Syria No-Fly Zone: Superpower Showdown


"But about Aleppo and about Syria, I truly do believe that what America ought to do right now is immediately establish safe zones, so that families and vulnerable families with children can move out of those areas, work with our Arab partners, real time, right now, to make that happen. And secondly, I just have to tell you that the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength. And if Russia chooses to be involved and continue, I should say, to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo. - Mike Pence, vice-presidential debate, October 2016.
“…I'm going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.” – Hillary Clinton, presidential debate, October 2016.

Editor note: Our original writing assumed an incoming Clinton administration in 2017. The Trump vice-president has similar views and so have been included. We will see how this develops.

05-Dec 2016: Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov loses a second fixed-wing aircraft (this time a Su-33) reportedly due to an operational recovery mishap. The pilot ejected safely. The fighter fell into the sea reportedly after an arrestor cable broke resulting in insufficient trap speed for another go-around landing attempt. If the arrestor cable breaks, ejection is the only option.

01-Dec 2016: More old tired policy orthodoxy from the Washington establishment - that does not work. See "Implementing Prong One: Achieving Peace and Security" here.

27-Nov 2016: Aleppo rebel-pocket is collapsing. Hundreds flee into the Kurdish-held area in the northern part of the city. When Aleppo falls the war is effectively over for Syria opposition forces. Attention will then turn to Daesh and ejecting the Turks. Expect some heated diplomacy, telephone calls, and an unclear outcome - on the latter.

12-Nov 2016: Admiral Kuznetsov arrives off the coast of Syria. Airstrikes begin days later.
"No plan, survives contact with the enemy.” - Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, 1871.

"…if our concerns are humanitarian, why is waging war the best means to advance a humanitarian agenda?" If indeed US policy is informed by concern for the people of Syria, let's just pretend that's the case even though I don't think it is. If it's informed by concern for the people of Syria, why is peppering Damascus with cruise missiles the best way to demonstrate that concern?"  Source

Our hope was Washington would seize this opportunity to de-escalate with the Russians and try and stabilize the Syrian state before seeking a political track. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Hawks, interventionists, neoconservatives, and others in Washington DC are already planning an illegal unilateral American No-Fly zone in Syria, (likely in conjunction with the Turks) against Russian and Syrian forces in Syria. It will be without a war declaration or international authorization as the US congress will not declare war and motions in the UN security council will go nowhere. Its stated objective will be to protect civilians, while the true objective is to remove Bashar al-Assad from power – read: regime change. Chickenhawks in Washington are now attempting to legitimize a war in Syria with US House bill HR 5732 section 303, page 25. H.R.5732 quietly passes the house on 15-Nov, 2016.

This military action against Syrian and Russian forces in Syria will constitute an act of war.

It is a near certainty that Russian military planners will assume and prepare for:
  • An attack on Syrian and own forces by CENTCOM sometime in 2017.
  • That legacy Russian military technologies/systems possessed by Ukraine and other former soviet-block countries have been compromised.
The Turks have already invaded Syria ('Operation Euphrates Shield’) and the Turkish Air Force has begun conducting armed combat air patrols over own forces in Syria, as well as conducting air strikes in support of the operation. Effectively the initial stages of the No-Fly zone are being put in place - now. Turkish AWACs "E-7A Wedgetail" aircraft have begun operating close to Syria on the Turkish side of the border in recent days.

Unconfirmed report that SDF-Kurdish forces captured Mazare' al-Hawarin, north of Jabal Na'if (and perhaps Tuways) from Turkish-backed FSyA, after Russian jets foil a THK (Turkish Air Force) airstrike to stop the SDF-Kurdish gain. Details difficult to verify.

There are so many bad actors involved in the war that moral judgment(s) have become impossible.

All war is immoral...

The Russians have a reasoned position in trying to stop the collapse of the Syrian state, and to avoid the regime-change outcomes from western military intervention in Iraq in 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Libya in 2011 Operation Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector. These outcomes being that both Libya and Iraq became lawless jihadists transnational terror threats, armed with petrodollars. The Russian also have a strategic interest in Syria because of regional gas pipeline politics to supply natural gas to Europe.
"In 2009, Assad refused to sign an agreement with Qatar for an overland pipeline running from the Gulf to Europe via Syria to protect the interests of its Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas." Source.

