A Libya-style military intervention in Syria could take up to six times as many combat aircraft as last year’s Operation Odyssey Dawn, according to a recent analysis from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.The analysis comes as calls are increasing to intervene in the escalating civil war in Syria.
When Odyssey Dawn began in March 2011, it appeared to hail a new model for military interventions. The relatively swift, painless and low-cost application of offshore and aerial power against a hostile regime to protect a rising hub of Libyan resistance in Benghazi began the military unraveling of the Gadhafi regime. Today, as Syria’s own civil war intensifies and officials such as Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman call for military action, might another aerial and offshore campaign effectively establish a haven for the Syrian opposition and topple the Syrian government?
Brian Haggerty, doctoral candidate at MIT, recently released an extensive open-source analysis of what an aerial campaign to suppress Syrian air defenses and establish a safe zone would entail. While the operation is feasible, mitigating its significant risks would require a major campaign—one requiring at least 191 strike aircraft, at least six times the number of comparable aircraft in the opening phase of Odyssey Dawn, and perhaps several times more bombers and cruise missiles.
Discerning the capability of Syria’s integrated air defense system (IADS) is critical to that question. American officials, such as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stress the sophistication of Syria’s IADS relative to other countries in the region and particularly in comparison with Libya. Syria has faced American air power before, while the embarrassments of Israel defeating of its air force in the 1982 Lebanon War and destroying a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 left it acutely aware of the need to deter and defeat hostile air power.