Sunday, July 15, 2018

Spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan hold high-level meeting

Sergei Naryshkin











Intelligence directors from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan met on Tuesday to discuss regional cooperation with particular reference to combating the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Information about the high-level meeting was revealed yesterday by Sergei Ivanov, media spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ivanov told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that the meeting was held in Pakistan and included the participation of SVR director Sergei Naryshkin. TASS reported that the meeting was held under the auspices of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and was attended by “senior intelligence officials” from Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China.
Ivanov said that discussions during the meeting “focused on the dangers arising from a buildup of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory”. The Islamic State announced the formation of its Afghan province (wilayah in Arabic) in January 2015, using the term “Khorasan Province”. By July 2016, two of its most prominent leaders had been killed in coordinated drone strikes by the United States, but the group continues to launch operations to this day. Its core is thought to be made up of nearly 100 fighters from the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. According to Russian reports, security officials in China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are concerned that the Islamic State’s Afghan command is becoming stronger as fighters from the group are leaving the Middle East and moving to Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s high-level meeting in Islamabad follows an announcement last month by the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that it would adopt a more active stance on security issues in Afghanistan. Early in June, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described the SCO as “an important platform for anti-terrorist cooperation and enhancing regional connectivity” in Central and South Asia. President Ghani made these comments shortly before traveling to China to attend the annual summit of the SCO, of which Afghanistan is an observer country.
Author: Ian Allen | 


Nazi official Heinrich Himmler’s daughter worked for West German intelligence

Heinrich Himmler Gudrun Burwitz

The daughter of Heinrich Himmler, who was second in command in the German Nazi Party until the end of World War II, worked for West German intelligence in the 1960s, it has been confirmed. Gudrun Burwitz was born Gudrun Himmler in 1929. During the reign of Adolf Hitler, her father, Heinrich Himmler, commanded the feared Schutzstaffel, known more commonly as the SS. Under his command, the SS played a central part in administering the Holocaust, and carried out a systematic campaign of extermination of millions of civilians in Nazi-occupied Europe. But the Nazi regime collapsed under the weight of the Allied military advance, and on May 20, 1945, Himmler was captured alive by Soviet troops. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to a British-administered prison, where, just days later, he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule that he had with him. Gudrun, who by that time was nearly 16 years old, managed to escape to Italy with her mother, where she was captured by American forces. She testified in the Nuremberg Trials and was eventually released in 1948. She settled with her mother in northern West Germany and lived away from the limelight of publicity until her death on May 24 of this year, aged 88.
Late last Thursday, an article in the German tabloid newspaper Bild revealed for the first time that Burwitz worked for West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in the early 1960s. The BND continues to operate today as reunited Germany’s main external intelligence agency. According to Bild, Himmler’s daughter had a secretarial post at the BND’s headquarters in Pullach, where the spy agency was headquartered for most of its existence. The paper said that Burwitz managed to be hired by the BND by using an assumed name. In a rare public statement, the BND’s chief archivist, Bodo Hechelhammer, confirmed Bild’s allegations. The archivist, who serves as one of the BND’s official historians, told the newspaper that Burwitz “was an employee of the BND for a number of years, until 1963”, working “under an assumed name”. She was dismissed once the BND began to purge former Nazis from its staff, toward the end of the tenure of its first director, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was a former general and military intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht, who had considerable experience in anti-Soviet and anti-communist operations. In 1956, in the context of the Cold War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which acted as the BND’s parent organization, appointed him as head of the organization, a post which he held from until 1968.
It is believed that Burwitz remained a committed Nazi until the end of her life. She doggedly defended her father’s name and insisted that the Holocaust was an Allied propaganda ploy. It is also believed that she was a prominent member of Stille Hilfe (Silent Help), an underground group of leading former Nazis, which was established in 1945 to help SS officers and other Nazi officials escape prosecution for war crimes. Several German experts on neo-Nazi groups have alleged that Burwitz continued to attend neo-Nazi events and SS reunions throughout Europe, some as recently as 2014. Burwitz is believed to have died in Munich.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis
https://intelnews.org/2018/07/02/01-2348/

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Israel charges former cabinet minister with spying for Iran


