Simulating the Tomahawk missile attack on Shayrat AFB in Syria

US-Launches-Tomahawk-Missile-Air-Strike-on-Syria

A massive US Tomahawk missile attack can not be easily stopped. Low-profile flight path in addition with massive ordance can be used to penetrate and saturate the enemy AA defenses

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:

  1. What is the possibility of those low-flying Tomahawk missiles being shot down by the combined Syrian-Russia Anti-Air/Anti-Missile Batteries?
  2. 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?
  3. 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

first attack syria sovereignity.png

The 59 missiles took a low-altitude course to avoid known positions of the Syrian AirDefenses in Tartus. These include Sa-2, Sa-3 and Sa-6a Gainful SAM battalions. It is unsure for the time where the S-300VM and S-400 battalions are located. Some other radar installations are identified by the ESM of the Arleigh Burke Destroyers but with low accuracy

Note: You can click on the images to enlarge

missiles heading.png

While the missiles are heading their way and being inside the possible S-400 battery, no reaction from the Russian/Syrian Air Defenses side

Sky is clear.png

Sky is clear! Nothing have yet been detected from Syrian/Russian radars

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

Missiles Detected

Alert Alert, missiles approaching! Range 54nm, bearing 283 degrees! Permission to engage, permission granted…

S-300V cannot engage

The S-300V4 crew tried to engage the Tomahawk missiles but the 200 feet ASL altitude (under 3200 feet)  prevented this. In this distance the only capable system is the S-400 ….

S-400 unable.png

The S-400 battery doesn’t have precise target coordinates to launch the 40N6 missiles yet. In addition only a few of the 59 Tomahawk missiles have been detected

S-400 attack.png

In a distance around 40.6 nautical miles from the S-400 battery, the targeting data were sufficient to launch the brand new 40N6 missile. 9 missiles are heading their way. A near SA-17 Buk M2E Syrian SAM is also waiting the right moment if possible to engage

 

92N6E-Deployed-Missiles.ru-1S

The 92N6E Gravestone radar is a crucial part of the S-400 Hi-SAM

The S-400 missile battery includes the 92N6E Grave Stone engagement radar which can target 72 missiles against 36 (!) targets. A quite impressive performance !

Tomahawks 40 nm to shore

The first salvo of Tomahawks needs around 40 nm to reach the Syrian soil. The second salvo is 45 nm away. Will the missiles reach the Syrian soil and use the mountain area around Al Munaizilah to cover?

missile engagement

In a subsequent series of salvos, the S-400 is trying to shoot down the incoming Tomahawks. The first missile will soon reach them

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

second salvo identified

While most of the engagements are against the first salvo of missiles from the  USS Porter DDG 78, a second salvo have came up to light

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.

S-400_Triumf_Air_Defense_System_Main_1

The S-400 battery consists of 8 launchers, each one of them carrying 4 missiles ready to launch. Reload time is 5 minutes. A total of 32 40N6 missiles are ready to launch

last 40N6

The last 40N6 missiles are reaching their targets. The inability of the S-300 V4 battery to cover the required gap might be critical. 23 missiles have been shot down, but 36 missiles are remaining. Will the 3 SA-17 BUK M2E finish them off?

s-300Vattack.png

The S-300V4 try to manually engage the Tomahawk missiles. Three 9M83M are heading towards them. No reposnse from the BUK M2E

9M83 misses

Apparently the Line of Sight along with the small reflections of the Tomahawk made the incoming 9M83M ineffective (launched from the S-300V4 battery near Tartus). In total the 9M83M SAM missiles passed through them

s300v

In a nutshell, S-300V4 systems seems to be far less capable than the S-400 series.

Tomahawk reach Syria.png

After they reached Syrian soil due to reflections from the ground and the mountainous area ahead of them, Russian and Syrian radars lost them of sight

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

Grizzly Attack Homs.png

For a few minutes, Syrian and Russian forces didn’t have adequate info about the path of the Tomahawks. After 7 minutes the two salvos have been monitored heading towards Sayarat AFB. A Sa-17 Grizzly is trying to engage them. Along with it is a Pantsir S1 which firstly identified the missiles though its IIR camera, first missiles are launched

Sa-17 misses.png

Due to the low altitude flight of the Tomahawks and the hills, Buk SARH 9M317 missiles looses their illumination and become blind. Could Pantsir S1 back it up?

Tomahawks reach their targets.png

The combined Tomahawk salvos are heading towards their targets. One of them got hit by a missile launched from a SA-22 Pantsir S1 SHORADS. Another two are hit by SA-17 Grizzly that finally got effective targeting data. A HAS shelter got hit. The next 32 missiles are reaching their targets (!).

last

One after another Tomahawk missiles hit their targets. Two more Tomahawks got hit by the two Pantisr S1 SHORADS nearby. The rest of the survived Tomahawk missiles proved exceptionally effective. Their accuracy and the Auto Retargeting system helped them hit all of their targets. Sayarat AFB got heavily damaged

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?

1029265597

Pantsir S1 is a very good SHORADS system but with limited range. Two systems were located near the Sayarat AFB with another two near HOMS covering the nearby Radar Installations. Due to the high price and value of these systems, most of them cover strategic targets near Damascus and Syrian Ports and main AirForce Bases. Sayarat AFB was mere a forward operating base hosting no more than 6-10 aircrafts.

