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Experts: Russian navy missile strikes were 'bravado'

October 7, 2015 (Photo Credit: Screen image via YouTube)

 

Russia's move Wednesday to hit Syrian targets from more than 1,000 miles away using ship-based, long-range cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea was a dramatic display of military power designed to taunt the U.S., experts say.

"This was specifically done to show bravado ... it's chest thumping," said Christopher Harmer, a retired Navy officer and senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

The Russians announced 26 missile strikes on Syrian rebels using a first-of-its-kind act of power projection, firing ship-based supersonic "Klub" missiles, roughly similar to American-made Tomahawk missiles and sometimes referred to as "carrier killers."

The Russians easily could have hit the same targets with the dozens of warplanes forward-deployed at their Latakia air base in Syria.

 

The strike marks the first time Russia has operationally deployed a navy-launched, surface-to-surface, long-range missile, Harmer said.

"We've know all along the Russian's have, quote-unquote, the capability on paper," he said. "Having the capability on paper is one thing ... demonstrating that in a combat scenario is another."

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that Russia did not notify top U.S. officials in advance about the missile strikes, which targeted rebels who are fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, a key Russian ally.

The strikes not only showcased the capabilities of the Russian navy but also highlight an anti-American alliance emerging in the Middle East.

 

The missiles' flight path traveled through both Iranian and Iraqi airspace and likely required permission from both governments to deconflict with their own military air defenses and civilian air-traffic control systems.

"Again, we're seeing the Iran-Iraq alliance with Russia," said Stephen Blank, a Russian expert with the American Foreign Policy Council. "They want to be able to veto anything the United States does in the Middle East."

 

American warplanes continue to make daily flights over Syria and launch airstrikes against the Islamic State.

But the Russian combat sorties that began Sept. 28 have started to impact those U.S. air operations. The U.S. and Russia do not have any communications procedures in place to deconflict their air operations and reduce the risk of accident or confrontation.

"We have had to reroute some aircraft," said Davis, the Pentagon spokesman. "We are taking action to ensure safe separation of aircraft."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he opposes Russian military efforts to support the embattled Assad regime in Syria. "We are not prepared to cooperate in a strategy which … is flawed, tragically flawed, on Russia's part," Carter said during a trip to Rome Wednesday.

But he left open the possibility of some baseline coordination. "What we will do is continue basic, technical discussions on professional safety procedures for our pilots flying [over] Syria," he said. "That is it. We will keep the channel open because it is a matter of security and safety for our pilots."

 

The naval strikes signal another escalation of Russian operations in Syria, Blank said.

Russian warplanes began bombing Syrian rebels last week despite protests from the U.S. Moscow also signaled that "volunteer units" of Russian troops will soon join Syrian ground forces.

"We have again another example of the combined-arms aspect of this operation," Blank said. "It shows that they have the power projection capability.

"There is a great deal of arrogance and showing off here. It is the arrogance of Putin ... 'you're weak, we're strong. We can do all this stuff and there's nothing you can do about it.' "

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