Saturday, April 8, 2017

Syrian Tomahawk Strike

By now, you all know that the US launched a cruise missile attack against a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a chemical weapon attack by Syrian forces.  I’m not going to address the quality of the evidence for the chemical weapon usage or the geopolitical aspects of the retaliation.  What I’m going to address is the military lessons that can be gleaned from the open source information about the cruise missile attack itself.

Defense News website has the best writeup that I’ve found so far (1).  USNI News website has some additional information and some bomb damage assessment photos (2).

The Navy's Tomahawk missile strike from two Burke class destroyers, Ross (Flt I) and Porter (Flt II), offers some insights into modern naval strike warfare.

VLS Mix.  The destroyers did not have time to return to a home port and load missiles.  Therefore, the missiles were part of the standard VLS missile mix.  Assuming the missiles were split equally among the two destroyers, that means each had at least 30 missiles in their mix.  Ross has 90 VLS cells while Porter has 96.  Thus, the 30 Tomahawk missiles represent 33% and 31% of the VLS load, respectively.  This gives us some insight as to the “standard” VLS missile mix.  Of course, there is nothing that says the destroyers used all their Tomahawk missiles.  The may have had more and the mix may be greater.  In fact, one extra missile was fired so clearly at least one of the ships did not use all its missiles.

Reliability.  The initial missile launch involved 60 attempted launches.  One launch failed and a replacement missile launched.  Thus, 61 launches were attempted with 60 being successful.  One missile plunged into the sea during flight so only 59 missiles reached the target area.  Thus, of 61 launches, 59 successfully reached the target area which is 96.7%.  It is unknown how many actually hit their intended targets.

SAM Defense.  There were surface-to-air (SAM) missile defenses around the airfield but none, apparently, engaged the Tomahawk missiles.  Reports suggest that the Russians were operating the SAMs, were pre-warned by the US about the attack, and opted not to engage.  Thus, we cannot learn anything about the viability of Tomahawks versus a modern, peer SAM defensive system. 

Airfield Weapon Density.  The US launched 60 Tomahawks at a single, relatively small airfield.  That seems like a lot of missiles especially when the runways were deliberately not targeted and other structures were deliberately avoided that would likely have been targeted in an all out attack.  Still, this gives us some idea of the weapon density the US believes necessary to destroy a single, small base.  Of course, the US may not have known whether the SAM defenses would engage and the seemingly large number of Tomahawks may have been what planners felt was needed in order to overcome a defense.  Either way, it offers some insight into the number of Tomahawks needed to attack an airbase.  It’s a bit more than I would have thought.

BDA.  The bomb damage photos that have been released do not seem to show 59 hits.  Note, however, that I am the farthest thing from a bomb damage assessment (BDA) photo analyst!  It may be that several missiles were targeted on a single hardened hangar and there appear to have been several of those so that may account for a significant chunk of missiles.  If so, that also suggests what planners think of the resilience of a hardened hangar versus the destructive power of a Tomahawk.

Had this been an all out attack to totally destroy the airfield, presumably many more missiles would have been used.  This gives us some insight into the Tomahawk weapon density needed to take out a facility.  It’s higher than I would have thought.  Given that our total Tomahawk inventory is somewhere around 4000 missiles, that should tell us something about our ability to wage an all out war and how long our inventory would last.  This has to be worrisome given that Tomahawks cannot be quickly replaced from the manufacturer.

This should also tell us how useful (or useless, as the case may be) our Virginia class submarines that carry only 12 Tomahawks will be – not very.  It would have required five subs to carry out this attack and this was only a partial attack against a small airfield.  Those who believe that our subs will constitute a significant land strike capability are mistaken.  The subs are more likely to be used as snipers, taking out smaller, undefended targets.  The retirement without replacement of our four SSGNs which each carried 154 Tomahawks may come to be viewed as a mistake.

Setting aside the geopolitics, this incident has proven to be instructive as regards modern naval strike warfare.


(1)Defense News website, “The Pentagon’s Play-By-Play of the Syria Strikes”, Aaron Mehta, 7-Apr-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “How the U.S. Planned and Executed the Tomahawk Strike Against Syria”, Megan Eckstein, 7-Apr-2017,


  1. Only large aerial launch platforms can provide the necessary speed and density for any land attacks more than just a spasmic firework show. Was never different, will never be different. Those two DDG are out of land-attack business until they replenished in Crete or maybe even Spain (provided there are missiles stored there, which on the other hand would mean they are not available in other theatres). An aerial launch platform can come back every night as long as there are missiles in the arsenal.

    1. "An aerial launch platform can come back every night as long as there are missiles in the arsenal."

      Yes, it can, assuming we're willing to risk pilot loss/capture and assuming we can get overflight permission from multiple countries and assuming we don't care that the overflight permissions will give away the strike time/target.

      I'm not an expert on Air Force platforms and weapons but my impression is that it would require around half a dozen B-2 bombers to deliver the equivalent of the 60 Tomahawks using, presumably, the JASSM. We would probably also need extensive tanking and ECM support. In this scenario, a bomber strike would cost many times the naval strike. Getting the required permissions and arranging the support would likely have delayed the strike significantly though, to be fair, I don't know that time was a factor.

