August 28, 2013

Tomahawk Missiles Would Send A Crystal Clear Message To Syria

Source: Business Insider

Journalist: Geoffrey Ingersoll

The U.S. will probably send several Tomahawk missiles at Syria sometime this week, defense analysts tell Bloomberg.

The choice of the 30 year-old Tomahawk when the U.S. could deploy newer, equally effective weapons — drones, cyber attacks, special operators that make ninjas look amateur, etc. — is likely one of messaging. 

Stephanie Gaskell of Defense One talked to a few experts about the choice:

“Using newer technology in this situation leaves opportunity for misinterpretation. If we executed a cyber-strike would the Syrians and the international community understand what we meant?” Ben FitzGerald, an adjunct fellow with the Center for a New American Security and expert on the impact of technology on conflict, told Defense One. “The messaging associated with more traditional weapons, like Tomahawks, is less ambiguous,” he said. “They’ve been used before and precedents have been set. Clarity and certainty is more important than sophistication.”

The Tomahawk missile packs a 1,000-lb warhead, smart guidance systems that have an 85% percent hit rate on targets the size of a common window, and can circle their targets for hours before making a final approach.

The fallout of launching at Syrian targets will of course result in Syrian casualties, possibly even the deaths of Russian advisers, but they allow the U.S. to send a clear, kinetic message and obliterate physical objectives, all without putting American lives at risk.

"They allow us to penetrate what we would call a medium to high threat without putting air crew at risk [and] create the conditions for manned aircraft," then Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, told press in 2011

It's not as if the U.S. (and Israel for that matter) are without other, just as effective, options.

"The United States' ability to employ offensive cyber effects is unmatched. As far as defensive, all signs point to USCYBERCOM and other national-level elements having moved aggressively to make a lot of progress in that arena," Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider.

The purpose is obviously to send a message as much as it is to destroy targets, since the stated aim of the administration is not to remove Assad, but rather, to "provide a response."

From The Hill:

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday said that there was “no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” suggesting a U.S. strike would be limited. But he added that “there must be a response” to the latest attack.

The response from Syria, on the other hand, has taken on all the characteristics of panic. They've not only threatened to bomb Israel for America's actions (an idea they didn't even float when Israel itself launched attacks against Syrian targets), they've also blamed American agents for perpetrating the chemical attacks as a part of a false flag.

Certainly the desperation is thick, and despite Washington voicing clear intent not to remove Assad, desperation may lead to desperate measures.

"There is a legitimate concern Iran will counter any attempt to unseat Assad with cyber effects and attacks of an asymmetric nature, against the US and her allies," one official with the U.S. Navy told Business Insider. "I am most concerned with their electronic warfare capabilities, which we don't have as much visibility on as I'd like."

Iran has already proven itself capable of hacking attacks, and so has Syria — so it could just be that the two embattled countries have a message of their own to return.


  • Ben FitzGerald

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Defense Program

    Ben FitzGerald is a partner at Lupa, a private investment firm, and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). At Lupa he leads the firm’s inve...