Home » Aviation » Opinion: Russia’s Desert Storm Moment in Syria


Opinion: Russia’s Desert Storm Moment in Syria

Russian fighters over Syria. Sputnik Photo

Russian fighters over Syria. Sputnik Photo

Russia is having its Desert Storm moment in Syria. The near-daily release of Russian fighter cockpit videos and missiles being launched from Russian ships in the Caspian Sea is making millions of Russians feel proud and strong. For instance, on Oct. 21, Russian media reported that 53 strike sorties struck 72 “terrorist targets.” Oddly those same reports are even convincing some in the United States that Russia is somehow more effective in Syria than the United States and its allies.

Like many Americans in 1990–91, the autumn of 2001, and the spring of 2003, daily film clips fed to news outlets of guided bombs hitting targets on the front lines serves to boost the morale of the home audience. The public fascination with precision-guided weapons video, and videos of the first combat use of Tomahawk cruise missiles from Navy ships first took root in Desert Storm, and images of such precision and power left an impression that still lingers in the minds of many Americans. Twenty-six years later the use of combat footage to stir popular passions in Russia is an important secondary effect on which Vladimir Putin is capitalizing.

We — however — should not be so impressed. To the under-informed critics reacting to the Russian media onslaught with claims that the United States and Coalition allies are “doing nothing,” imagine if you will that the United States and Coalition released daily “best of” clips of airstrike footage from the battle against ISIS. In just the first six months of Coalition air operations against ISIS, which began in September 2014, CENTCOM reported there were 4,817 ISIS targets hit. During the Kobani campaign alone, this past August, the Coalition reportedly deployed 2830 weapons against ISIS targets.

Still of Russian Syrian strike. Russian Ministry of Defense Image

Still of Russian Syrian strike. Russian Ministry of Defense Image

A fair question stemming from this hypothetical point is, what would the average American think if fed a daily dose of guided-weapon footage from this battlefront for 15 straight months of operations against ISIS? While the current “we are not doing anything” critics might be stifled, there is no doubt that the American people would likely grow weary of the footage and begin to ask “with all of this precision and power why aren’t we winning?”

The answer of course is that airpower alone will not win this fight. But it has proved effective at helping competent forces on the ground, such as the Kurds, in the retaking of Kobani from ISIS. The Russians may enjoy similar seize-and-hold success if the Syrian government and Iranian forces supporting Assad can effectively fight anti-government and ISIS forces. But it will not be quick, cheap, or easy.

For instance, many in America called the launch of Russian cruise missiles earlier this month “decisive.” I think that initial reaction was based more on the recognition that America’s 25 year monopoly on using long-range cruise missiles whenever and wherever we chose (e.g., Iraq 1990–2015, Sudan 1998, Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 1998 and 2001, Yemen 2009, and Syria 2014) has ended. A more pragmatic view of this is that Russia used a military capability that we’ve known they have had since the 1980s. Does using this particular means of delivering a kinetic warhead really change the game?

The American mind has long been conditioned to associate videos of cruise missile launches and laser guided bombs with the expectation of a quick and decisive “shock & awe” victory. In truth, these instruments of war are tactically effective in many cases, but never strategically decisive for us—nor will they be for Russia.

A launch of a Russian guided land attack cruise missile on Oct. 7 from the Caspian Sea. Russian Ministry of Defense Image

A launch of a Russian guided land attack cruise missile on Oct. 7 from the Caspian Sea. Russian Ministry of Defense Image

In the language of strategy the word decisive has a specific meaning. It is synonymous with pivotal events, such as Waterloo, Tsushima Straits or the use of the atomic weapons that brought Japan to surrender. Strategically decisive military actions end wars, or at least have a major impact on the direction of the war. As of this week, Russia’s actions have not altered the fractured battle lines in Syria. The various anti-Assad factions are still in control of the territories they held before the Russian airstrikes.

