Syria’s Hama Air Base disaster

This past Friday, May 18th, a series of explosions rocked Syria’s Hama Airbase in northwestern Syria–an air base in which Iran is known to have a significant presence.  These explosions, coming in broad daylight, provide for a great deal of speculation as to the cause.   Israeli air raids have generally taken place at night, as would, most likely, an Israeli commando raid.  Debka is claiming that this indeed was a commando raid conducted by an as yet unknown group calling themselves Sariyeh Jihad.  This group supposedly launched eight missiles at the base, causing a string of explosions, as the photos below demonstrate.


Plume from Hama Base explosion

In addition, one individual got some stunning pics and videos of the conflagration and can be found here.

Syria is claiming that this is an unfortunate accident resulting in the deaths of several troops.  It’s interesting to note that earlier this year, a rebel group opposed to Assad launched a swarm of drones in an attack on a Russian air base relatively close to the Hama site.  Whatever the case, or cause, of this incident, it does not bode well for the Assad regime.  Clearly, if they can’t protect a base such as Hama which obviously stores an impressive amount of explosives and ammunition, it’s no wonder both the Russians and Iranians are sending in their own forces–both to protect their own personnel and equipment as well as supporting Bashar al-Assad.  Moreover, if this indeed was the result of a commando attack from this previously unknown group, imagine what an Israeli Sayeret Matkal team could do . . . .

The Israeli/Iranian Conflict – Phase I

This past week, the Iranian Quds force launched 20 missiles at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights and air raid sirens went off in several Israeli communities.  This Iranian attack represents the latest in a continued escalation of hostilities since February.  Israel,  already locked and loaded, responded immediately with their largest response in Syria since the Yom Kippur War in 1973!  Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman indicated that they targeted “nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria.”  In addition, multiple types of Syrian air defense systems were targeted.  The Israeli Air Force just released this amazing video taking out an SA-22, Pantsir S-1 point defense missile system which represents possibly the best air defense system Syria has.

While the Israelis took out virtually all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, Iran still has the capability to launch their own massive response.  In southern Lebanon, Iran has supplied Hezbollah with literally thousands of rockets and missiles over the past several years.  Obviously, if Hezbollah entered the fray, the IDF would most likely invade southern Lebanon and eliminate this threat.  In addition, Iran has dozens, if not hundreds of ballistic missiles they could launch from Iran that could reach Israel as well.  Indeed, a leading intelligence source in Israel recently indicated that Iran has higher quality missiles that neither Hezbollah or Syria possess.  While the Israelis clearly sent a message with this massive response, the question remains:  Did Tehran get the message?  We’ll have to wait and see.

The F-22 Raptor Restart Study

Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithik at The War Zone just posted an analysis on restarting the F-22 production line based on the Congressionally mandated Air Force study of doing just that.  Their analysis includes a link to the study but that study can also be found here.  Their bottom line:  a restart is unlikely to occur as any dollars put towards restarting the F-22 would come at the expense of the F-35.  However, as the authors allude, if Japan is willing to foot the bill for the non-recurring startup costs–which is several billion dollars–the per unit cost would dramatically be reduced.  And, if that were to happen, in addition to having a couple hundred more Raptors in the Air Force inventory, other US allies would more than likely be interested in an upgraded F-22, notably Australia and Israel – and all of this could be done relatively quickly given much of the production line has been mothballed in a California warehouse.  Yes, it is definitely time to restart the F-22!

The Israeli/Iranian War is upon us

“Israel has four problems:  Iran, Iran, Iran, and hypocrisy,” so says Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.  “What we see in the international arena is a surreal spectacle where those same countries that many years ago supported the Munich and and Molotov-Ribbentrop agreements continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore reality of Iran, which is trying to destabilize the entire Middle East, Yemen, Iraq,” he claimed in a recent speech.

Iran, clearly has been active in the region:  The Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to receive arms and ammunition from Iran, including advance ballistic missiles which they routinely launch into Saudi Arabia; In Iraq, “Tehran’s military help is not a secret anymore. You can find General Soleimani’s pictures in Iraq everywhere,” said an official close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  In Syria, Iran’s activity continues unabated as they work to establish their presence at several military bases.  In addition, reports are that Iran is currently building a factory in northwestern Syria to produce long-range missiles.  Indeed, it seems that Iran is becoming bolder and bolder in their work within Syria.

This past weekend, Israel reportedly struck a Syrian airbase stocked with “missiles,” most likely provided by Iran.  This air raid reportedy destroyed 200 missiles and killed several.  Moreover, the explosions were so fierce, it registered a 2.6 on the Richter scale.  (A video of the explosions can also be found on The Warzone’s website here.)  Tensions between Iran and Israel are clearly escalating.  After Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech earlier this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel increased its actions in Syria very soon.  The Syrian powder-keg could erupt all too soon.