Gonen SegevIsrael has charged Gonen Segev, who served as the Jewish state’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, with spying for its archenemy, Iran. Segev, 62, was reportedly detained last month during a trip to Equatorial Guinea following a request by Israeli officials. He was then extradited to Israel and arrested as soon as he arrived in Tel Aviv last month, according to a statement by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. On Monday it emerged that Israeli authorities had imposed a gag order on the case, forbidding Israeli media from reporting any information about it. The order appears to have now been lifted.
In 1992, when he was 35, Segev was elected as one of the Knesset’s youngest members, representing the conservative Tzomet party. Initially an opposition Knesset member, Segev eventually left Tzomet and joined a governing coalition with the Labor Party, in which he served as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. After exiting politics, Segev, who is a medical doctor by training, became a businessman and traveled frequently abroad. But in 2004 he was arrested on a flight from Holland, while reportedly trying to smuggle several thousand ecstasy pills into Israel. He was jailed for five years but was released from prison in 2007, after a commendation for good conduct. Shortly after his release, Segev moved to the Nigerian city of Abuja, where he practiced medicine. It was there, the Shin Bet claims, that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence.
In a statement released on Monday, the Shin Bet said that Segev had admitted being in regular contact with Iranian intelligence agents in Nigeria and other countries around the world. He is reported to have said that he was given a fake passport by his handlers, which he used to visit Iran on two separate occasions in order to hold secret meetings with Iranian intelligence officers. He also traveled to several other countries in order to meet with his Iranian handlers and hand them information about Israel’s energy sector and the location of energy-related security sites in the country. The Shin Bet statement added that Segev introduced his Iranian handlers —who posed as foreign businessmen— to Israeli security officials on several occasions.
It is believed that Segev appeared before a court in Jerusalem on Friday. He was charged with “assisting an enemy in wartime” and with “carrying out espionage against the State of Israel”. The judge also charged him with numerous instances of transmitting classified information to a foreign power.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

https://intelnews.org/2018/06/19/01-2341/

Germany arrests Tunisian man for producing biological weapon in his apartment

Ricin investigation Germany

German authorities have charged a Tunisian citizen with building a biological weapon, after finding significant quantities of the highly toxic substance ricin in his apartment. The 29-year-old man is referred to in public reports only as “Sief Allah H.”, in compliance with German law that forbids the naming of suspects until they are found guilty in court. German officials said last Thursday that the man remains in custody and has been charged with violating Germany’s War Weapons Control Act (known as Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz) and “preparing a serious act of violence against the state”.
According to reports, German intelligence services received a tip-off last month that the man had made online purchases of a coffee grinder and 1,000 castor seeds. Processing castor seeds creates a ricin byproduct, which can then be weaponized in the form of a powder, a fine mist, or solid pellets of various sizes. The end product is more powerful than many other toxic substances, such as cyanide. Upon entering the human body, ricin can cause multiple organ failure in less than two days. It has no known antidote.
After receiving the tip-off, German authorities began monitoring the suspect’s movements in the western German city of Cologne, near the Belgian and Dutch borders. By June, German police discovered that he had produced enough ricin to dispense as many as 1,000 lethal doses.
German media reported that “Sief Allah H.” is a sympathizer of the Islamic State. However, investigators have found no direct link between him and any militant organizations in Germany or abroad. Additionally, no evidence has yet been presented that he had planned an actual attack —in Germany or elsewhere— at a specific time. However, officials from Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said it was “very likely” that the arrest of “Sief Allah H.” had averted a terrorist attack. Late last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said that the suspect had made ricin by following instructions posted online by the Islamic State.
Throughout the weekend, several other apartments in Cologne were searched by German authorities. Search parties consisted of members of the local police, intelligence officers and scientists from the Robert Koch Institute, the German government agency tasked with monitoring hazards to public health.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

