Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158B Joint Air to Surface Strike Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) made its combat debut on April 14 when the weapon was employed against suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities near Damascus.
Launched from two B-1B Lancers flying out of Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, 19 JASSM-ERs were reportedly employed against the Barzah Research and Development Centre along with BGM-109C/E Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and the Northern Arabian (Persian) Gulf.
Two other facilities were hit by a mix of Tomahawks as well as eight Storm Shadow missiles fired by RAF Tornados flying from Akrotiri in Cyprus, six SCALP missiles fired by French Armee de l’Air Rafale fighters operating from Hyers in France, and three SCALPS launched by a French frigate.
The US Director of the Joint Staff, USMC Lt.Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told media in a briefing that, despite at least 40 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) shells being fired, Syrian defences had been “remarkably ineffective in all domains.” He didn’t elaborate as to whether this was due to a lack of competency on the Syrian and Russian side, or to cyber and electronic warfare measures taken by the coalition, or a combination of both.
McKenzie did note that Russia’s advanced S-400 air defence system had not been switched off during the attack, but that they were “not activated”. Conversely, initial Russian media reports claimed 71 of the 105 cruise missiles fired were shot down by defending forces, while Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told journalists the missiles “successfully hit every target”.
Due to the stand-off nature of the weapons employed, none of the attacking aircraft were required to enter Syrian airspace during the attack. The B-1Bs were reportedly escorted to their launch positions in Iraqi airspace by a USMC EA-6B Prowler providing electronic support.
The French Rafales were escorted by Mirage 2000 fighters, while the RAF Tornados were accompanied by Typhoon fighters. Numerous US, and French C/KC-135R and KC-10 tankers were airborne throughout the attack in the Mediterranean and over Iraq.
The 900km range low-observable JASSM-ER entered service with the USAF in 2014. Utilising the same mould line as the 400km JASSM, the -ER trades off a smaller warhead for greater internal fuel capacity.
The attack is also believed to be the first combat use of a Virginia class nuclear powered attack submarine, with the USS John Warner firing six of the Tomahawk missiles.
It is believed no Australian aircraft or ships were tasked for the raid. The RAAF maintains an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C/C2 aircraft and a KC-30A MRTT tanker in theatre for ongoing coalition operations in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Okra, while an RAN Anzac class frigate is currently assigned to Operation Manitou in the Indian Ocean.