As the Syrian civil war escalates and expands, policy makers are increasingly examining proposals to patrol “safe,” “liberated,” or “buffer zones” with military aircraft. Creating safe zones, Turkish officials have argued, could relieve human suffering and hasten the fall of the Assad regime without a more costly direct intervention. Ubiquitous in Western interventions since Operation Provide Comfort in postwar Iraq, and infamous in the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s, safe zones once again appear a straightforward solution to an intractable conflict. Yet the strategic and logistical details present serious challenges. Despite the relatively easy execution of a safe zone around Benghazi in Libya, a comparable effort to protect besieged cities in Syria would be much more costly and difficult.
A previous post outlined the significant aerial and maritime demands for creating a no-fly zone, which would be a prerequisite to creating a safe zone over any part of Syria. Inadequate suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) would be problematic enough for air superiority fighters enforcing a no-fly zone, but would be even more threatening for aircraft performing ground interdiction strikes.
Despite the prominence of attack helicopters and combat jets in discussions of the Syrian conflict, destroying Syrian air power is unlikely to be either decisive overall or sufficient to defend safe zones.
The success of the Libyan air intervention is a historical anomaly. In 1993, NATO’s Deny Flight no-fly zone over Bosnia failed to deter ground forces from attacking designated safe areas, eventually requiring ground bombardment and, more importantly, a massive Croatian ground offensive to defeat Serbian forces. In Iraq after the Gulf War, no-fly zones and years of punitive bombardments did not dissuade Saddam Hussein from repeatedly launching ground attacks into Shia and Kurdish areas. In Libya, it was rapidly obvious that destroying the Libyan ground threat to Benghazi, not simply its air force, was necessary to defend safe zones.
After an arsonist caused $450 million in damage to the USS Miami on March 2012, the U.S. Navy considered scrapping the submarine. The eventual decision to repair the Miami and return it to service in 2015 means that the Navy will not have to add to a rather short but fateful list – ships lost since WWII. Between December 1941 and September 1945, over 350 U.S. Navy warships and patrol craft were sunk or damaged beyond repair. In the nearly seven decades since, fewer than 30 ships have been lost directly due to enemy action or accidents. These are a few of the notable incidents:
On the same day that the city of Hiroshima was reduced to ash by the first atomic bomb, the USS Bullhead (SS-32) became the last U.S. Navy ship sunk by the enemy during WWII. The submarine is thought to have been hit by depth charges dropped by a Japanese plane on Aug. 6, 1945 off the coast of Bali. The wreck of the submarine has never been found.
Church service in the torpedo room of the USS Bullhead while on patrol in the Pacific, 1945
Commissioned in 1943, PC-815 would go on to earn the name “The Jinxed Sub-Chaser”. Lt (j.g.) L. Ron Hubbard (the future founder of Scientology) was the first man to take the helm, only to be relieved of command three months later following a series of embarrassing incidents (including the shelling of Mexican territory) that caused his superiors to lose faith in his ability. The next few years were uneventful for the PC-815 until Sept. 11, 1945 when it collided with the destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), burst into flames and sank.
PC-815 running trials on the Columbia River in Oregon, 1943
Naval History Magazine, August 2008
The War of 1812 was a conflict between two very different naval powers, a pattern that is far more common in naval history than tends to be appreciated. Aside from a fundamental contrast in their strength—Britain had the world’s leading navy while the United States lacked a battle fleet—the opposing sides used their navies for very different purposes. Because no large-scale naval clashes unfolded on the high seas, it is all too easy to underrate the crucial strategic dimensions of naval power and its importance for the character and development of the war.
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.
USS Barry (DDG 52) fires Tomahawk cruise missiles in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. U.S. Navy Photo
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.
On August 15, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that Vietnam would take delivery of its first Kilo-class submarine by the end of the year. Vietnam has another five Kilo submarines on order and is expected to take delivery at the rate of one submarine a year. According to Vietnam’s defense Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnam will develop a modern submarine fleet in the next five to six years (2016-2017).
Kilo class submarine Yunes
In the late 1980s Vietnam sought to acquire its first submarine from the Soviet Union. A crew was selected and it trained on a Project 641 diesel submarine attached to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. The program was suspended by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev out of concerns about riling China. Vietnam’s hopes to acquire submarines went into abeyance with the collapse of the USSR.
In a 1997 guns-for-rice barter, Vietnam acquired two Yugo-class mini-submarines from North Korea. These were berthed at Cam Ranh Bay where they underwent repair and overhaul. For the next 13 years analysts were uncertain about their operational status. In January 2010, Tuoi Tre newspaper dramatically revealed the existence of M96, Vietnam’s secret submarine service, with a photo of a Yugo submarine and its crew. The Yugos were used for diver related operations. According to a Western defense attaché stationed in Moscow, “The mini-sub experience provides a basic foundation for understanding submarine operations and maintenance.”
Associated Press File Photo
The Pentagon and the Navy have denied it, but this month’s report that a Russian attack submarine prowled near the U.S. without being detected has turned attention back to the art and science of anti-submarine warfare.