[Below] Russian 'Kalibr', 'Onyx', and ground-based Bastion' cruise missiles fired on Syria targets. A US no-fly zone would be laughably unenforceable confronted with things like this.

Currently, Turkish ground forces and their FSyA allies have only attacked Daesh and Kurd YPG/SDF areas. However, if they continue to drive south the Turks will encounter Syrian government elements. The first question is what happens then?
14-Nov 2016: A Russian Navy MiG-29KR/KUBR crashed in the Mediterranean during operations from the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov around 2 pm (14:00) November 13. Crew recovered. The reason for the crash is unknown at the moment. In a separate even more remarkable possible development the Kremlin may (may) have deployed MiG-31 after to Syria. We are attempting to verify this.

[Below] 12-Nov 2016: American F-15 and A-10 underway south of Idlib.

[Below] 03-Nov 2016: Russian Mi-35 aircrew is rescued (CSAR) after an unknown mechanical issue with the Mi-35 just as the aircraft is hit by a (Daesh) AGTM. The Mi-35 is shot down when it is hit, so it has been there for a while.

The next question is when Daesh is ejected from Syria, do the Turks simply drive back home?

What if several Turkish aircraft are shot down, but we don’t know by whom? What if several Russian aircraft is shot down but we don’t know by whom? What if several Syrian aircraft as shot down but we don’t know by whom? What if an American pilot is captured by Al-Nusra? What if artillery or MRLS attacks a "Washington safe haven" in Syria but we don’t know by whom?? What if Egypt decides to enter the war to support Assad to stop 'regime change' in a belief that either they're next or to roll back jihadists havens on their doorstep? In our view, almost any conceivable scenario could occur.

None of these questions have been answered by those planning the No-Fly zone in any authentic way.
The American F-22A stealth air dominance fighter.
With respect to an American No-Fly zone if Lockheed and USAF assertions are to be believed, then the American F-22A Raptor would be able to enforce a unilateral no-fly zone in Syria without other support (like EW aircraft and SAM suppression) assets - with ease. According to the Americans, Raptor can take out Syrian and Russian air defenses and shoot down violating aircraft over Syria - like a ghost.

[Above] In our view what is far (far) more likely - is something like this. This is an extended recording of a combat air patrol 130 km north of Libya, on 4-Jan 1989. As the US-Navy airmen try to determine the intent of the two Libyan MiG-23MS, pay close attention to the pitch of the voices as the engagement unfolds. And this was just two Libyan MiG-23s....attempting to enforce a No-Fly zone over Syria would be an infinitely more frightening proposition.

The longer and more frequently the F-22 remains in 'supercruise' (time frames measured in minutes) the less stealthy it becomes. Repeated and extended excursions in/through the Mach literally sandblasts exotic stealth skin and coatings during flight.  Mission-capable rates for stealth are lower than for traditional designs. (And indeed - as we predicted - we now see reports of F-22 coating issues during Middle East deployment). 


The American F-15C air superiority fighter is operated by the United States.
“…if I could have five minutes of the president's time, I'd say, "Mr. President, the issue really is not Syria. I mean, you're being told that it's Syria. You're being told you have to do something about Syria, that you have to make a decision about Syria. That somehow your credibility is on the line. But I'd say, "Mr. President, that's not true. The issue really here is whether or not an effort over the course of several decades, dating back to the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine in 1980, an effort that extends over several decades to employ American power, military power, overt, covert military power exercised through proxies, an effort to use military power to somehow stabilize or fix or liberate or transform the greater Middle East hasn't worked.”
The American F-15E multi-role fighter is operated by the United States.
“And if you think back to 1980, and just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and on and on, and ask yourself, 'What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more Democratic? Are we enhancing America's standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?' 
The American F-16C multi-role fighter is operated by Turkey, the United States, and other NATO members.
"The answers are, 'No, no, and no.' So why, Mr. President, do you think that initiating yet another war, 'cause if we bomb Syria, it's a war, why do you think that initiating yet another war in this protracted enterprise is going to produce a different outcome? Wouldn't it be perhaps wise to ask ourselves if this militarized approach to the region maybe is a fool’s errand."
The American F-22A air-dominance stealth-fighter is operated by the United States Air Force.
"Maybe it's fundamentally misguided. Maybe the questions are not tactical and operational, but strategic and political." You know, I have to say, I'm just struck by the fact that Secretary of State Kerry has become the leading proponent for war. It's our secretary of state's job apparently -- And that our secretary of state happens to be a guy who came into politics basically advertising himself as the guy who because of his-- Vietnam experiences, understands war, understands the lessons of Vietnam, and is therefore, going to prevent us from doing dumb things. On the contrary, he's the lead cheerleader to go through another dumb thing."