https://intelnews.org/2018/06/18/01-2340/

Belgium to probe alleged Spanish espionage against separatist Catalan leader

Carles Puigdemont

Belgium will investigate whether Spanish intelligence spied on Carles Puigdemont, the separatist Catalan leader who escaped to Brussels after launching an unsuccessful independence bid last year. Puigdemont, 56, served as president of the Spanish region of Catalonia from January 2016 until October 2017. He was forcibly removed from office by the Spanish government, after he led the government of Catalonia in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. As soon as the Catalan Parliament declared that the region was independent, Madrid dissolved it, imposed direct rule on the country’s easternmost province, and declared fresh elections.
Amidst the chaos that ensued, Puigdemont, along with several other leading Catalan separatists, fled to Belgium where he requested political asylum. When it emerged that Puigdemont had fled abroad, Spanish authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant against him, on charges of sedition, rebellion against the state and misusing public funds. Fearing that the Belgian authorities might extradite him to Madrid, Puigdemont soon left for Germany, where he was detained by local police on March 25, 2018. He currently remains in Germany, while German authorities are deciding whether to grant Madrid’s request for his extradition.
Now authorities in Belgium are preparing to launch an investigation into whether Spain’s intelligence services carried out espionage against Puigdemont while he remained on Belgian soil. The investigation will most likely be carried out by the country’s Standing Intelligence Agencies Review Committee. Known broadly as Comité permanent R, the committee is an independent body that oversees the activities of Belgium’s security and intelligence apparatus. The investigation is to be launched as a result of an official parliamentary request submitted by the New Flemish Alliance, Belgium’s largest separatist party, which represents the country’s Dutch-speaking minority. The party has come out in support of Catalan independence and of Puigdemont in particular, and has urged Brussels to grant political asylum to the Catalan separatist leader.
Peter Buysrogge, a leading member of the New Flemish Alliance, said that his party wanted to know whether Spanish intelligence operated in Belgium with or without the knowledge of the Belgian government and intelligence services. He added that his party was especially interested in investigating allegations made in Catalan media that Spanish intelligence operatives followed Puigdemont and even installed a Global Positioning System (GPS) device under his car.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

https://intelnews.org/2018/06/14/01-2339/

US imposes sanctions on companies for helping Russian spy agencies

Yantar

The United States has for the first time imposed economic sanctions on a number of Russian companies, which it says helped the Kremlin spy on targets in North America and Western Europe. On Monday, the US Department of the Treasury said it would apply severe economic restrictions on a number of Russian firms that work closely with the Kremlin. One of the companies was identified as Digital Security, which Washington says has been helping Russian intelligence agencies develop their offensive cyber capabilities. Two of Digital Security’s subsidiaries, Embedi and ERPScan, were also placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list. Monday’s statement by the Treasury Department named another Russian firm, the Kvant Scientific Research Institute, which it described as a front company operated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
But the Russian firm that features most prominently in Monday’s announcement is Divetechnoservices, an underwater equipment manufacturer. The US alleges that the FSB paid the company $15 million in 2011 to design equipment for use in tapping underwater communications cables. According to Washington, equipment designed by Divetechnoservices is today used by a fleet of Russian ships that sail on the world’s oceans searching for underwater communications cables to tap. One such ship, according to reports, is the Yantar (pictured), ostensibly an oceanic research vessel, which Washington says is used to detect and tap into underwater communications cables.
In addition to Divetechnoservices, the US Treasury has named three individuals who will face economic sanctions due to what Washington says is their personal involvement with the underwater hardware manufacturer. They are: Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy, the company’s owner and former director; Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, who serves as Divetechnoservices’ general director; and Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov, identified as the manager of Divetechnoservices’ underwater surveillance program. These men —all Russian citizens— will not be able to enter into business relationships with American companies or citizens. On Tuesday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the latest round of US sanctions as an act of desperation. The White House would fail in its effort to “force the Russian Federation to change its independent course of action in the international arena”, said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Author: Ian Allen |

https://intelnews.org/2018/06/13/01-2338/

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Canada evacuates diplomats’ families from Cuba, citing mysterious brain injuries


