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“Some Degree of Airpower”


A cowardly, mendacious editorial from The New Republic on Syria:

To be clear, we do not want to see troops deployed to Syria. We are not arguing for another Iraq or another Afghanistan—both of which have offered cautionary lessons about the limits of American power. We are not even necessarily arguing for another Libya, since the geography of the Syrian conflict might not permit as extensive an air campaign as was used against Muammar Qaddafi. All we are recommending is that the United States and its allies look for ways to help the rebels hold off Assad’s troops, by arming them or using some degree of airpower on their behalf, or both.

“Some degree of airpower” is really a fun little phrase, isn’t it? You would wonder how such a sloppy phrase made it to print, except that the answer is obvious; the writers of the editorial don’t have the faintest idea of what airpower is or what it can do. Here is what “some degree of airpower” in Syria would require:

1. A major initial attack, led by cruise missiles and potentially stealth aircraft, to disable and destroy the Syrian Air Force and the Syrian air defense network. This would be demanded by any air commander from any country, in order to ensure the security of follow on strikes. The Syrian Air Force has ~400 fighter aircraft alone, plus ground attack. It’s not hard to envision an attack that would destroy the entire SAF without chance of substantial American/NATO losses, but it would be a MAJOR undertaking. Similarly, Syria has a large air defense network, mostly of Cold War vintage. Not terribly difficult for a modern air force to destroy that network, but it would take a while and require a lot of strikes. “Some degree of airpower” in this case means a massive, sustained air assault against the Syrian military just to kick the door open.

2. Air attacks directed against Syrian artillery and armor in urban areas, in close contact with rebels. This is doable, but requires a substantial investment of recon assets to track the movement of Syrian Army forces and to distinguish between them and rebels. This will also require tight coordination with the rebels, which in the past has required the presence of Western special forces. To level the playing field between Syrian heavy forces and the rebels, the campaign would likely have to be considerably more substantial in terms of aircraft and ordnance than the Libya campaign, which targeted a much smaller, much less professional military force under considerably more favorable geographic terms.

3. A political commitment by NATO or the United States to the survival and victory of one or another rebel coalition. We can pretend that  the US would destroy the Syrian Air Force, bomb the Syrian Army, and then just hope that Assad and the rebels came to some kind of friendly accommodation, but eventually we reach a “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!” moment.

“Some degree of airpower,” indeed. If TNR wants regime change, it should call for forcible regime change, with a massive air campaign backed by naval assets and SOF. If it doesn’t, then the editors of TNR should take a break, buy a Kindle, go to the beach, and start reading about what airpower is and does. Might not reduce the stupid quotient, but couldn’t hurt.

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