The American F-4E-2020 multi-role fighter is operated by Turkey.
"Well, the [Syrian chemical weapons] attack is a heinous act. Now does the fact that they were killed with chemicals make it more heinous than if they were killed with conventional ammunitions? I'm not persuaded."
The American E-3C AWACS aircraft is operated by United States Air Force and NATO.


The American E-2C AEW aircraft is operated by United States Navy, Egypt, Isreal.
“…if our concerns are humanitarian, why is waging war the best means to advance a humanitarian agenda?" If indeed US policy is informed by concern for the people of Syria, let's just pretend that's the case even though I don't think it is. If it's informed by concern for the people of Syria, why is peppering Damascus with cruise missiles the best way to demonstrate that concern?
The American F/A-18 multi-role fighter is operated by the United States Navy and NATO.
I mean, a little bit of creative statesmanship it seems to me might say that there are other things we could do that would actually benefit the people of Syria, who are suffering greatly, who are fleeing their country in the hundreds of thousands. Who are living in wretched refugee camps. Why don't we do something about that? Why wouldn't that be a better thing to do from a moral perspective than bombing Damascus?"


The American F/A-18 multi-role fighter is operated by the United States Navy and Australia.

"When you think about it, if indeed American credibility in that part of the world
The Russian Su-24M strike aircraft is operated by Syria and the Russian Federation.
“…Is there any relevance to that continuing story coming out of Iraq to the prospect of Syria? Seems to me there ought to be. I mean, the last time we persuaded ourselves that we needed to act in Iraq, we produced a disaster."

The Russian MiG-29S multi-role fighter is operated by Syria.
"Now some number of Americans paid for that disaster in terms of soldiers killed, lives shattered. Far, far greater numbers of Iraqis paid for that disaster and are still paying for that disaster. So the conversation about Syria is far too narrow. It needs to be expanded to include some of these other military misadventures that we have undertaken."
The Russian MiG-23MLD fighter-bomber/interceptor is operated by Syria.
"There's no question that in terms of the capability to project power, to put ordnance on targets, to mask military power in every dimension, at land, sea, air, cyberspace, our capabilities are beyond anybody's capability to match. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily yield wise policy. It doesn't even yield military victory." 
The Russian MiG-23ML fighter-bomber/interceptor is operated by Syria.
"Again, when you think back on the actual history, the military history
The Russian MiG-23BN attack aircraft is operated by Syria.
"We have claimed, presidents have claimed, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now this president, have claimed that we possess the capacity to somehow direct or control these processes of change. Even though the truth is, we don't have that capacity


The Russian Su-22M4/M3 fighter-bomber is operated by Syria.

 "Richard Nixon endorsed that when he ended the draft and declared the creation of an all-volunteer force. And for some considerable period of time, this seemed like a smart move, a good thing for the country. It let citizens off the hook, also gave us highly capable and well-trained and well-disciplined soldiers."


The Russian MiG-21'bis' fighter-bomber/interceptor is operated by Syria.
What only became evident after the Cold War ended, however, was that this new professional army really was no longer America's army. It was Washington's army. And Washington [DC] began to began to do with that army whatever they wanted, regardless of whether the people had signed up to the enterprise. And this greater penchant for war I think really reached its zenith after 9/11 with President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, as so many people have said, a country totally uninvolved in 9/11."
The Russian MiG-21 MF fighter-bomber/interceptor is operated by Syria.
"And this was the ultimately testing time for this great, professional army of ours. And I'm sorry to say it failed the test. We were supposed to win quickly, economically, easily. We didn't win. 
The Czech Republic L-39AZ trainer/light fighter is operated by Syria.
And instead, we ended up with a protracted war. Part of a series of post 9/11 wars where -- bringing us to where we are today where Syria may well be yet another one of these wars waged by Washington with its army while the people are left sitting on the sidelines."