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.

beirut1

In this second case, Tomahawk missile will fly through the Lebanon Airspace and try to hit from the east the Sayarat AFB. The use of these mountains as cover would be essential

beirut2 back Net.png

While the missiles were flying upon the Mediterranean sea they remained undected. When they tried to gain altitude (1000-2000 feet) to enter the Lebanon valley, they have got detected by the P-80 Back Net (russian made, early 90s) radar. The precision was quite low though as you can see. The red circles give a state of unceratinity inside that area. The bigger the circle, the smaller the precision

Back Net P-80

The 2-D P-80 radar, known as Kabina operates at the E/F band ( 1.98-2.45 GHz) and it seems that it can be used as an early warning radar even against low-signature low flying targets. It detected the missiles 68.5 nm away

beirut3us navy.png

Even when detected the actual resolution of the P-80 radar, identifies the target location several nautical miles away (compare with previous picture)

beirut5 worngly perceived tomahawk position

Upon detection the S-400 missile fired away several 40N6 missiles against the 3000 ASL feet (but 200 feet from ground AGL ) missiles. The lower sea level of the S-400 battery helped to surpass the low-flight advantage of the Tomahawk missile

 

beirut4actual tomahawk position.png

But taking into account that the missiles themselves are a near 1 mach flying objects plus the imprecise targeting data, led to a 100% miss of the incoming 40N6 missiles.

web_021110-N-0000X-002

Even if you detect a missile, it doesnt mean that you have the precise targeting data to shoot it down

beirut6 unprecise tomahawk position.png

Trying to track again the missiles, several radar installations of the Syrian Airforce sporadically identified (with a great level of uncertainity/red circle) some missiles. The mountainous areas created a lot of dead spaces where the Syrian radars had no reflections at all

beirut 7 heading on their targets

Following a circular flight path 59 Tomahawk missiles positioned themselves east of Sayarat AFB

beirut8 imprecise position.png

While heading their way they got detected by the Syrian AirDefenses. But the illumination radars where incapable of providing a firing solution. Keeping in mind that almost all of their SAM rely on SARH guidance technique, a direct illumination of a low flying target through mountain hills is a rather difficult task. Sayarat AFB is around 10 nm

beirut9Grizzly start firing.png

Around 5 nautical miles away the South BUK M2E Platoon started to engage the incoming missiles. Also SAMs are fired from the North BUK M2E platoon

9A317E-Buk-M2E-TELAR-1S

Even if SA-17 BUK is a relatively modern medium range SAM, its performance against low flying targets is limited to around 5-10 nm.

beirut10Grizzly scored some hits.png

The north platoon of BUK were quite ineffective because the missiles droped to the lowest altitude in the terminal phase. The South BUK SAMs were more fortunate. 4 missiles got shot down. 55 to go…

beirut11theend.png

Even with the help of the 2 Pantisr SHORADS nearby, total successful engagements were 9. The remaining 50 Tomahawk missiles hit almost all of their targets.Two of them malfunctioned. Sayarat AFB was heavily hit.

Conclusions

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…

Generally:

  • 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Simulating the Tomahawk missile attack on Shayrat AFB in Syria

  1. Hello to all

    @Nik Dim
    I am using the Vanilla edition of CMANO
    I don’t have any data about the exact amount of missiles being launched against a specific target, but I have the total sum of each specific SAM launched in both scenarios

    I will give you an update through this comment a few hours later
    Keep in mind that especially in the terminal phase of attacking the Sayarat AFB most of the SAMs launched the highest possible amount of missiles even if in reality the Pk was moderate to low. In the real world a Sa-2 or Sa-3 SAM may not even try to engage a Tomahawk missile. On the other hand, in war you use every available means to defend.

    Here is the sum of total fired missiles from the combined Syria/Russian forces

    Scenario 1
    Hi-SAM
    32x SA-21b Growler [40N6] from the S-400 Triumf near Lattakia
    24x SA-23a Gladiator [9M83M] from the S-300VM in Tartus
    Medium Range
    24x SA-17 Grizzly [9M317] from the 6 Sa-17 launcher south and north of Sayarat AFB
    15x SA-3b Goa [5V27, V-601P] from a Sa-3b Goa south of Sayarat AFB, didn’t score any hit
    SHORADS
    24x SA-22 Greyhound [57E6] from the two Sa-22 Pantsir S1 next to Sayarat AFB

    Scenario 2
    Hi-SAM
    7x SA-21b Growler [40N6] from the S-400 Triumf near Lattakia
    Medium Range
    24x SA-17 Grizzly [9M317] from the 6 Sa-17 launcher south and north of Sayarat AFB
    23x SA-3b Goa [5V27, V-601P] from a Sa-3b Goa south of Sayarat AFB, didn’t score any hit
    SHORADS
    24x SA-22 Greyhound [57E6] from the two Sa-22 Pantsir S1 next to Sayarat AFB

    @Dimitris
    As usual thanks for the valuable info!

    Μου αρέσει!

  2. Hi Τ.Δ
    That is true, but on the other hand you wouldn’t expect the Russians to just sit and watch. They would use Electronic Warfarre equipment, jam GPS signals( Tomahawks heavily rely on that) and probably send more Su-30SM for air CAP patrols. The target of the American Tomahawks was a forward military base in Syria. They have also warned the Russians/Syrians 6 hours ahead…so it was more a punishment

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