It’s time for an F-22 Raptor 2.0

When Lockheed shut down the production line for the F-22 Raptor, they kept much of the equipment and machinery necessary to reopen the line, should the prospect materialize.  There have been a few studies on doing exactly this and Congress actually ordered just such a study in April, 2016.  However, in spite of the moth-balled machinery & equipment, it was still deemed too expensive to restart the program.

Now, in the wake of the current geopolitical environment, it’s looking like it might be more of a possibility.  One of the original issues, though, is that Congress specifically legislated that the F-22 could not be exported, even to our closest allies like Great Britain or Israel.  Japan, for its part, really wanted the Raptor–and still does–and, given Chinese ambitions in the local area, Japan clearly has a need for an advanced fighter.  Japan has already ordered more than 40 of the F-35s but is still looking at the F-22 or a hybrid thereof.  More importantly, though, it sounds like they might even be willing to pony up some serious money to get an F-22-like program going – $40 billion dollars worth of capital for what Lockheed describes as an F-22/F-35 hybrid combining the best capabilities of each thereby making the new F-22 better than either of its parent designs.

Obviously, if Japan is willing to put up this type of money, the startup costs for the US for an improved F-22 is dramatically reduced.  In addition, an expanded F-22 fleet in the US inventory would be a very welcome enhancement, given that the Air Force only bought about 180 of the original F-22’s roughly a decade ago.  With the F-15 and the F-16 fleet aging–who’s designs are 40 years old–an expanded F-22 fleet could only complement the F-35.  Obviously, Congress will need to get involved but with President Trump actively supporting exporting US arms to allied nations I think the time is right to actively pursue the F-22 once again.  (See Tyler Rogoway’s excellent article from The War Zone here, from which much of the information above was used.)

Drone over Syria, II

Drone over Syria wTracking

Let’s see:  We have an unidentified aircraft that started tracking over northwestern Syria that is currently at 20,400′ traveling at 72 knots and with a heading towards Incirlik Air Force Base, interesting . . . .

Drone over Syria?

Drone over Syria.

Looks like there might be a drone over extreme northwestern Syria:  No call sign, flying at 22,400′ at 72 knots!  Hmm . . .  something in the works?

The Syrian Powder Keg – Has the Fuse Been Lit?

As most everyone knows by now, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad launched another chemical attack on Douma last weekend.   Roughly a year ago, Assad launched a previous chemical attack and this was met with close to 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles hitting the airbase where the chemical attack originated.  Now, in the wake of this most recent attack and Israel’s immediate response on Sunday night, the world is waiting for the next shoe to drop–and it appears that it will be coming based on President Trump’s tweets–though a few questions–and issues–obviously exist:  What’s going to be targeted this time?  Who’s all going to be involved?  How long will the response last – will this just be a once and done raid or will this happen over several days?  And, obviously, when will this happen?

Adding just a little bit of suspense to this is Putin’s claim that he’ll be targeting both the missiles themselves, as well as the vehicle that launches these missiles.  Russia installed their advanced S-400 air defense missile system at Hmeimim Air Base in northwestern Syria a couple years ago so it would appear that they have the capability to definitely reach out and touch someone.  (You can read all about that here, as well as its capabilities.)  The question is, though, if Russia does engage any of the attackers, would the US, and presumably any of the attacking coalition, respond in kind?  It would not be the first time US forces have engaged–and killed–Russian opposition forces in Syria.  Two months ago, Russian forces operating under the Wagner Group attacked US, and US backed, forces at a base in northeastern Syria.  The Special Forces commander called in air support from orbiting F-15E’s, AC-130’s, F-22’s and even some Reaper drones–all of this followed by Apache helicopters.  In the end, upwards of 350 Russian soldiers were killed.  Russia denied this action as all of the troops involved belonged to their private contractor Wagner.  However, things could be different this time.

Let’s also not forget that at the same time as the Russians were engaging the US outpost in Syria, Israel was attacking in Syria as well, including bases housing their Iranian allies.  This attack cost Israel one of their vaunted F-16I’s but this amounted to their most widespread bombings in Syria since it destroyed almost all of Syria’s air defenses in 1982.  Of course, Israel launched an immediate attack last Sunday but this seemed to be rather limited in nature, given the capability the Israelis have, and have used in the past.

Not to be outdone, Bloomberg  is reporting that the Houthi’s in Yemen have launched another ballistic missile – and drone – attack against the Saudis just yesterday.  The Saudi’s apparently took out several, if not all, of the inbound missiles and drones.  However, is it too much to think that Iran urged the Houthi’s to initiate this attack to keep the Saudi’s preoccupied in the Peninsula?   Maybe, maybe not.