The Russian Su-34 multi-role aircraft is operated by the Russian Federation.
"Their penchant for consumption will be curbed for the duration, not indulged, as was the case after 9/11. So part of the argument is that a war waged by citizen soldiers that engages the energies and the attention of the American people is, in fact, more likely to result in success, victory, political objections achieved, than has been our experience with a professional army, which in many respects is qualitatively superior. But it doesn't win."
The Russian Su-25SM3 ground-attack/CAS aircraft is operated by the Russian Federation.
"I think the eye-opening thing for me was that rather than becoming a normal nation, we continued the pattern of behavior that we had engaged in during the Cold War only more so. We became more committed to military power. We became more persuaded that through the use of military power, we could achieve our purposes in the world and could advance the well-being of the American people at home. And I found that shocking. And since then, I have becoming absolutely convinced that that was a fundamental error. We are the strongest military power in the world. And in some measures, we may be the strongest military power that the world has ever seen. But that's not been good for the country."
The Russian Su-35S multi-role fighter operated by the Russian Federation.
“…I'm a conservative, not a liberal. And I think that part of the problem was -- although I voted for President Obama -- I think part of the problem is that you weren't listening. He said: "The Iraq War is a stupid war. Elect me. I will end the Iraq War. Oh, by the way, elect me, and I will expand the Afghanistan War."
The Russian Su-30SM multi-role fighter operated by the Russian Federation.
"And those are actually two promises that he fulfilled. My guess is that the people who were most enthusiastic about Obama, when he was running for president the first time, they weren't listening to that second half of the equation. He was never a dove. I mean, he, the Democratic Party, the mainstream of the Democratic Party is as militarized as the mainstream of the Republican Party. I’m not blaming Obama for that. That was Bill Clinton's doing.
The Russian Su-33 multi-role naval fighter operated by the Russian Federation.
If you go back and look at the way Clinton portrayed himself back in 1992, before he won, he made it very clear that hawkish Democrats had regained control of their party. And indeed, if you look at Bill Clinton's performance in office, I mean, I think we've forgotten about this. Here's a guy who intervened in more places, more times, under more different circumstances than any of his predecessors."
The Russian MiG-29K multi-role naval fighter operated by the Russian Federation.
"So we've got two parties that despite their differences, in some respects, we've got two parties equally committed to the proposition that it is imperative to maintain global military supremacy, not simply strength, and who believed that somehow or other the adroit use of this military power is going to be able to bring peace. I don't know. And both parties are equally wrong."
Source.


The Russian Mi-24P Hind-F attack helicopter operated by the Russian Federation. Syria operates Mi-25.
Editor's note: We stumbled into Professor Andrew J. Bacevich material back in April of 2008. Since then, we have periodically included quotes from him - as we have arrived at many of the same conclusions he has - be it looking at differents parts of an increasingly similar picture.
"Now does the fact that they were killed with chemicals make it more heinous than if they were killed with conventional munitions? I'm not persuaded."  ...On March 9-10, 1945 "Operation Meetinghouse" saw some three-hundred B-29 bombers drop 500,000 AN-M-69 incendiary cluster munitions on the most densely populated areas of Tokyo. The resulting firestorm and oxygen depletion killed upwards of 100,000 civilians, injured another one million, and wiped out half the city. The US military had waited for clear and windy conditions to inflict maximum damage and deaths. To this day absolute casualty figures may never be known. They were largely calculated by surmised population density vs the square mile of area(s) incinerated in the maelstrom. It is believed by many that the firebombing of Tokyo using conventional munitions killed more people than both atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Over 60 Japanese cities would be subjected to this American way of war.
The aftermath of firebombing with conventional munitions on Tokyo.
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