On Friday, Obama is set to meet his top military advisers to discuss possible kinetic solutions to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal Russian-backed bombing campaign, Reuters reports.
Obama has faced increased pressure to intervene against Syria and Russia after they were linked to the bombing of a UN humanitarian aid convoy heading to besieged Aleppo, where airstrikes and a lack of food and water are affecting 275,000 civilians.
Many questions will weigh on Obama in making his determination: What is the extent of the US’s duty to ease suffering in Syria?
What are the political ramifications for each different course of action?
Should the US embark on another mission for regime change in the Middle East?
Besides these questions, none of which are easy, the US will have to consider something that was unthinkable in previous decades — does the US have the military capacity to carry out strikes on Assad should they choose to?
Russia has recently deployed another advanced missile defence battery to Syria, the S-300. This joins the even more advanced S-400 system already in place.
Together, these road-mobile missile batteries provide serious air defences that the US would need to think long and hard about breaching, even with stealth aircraft like the F-22, F-35, and B-2.
Russia went as far as subtly threatening to shoot down US or coalition aircraft without warning, should they attack the Assad regime.
Dr. Igor Sutyagin, an expert on Russia, the US, and air defences at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the US Air Force’s offensive output roughly meets its match with Russia’s entrenched and defended position in Syria.
US pilots in fifth generation aircraft would have to be extremely well trained and “operationally, tactically brilliant” to knock out a Russian missile defence battery in Syria, Sutyagin said.
However, Russia could take steps to improve the missile battery’s defensive position. Russia lacks radar planes, or Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), in Syria, but they have them in their inventory. Should Russia deploy these planes, which act as eyes and ears in the sky, they could greatly increase the range and efficacy of their groud-based missile defence systems.
Additionally, Russia’s air force has a strong presence in Syria. Although they field older, non-stealth aircraft, confronting them while simultaneously going after air defence batteries would present additional difficulty to US forces.
Regardless, the determination of the US armed forces to conduct any mission remains strong. A pilot with the F-22 program recently told National Interest’s Dave Majumdar that the F-22 pilots are confident they could prevail against Russia’s defences in Syria.
The Obama administration is said to be considering air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots, or radar and anti-aircraft bases according to Reuters. However sources close to Obama also told Reuters they do not think he will go through with any aggressive military action.
Of course, this is only the latest example of Obama mulling military intervention against Assad, as he famously backed down from his “red line” when he refused to bomb Assad after it became clear the Syrian president was using chemical weapons on his own people.
Later it became clear that Obama refused to bomb Assad in order to preserve negotiations for the Iran deal.
Whether Obama will strike or not is an open question, though some experts have speculated that he is “phobic” of a confrontation with Syria because they are aligned with Iran, who he has chosen to engage with diplomatically.
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