Photos of the missile strike launched by the US, the UK, and France on targets in Syria on Friday night appear to show the Syrian defenses firing blindly in a wild and most likely failed attempt to intercept the missiles.
Before the strike — launched in response to what the US and its allies say was a chemical attack orchestrated by the Syrian government on Syrian civilians — Russia had threatened to shoot down US missiles heading for Syria and then attack the platforms that launched them. A retired Russian admiral elaborated on that threat, saying Russia would sink the USS Donald Cook with a torpedo if it fired on Syria.
Despite being in the area, the Cook didn’t fire a shot — and it possibly served as a distraction while cruise missiles poured in from ships, submarines, and jets in an attack that the Pentagon says succeeded in that each hit.
But Russia and Syria begged to differ, saying missile defenses took out 71 of the 105 missiles fired.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that Russian guns and missiles remained silent during the strike on Friday, according to the Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson.
Tomlinson added that Dunford said the only response was the Syrian military’s firing surface-to-air missiles after the strike — to no effect.
The US maintains that Syria fired its missiles after the strike, possibly in an attempt to save face.
„Most of the launches occurred after our strike was over,” US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, said of Syria’s interceptor fires. „When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it has to come down somewhere.”
Russia fields some of the world’s best air defenses in Syria, but Syria itself has older platforms with limited capability. And an expert told Business Insider it looked like a big miss on Friday.
Take a look at this photo:
Notice the streaks of light coming from hills around Damascus, Syria’s capital — these are most likely Syria’s missile defense sites, which would be why the missiles appear to be taking off from Damascus, whereas the US and allies’ missiles were rushing toward it.
In every picture of the interceptors, they appear to take a ballistic trajectory — or a smooth, arched path.
„The trajectory that I’ve seen from footage of reported Syrian SAMs don’t match up with what I’d expect to see for intercept attempts against low-flying cruise missiles,” Justin Bronk, an air-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. „I don’t believe the Russian/Syrian intercept claims.”
In fact, the Syrian defenses appear to have fired blind. If the missiles had targets, they look to have failed to maneuver toward them.
Normally, an interceptor missile doesn’t fly on a smooth arc and would instead whip around quickly to find and collide with the missiles. If the Syrian defenses fired after the US-led strike, it would make sense that they would have no target and fly uninterrupted.
„We fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters after the strike.
Satellite imagery after the attack appeared to show the US had hit its three targets.
For comparison, look at how the US and allies’ cruise missiles flew in a swerving pattern as they stalked their way to a target, and imagine how an interceptor would have had to maneuver in the air to catch one.
This image has some distortion on the lights, likely due to a long exposure, but still shows the non-linear path of the missile.
Update: This article has been updated to point out that the final image is distorted in places.