      Finally, if it's necessary to "come back every night" then we aren't doing our job on the first night given all our precision targeting and precision guided weapons! Further, coming back is a good way to lose aircraft.

    2. ComNavOps

      What. 11 ships, no it would be more along the lines of 2 or 3. A simular raid was done just recently in Libya. Smaller weapon 500lb class of #100 count. Using a heavier 1000lb class say it would be #50 with two ships or #75 three. Those load outs are not maxed out either but fuel (refuel #) etc... reasons guessing.

      Hell if you want to go 0 risk you could have sent 3 ole school B52 packing full loads of cruise missiles #20 each.

      "come back every night" That would be more targets more airfields etc... Those B-2 or B52 would be landed run through and available if needed to run again. The two destroyers will have to return to port first.

    3. Do you have any relevant point to make?

    4. So far as I know the air force hasn't had any air launched cruise missile for a very long time. Chief Torpedoman

    5. Chief, I'm not an Air Force expert but I believe the Air Force has the AGM-158 JASSM in service. Not sure what aircraft are certified to carry/launch them. Correct me if I'm wrong about this.

    6. Ah, I stand corrected. I was referring to the original air force ALCM that I believe came out about the same time as the navy Tomahawk. Read somewhere long long ago (maybe in a galaxy far far away) that the air force didn't believe they had a future and just let the stock run out as they were used. I was thinking this was why the navy used all those Tomahawks in Desert Storm but the air force just used the F117 stealth attacks. However, I too am no expert on air force weapons, so I will admit to be wrong on this one. Chief Torpedoman.

    7. No problem!

      By the way, if you actually served as a Torpedoman, as your username suggests, would you have any interest in authoring a guest post on the subject? There are any number of aspects to naval torpedoes that would be worthy of a post. Let me know if you're qualified and have an interest.

      For example, the tactical use by surface ships of torpedoes in the anti-ship role (akin to the Fletchers of WWII). Or the general effectiveness (or lack thereof) of torpedoes in shallow water. Note, I'm not looking for classified info, just generic discussions.

    8. Do you have a way for me to send a private message? Chief Torpedoman

    9. Round trip flight to CONUS bomber bases to Syria is ~30 hours.

      A strike package to do the same job is ~60 aircraft (TACAIR, not bombers).

      The actual cost of a cruise missile strike is far lower than a bomber or fighter raid - it isn't the cost of the munition that counts, it is the cost of all the fuel, infrastructure (base support) pilot training, etc. that is relevant.


  2. One other problem: in a conventional war, against a good opponent, they will have their own equal of CIWS and AA for airfields. They'll shoot down a number of your missiles before you can get through, which means you'll need even more missiles for a strike.

    There's also the matter that the enemy airfield might launch their aircraft to attack ships attempting such a strike. A serious question is how survivable the Tico and Burke classes are against a competent and well armed opponent.

    There's another problem for air forces.

    Fixed airfields are very, very vulnerable. That's a problem for the USAF especially because they are dependent on them.

    One of the reasons why I repeatedly call for small Boyd type fighters is because they are small, easy to conceal, and when your airfields are destroyed, are still operable.

    Here's the Finnish airforce taking off an F-18 from a civilian highway:

    Why? Because Finland is next door to Russia. In a shooting war, the Russians already know where their airfields are.

    Large, complex aircraft will not be able to take off from airfields. I'm not even sure that anything bigger than a Rafale or F-18 should be used.

    1. Usually the highway's that are used for this are well known. They're built specially for that purpose. They tend to have wider carriageways, turn round areas, special lighting and trees are kept well away. Also no bridges or telephone cables etc. crossing. They're a useful dispersal facility but the enemy knows exactly where they are.

    2. It'd be pretty tough to take out most highways in a nation. Think about how long the highways are and how many roads there are. Even arterial roads could be used in parts of cities.

      Another option, even more radical is to use grass fields. That would require FOD shielding on engine intakes and thicker tires, but it could be done.

    3. This fantasy of using highways as disbursed air bases is just that, a fantasy. It's appealing but fails the reality check. Yes, it might be possible to launch an occasional aircraft in such a manner, it would be totally impossible to conduct and air war. The requisite fuel, munitions, spare parts, fluids, diagnostic computers, command and control, mission planning, etc. that are required for a sustained air campaign are simply not practical on a dispersed basis. Take, for example, spare parts - unless one is willing to stock an entire range of spare parts for each dispersed aircraft (which would be financially unaffordable!), the aircraft would very quickly be grounded due to lack of parts. The same applies to fuel, munitions, and everything else an aircraft needs. Even if all the supplies were available, where would they be stored since there are no buildings, hangars, storage tanks, etc.? Where are the maintenance crews going to stay? They can live in a truck for a day or two but not for an extended air campaign.

      This is nonsense.

      This is the same reason every individual soldier isn't housed at his own fully functioning base. It's utter nonsense.

    4. It was done during WW2.

      If you've read the reports during WW2 of Germany along the Eastern front, not only did Stuka pilots have to take off from roads, they took off in the grass and dirt too. In many cases, Hans Ulrich Rudel (a famous Stuka pilot) had to pick his own landing area with his squadron and begin operations from there. You are deep in enemy territory and not familiar with the enemy terrain. The thing is, you still need to keep up with the front line to attack the enemy.

