Air Wars in the Future: Lessons from the Syrian Conflict in the Analysis of American Observers
The fighting in Syria has significantly changed the tactics of the world military aviation and made it possible to predict what air combat will look like in the foreseeable future. For example, the US Air Force in the Syrian campaign participated in operations for which they were practically not trained. Russian aviation, in turn, regularly flew to the positions of American troops, although the Russian Federation and the United States were not direct opponents in the Syrian conflict.
When Russian planes approached American positions, US Air Force fighters intercepted them and prevented them from dropping bombs near American and partner positions. American experts Aaron Stein and Ryan Fishel write about this, stressing that since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, these were the first examples of such close "contact" between Russian and Western pilots
Great powers in the skies over Syria
According to the authors of War on the Rocks, the conflict in Syria is a wonderful example of great power competition, including in the air. It is wars on the periphery that are and will remain a way of sorting out relations between the great powers without direct confrontation, and air confrontation in this regard has a special role.
Since Syrian airspace was free for both Russian and American aviation, and Syrian air defense systems did not shoot down American aircraft, it is called a "favorable" environment for air operations. But it was precisely this "favorability" that significantly complicated the situation in the air, since American aircraft flew in close proximity to the aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, while the latter were not considered as an enemy.
In addition, the United States did not degrade or disable Syria's integrated air defense system. At the same time, Damascus used air defense to fire at Israeli aircraft. On the other hand, Russia has improved and modernized the Syrian air defense system by deploying the S-300 and S-400 complexes in this country. The Americans had significant fears that Russian military specialists could be at the Syrian air defense facilities, and this also prevented the US Air Force from striking Syrian positions.
This policy was once applied by the USSR during the Cold War: the presence of Soviet military specialists at air defense facilities reduced the likelihood of Western aviation strikes against these facilities.
Of course, the US military sought to prevent Russian fighter jets from operating in close proximity to US and Allied positions. But, at the same time, the Pentagon did not have complete clarity: either Russian aviation was bombing areas near American positions to demonstrate to the United States its determination, or it was striking terrorist militants, performing the same role as the United States. The situation was changed by the emergence of a channel of direct communication between the military.
Syrian conflict and air confrontation scenarios
Air wars of the future, given the lessons of the Syrian conflict, are likely to have the character of great power aviation in a chaotic congested military space. That is, there will be no direct clashes between the great powers with a nuclear arsenal, but aviation will operate in the skies over third countries, as observers believe in the analysis on the pages of the aforementioned publication.
As noted by American authors, such a development of events is possible in the South China Sea, Afghanistan and even in outer space, which has also become a field of competition for great powers.
The war in Syria showed the exceptional dependence of aviation on reconnaissance resources and flight support, since it took thousands of hours of observation, "mapping" of positions, as well as the creation of a fuel supply system, and the launch of communications equipment to launch attacks on the same terrorist groups of American aviation.
But such a complex model of support for the air force's actions reduces their maneuverability and mobility, creates obstacles to operations in remote regions, where there are no US military bases nearby, like in Qatar. American pilots in Syria are faced with problems and scenarios that they have not previously encountered in other military conflicts, and they will have to take this into account in the future, which is especially significant against the background of growing tensions with Russia and China.
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- Twitter / US Air Force
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