 Embassy of Canada in Havana, Cuba

The government of Canada has announced plans to evacuate family members of its diplomats serving in Cuba, because of medical issues caused by an alleged espionage-related technological device. These concerns have persisted among United States and Canadian diplomatic staff since the fall of 2016, when several members of staff at the US embassy in Havana reported suffering from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing. Eventually, their symptoms became so serious that some American diplomats decided “to cancel their tours early and return to the United States”, according to the Associated Press, which published this story in August of 2016.
Since that time, the US Department of State has said that 21 of its diplomatic and support staff have been diagnosed with brain injuries. In response to these concerns, Washington recalled the majority of its diplomats from Havana last September and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. Now the Canadian embassy has said it will evacuate all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana, according to the BBC. The government of Canada is believed to have made the decision to evacuate its citizens after it confirmed that at least 10 members of diplomatic families living on the island had been found to suffer from “unexplained brain symptoms”, according to Canadian government officials. These include regular spells of dizziness and nausea, as well as difficulty in concentrating on tasks.
Interestingly, Canadian experts have dismissed theories, emanating mostly from the US, that the mysterious brain symptoms come from a mysterious covert weapon that emits sonic waves. But some Canadian experts have said that the symptoms suffered by the diplomats and their families may point to a new illness, whose cause remains unknown. Cuba has dismissed repeated allegations by Washington that it allowed a third party —possibly Russia—to conduct sonic attacks against Western diplomats on the island. Cuban officials have described the allegations as tricks in a game of “political manipulation” that has been concocted by the White House to damage the bilateral relationship between the US and the government of the Caribbean island.

Islamic State propagandists seek to undermine rival jihadists in Syria



The Islamic State’s so-called province in Damascus released a video on Apr. 11 that is intended to undermine the ideological legitimacy of the group’s rivals, including al Qaeda and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS).
The 18-minute plus production, titled “So Will They Not Repent to Allah,” opens with footage of Bashar al-Assad’s regime dropping explosives and victims’ bodies being pulled from leveled buildings. It quickly moves to a brief and self-serving history of the jihad in Syria, lauding Al Nusrah Front for its early role in the war. At the time, prior to early 2013, Al Nusrah was an arm of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). And Al Nusrah’s leader, Abu Muhammad al Julani, was Baghdadi’s subordinate.
A narrator blasts Al Nusrah for supposedly choosing “a new path” by disobeying Baghdadi and swearing fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri (seen below). A masked jihadist claims that Al Nusrah then switched from fighting Assad’s regime and its allies to operating against the “pious,” meaning the Islamic State’s loyalists. This undermined the mujahideen’s efforts to rule according to sharia, he says. In addition, Julani is labeled a “traitor” for his betrayal of Baghdadi.
Although the video has some truth in it, it offers a selective interpretation of history. Significant evidence shows that Baghdadi’s ISI was a part of al Qaeda’s global network, despite management problems and disagreements. The ISI adhered to many of al Qaeda’s directives, including abstaining from attacks inside Iran, and al Qaeda’s senior leaders addressed Baghdadi, as well as his predecessors, as their lieutenants.
In addition, Al Nusrah did not stop targeting the Assad regime after breaking from Baghdadi, as the Islamic State’s propagandists argue. Indeed, Al Nusrah led the Jaysh al Fateh alliance that swept through Idlib province in 2015, clearing out many of Assad’s strongholds in the process. And Al Nusrah’s men continued to fight Assad’s forces thereafter, including after the group was relaunched as HTS in Jan. 2017.
HTS itself regularly accuses the Islamic State of focusing its operations on rival Sunni jihadists and Islamists, rather than the Syrian regime, even comparing Baghdadi to Assad himself. So the Islamic State’s video is an attempt to return the charge. (In reality, both HTS and the Islamic State regularly clash with Assad’s armed forces and their irregular, Iranian-backed allies.)
The Damascus “province” eagerly trumpets HTS’s allegedly heavy “losses” at the hands of the regime, while also advertising its own operations against Assad’s fighters. A number of grisly scenes depict Islamic State snipers and assassins killing Assad’s men. The Islamic State’s propagandists portray the group as the key opponent to the Syrian government, pointing to areas in and around Damascus where other groups have ceded ground. Some of the footage was recorded in the Qadam neighborhood of Damascus, where Baghdadi’s jihadists continued to fight even after others were vanquished.
The video’s narrator and masked witness tick off other problems HTS has encountered, highlighting the group’s decision to detain al Qaeda loyalists such as Sami al-Uraydi, a Jordanian ideologue who has been one of Julani’s staunchest critics. One image, seen above, depicts Uraydi behind bars. Uraydi was released by HTS, but only after veteran jihadis formed a mediation council and interceded. The Islamic State also criticizes Julani’s and HTS’s alliances with “apostate” rebel groups inside Syria and Al Nusrah’s decision to rebrand itself more than once. Baghdadi’s loyalists take aim at other jihadi personalities in Syria, including Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad al Muhaysini, as well.
All of this is intended to convince HTS members to defect to Baghdadi’s cause. The masked Islamic State member calls on HTS jihadists to leave their group, “repent” and “turn to Allah.”
The Damascus province’s video followed an article in the Islamic State’s weekly An Naba magazine that was critical of al Qaeda. In the 126th issue of An Naba, released earlier this month, the Islamic State accused al Qaeda’s leaders of of placing “the safety of their organization over the safety of religion.”
There has been some speculation that the Islamic State may be willing to rejoin al Qaeda now that it has lost most of the territory it once controlled. However, the organization’s recent propaganda efforts demonstrate that it retains its animosity for al Qaeda and HTS. Some Islamic State figures and factions may be tempted by al Qaeda’s reconciliation efforts and rejoin their former brethren. The competition between the Islamic State and al Qaeda may vary from one jihadi theater to the next, and the situation could also evolve over time. But the mother group continues to produce messages that are intended to weaken its jihadist rivals.