      How else would you keep up with a rapidly changing front line? It would mean keeping munitions at a few central depots well behind the front lines, then using trucks to carry the fuel, spare parts, and ammo to the aircraft. The central depots must be well behind enemy lines, but the trucks and everything else need to shift based on front lines. Plus as I said, even during WW2, airbases were a target. One of the reasons why the German Me-262 was not effective despite being the first jet aircraft was because it would be sniped easily as it took off.

      Plus the enemy would want to sabotage their airfields if you advanced. Likewise, if you knew your were losing ground and control of the airfield, you'd sabotage your airfields as to avoid handing the enemy a big advantage. It would take military engineers some time to fix it up and get rid of the bobby traps.

      It's not just that the enemy will bomb your airfields.

      Even today, many aircraft have the ability to take off from dirt strips.

      A C-17 for example:

      It's absolutely critical for tactical airlift.

      Even in the civilian world it is doing. Boeing for example sells civilian kits allowing 737s to take off. It's needed for rural airports.

      What's needed is the military engineering equipment to set up dirt strips quickly on the go. The US had that during WW2 and I would hesitate to guess has it to an extent today, but probably not as much.

      Here's an A-10 landing on a highway:

      Russian Mig-29 and Su-27s are designed to take off from the dirt too and I suspect in the snow. The Su-27 in particular was designed for patrolling Siberia.

      Here is the Su-25 (the Russian equal to the A-10; very similar to the American A-9 that never went into production) on dirt strips:

      Bottom line is that airbases are very vulnerable targets in land warfare. The closer to the front lines, the more vulnerable. The problem is that you especially need aircraft that operate in support of ground troops near the front. It's extremely important.

      Anyways, the modifications if you are interested:

      The Su-27 is designed to land even without landing gear:

      The A-10 you'll notice the landing gear does not fully retract too. They are designed to take damage and keep fighting.

      What about complexity? That's why I call for a simple aircraft. Easy to maintain, yet high fuel fraction for range, yet fast.

      The Saab JAS 39 Gripen for example was designed to land on 800 metres of snow covered strips. It can be refuelled and re-armed in under 10 minutes by 5 conscripts and a permanent technician. Most of the maintenance too is done by conscripts. The conscripts reportedly only needed 10 weeks of training.

      Keep it simple. Small, needing fewer numbers of parts, easy to maintain, and easy to conceal, yet capable of tolerating abuse.

      There have been wars where both sides have exhausted each other's spare parts before without shooting the enemy's aircraft down.

    5. Also in regards to the front line, set up a many small temporary bases. They need to be dispersed and camouflaged.

      Losing one is not the end of the war.

    6. I really like the idea of simple, easy to maintain aircraft; for all the reasons you mention. However, I'm curious, did Boyd ever state an opinion on Naval air? It seems that the needs of an aircraft to take off from a carrier would grate on him (more weight for more robust landing gear, more internal bracing, etc.)

      I was wondering because A) most airforce guys I see are mortally offended the Navy has airplanes and B) making an aircraft carrier worthy menas making it more complex.

    7. I'd have to check later, but he was a very big critic of the F-14.

      He probably would have been critical of the F-18 too. It was the loser of the YF-16 vs YF-17 competition. The YF-17, the loser, was navalized into the F-18 at a cost of performance. Then the current F-18 SUper Hornet has even worse performance, which had to be further downgraded after the discovery of "wing drop". Let me know if you want the details.

      Also, CNO, there is one other point. You mentioned that aircraft need a lot of fuel, ammo, spare parts, and C&C. How do you think ground vehicles do it? They need to set up near the front. There are thousands, tens of thousands of vehicles at the front. They all need their fuel, ammo, spare parts, and a command system too. Tanks need a lot of fuel - especially the M1 with its thirsty gas turbine engine (that's basically a jet engine).

      Combined with the fact that it has historically been done, I think that it can be done.

    8. Sorry,

      I wasn't clear. He wasn't a fan of the Tomcat, and that doesn't surprise me as I don't believe he was a fan of the Eagle either.

      I'm wondering if he felt the Navy could/should have airplanes at all. As soon as you make a light weight fighter cat and trap worthy it's not as much of a lightweight fighter.

      You still might be able to make it reliable (the hornet is supposed to be that, if nothing else), but you'll never get the fuel fraction etc that you will from land based air.

      I've looked online, but everything I've read concentrates on EM and the decision loop.

    9. Boyd actually played a key role in turning the FX, which was a swing wing type of aircraft similar to the F-111, into the F-15.

      He preferred the YF-16 though.

      Actually the penalty for navalized aircraft isn't too big. It's within 10-11%.

      Rafale C is about 9060kg empty:

      Rafale M is 10196 kg empty:

      If I remember correctly, the fuel fraction is 0.33 on the Rafale C, and 0.31 on the Rafale M when I calculated it, which isn't terrible, but I wish it were higher. Might be a bit less for the M. The L/D ratio means though that the range should be decent.

      One other thing to note. The Rafale M and Rafale C have 95% parts commonality. Reportedly on the F-35, perhaps as few as 30% of parts are common between the F-35 A, B, and C variants.

    10. Actually F-35 may be just 20-25% common:

    11. I apologize. I mis remembered an article by Sprey criticle of the Eagle for Boyd.

      The lack of commonality among he f-35 variants is a travesty, especially when given the aerodynamic penalties paid for that lift fan.

