How would the West attack Syria?

Tomahawk cruise missiles could be use to attack Syrian military targets. Photo: REUTERS/Woody Paschall/U.S. Navy photo

The prospect of US and UK military action against Syria appears increasingly likely, with contingency plans and target lists already being drawn up. But what would a potential attack by western forces involve?

Senior naval analyst Christopher Harmer has outlined a possible allied strategy, which relies on Tomahawk cruise missiles and targets six key Syrian airbases.

In a report for the Institute for the Study of War, Hamer says Syrian forces could be "degraded" by a series of small strikes from outside Syria, at a relatively low risk and financial cost to the allies.

Preparation

A graphic showing US and UK air and naval bases within range of Syria. Credit: ITV News
  • The US has already boosted naval power, arming ships in the Mediterranean with cruise missiles
  • The Royal Navy's Rapid Reaction Force is nearby and could help
  • Fighter jets are also placed at an American base in Turkey, while RAF jets are in place to offer support from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus

Weapons

Attacks would likely be launched from outside Syria to minimise risk to military personnel.

ITV News Diplomatic Correspondent John Ray explains:

From the sea:

  • The most likely weapon used would be the Tomahawk cruise missile
  • Can be fired from several hundred miles off Syrian coastline
  • Hamer says one cruiser and two destroyer ships could be deployed, firing up to 150 Tomahawks in an initial strike

From the air:

Hamer mentions two other missiles that can be launched from manned aircrafts:

  • The Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile has the range to be launched from outside Syrian airspace
  • The Joint Stand Off Weapon has a range of 70 miles, which means it could reach some airbases from outside Syria

Targets

The Syrian army currently uses six main airbases. Credit: Google Earth

Six key Syria airbases have been identified and these would be the likely targets of missile strikes.

  • Dumayr
  • Mezzeh
  • Al-Qusayr/Al-Daba
  • Bassel al-Assad International
  • Damascus International
  • Tiyas/Tayfoor

Hamer also says there are 12 "secondary" airbases the Syrian army could potentially use.

Results

  • Hamer predicts an initial strike would render the Syrian air force incapable of conducting its three primary missions for at least a week
  • The Syrian air force's infrastructure, aircraft and runways would be "significantly degraded"
  • It would also reduce Syria's ability to receive aerial resupply from its allies Russia and Iran