM batteries, surpassing them through the Lebanon Airspace and the second one passing through a dangerous zone covered by them.
Scenario 1: Inside the Danger Zone
Note: You can click on the images to enlarge
After a while, the Grill Pan Volume Search radar of the S-300V4 identified 5 incoming low flying missiles. Even if it was able to track them, the 9M83M and 9M82M missiles couldn’t hit them because the targets were flying under the 3000 feet which is the lower limit for successful engagemnt of the S-300V4 battery
2:10:15 am – 2:10:15 am – New contact! Designated VAMPIRE #98 – Detected by SAM Bn (SA-23 Gladiator/Giant [S-300V4]) [Sensors: Grill Pan [9S32M]] at 283deg – 53,5nm
The S-400 missile battery includes the 92N6E Grave Stone engagement radar which can target 72 missiles against 36 (!) targets. A quite impressive performance !
The first missile missed the target, but the second one did a direct hit
2:11:58 πμ – 2:11:58 πμ – Contact VAMPIRE #97 has been lost.
2:11:58 πμ – 2:11:58 πμ – Weapon: SA-21b Growler [40N6] #2316 is attacking RGM-109E Tomahawk Blk IV TACTOM #2262 with a base PH of 80%. Target signature modifier: -15%. Final PH: 65%. Result: 43 – HIT
2:11:56 πμ – 2:11:56 πμ – Side ‘Russia’ is now considered HOSTILE
2:11:46 πμ – 2:11:46 πμ – Weapon: SA-21b Growler [40N6] #2315 is attacking RGM-109E Tomahawk Blk IV TACTOM #2260 with a base PH of 80%. Target signature modifier: -15%. Final PH: 65%. Result: 78 – MISS
In our simulation the actual Pk is really 60%. From the 15 engaments 9 found their targets and another 6 missed them. That leads us to the conclusion that a higher number of AA missiles (even the latest 40N6) is required against a low flying/low signature target.
There are two main SAM installations one below the HOMS and the other near the Sayarat AFB. In each installation Medium Range and SHORADS are located:
2X Pantsir S1 ME SHORADS armed with 12X57E6 missiles each
4X SA-6 Gainful TELARS armed with 3X3M9 missiles each, medium range
2X SA-17 TELAR along with LLV launch-reload vehicle, armed with 4X3M917 missiles each
4XSa-3b SAM armed with 4X5V27 missiles each, medium range
6XSa2b SAM armed with 1XS-75 Volga missile each, medium range
In total 31 missiles found their targets. Of the total 28 missiles being shot down, S-400 is responsible for the 23.
If the flight path was different what would be the reuslt?
Scenario 2: Through the Lebanon valley
In this case, Tomahawk missiles fly through the Lebanon airspace to attack the Sayarat AFB. Considering the absence a concrete airforce branch in the Lebanese Armed forces, Tomahawk missile will fly in a neutral zone in Lebanon while entering the Syrian Airspace south of Sayarat AFB.
The Tomahawk missiles are pretty hard to be effectively hit . Low altitude over a populated land area with mountains around can give the essential cover to block any illumination attempt. The saturated attack of 59 missiles can surpass legacy Air Defenses. But in the end it can be shot down…
- The most capable system of countering cruise missiles is the S-400 Triumf. The gap between predecessor systems like the S-300V4 is obvious (Check Scenario 1: Inside the Dangerous Zone)
- Medium Range SAM like the BUK M2 or SHORADS like Pantsir are capable of detecting and engaging effectively cruise missiles like Tomahawk in very close range, 5-10 nm. The limitations of simultaneously engaging targets, illumination problems that lead to low Pk and the very little time to respond makes them defenseless against a massive amount of incoming missiles
- Pk of the S-400 missile was 60% against the Tomahawk. Pk of the S-300V4, BUK or Pantsir S1 was far less making those systems less effective and easily saturated.
- The very big range of the Tomahawk missile makes a more complex flight path possible to avoid dangerous areas
- As with every system the Tomahawk missiles may miss their target. But this percentage is quite low, less than 4%.
Specific facts of Greek Interest (SCALP EG in HAF Inventory):
- Having in mind that the status of the Turksih Air Defenses is even worse than the combined Syrian-Russian Air Defenses, a possible massive launch of Scalp-EG cruise missiles could have catastrophically effects against a concetrated target area like Dalaman AFB or Fokaia Naval Base.
- The Turksih mainland is rather mountainous (same like Greece). This could be used in the advantage of any of the two rival forces.
- The presence of SCALP EG is critical for the Detterence in the Aegean Sea. The small number of aircrafts capable of carrying this sub-strategic weapon should be reconsidered.
PS: Special Thanks to fox2 for providing more info about the status of Syrian Air Defenses and Mark Gellis for using its scenario Confrontation near Tartus as a base which we have made some modifications.