      The a, b and c are essentially different aircraft.

    12. I'd agree with the F-35 - there are few common parts basically and yes it is more or less 3 different aircraft.

      With the Rafale, at least it's close to the same aircraft. They had to strengthen the arrestor hook, the nose, and the bottom of the fuselage for naval landings.
      Fun fact, the Rafale M is the only non-US aircraft right now that can land on American aircraft carriers.

      Might come in handy someday. If the US were to license produce it here, that's another option, although the software would have to be written for it to take American munitions.

    13. So, dumb question....

      If we're license building it couldn't we put in US avionics? Pull the stuff we like from the hornet or viper.

    14. That said, it would take an earthquake of politics or a military disaster to license build rafales here.

    15. "With the Rafale, at least it's close to the same aircraft. They had to strengthen the arrestor hook, the nose, and the bottom of the fuselage for naval landings."

      I've heard lots of times about how aircraft get 'navalized'.

      Sometimes its described as 'we just did this' and others make it sound like a complete redesign. It can't be if the Rafale M is so similar to the non naval rafale.

      If its 'easy' to navalize an aircraft were I the Naval czar I'd look very seriously at the Sea Eagle concept while the line is still hot.

      The Eagle may not enjoy the edge it once did, but its still a damned fine air superiority fighter with a good deal of range. Do it with a strike eagle and you have quite a package. You could replace the SH's and eschew the F-35 for a very good air superiority fighter with strike abilty and range; and do it for less cost than the F-35.

      But again this is just in Jim fantasy land.

    16. Dassault, the French maker has offered Canada a technology transfer. It would be far easier to rewrite software than to design an aircraft from ground up.

      If the US were to do the same, it could get a transfer as well.

      Normal aircraft aren't that hard to navalize. Stealth aircraft ... all bets are off.

      That's why the Russians were able to create a navalized version of their Su-27 fighter family despite the fact that it was introduced near the collapse of the USSR and during Russia's economic bottom in the 1990s.

  3. I think we went in knowing,

    1. Tomahawk with this particular warhead would not penetrate harden bunker and runway.
    2. Using cluster munition to shut down the base longer, while legal by US law but frown up on internationally, is not in the calculation.
    3. We won't send in bombers (to plow up harden bunker and runway) so Russian can get a sniff at them (and operation) for future reference.
    4. While we gave Russian headsup to seek shelter, their equipment (russian property) are probably still in place as inadvertent 'shield', thus precluding surface targets otherwise available to this type of Tomahawk munition.

    I think 'geopolitics' still barged in, whether we want to discuss it or not, to 'discolor' the mission preparation, weapon of choice, and their effectiveness.

  4. Replies
    1. MIK POL, I've deleted your post due to being unreadable in English. If you can translate, feel free to repost.

  5. Beyond the SNAFU blog post, I couldn't tell you any sources (or the accuracy of the claim)... but there are reports that only 23 of the missiles reached the airfield.


    1. I've seen that report and, considering the source (Russia), I give it zero credence. Russian sources are not exactly renowned for their factual reporting!

    2. Russia and Syria have not produced any single photo about wreckage of the missing missiles. We can assume after this time that the report is just propaganda.

    3. According to two slide shows from Chinese web site, Sina

      First one says 44 hits, source(cited by sina): US Defense Dept

      2nd slide show is from freeze frames of Russian news (several shown penetrated hangers and blow out blast door)

      I think the ones (undamaged hanger with planes inside) spared were originally targeted by the un-arrived Tomahawks.

  6. Couple more videos from russian sources about attack

  7. That airbase is roughly 50mi inland from Tripoli.

    It seems to me that a modern heavy cruiser or battleship with large caliber extended range munitions could have done as much damage if not more firing dumb munitions.

    The Advanced Gun Weapon Systems Technology Program 16/11-Inch sabot rounds comes to mind. No reason sub-caliber extended range munitions couldn't be developed the 8"/55.

    Honestly for 100 Million dollars (or more) worth of missiles the level of damage is unimpressive, not to mention using up the majority of the land attack munitions from two ships until they leave theater and rearm.

    1. There's only one problem with that idea. A few years ago, Russia provided Syria with a number of Yakhont anti-ship missiles, which have a range of some 300 miles.

    2. Which I'm sure the two Burkes that fired the Tomahawks were also in range of, what is your point? A modern heavy cruiser or BB would be no more vulnerable to anti-ship missiles than any other surface vessel.

    3. In your scenario, you would be much closer to shore and therefore more at risk from land based missiles. Besides, how long would it take to fire enough rounds to do the same damage that the 59 cruise missiles did?

    4. "Yakhont anti-ship missiles, which have a range of some 300 miles."

      Syria has no long range targeting capability. Without targeting, the range of the missile is useless.

    5. "Besides, how long would it take to fire enough rounds to do the same damage that the 59 cruise missiles did?"

      That depends on the number, bore, and fire rate of the guns on said ships.
      As a basis, understand that in ripple fire each Burke can only send up one missile roughly every 6 seconds per launcher (3 seconds/missile/ship, in other words). Given two Burkes were used, this means it took 1 minute, 32 seconds to complete this attack if at maximum tempo (which the released videos show they were not).