The bottom line:  There’s more to think about than simply retaliating against Assad’s use of chemical weapons – as deplorable as this is.  Should we attack?  Personally, I think so.  And, it would seem that Putin is expecting the attack as the entire Russian fleet has vacated their naval base of Latakia.  However, we need to be prepared for a Russian response and Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick have an excellent article in what Putin’s response could look like.


“Operation Orchard”

About eleven years ago, September 5-6, 2007 to be exact, Syria’s attempt to become a nuclear power came to a screeching halt thanks to the Israeli Air Force.  On that night, four F-15I’s, four F-16I’s and, most likely, some serious Electronic Warfare aircraft took to the skies above Syria, and then Turkey on their way home, and thoroughly demolished the still under construction nuclear reactor located at Al Kibar, near present day Deir al-Zour in extreme northeastern Syria.  Not surprisingly, this nuclear reactor bore a striking resemblance to one in Yongbyon, North Korea – especially since the North Koreans provided a great deal of assistance with the construction.

Up until this past week, everyone knew that the Israelis took out the reactor, though absolutely no one in Israel would even comment on this.  Many articles have been written about this raid and I even alluded to it in The Gambit.  Now, Israel has come out and told the world of their involvement and Joseph Trevithick of the War Zone has an excellent summary of it.

The obvious question about all of this is, why now?  Is Israel sending a message to Iran that we’ve now done this twice before (remember the Osirak raid in Iraq back in 1981 which doomed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions?) – and we’re more than willing, and capable, of doing it a third time?  Anthony Cordesman wrote an interesting piece on just this subject back in 2009 and can be seen here.  That was nine years ago; if Israel had the capability then, I would expect that they haven’t been too idle simply waiting for what the Obama Administration had planned to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  I’m pretty sure acknowledging Operation Orchard now is intended as a clear message to Iran – we’ve done this before, and we’re certainly willing to do it again.

The Syrian Powder Keg – II

Things just got a little more interesting in Syria this week on several fronts:  1.) Word came out from a 200 page confidential UN report that North Korea has been providing the Syrians with materials needed for chemical and ballistic weapons production over the last five years, 2.) Iran has reportedly built a new airbase on the outskirts of Damascus, complete with two new hangars, roughly 60′ x 90′, plenty large enough for housing missiles capable of hitting Israel; and, 3.) Russia, according to General Joseph Votel, is playing “both arsonist and fireman.”

As for North Korea’s involvement in Syria:  According to the UN report, a Chinese trading company, Cheng Tong Trading Company, helped facilitate the shipments – at least 40 of them, the most recent of which came just last year.  In addition, North Korean missile technicians have reportedly been spotted at various known chemical weapons and missile facilities in Syria.  It is looking more and more like retired Admiral James Stavridis might very well be right when he claims that a naval blockade is the best option in dealing with North Korea.

Iran’s new site in Syria expands on another dimension in Syria.  Israel has repeatedly indicated that they will not allow Iran to gain anymore of a foothold in the country than they already have – this new base clearly represents an expansion of the Iranian foothold.  Iran, for its part, tends to view the Mediterranean Sea as the western periphery of its empire.  Three weeks ago, Israel launched one of their largest raids in recent history, taking out much of Syria’s air defense network and hitting four different Iranian bases at the same time.  Personally, it would not surprise me to see an Israeli airstrike on this base in the very near future, as well.

Then, there is Russia.  General Votel testified before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday and eloquently stated that Russia is playing “the role of both arsonist and fireman – fueling tensions and then trying to resolve them in their favor.”  According to Votel, the Russians are using the Syrian conflict to test new weapons and tactics. Indeed, over the past several years, the Russians have introduced several new weapons systems including long range cruise missile strikes, the first ever deployment of their only aircraft carrier and, most recently, the deployment of their 5th Generation SU-57 stealth fighters.  In addition, while stoking the fires of Syria, they are attempting to settle the disputes in their favor.  Part of this comes from their increased sale of military hardware such as the recent sale of their most advanced Air Defense system, the S-400, to Turkey, a NATO ally and where the US has its main airbase in the region–Incirlik.  Obviously, Putin is hoping that with the increased influence in the region, he can somehow use that influence to broker a peace agreement–all at the expense of the United States.

So, Russia now has their own advanced S-400 Air Defense Network established at Latakia and they have several of their advanced SU-57 fighters, also at Latakia.  Iran has established a brand new air base outside of Damascus, and Assad has once again used chemical weapons in an attack.  US Special Forces remain in the region, evidence most notably from their response to the February 7th attack by Russian mercenaries.  And, Israel has vowed to keep Iran from expanding their role in Syria.  What could possibly go wrong here?