The US Department of Defense (DoD) has released several images taken from satellites and reconnaissance drones of the damage wrought on al-Shayrat airfield by over 50 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles launched from USS Ross and USS Porter, two Arleigh Burke class destroyers, on April 7. The images show that several aircraft shelters which were scattered about the airfield have been either badly damaged or in some cases destroyed1,2,3. The DoD maintains that all but one of the 50 missiles hit its target, while the Russians maintain that only about 20 made it to where they were supposed to go.
It has been reported that the airbase has been occupied by the Syrian Air Force throughout the country’s 6 years of civil war. The Syrians reputedly operated Sukhoi Su-22 and MiG-23 aircraft, while the Russians reputedly used it as a base for Mil Mi-24 and Mi-35 attack helicopters and, as shown on recent satellite reconnaissance photographs more recently Kamov Ka-52 and Mil Mi-28N attack helicopters3.
Some of the more enlightening images were on-the-ground photographs released by the Russians. These show a couple of destroyed aircraft, in addition to a couple of aircraft in their shelters in the distance, which appear to be undamaged4. There are close-ups of the destroyed aircraft and these are single engine aircraft, much like those also shown sitting in a paddock nearby. All of these aircraft appear to fixed-wing MiG-21s, which was first introduced into soviet service in 1959, almost 60 years ago. There appeared to be none of the more recently developed warplanes operated by the Syrian Air Force, such as the MiG-23, MiG-25, MiG-29, Su-22 or Su-24. Nor were there any Russian helicopters around anywhere, let alone lying damaged or destroyed.
All this seems rather suspicious, and would tend to confirm that Trump warned the Russians of the cruise missile strike, as has been reported. It also seems clear that the Russians warned the Syrians, and it has been reported that eyewitnesses saw Syrian personnel and equipment leaving the airfield before the attack5. Could it be that these old warplanes were simply sacrificed to support the impression of enormous damage being inflicted?
The outrage expressed by Putin at this “illegal act of aggression” was fairly muted. Also in question is why none of the cruise missiles were intercepted by the Russian SA-21 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence system, which are stationed at a nearby airfield4,6. Either they were incapable, or the Russians did not attempt to use them. All this leads to a significant amount of doubt as to whether the cruise missile attack was designed to do anything other than deflect attention from Trump’s ‘Russian connection’, or to improve his standing among the people who voted for him.