      Assuming maximum fire rate (which would require some entirely reasonable automation):
      9 x 8/55RF (Des Moines-class type) : Approximately 2 minutes, 1 second.
      12 x 8/55RF (Hypothetical Des Moines-class replacement design) : Approximately 1 minute, 31 seconds.
      9 x 16in/50 (Iowa-type design) : Approximately 1 minute, 15 seconds.
      12 x 16in/50 (Montana-type design) : Approximately 56 seconds.
      9 x 18in/47 (Yamato-type design, US Guns, consider the 6in secondaries out of range) : Approximately 52 seconds.
      9 x 18in/47 + 6 x 8/55RF (Theoretical Super-Montana-type design) : Approximately 40 seconds.

      And as an added advantage, none of these shells could be spoofed by jamming or even shot down with anything less than BMD systems because of their comparatively extremely high sectional density.
      Also keep in mind that against hardened land installations such as the facilities that they were attacking, Armor Piercing Shells are more effective by default than the what is essentially purely High Explosive damage of the Tomahawk, which tips this sharply in favor of the Ships with Guns.

      - Ray D.

    6. "Besides, how long would it take to fire enough rounds to do the same damage that the 59 cruise missiles did?"

      What an odd question. The targets were all fixed targets. They weren't going anywhere. If it took a few minutes to get ordnance on target, how would that matter?

      A cruiser/battleship with three triple mounts could fire a full salvo (9 shells) every 30-45 seconds or so. Let's make the arithmetic easy and say one leisurely salvo every minute. It would take 7 minutes to fire 63 shells (versus the desired 60 Tomahawks). The elapsed time seems fine to me.

      An odd question.

    7. CNO - The Russians could help with targeting.

      Ray - All of the cruise missiles were intended to strike at about the same time. And, given their range and speed, the Burkes could have launched them at a leisurely pace.

      In your scenario, the 16-in Mark 7 guns of the Iowa class is probably the best choice. But, those guns can fire 2 rounds a minute. There was an extended range round with a 100 nm range planned, but it only carried 175 lbs of submunitions. Not exactly the same as the 1,000 warhead of a Tomahawk.

    8. CNO - That's assuming every round fired by a cruiser/battleship would have the same effect as that of the 1000 lb warhead of a Tomahawk. We all know that is not the case. That means more rounds would have to be expended to get the same effect. Plus a number of rounds will miss their target, requiring even more rounds to be expended.

    9. "Not exactly the same as the 1,000 warhead of a Tomahawk."

      While I was using the 2700lb AP shell figures by mistake, there were multiple types of extended range munitions planned for the Iowas in the 80s and this development continued into the early early 2010s (specifically, 2011).
      You have the HE-ER shell, which you are referring to, the AP-ER shell, which should have been the theoretical use here (it is NOT hard to make an AP shell if you have an HE shell, so even if you deny the AP-ER shell, you cannot deny that one could have easily been made by now, considering the role of the two Battleships in destroying bunkers in the Gulf War), and the SCRAM/SPGP projects (which would be overkill in this scenario).

      The AP-ER shell was roughly 1330 pounds, which would result in an approximately 2 minutes and 32 seconds comparative, and each shell STILL could not be spoofed by jamming (although they were designed to have GPS assisted targeting, their primary targeting system was INS - accuracy was the goal, not precision).

      Also, you are falling into the common trap of missile warhead == shell bursting charge.
      They are apples and oranges.
      High-Explosive Missiles such as the Tomahawk are payload delivery systems, the vehicle (the missile itself) adds little to nothing to the damage.
      With Shells, on the other hand, the vehicle IS part of the payload and has a very important role in the resulting damage, usually (but not always) resulting in more generalized destruction than a Pure High-Explosive detonation outweighing the Shell/Bomb's bursting charge by five fold or more.
      Compare, for instance, the humble 16in HC Mark 13, weighing in at 1,900lbs with only a burster charge of 153.6lbs. By the typical perspective, this shell would be far worse than the Tomahawk. But in the Gulf War, they found that the 16in HC shells fired by the Missouri and Wisconsin actually exceeded the damage caused by the Tomahawks except when the missile caused a conflagration (which was extremely rare in the desert terrain they were firing into).
      In 'Nam, boots on the ground compared the 16in HC shell salvos to '750lb bombing raids, except at command and much faster', and 750lb bombs typically do a good deal more damage than Tomahawks, because the bomb buries itself in the target before detonating whereas the Tomahawk detonates just above the ground with minimal shrapnel.
      Shells are much more like gun launched bombs than they are missiles in this regard.

      "That's assuming every round fired by a cruiser/battleship would have the same effect as that of the 1000 lb warhead of a Tomahawk. We all know that is not the case."

      Just for your information, according to the WW2 era Naval Ordnance manuals I have read, the 1900lb 16in HC Mark 13 (burster charge of a humble 153.6lbs) was considered to have the same effect as ~1500lbs of standard High Explosive (and a humble 500lb bomb [262lbs HE] clocked in at ~1300lbs equivalence) as a result of concussive effects of the contained gases of the explosive breaking through the heavy, thick steel case of the shell/bomb (and the shrapnel) much more violently than a similar standard charge (to include breaking though low resistance material such as aluminum, wood, or plastics).
      Modern Explosive composites may have gotten much more stable and safer to use over the years since then, but they have only gotten 0.02 times more powerful.
      So, you are right, a single Battleship gage shell would not have the same effect as a single Tomahawk - the shell would cause A LOT more damage, very easily.