Sun Tzu, Karl Clausewitz, Alfred Mahan and other notable masters of war teach us that the tenets of strategy apply to all. This includes Russia. So, no matter how many one-handed pushups that Vladimir Putin can do, that does not make him, or his instruments of military power, immune to the immutable rules of strategy. As noted in my last article on this topic, Russia has a reason to be in Syria. Syria is in Russia’s national interests, but that does not mean that achieving its goals will be easy, and Putin may soon discover this fact.

Russia may have earned a place at the table for bringing a political solution to Syria’s tragic condition, but this will take more than headlining the daily Russian sortie count and airstrike footage. As the United States has learned in every war since Vietnam, while our sustained and overwhelming tactical capabilities cannot be matched, a lasting and better peace is often elusive and difficult to obtain.

  • sferrin

    In type not in scale. Not by a LONG shot.

  • Roger Roger

    Disgruntled Westerners in the US and Europe will grab at any disinformation to prove the West is in decline. RT is their preferred news source.

    • Sibir_RUS

      In the course of the last three days, the aircraft of the Russian air group have performed 163 combat sorties engaging 285 terrorist objects
      This data from the official website of Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

      In the course of the last three days, the aircraft of the USA performed only 1 combat sorties in Syria and destroyed an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL mortar tube.
      This data from the official website of the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

      • steve m

        so why are you losing ?

        • Sibir_RUS

          we are not losing
          Bashar Assad: the efficiency of Russian Aerospace Forces exceeded all expectations.

        • Paolo Moleman

          The USA spent 14 to 15 years in the Middle East and spent probably $6 trillion for what? Nothing. The Iraqis and Afgahis want Americans to leave. the Syrians want to be left alone.

          Thousands of American boys dead or maimed and hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria. Christians in the Middle East cleansed through genocide. Now the USA has $21 trillion in debt. Millions of people invading America, why have a military if you do not protect your borders. Millions invading Europe – NATO’s legacy. What a joke.

          Thank the Bushes, Clintons and Obama plus their bosses. If you think this money printing is sustainable then you are delusional.

    • Paolo Moleman

      $21 trillion in US debt owned to the private Federal Reserve. The US standard of living slipping. Astronomical debt and unemployment. Americans health care stolen. Endless money spent on defense/homeland security while the borders are wide open with endless govt corruption. American young people and innocent civilians dying in endless and mindless wars.

      Europe being invaded by hordes of Muslims who are mainly young men.

      Sounds a lot like Rome in it’s dying days.

  • muzzleloader

    While Putin and company may be presently getting great PR from all the strike footage seen by the folks at home, one of the questions is how long can the Russians afford this? They are expending a gargantuan amount of ordinance, aircraft parts, et al which requires a tremendous supply chain, all expended in a theatre that has little bearing on Russian national security. Will Putin follow up with a major ground offensive with Russian regulars? Would the folks back home stomach the unavoidable casualties that would accompany such an action?

    • publius_maximus_III

      I think da Poot has been around long enough to remember Afghanistan, Stinger Missiles, and how his country wished they had never put a single boot in that non-strategic country. Its Mujahedeen irregular fighters slowly ground through a whole generation of young Russian conscripts. He will not make the same mistake of sending ground troops into Syria — advisors maybe… but he will not send in the cavalry, IMO. Bashar is going to have to do his own head bashing.

      • Paolo Moleman

        Have you been around long enough to remember America’s 14 or 15 years in Iraq and Afghanistan with trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of dead. Lives and countries destroyed for what? Nothing. Well some people got rich off of it while American taxpayers got robbed with lies. Endless war.

        Eventually the chickens will come home to roost and the USA is heading towards $21 trillion in debt. Russia by comparison is in much better fiscal shape. These wars will bankrupt America. The money printing scam will not last. Sadly, these endless bankster wars will bankrupt honest Americans.

        Your Afghanistan-USSR analogy is laughable. The Syrian people, Iran, Russia, Iraq and now Jordan want your phony ISIS head choppers out of Syria and Iraq.