Israel's Elite Intelligence Unit Helped Foil ISIS Plane Bombing in Australia, Army Reveals

An illustrative photo of a Mitsubishi passenger airplane, 2015.


Israeli intelligence helped foil an Islamic State passenger-plane bombing against Australia last year, after the 8200 intelligence unit passed on crucial information, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday after the lifting of a gag order.
According to the IDF, arrests were made at a very advanced stage of planning late last year, possibly reflecting the latest such success by Israeli intelligence in a matter of months.
The Australian Federal Police said at the time that four men had been arrested after law enforcement became "aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device."
AFP added that they believed it was a case of "Islamic-inspired terrorism" and that several properties had been searched across four Sydney suburbs.
Members of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence and cyberwarfare Unit 8200, in 2013.
In May, The Washington Post and The New York Times reportedthat U.S. President Donald Trump had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about an Islamic State plan to slip a laptop rigged with a bomb onto a passenger plane. The foreign press ascribed the intelligence to Israel.
In recent years the high-tech 8200 unit has been studying the Islamic State’s threat to Israel, Jews and Israeli tourists around the world. Now that the group has been defeated in Syria and Iraq, 8200 is keeping an eye on its fighters who have scattered – some to their home counties and some, worryingly for Israel, to the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
The 8200 unit and the IDF’s telecommunications forces recently thwarted an Iranian hacking attack against private and government Israeli sites after learning of the attempt early in the process.





Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Russia claims 71 out of 105 cruise missiles were downed in air strikes.




