08 October 2015

A Literal Shot Across Our Bow

Russia just launched precision cruise missile strikes against Salafi rebels in Syria.

The missiles were launched from their flotilla in the Caspian Sea, probably because they could get permission from the countries in the flight path, Iran, Iraq, and (of course) Syria, which makes it rather different from the US/NATO airstrikes who have been conducted without Syria's permission:
Russia added a new dimension to its military campaign in Syria with warships firing cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea, while President Vladimir Putin urged the U.S. and countries in the region to form a coalition against Islamic State and other militant groups.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that Russian bombers had hit 112 targets in Syria since the campaign began on Sept. 30 and that “the intensity of the strikes is increasing.” Naval vessels in the Caspian 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away fired 26 missiles at 11 objects on Wednesday, destroying them all, Shoigu said.

Russia should “continue to work with our foreign partners,” Putin told Shoigu in a meeting shown on Rossiya One state television. “Without the participation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States of America, Iran, Iraq and neighboring states of course, this work is unlikely to be carried out successfully.”

Russia is flexing its muscles in its first military campaign outside the former Soviet Union in three decades as it supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is also backed by Shiite-dominated Iran in the fight against predominantly Sunni groups. While the bombing campaign has escalated tensions between Moscow and NATO members, Shoigu said Russia is ready to accept what he called U.S. proposals on coordinating strikes against Islamic State, a notion dismissed later on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

‘Precision’ Strikes

A video released by the Defense Ministry in Moscow showed what it said was a Russian naval strike group launching missiles from the Caspian that streaked across the night sky, then traced a route across Iran and Iraq, hugging terrain from as low as 50 meters, before hitting targets in Syria within a range of accuracy of as little as three meters.
While these missile strikes might or might not make a big difference in the war in Syria, this is a significant milestone:  This is the first combat use cruise missiles by a non-US military as far as I can tell.

As such this constitutes a major development, particularly when one considers the fact a that there are about  ½ dozen export customers.

Also, there is a variant in which the missile is stowed in what appears to be a commercial shipping container, which makes detection that much more difficult.

Finally, while I understand why they launched this from the Caspian, I was completely unaware that Russia had a significant naval presence there.

It's the the largest completely enclosed body of water in the world, and only ⅓ as salty as the oceans.

After some Googling, I determined that the Russians have a canal between the Don and the Volga,  which allows moderately sized ships to transit between the Black and Caspian seas.

It appears that the missiles were launched from ships in the 1000-2000 ton range, which is in the range of Corvettes or small Frigates.


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