The story, which appeared in the conservative “Washington Free Beacon,” reported that “U.S. officials” said the Akula-class sub loitered in the Caribbean for a month without being detected, and this “exposed deficiencies” in the Navy’s ASW capabilities.
The story did not contain enough detail to know what to make of that assessment – whether, for example, the Navy searched for the sub and didn’t find it, or whether it visited and left without a trace. The “Free Beacon” story said American commanders only learned of the sub’s patrol after the fact, but it did not explain how they could learn of it given that they hadn’t been able to detect it in the first place.
The incident is similar to 2009 reports in which the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) confirmed that two Akula boats patrolled off the Eastern U.S. seaboard.
On August 17, 1942 211 Marines set out from two submarines to Makin Island, the home of a Japanese seaplane base. The raid 70-years ago was a first for the U.S. and a precursor to U.S. Special Operations forces that operate routinely from submarine assets. This is a narrative of the raid originally published in the October, 1946 issue of Proceedings.
It was D-Day plus One in the Solomons. Three thousand miles away two submarines passed Hospital Point, Pearl Harbor, and headed out to sea.
Smoke from Makin Island taken by the crew of the one of two submarines that ferried Marines to the raid.
U.S. Navy photo
Submarines often had silently left Hawaii and had as silently returned, their conning towers emblazoned with miniature Japanese flags, since the first days of the war. They would until the last. But none had left with such a cargo as these two on that August 8 of 1942.
A plane on patrol swooped low over the pair. To the pilot as he waggled his wings in a gesture of “Good Hunting!” they were as other submarines he had seen taking the great circle route westward. Could he have seen below those narrow decks into the strong pressure hulls, he would have snorted “what the hell are those ‘@#$%’ Marines up to now?”
For there were Marines in the two submarines — two hundred and twenty-two of them. But they weren’t taking over submarines, they were being taken by them — on a foray unique in American naval history.
As the United States continues to help Israel improve its missile defense shield due to growing fears of possible attack by Syria and Iran, claims by Iran that it has developed its own ‘carrier-killer’ that can evade U.S. Navy defense systems to hit ships in the Persian Gulf are drawing skepticism from naval experts.
As first reported by Jane’s Defence Weekly, Iran released images of a test last month in which the Khalij Fars antiship ballistic missile was launched and struck a moving target. The missile is purported to be a smaller version of China’s modified Dong Feng 21, which was quickly dubbed the ‘carrier killer’ after it was revealed in a March 2009 report by the U.S. Naval Institute.
Like the Dong Feng 21, the Khalij Far is alleged to be able to track moving ships and then take a flight path that attacks though a “hole” that is not covered by the U.S. air defenses, designed to guard against antiship missiles that approach from more typical altitudes and angles.
If real, the Khalij Fars would pose a significant threat to U.S. ships in the waters near Iran. While the missile’s touted range of 185 miles falls well below the Dong Feng 21 reach of 1,240 miles, it would be enough to strike anything in the Strait of Hormuz within a few minutes.
An infographic published on the official Hezbollah website on 21 July illustrated an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier using the Kahlij Fars and other missiles in the Iranian arsenal.
Russia plans to expand its military presence in the Arctic, officials said Monday. According to Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and the current head of the Security Council, Russia is going to create a number of “dual use” facilities in the Arctic, facilities that will be expected to host commercial craft as well as vessels of both the Northern Fleet and the FSB’s border service.1
View Russian Bases in a larger map
Patrushev’s announcement is connected with the continued development of the or the “northern sea path,” basically an updated and modernized version of what was once known as the “northeast passage.” The rapid melting of the Arctic has opened up previously unreachable parts of Russia’s northern coast and has made what was once a near-impossible voyage far more practical. Traffic on the route, while still paltry compared with the traffic going through the Suez or Panama canals, has grown rapidly in recent years, and is forecast to increase as the Arctic stays ice-free for longer periods of time. Should warming continue, the northern sea path could very easily become one of the world’s busier maritime corridors. In comparison with the route through the Suez, it allows container traffic from Europe to Asia to reach its destination traveling about 4,000 fewer miles and roughly 13 fewer days.
States are increasingly standing up military and intelligence organizations for computer network operations. While countries everywhere perceive a need to attack and defend in cyberspace, cyber forces are of particular interest to security in Asia because they coincide with a regional investment in naval, air, and command, control and communications systems. And although American society may be vulnerable to disruption, highly technical and increasingly informatized Asian societies also face complex security challenges.
For years, most understood Asian cyber issues through the prism of China. Since the early 1990s, the Chinese have evinced an intense doctrinal and practical interest in information warfare. The Chinese simultaneously desired to “informatize “their conventional forces in imitation of the United States while developing command and control warfare tools as part of a larger asymmetric warfare strategy.
India is centralizing network defense
around the National Critical Infrastructure Protection Centre, with the Intelligence Bureau in charge of patrolling government networks. The Indian Defense Intelligence Agency may be vested with power to conduct offensive attack. While India has not developed a cyber strategy like the United States, it is taking cyber seriously. As in the United States, India’s cyber efforts are split between civilian cybersecurity and the offensive tools of the state. Symantec recently decried a lack of security knowledge.