What a U.S.-Russian War in Syria Would Look Like

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Joe Pappalardo imagines what a U.S.-Russian war in Syria would look like:

The escalation begins with a strategic sacrifice. Russian helicopters in Syria are loaded with fuel drums and flown on a flight profile that mirrors a barrel bomb mission. The Raptors take the bait, immolate the Russians in midair, and give the Kremlin a talking point about “slain Russian troops.” Now it can say the Americans fired first and cast its next steps as self-defense.

The Moskva‘s radar spots the tankers easily as they make racetrack patterns in the sky. The refueling aircraft are 135 feet long and have virtually no defenses. They fly without escorts. The Russians wait until fate deals them a good hand—one aerial refueler from Greece is heading back to its base, over the Mediterranean. Another is loitering near Aleppo, tanking U.S. fighters. All are within range of the Moskva‘s 48N6E2 missiles.

The Med is crowded with warships. The United States has four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers off the Syrian coast, and part of their job is to shadow Russian warships. They’ve followed miles behind as the Moskva creeps along the coastline, north of their new airbase in Latakia.

And when the pair of SAMs rise from the Moskva, the crew on the bridge knows this war has entered a new, scary phase. They go into combat alert and radio to their base in Rota, Spain. By the time the news reaches commanders, the refueling aircraft are obliterated, the eight crew members onboard killed instantly.

Any tankers readying for takeoff are held on their tarmacs. Combat sorties are canceled. Airborne fighters and bombers are ordered to return to airbases. One fighter runs dry and flames out on the way and the pilots eject into Kurdish territory.

The Air Force operates more than 400 KC-135s, so in theory, losing two should not cripple an air campaign. Yet the threat alone keeps them grounded. And with tankers grounded, very few missions to support anti-ISIS and anti-Assad forces can proceed. (B-1 bombers flying from Turkey still operate over northeastern Syria, but only out of the range of the Moskva’s missiles.)

While Russia claims its right to self-defense and takes to the world stage claiming its “limited actions” are meant to deescalate the conflict in Syria, Pentagon planners are preparing a response within hours. The humiliation of the attack and forced cessation of combat missions are just too great.

Orders are passed to the American guided missile destroyers. The Mediterranean is about to erupt.


  1. Steve H says:

    Unescorted tankers?

  2. Coyote says:

    Tom Clancy this guy is not. “What war… would look like”? This is some drivel fantasy of how a war might get started — of an infinite number of unknown scenarios — most of which will not include the usual “bad evil Russki” plot lines. Projecting our own faults onto our favorite boogeyman just never stops, though.

  3. Grurray says:

    In reality, American forces have shown no interest in attacking the Syrian regime’s planes or helicopters or any of their assets. They’ve made a point of steering clear of them since the operation started.
    Before Russia entered, it was even alleged that there were back channel collaborations and notifications with Assad about the airstrikes.
    Now that Russia has taken over air support and interdiction for Assad, the US has announced it will stop its half-hearted, doomed-to-fail attempts at training rebels to overthrow the regime and only work with the Kurds, who are actually allied with regime forces in northeast Syria.

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