Air Force Shows Off Stealthy Long-Range JASSM-ER For First Time In Syria Strikes

Of the 105 weapons fired by U.S., British and French forces against Syria on April 14, 19 were a new version of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles that had never previously been fired in combat.

The extended-range JASSM, or JASSM-ER, missiles were fired on targets within Syria by two B-1B Lancer bombers. The air-launched cruise missiles have a range of more than 600 miles, or twice the range of the original design.

U.S. AIR FORCES CENTRAL COMMAND (April 14, 2018) - U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen and aircrews conduct final checks on a B-1 Bomber before launching to strike chemical weapons targets in Syria April 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)

U.S. AIR FORCES CENTRAL COMMAND (April 14, 2018) - U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen and aircrews conduct final checks on a B-1 Bomber before launching to strike chemical weapons targets in Syria April 13, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Released)

All 19 JASSM-ER missiles were fired at the Barzah Research and Development Center, where military officials determined chemical weapons were made and distributed. Another 57 Raytheon [RTN] Tomahawk land-attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from a U.S. Navy destroyer and submarine struck the site in the early hours of April 14, according to the Pentagon.

“We selected these targets carefully to minimize the risk to innocent civilians,” Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said during an April 14 press conference. “We're still conducting a more detailed damage assessment, but initial indications are that we accomplished our military objectives without material interference from Syria. I'd use three words to describe this operation -- precise, overwhelming and effective.”

The AGM-158 JASSM-ER produced by Lockheed in Troy, Alabama, has a price tag of about $1.4 million a copy, according to the Government Accountability Office. The munition is stealthy without being invisible to enemy air defense radar and carries a 1,000-pound penetrating warhead. It was introduced in 2009 but had never seen combat before being deployed against Syrian chemical weapon facilities.

Both the Tomahawks and JASSM-ER missiles reached their targets near the Syrian capital of Damascus unmolested by Syrian air defenses. McKenzie called the target area one of the most heavily defended airspace areas in the world.” 

Nine more TLAMs were fired at a chemical weapons storage facility in Syria along with eight British Storm Shadow missiles, three French naval cruise missiles and two French Scout attack cruise missiles. Another seven Scout missiles hit and destroyed a chemical weapons bunker facility, McKenzie said.

The USS Monterey, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer fired a total 37 Tomahawks. The Burke-class destroyer Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks from a position In the North Arabian Gulf.

The Virginia-class submarine John Warner fired six Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea while in the Eastern Mediterranean the French Frigate Languedoc fired three of their naval version of the SCAT missile. 

In the air, two B-1 Lancer bombers fired the 19 joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, accompanied by British Tornado and Typhoon fighters that launched eight Storm Shadow missiles. The French flew both Rafale and Mirage jets, from which nine Scout missiles were launched. All bombers were escorted by fighter aircraft until they released their weapons, but McKenzie did not immediately know what U.S. fighter aircraft were involved.

Measured by the number of platforms involved, missiles launched and allied forces involved, the strike was twice a large as the one launched in April 2017 in response to a previous gas attack by the Syrian regime on civilians.

“Taken together … these attacks on multiple axes were able to overwhelm the Syrian air-defense system,” McKenzie said. “It's also important to note that we flew a variety of defensive counter-air, tanker, and electronic warfare aircraft in support of these operations.” 

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