      - Ray D.

    10. "The Russians could help with targeting."

      And risk direct confrontation? Risk escalation? Risk a major war? Risk nuclear annihilation? Risk all the things that appeasers say we risk if we do anything?

    11. "CNO - That's assuming every round fired by a cruiser/battleship would have the same effect as that of the 1000 lb warhead of a Tomahawk. We all know that is not the case. That means more rounds would have to be expended to get the same effect. Plus a number of rounds will miss their target, requiring even more rounds to be expended."

      Well, for sake of argument, let's say we need twice as many shells; or three times as many. Who cares? On a relative basis, they cost nothing and the targets are fixed and aren't going anywhere. So, what does it matter?

      Regarding explosive effects of shells vs a Tomahawk warhead, I strongly suspect you have no idea how explosive effects promulgate. The heavily encased explosive in a shell is hugely magnified because the expanding gases and forces are concentrated for a longer period of time as opposed to the more unrestrained missile explosive. There's a reason why battleship shells carve out giant craters in the ground and Tomahawks do not. There's a reason why battleship shells can penetrate armor Tomahawks cannot. You might want to read up on explosive effects.

    12. A .50 cal bullet has no HE but causes damage because of its kinetic energy. I recall a navy officer dismissing the value of a battleship's 2000 lb projectile because it only carried 150 lbs of HE. Kinetic energy computations are complex, but 2000 lbs of solid steel impacting at Mach 2 causes the same damage as 2000 lbs of HE exploded atop a target.

    13. "I recall a navy officer dismissing the value..."

      What was his specialty? Ordnance?
      I think not by your claim, because he obviously had no real understanding of how explosives work.

      Let me explain this to you in simple terms:
      Remember, chemical explosives work because the chemical releases gases extremely violently when whatever reaction happens.
      The explosive velocity is the real damage causer.
      So, the thing is, the Missile body (being made out of aluminum) provides little to no resistance to the expanded gases.
      Therefore, it breaks the moment that the pressure builds inside the container to a level that would break the thin aluminum body and container, which is typically FAR LOWER than the maximum pressure that the mass of chemical could theoretically have created (except when the mass is very low).
      But with the Shell, it has to break through roughly an inch of steel, which means that the internal pressure inside the shell caused by the explosive has to build up MUCH higher than that of the missile, resulting in a MUCH more violent explosion.

      From memory, The old rule of thumb formula was simple:
      Body Wall of 1" to 1.5" (all are Effective Steel Thickness): Bursting Charge x 10 = Effective Explosive Weight
      Body Wall of 0.5" to 1": Bursting Charge x 5 = Effective Explosive Weight
      Body Wall of 0.25" to 0.5": Bursting Charge x 2.5 = Effective Explosive Weight
      Body Wall of >0.25": Bursting Charge == Effective Explosive Weight
      And anything above 1.5" effective thickness was considered to begin degrading the performance of Explosive D (or Dunnite) compared to <1.5", and was therefore not listed in the manual - all figures are just from my memory, mind you, and shouldn't be taken as decisive fact (nor should any rule of thumb), but it is illustrative of the general idea.

      "..but 2000 lbs of solid steel impacting at Mach 2 causes the same damage as 2000 lbs of HE exploded atop a target."

      Correct on Kinetic Damage, which only makes the Shells even more deadly as they don't even need to carry Explosives to cause damage, yet they do.
      (Aside, that is really an issue of Armor Penetration and not Raw Explosive Power, which is what the Tomahawk causes)
      The AP-ER Shell I mentioned in my previous post impacts at about 2250fps (literally Mach 2) by virtue of the extremely high apogee of this type of munition and weighs plenty (over 1000lbs), on top of this it still has a 40lb burster charge for after it gets through whatever it hits. Such as a runway, a bunker, a hardened building, or whatever.

      The SCRAM/SPGP I mentioned earlier are essentially 3000lb Tungsten/DU explosive Darts that impact at ~Mach 7 to ~Mach 10 (depending on whose report you believe) and are basically a non-ballistic, surface-fired version of the old 'Rods from God' concept, the logical extreme of maximized kinetic force.
      But each SCRAM/SPGP costs as much as a Tomahawk, which is why I said they were overkill in this scenario (except for traveling at Mach 10 and digging a ~50' deep, 200ft wide hole in the ground, which is a fairly massive advantage).

      Naval Guns have an answer for almost anything in the right bore size, not always the most sensible answer, but an answer.

      - Ray D.

  8. First, the strike at the Shayrat Airfield was meant to reduce Assad's ability to deliver chemical weapons. Had we wanted, we could have easily reduced every building to rubble. But, that would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Syrian, and possibly Russian and Iranian, troops. Not a risk any president would want to take since that likely would have resulted in a direct military conflict.

    Second, the strike was done quickly, so I suspect we relied more on readily available assets as opposed to moving ships and aircraft into position. I don't know if other ships were available, but a few B-52's would be enough to deliver a similar sized follow-on strike.

    1. "Not a risk any president would want to take since that likely would have resulted in a direct military conflict."

