Syria Strike Shows Value, Flexibility of Forward-Deployed Warships
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Tomahawk cruise missiles launched against Syria April 6 came from two U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers (DDGs) forward-deployed to the U.S. Sixth Fleet primarily for ballistic-missile defense. The flexibility of these multi-mission ships and their proximity to the Middle East gave the commander in chief a viable option for a strike from international waters.
The Arleigh Burke-class DDGs USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk land attack missiles against targets in Al-Shayrat Air Base in eastern Syria, including “aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said in an April 6 statement.
“The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces,” Davis said. “The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again. … We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government's ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.”
The Navy has forward-deployed four DDGs to Naval Station Rota, Spain, in recent years as Phase I of the Phased Adaptive Approach to providing ballistic-missile defense (BMD) of Europe. They became the first warships permanently deployed to the Sixth Fleet in many years and have conducted BMD patrols as well as providing maritime security and naval gunfire support to Operation Odyssey Lighting last year in Libya. They also participate in theater security cooperation and NATO exercises in the Mediterranean, Black, and Baltic Seas.
The Tomahawk missile, with a range of more than 1,000 nautical miles, has been employed in numerous conflicts since its combat debut in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. More than 2,000 have been launched in combat. Its use avoids the need to strike a target with manned aircraft, thus avoiding the potential loss of aviators.