Pentagon Publishes Effective Strike Data. Russia Claims 71 Cruise Missiles Downed.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom launched strikes against targets in Syria on Friday night U.S. time, early morning in Syria. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, told news media that the strikes hit three targets inside Syria.
The targets included a research facility in the Syrian capital of Damascus alleged to be used in chemical weapons production, a storage facility thought to house chemical weapon stockpiles west of Homs, Syria and a command and control facility outside Homs claimed to also be used for weapons storage.
image: https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Targets.jpg
A chart released by the Pentagon showing the three sites targeted by the air strike on Apr. 14.
The last cruise missiles may have landed in Syria for now but the propaganda war is in full swing between the U.S. and its allies as Russia and Syria claim vastly different results from overnight strikes.
Soon after the strikes in Syria ended today Russian news media claimed that 71 cruise missiles were intercepted during the strikes on Syria Friday night/Saturday morning. In a press conference today, Russian Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Colonel Sergei Rudskoy, said Syrian military facilities had suffered only minor damage from the strikes.
By contrast, in a press conference on Saturday morning, April 14, U.S. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told journalists the U.S. and its allies, “successfully hit every target” during the strikes from the U.S., Britain and France. U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., The Director of the Joint Staff (DJS) displayed photos of targets that were hit in Syria during the press conference. “We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets,” Lt. Gen. McKenzie told reporters, in direct contrast to Russian claims that cruise missiles were shot down by Syrian defenses.
The U.S. released the following details on weapons employed in the overnight strike:
From the Red Sea:
USS Monterey (Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser) – 30 Tomahawk missiles
USS Laboon (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 7 Tomahawk missiles
From the North Arabian Gulf:
USS Higgins (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 23 Tomahawk missiles
From the eastern Mediterranean:
USS John Warner (Virginia class submarine) – 6 Tomahawk missiles
A French frigate ship (could not understand name) – 3 missiles (naval version of SCALP missiles)
From the air:
2 B-1 Lancer bombers – 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles
British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets – 8 Storm Shadow missiles
French flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages – 9 SCALP missiles
The above order of battle does not include the F-16s and F-15s aircraft providing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) nor the U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler that provided EW escort to the B-1s.
One fact that both sides seem to agree on is that all U.S., French and UK aircraft involved in the strike returned to their bases successfully. Ships that participated in the strike remained at sea without armed confrontation from Syria or Russia. This alone marks a victory for the allied forces striking Syria following a week of rhetoric by Russia about defending Syrian interests. Based on this outcome it would appear the U.S. and its allies can strike targets in the heavily defended region with impunity. U.S President Donald Trump tweeted “Mission accomplished!” on Saturday morning.
While claims of success or failure by either side in a conflict are usually manipulated to control public perceptions Russia does have a long reputation for effective and highly adaptive air defense systems, as the U.S. does for precision strike success using cruise missiles. Russia also has a reputation for using media as a tool to craft perception of outcomes, historically to a greater degree than the U.S. But despite Russia’s admittedly dangerous air defense technology in Syria, it would appear the three nations delivering the overnight strikes in Syria achieved their objectives without loss.
One potential factor that may have influenced the effectiveness of some U.S. weapons systems was that the U.S. Administration was very vocal about the upcoming strikes, giving significant advanced warning to Russian-supplied Syrian air defense units. It is reasonable to suggest that Syrian air defense units spent this entire previous week preparing for a predicted U.S. and allied strike on Syria. Based on intelligence gathered by Syrian and Russian air defense crews from the U.S. strike exactly a year and a week ago on Shayrat Airbase in Syria, air defense crews were likely well-drilled and prepared to meet a U.S.-led attack on their claimed chemical weapons facilities. By contrast, this also gave the U.S led trio of nations participating in the strike time to gather intelligence about Syrian air defense capabilities so attack plans could be optimized to avoid losses. This approach appears to have prevailed in this strike.
If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.
The Tomahawk missile, one of several stand-off weapons used in the overnight strikes in Syria, is an older and still effective weapons platform especially in its most updated versions. Tomahawks were first employed in the 1991 strikes against Iraq when 288 of them were fired in the opening days of the war. While first adopted over 35 years ago, the Tomahawk has been repeatedly upgraded but remains somewhat limited by its overall dimensions that prevent it from having a larger engine installed that would deliver greater speed. The missile currently flies to its target at low altitude and subsonic speeds of about 550 miles per hour. This low speed may make it vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems Russia is known for such as its advanced S-400 system, called the SA-21 Growler in the west. However, the low altitude flight profile of an attacking Tomahawk, its ability to use terrain masking for cover and concealment and its relatively small size, significantly smaller than a manned combat aircraft, make it a difficult target for even the most advanced air defense systems.
The Russian supplied air defense systems in use in Syria that include the S-400 missile and its 92N6E “Gravestone” fire control radar along with other systems are highly mobile and highly adaptive. That means that, while intelligence sources can pinpoint the locations of Syrian air defense systems prior to a strike, those systems can be moved in the hours before a strike to present a different threat posture to attacking missiles and aircraft. Most of the launch platforms for the BGM-109 Tomahawk are large, non-stealthy surface ships, although submerged submarines also launch Tomahawks. The newest version Block IV Tomahawk missile employs several upgrades to its guidance and targeting systems that improve accuracy and flexibility, but may increase time over a target area, making the missile potentially more vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.
It is likely more modern stand-off weapons like the UK’s MBDA Storm Shadow and French SCALP-EG cruise missile along with the new AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range) were highly effective in Friday night’s strike on Syria by UK, France and the U.S. If this were the case the Tomahawks may have served a purpose by engaging relatively lightly defended targets while attacks by the more recent version of SCALP and JASSM-ER missiles could have struck more heavily defended targets.
As with most conflicts the ancient cliché about the truth being one of the first casualties seems to be true in this latest exchange in Syria, but the emerging strike intelligence from the U.S., England and France suggest this round goes to them and a significant blow was dealt to the Russian-backed Assad.
image: https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/B-1-take-off.jpg
One the B-1s involved in the air strikes takes off from Al Udeid, Qatar. Image credit: US DoD via Oriana Pawlyk