  • John Macassey

    Why is it that despite the loudly trumpeted Saudi/US air strikes, ISIS has become greatly stronger and now controls so much more territory. It now appears the the so called Free Syria Army actually operates under the control of ISIS. Only the Kurds and the Assad regime are actually fighting ISIS. (With the support of the Russians.)

    • publius_maximus_III

      Because it is the basic fighting principle of today’s Islamic extremist — use Western technology against itself. Fly -our- planes into -our- skyscrapers, neither of which their simplistic medieval culture could have ever developed.

      “Send in a another of your cruise missiles to take out one of our mortar tubes and camels. We welcome your military expenditures as you make smaller sand particles out of larger ones, Allah be praised, etc. etc. etc….”

  • Edward Snow

    James Çlapper,
    the director of national intelligence, is said to talk nearly every day
    with the head of US Central Command’s intelligence wing, Army Major
    General Steven Grove – “which is highly, highly unusual”. Clapper tells Central Command what ISIS CIA targets not to hit. The Russians fixed that on the second day of bombing. The CIA whisked their guy, Baghdadi, to a hospital in Turkey. Have no doubt the Russians read Clapper’s email. Russia made more progress against ISIS in one day than USA did in four years.

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  • Sibir_RUS

    Daniel Dolan: “Oddly those same reports are even convincing some in the United States that Russia is somehow more effective in Syria than the United States and its allies.”

    Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation
    In the course of the last three days, the aircraft of the Russian air group have performed 163 combat sorties engaging 285 terrorist objects

    For comparison:
    U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
    October 23, 2015 — U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria.
    Airstrikes in Syria:
    –Remotely piloted aircraft conducted a strike near Mar’a, which destroyed an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL mortar tube.
    October 24, 2015 — U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria.
    Airstrikes in Syria:
    — 0 (zero)! no activity on this day
    October 25, 2015 — U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria.
    Airstrikes in Syria:
    — 0 (zero)! no activity on this day
    October 26, 2015 — U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria.
    Airstrikes in Syria:
    — 0 (zero)! no activity on this day

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  • Sibir_RUS

    Russian Ministry of Defence comments on publications appeared in a number of anglophone media quoting some “doctors” of the “Syrian American Medical Society” concerning Syrian civilians who had been killed by air strikes of the Russian aircraft carried out against a “hospital” in Sarmin settlement on October 20.
    Russian Ministry of Defence is carefully monitoring and analyzing such stovepiping.
    First, it is necessary to tell about the Syrian American Medical Society. This organization, which is registered in Illinois American state has as much do with both medicine and doctors as ISIS has to do with the International Scout Movement.
    It is to be added that starting from its foundation in 2012, the organization was mainly used for publishing so-called “evidence” of using chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition. Therefore, the “agency” laid low after everybody learnt that all the “evidence” was a lie.
    The real intended aim of such institutions is providing anonymous stovepiping for further coverage by the assigned media.
    Pay attention to the fact that such agencies, which are famous for accusing the Russian aviation group of bombing of civilians just a week before the start of the operation in Syria, are working according to the same rules.
    It is to be stressed that before eliminating terrorists’ objects, the information is being checked for more than one day and through several intelligence channels.
    Only after having checked all the information and got a hundred percent certainty concerning the targets, the aviation performs a strike against the ISIS infrastructure using precision munitions.

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  • Dr. Stephen Bryen

    The analysis is a good one as far as it goes. We don’t have good explanations for US restraint on ISIS targets; nor do we have good information on the progress of the Syrian Army and their Iranian “friends.” It is likely they are taking significant casualties. As President Putin continues to put out peace feelers, one suspects he understands the algebra perfectly.

    • Paolo Moleman

      McCain’s selfies with ISIS and AL Qeada explain who ISIS and Al Qeada really are.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    We should just leave the ME for good under the cover of Russian air support, as We Truly SUCK at fighting wars!

    • Paolo Moleman

      It is not about really “fighting” (endless) wars – it is about Congress and The Pentagram spending money and corruption.

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