If President Barack Obama orders the strike on Syria that Congress is considering, the U.S. Navy will be at the forefront of an attack that has the unusual objective of degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities without striking at the heart of the program. However, Pentagon planners are now considering to unleash a heavy barrage of missile strikes to be followed swiftly by using Air Force bombers, as well as several US missile destroyers currently patrolling the eastern Mediterranean Sea, to launch cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles from far out of range of Syrian air defenses.
The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group with one cruiser and three destroyers positioned in the Red Sea can also fire cruise missiles at Syria. The weapon of choice is the Tomahawk cruise missile aboard four Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. An operation in that range would likely be limited to the cost of launching missiles from U.S. destroyers cruising within range of Syria, according to budget analysts. The Tomahawk missiles aboard the ships, which generally carry dozens of them, cost about $1,1 ... 1,5 million each. The mission is among the most complex the U.S. military has launched in recent history because Syria will have had weeks to shield its most vulnerable targets from a widely anticipated volley of Tomahawk missiles.
As lawmakers continue to discuss the scope and risks of a strike, military planners are fine-tuning a plan to blast dozens of targets that include air defense infrastructure, long-range missiles, rocket depots and airfields, according to defense officials and military analysts. The six air bases the Syrian government is currently using to carry out the bulk of its military operations and its roughly two dozen stationary radars are likely targets of cruise missile strikes, according to military analysts who have studied Syria’s armed forces. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers last week that the strikes would likely hit Syrian long-range missile and rocket depots because the weapons can be used to protect – and deliver – chemical weapons. The Navy has kept four Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers stationed within firing range of the Syrian coast for several days.
The ships – the USS Ramage, USS Barry, USS Gravely and USS Stout – are loaded with the latest generation of Tomahawk missiles. Tomahawks, which made their debut during the Gulf War in 1991, have been used in several military campaigns, often as the first salvos of protracted engagements. Raytheon, the defense giant that manufactures the missiles, has marketed them as an alternative to drones, which have become the weapon of choice in U.S. stealth counterterrorism attacks. “Unmanned aircraft seem to get all the headlines these days,” the company’s promotional website for Tomahawks says. “But the ship and submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missile – an unmanned aircraft that goes on a one-way trip – is quietly upping its game.”
Unlike earlier versions, today’s Tomahawks, which cost roughly $1,1 ... 1,5 million a piece, can be programmed quickly using GPS technology to strike targets and may be redirected midflight. The missile, which has a 1,000-mile range, can be airborne for up to four hours and deliver a 1,000 pound bomb or a package of 166 “bomblets.” The first would be ideal for a crushing blow to a critical building, while the latter would be effective against a wider area, such as a parking lots with military vehicles or a warehouse that contains weapons.