      Direct military conflict with who? Is Russia or Iran going to invade the US? We already have troops in the region. How much more direct can we get?

      This is one of the problems our society suffers from. We've become so timid that we're scared to take any action.

    2. I'm not trying to go into politics BUT has a POTUS or US military ever given a heads up to the opponent before striking? Maybe we have told civilians to leave a city BUT I can't remember a time when we warned the other side before attacking a MILITARY TARGET?!? Has the US done that before? So I don't quite get this escalation of the conflict or Russian/Syrian will get mad at USA, I've heard 1 hour, 4 hours ,12 to 18 hours!?! of advance warning of the strike....whatever it was, combined with the ONE TARGET (as far as we know) I don't see that as an escalation, I see it ALMOST as USA asking for permission to 2 cents.

    3. Put the shoe on the other foot and assume a Russian airstrike killed a hundred of our troops. What would be our response?

      It's not about being timid or weak. It's about responding proportionally without inadvertently escalating the situation to something worse, that might not be controllable by either side.

    4. A hundred troops??!! Where'd you get that number? Why not a thousand or a million if you're just making up numbers? Do you have some inside information that there were a hundred Russian troops at that airfield?

      Several websites are reporting that there were 12-100 troops, almost all Syrian, at the airfield at the time of the attack.

      Besides, it's irrelevant. When you're operating troops in another country and you're supporting a regime that is using chemical weapons, you've got to expect a little collateral damage among your troops!

      It's all about timidity.

  9. This reply goes off on a bit of a tangent. But I think the strike kind of links into all the people saying that carriers are now just vulnerable targets, where in reality they are (when considered in isolation) no more or less vulnerable than they have every being, what's changed is their air wing.

    It's being systematically gutted, They have lost their deep strike ability, what was once able to be done by the A-3, A-5 and A-6, the last of which was retired without replacement, the A-12 Avenger was to be it. The modern carrier air wing, when compared to the modern nation state adversary's (I wouldn't consider Syria, especially in its current for to be a near peer adversary), is no longer capable of carrying out this mission.

    The lack of a deep strike ability really does make the carrier more vulnerable when talking about a near peer adversary, as it has come closer to the enemy for its air wing itself to be effective.

    This is compounded by the loss of an effective Air Defence fighter with the F-14 being retired without replacement, and that was after earlier proposals for a more advance tomcat such as Quickstrike (which wouldn't have really improved the air to air ability over the D model at all), Super Tomcat 21, Attack Super Tomcat 21 and Advanced Strike Fighter-14.

    Finally, The retirement of the S-3 Viking has only made thing worse, with it the navy lost its best tanker (which compounded the deep strike issue), the fleets standoff ASW capability and what had evolved into an important ISTAR asset.

    With the aircraft that are currently and planned to be carried (F-35C), the Carriers themselves need only be somewhere around the size of the French Charles De Gaulle, or the English Queen Elisabeth classes. the money saved could allow for an extra 1 or 2 carries which would mean that its more likely that one would have been on station if needed (I have no idea if there is currently a carrier in the med or not).

    Super carriers without a 'super' air wing is just a waste of capability and resources.

    1. Do we even have a carrier in the Med?

    2. "the carrier more vulnerable when talking about a near peer adversary, as it has come closer to the enemy for its air wing itself to be effective."

      You're correct about the value of the carrier being the value of its air wing. You're missing just a bit about the carrier being more vulnerable because it will have to approach closer. I've stated in previous posts that the role of the carrier is no longer land attack. That role is now filled by the Tomahawk missile. Thus, the role of the carrier is to escort and protect the Burkes, the Tomahawk shooters, while as they conduct land attacks. Another role of the carrier is to establish local air superiority for assaults, Air Force bomber transits, and counter air superiority. Thus, there is no operational need for the carrier to approach land defenses closely.

      The real need in the carrier air wing is for a true air superiority fighter.

    3. "The real need in the carrier air wing is for a true air superiority fighter."

      I'm 100% for this. If I could wave my magic wand I'd love a fleet defense/air superiority fighter to begin work today.

      I wouldn't completely get rid of attack planes too. I think even an A6 out of the boneyard today could have a role given its range if you could fit it with modern weapons; both in land attack and in anti-shipping roles.

      But notice the aircraft; something relatively simple and robust. It doesn't have to be uber all aspect stealth.

      Just IMHO.

  10. The Navy is introducing the Virginia Payload module to increase the cruise missile capacity to 40 on the new Virginia class SSN construction. This move is intended to offset the capabilities that will be lost when the SSGN's are retired.

    1. Common knowledge. However, at the moment, none exist. Given the uncertainty surrounding budgets, the Block V Virginas may or may not be built and may or may not contain the VPM.

      Even considering the Virginia-VPM subs, it will require four such subs to replace the cruise missile capacity of a single SSGN. Not a very efficient trade. The ten planned Block V Virginias will only replace two and a half SSGNs.

  11. CNO aside from the obvious issues with inventory vs targets were missing an important topic.

    China has 1,500 to 2,500 missiles targeted Taiwan and probably Guam. Seeing how 60 missiles here masterly put a small airport or of service for a short time consider this. China doesn't have enough missile to do more than target Taiwan realistically. If we get involved their inventory halves due to targeting issues

    We just showcased a gap in Chinese capability. They talk tough but if their missile salvos do nothing but put airports and storage areas or of service then they are severely lacking in the capability department

    But this also showcases the capability cap once the cruiser missile subs are decommissioned. They could pull this off and destroy Chinese bases on one to three of the island and skulk away.

