Aircraft and warships of the United States, United Kingdom and France conducted complex strikes on regime targets in Syria during the early hours of April 14. A total of 105 cruise missiles (or 103, according to the Russian defence ministry) were launched against a series of chemical laboratories and weapon storage sites belonging to the Syrian Arab Army.
The operation reportedly effectively eliminated the Syrian Army’s chemical weapon capability without triggering – as yet – any military confrontation with Russia. The raids were in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians and members of the Jaysh al-Islam insurgent group (designated as a terrorist organisation by Russia and Egypt) in Douma on April 7.
Of the eight Royal Air Force No 31 Squadron Tornado GR4s deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus under Operation Shader, four were involved in the operation. The jets are home based at RAF Marham in Norfolk and are scheduled for retirement next year.
The Tornados were among nine RAF aircraft understood to have participated in the strikes on the chemical weapon facilities on April 14. Each Tornado launched a pair of Storm Shadow cruise missiles at the Him Sinshar chemical weapons storage site, a former Syrian Arab Army missile base, around 15 miles (24km) west of Homs. The coalition believed the site was used for storage of chemical weapons or materials for their manufacture.
The Tornados, which come under the command of 903 Expeditionary Air Wing at RAF Akrotiri, were escorted by four No 6 Squadron Typhoon FGR4s that conducted force combat air patrol (FORCAP) missions. Each Typhoon was armed with two AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs) and two AIM-120C-5 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs). The Typhoons secured the airspace over the eastern Mediterranean Sea before, during and after the Tornados launched their Storm Shadows. Voyager KC2 ZZ343 was available for aerial refuelling to keep the Typhoons airborne for almost three hours between 0330hrs and 0630hrs local time.
It is understood that prior to the raid one of four Sentinel R1 Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) aircraft of the RAF’s No 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron was deployed to Akrotiri, arriving on April 12. Sentinel ZJ690 reportedly flew an intelligence-gathering mission in support of the operation. The images taken by its ASARS-2A sensor would have assisted identification of the Him Sinshar chemical weapons storage site and other targets destroyed by cruise missiles from allied forces. It is rumoured that ZJ690 was also used for battle damage assessment (BDA) after the strikes.
Washington apparently informed Moscow about the incoming strikes to prevent Syrian Army casualties. Thirty minutes before the raids, it appears that Syrian Army personnel and civilians present at the three targeted sites were evacuated. However, it’s reported that some civilians present near the sites were injured.
More to come. pic.twitter.com/dIV2GfHYyj
— Wael 🇸🇾 (@WaelAlRussi) April 14, 2018
While the Russian government has reacted with criticism of the cruise missile strikes and questioned their legality, Russian military forces present in Syria were not ordered to confront coalition forces. While the Russian armed forces use GPS signal jammers in Syria, it seems that none of the cruise missiles were defeated in this way. Thus far, it appears that one of the Storm Shadow cruise missiles launched by the Tornados was shot down by the Syrian Arab Air Defence Force, photos of its wreckage being posted on social media. The force claims to have shot down 12 other cruise missiles. Meanwhile, the Russian government announced that 71 cruise missiles were intercepted by S-125, S-200, Buk, Kvadrat and Osa air defence systems. Babak Taghvaee