Attack on Syria Marks First Combat for Virginia-class SSN, Soon-to-Retire EA-6B Assists
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The April 13 cruise-missile attacks against chemical weapon sites in Syria marked the first known combat action for the Navy’s Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN).
According to an April 14 Pentagon press briefing, USS John Warner, staged in the Mediterranean Sea, “fired six Tomahawk missiles” during the assault.
Submarines have launched Tomahawk missiles before in several actions in Libya and the Middle East, but all have been from Los Angeles-class SSNs and USS Florida, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine.
In all, 105 missiles were fired U.S. and French ships, and U.S., U.K. Royal Air Force and French aircraft.
“First, in the Red Sea, the Ticonderoga-class [guided-missile cruiser] Monterey, fired 30 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director of the Joint Staff. And the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Laboon fired seven Tomahawks. In the North Arabian Gulf, the Burke-class destroyer Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the French frigate Languedoc fired three missiles of their naval version of the SCAT missile. Also, in the Mediterranean, the Virginia-class submarine John Warner fired six Tomahawk missiles.
“In the air, two B-1 Lancer bombers fired 19 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles [JASSMs],” McKenzie said. “In addition, our British allies flew a combination of Tornadoes and Typhoons and launched eight Storm Shadow missiles. Our French allies flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages and launched nine Scout missiles.”
McKenzie later said the JASSM missiles were the extended-range variant, the JASSM-ER.
The Barzeh Research and Development Center, located in the greater Damascus area, was attacked by 76 missiles — 57 Tomahawks and 19 JASSMs.
The Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility, just west of Homs, was struck by nine Tomahawks, eight Storm Shadow missiles, three naval versions of the SCAT cruise missile and two Scout land-attack cruise missiles.
The Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility was hit by seven Scout missiles.
“All weapons hit their targets at very close to the designated time on target, of about 4:00 a.m. in Syria, which, of course, is 9:00 here on the East Coast,” McKenzie said.
U.S. naval aviation’s long-serving EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft provided suppression of enemy air defenses in the April 13 strikes, joining in one more combat action in the aircraft’s long history, which is scheduled to end next year.
An EA-6B assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Two (VMAQ-2) provided electronic jamming support for the Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers that struck the Syrian targets with cruise missiles.
VMAQ-2 is on its last scheduled deployment for the EA-6B, which is scheduled to be retired by the Marine Corps in 2019. Another squadron, VMAQ-3, is scheduled for deactivation next month at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Navy has retired EA-6Bs from its electronic attack squadrons in favor of the EA-18G Growler. The EA-6B first entered fleet service in 1971, seeing combat in 1972 over North Vietnam.
During the Pentagon news conference, McKenzie said the attacks on multiple axes “were able to overwhelm the Syrian air-defense system. None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses, and we have no indication that Russian air-defense systems were employed. We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets. At the end of the strike mission, all our aircraft safely returned to their bases.
“We assessed that over 40 surface-to-air missiles were employed by the Syrian regime,” he said. “Most of these launches occurred after the last impact of our strike was over,” he said. “It is likely that the regime shot many of these missiles on a ballistic trajectory. I mean, by that, without guidance. And we assess that the defensive efforts of Syria were largely ineffective, and clearly increased risk to their people based on this indiscriminate response. When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it's going to come down somewhere.”