    This gives credence to sub launched cruiser missiles and their capabilities in the Pacific

  12. I don't think this shows a gap in Chinese capability at all. I'm not singling you out Howdy, could you please explain in detail why?

    Alaska, Japan, South Korea, and Afghanistan are in that list as well.

    1. If it takes 60-100 missiles to destroy a small air Base then the more targets involved in the conflict then the value of the number of missiles diminished. Instead of destroying the target you keep some back for later strikes, or only disable a small number of targets

      Alternatively if the US gets into a real conflict in the Pacific then we could see 1000-2000 tomahawks launched in the first few days of a war. Or own missile stocks are inadequate

    2. Leads to even more questions in a future war, these 2 DDGs, do they have anymore Tomahawks left? If not, they are useless in land attack role. They can still stay on station for air defense role but they need to rearm for offensive role. Can they do it at sea? If not, which port do they have to go to rearm? takes time to get there, rearm, get back on station is all days, maybe weeks? has anybody factored that in if we fight China in Pacific? Distances are lot longer then Med!

    3. Nico, no, VLS cannot be reloaded at sea. That's not as major an issue as some portray it. Historically, naval warfare has consisted of a single battle, after which the involved ships return to port to rearm, refuel, reprovision. In the case of the US Navy in the Pacific in WWII, they made use of at sea refueling and reprovisioning but still frequently returned to forward ports that were sequentially taken from the Japanese in the island hopping campaign.

      It would be nice to be able to reload VLS at sea but it's not as serious an issue as many make it out to be.

  13. "The US launched 60 Tomahawks at a single, relatively small airfield. That seems like a lot of missiles especially when the runways were deliberately not targeted and other structures were deliberately avoided that would likely have been targeted in an all out attack. Still, this gives us some idea of the weapon density the US believes necessary to destroy a single, small base."

    This astute observation points directly to the need for effective cluster warheads. The West, including the USA, have foolishly given up on cluster weapons, rather than focus on reducing the dud/UXO rate of the submunitions.

    We should not be surprised at the expenditure of ordnance because of the relative ineffectiveness of HE warheads compared to warheads with submunitions. Tomahawk TLAM-D was designed with the airfield attack mission in mind.

    I note that the Russians and Chinese have chosen not to sign the Convention on Cluster Weapons, and now have more advanced warheads than anything the West has designed. This is a fundamental, and unacceptable, state of affairs that, in and of itself, makes Sino/Russo artillery 4-5 times as effective as anything in the West.


    1. Good observation about the relative effectiveness of artillery on both sides.

      We have also handcuffed ourselves in regards to ballistic missiles of certain ranges as opposed to the Chinese who are freely developing short, intermediate, and long range ballistic missiles.

      This all goes back to our having forgotten what war is and how ugly and brutal it is. In our desire to avoid any civilian losses whatsoever, we've crippled our ability to conduct war effectively.

      We also need to reevaluate our cruise missile treaties with Russia who, if reports are to be believed, have been ignoring and violating them, anyway.

      Good comment.



    April 7, 2017
    Based on very high resolution imagery captured less than 10 hours after the attack, ISI presents in-depth battle damage assessment.

    The Shayrat Airfield base was attacked by the US military using Tomahawk cruise missiles. According to the Pentagon, 59 missiles fired at the base, 58 of them hit targets. According to the Washington post, the Tomahawk cruise missile was last used by the Pentagon in October, when the military launched Tomahawks from ships in the Red Sea at three coastal radar sites in Yemen.

    “President Donald J. Trump ordered the attack on Al-Shayrat Air Base, the base from which the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province launched. The missiles launched from U.S. Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea”, says the Pentagon announcement.

    “Shortly after the president’s address, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis issued a statement providing details of the strike. It took place at about 8:40 p.m. EDT — 4:40 a.m. April 7 in Syria, he said.

    “The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, or TLAMs, launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Davis said in his statement. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.”
    Syria 1
    The results of the attack

    ISI very high resolution satellite imagery was able to reveal the results of the Tomahawk cruise missiles attack on the Al-Shayrat Air Base. According to ISI experts, the total of 44 targets hit. Several targets may have hit twice. Photo and analysis of the attack were carried out within 10 hours of the attack.


    An in-depth examination of the damage to the objectives shows that 13 double hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) got 23 hits. 5 workshops got hit. The workshops are not necessarily related to WMD, but to aircraft and their ability to do maintenance and fly.

    Hangars 1

    Ten ammunition storages got hit. Seven fuel reservoirs of the AFB got hit at two sites with eight hits total. Two locations remain untouched. One SA6 Battery utterly destroyed along with its radars and control systems. In total, five SA6 Battery elements hit.

    The results show that the target hits were accurate and that the Tomahawks have been used effectively against quality targets. Although 58 missiles hit the base, it seems that the overall damage to the base is limited because the warhead of the Tomahawk is not considered large and weighs about 450 kg.

  15. Does anyone remember welded rod or continuous rod obstacle clearance bombs. Maybe the missile needs that tech to increase the tomahawks ground effectiveness


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