Russia “warned” the U.S. that “Any aircraft, including planes and drones belonging to the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates river, will be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets.”
This happened after a U.S. Navy F/A-18 downed a Syrian SU-22 bomber that attacked anti-Assad rebels in Raqqa province on Sunday. The Russians don’t like that their favored dictator is being attacked by U.S.-backed forces. To hell with ISIS, Russia considers Syria to be within its geographic sphere of influence.
As Streiff at RedState noted,
Note they say “tracked” as air targets, not “treat U.S.-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, as targets.” Why is this significant? If Russian air defense systems “treated” allied aircraft as hostile that would entail “painting” them with fire control radar, an international sign of imminent hostilities. “Tracking” merely means allied aircraft will be coded on Russian battle management radar as hostile. They have probably been doing that since Day One.
But let’s move past weasel-words like “tracked” and “painted” and “treated.” The word “target” can mean a lot of things in the radar and military world. Just because something is a target doesn’t mean anyone is shooting. For example, right now, at this moment, the U.S. is targeting several Russian cities and military facilities with weapons of mass destruction. And the Russians are targeting us. That’s how deterrence works.
In reality, Russia wouldn’t dare shoot at us. Not on purpose, at least.
Just looking at the numbers answers the question before it’s even asked.
The U.S. has way more than double the number of fixed-wing aircraft than the Russians. We have 500 more fighters than Russia, with enough tankers to move them wherever in the world we want. Oh, and that’s just the Air Force. The Navy has another 300-odd F/A-18 Hornets and another 300+ F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
And if things got really serious, we have scores of F-22A Raptors that can shoot any Russian aircraft out of the sky before they even had the chance to “target” it.
In short, the Russians would be insane to the point of suicidal to shoot at an American aircraft.
But let’s just assume for a moment that some mistake happened, some dude who imbibed a bit too much vodka pressed the wrong button and fired an S-300 or S-400 air defense battery at one of our planes. First of all, that scenario can’t happen unless American jets fly over known Russian bases near the Mediterranean.
The S-400 air-defense systems are located at Russia’s air base at Latakia and its naval base at Tartus. The strike, which hit the Shayrat air base near Homs more than 75 kilometers away from the city of Tartus and more than 120 kilometers from Latakia, meant the American cruise missiles were safely out of the Russian air-defense system’s effective range for cruise missiles, he said. “You can more or less defend a perimeter of about 40 kilometers.”
We fired a bunch of Tomahawks right under the nose of the Russian air defense systems and they never even activated. Of course, we told the Russians we were doing it, which is actually the other reason they wouldn’t shoot at us.
Just because they told us they’re treating our aircraft as “targets” doesn’t mean we’re going to stop telling them (“de-conflicting”) we’re coming when we go to deal with threats. If we tell them we’re sending aircraft to Raqqa province, they have a few choices. They can do nothing at all. They can tell whoever we are attacking to get away. Or they can try to defend against us.
The first option is almost certainly their best option. The second option will only lead to more aircraft and exposure of their intelligence assets. The third option will result in them losing some air defense batteries or fighter aircraft. The last thing the Russians want to do is advertise the fact that their systems can be defeated by the very American aircraft they were designed to defend against.
Unless they knew without a shadow of a doubt the engagement would come out in their favor (it wouldn’t), they’re not going to engage. I know the engagement would not come out in favor of the Russians because American pilots are well prepared and well trained to deal with Russian threats.
Israelis fly into Syrian airspace more often than you think, using American-made F-16’s, and only rarely (if at all) do they suffer any losses. American air assets are at least as good as Israel’s.
The first time a Russian battery goes into “acquisition” mode on an American jet, given the latest “warning,” it’s possible Americans will go “weapons free” and destroy the battery with anti-radiation missiles. That would be bad for the Russians.
The Russians are not stupid, and they won’t shoot at us. Or if they do, they’ll make it look like an accident and paint us as the bad guys. But I think they won’t dare.