Pentagon spokesman says it now takes 'aircraft with specific capabilities' to fly in western Syria
What everybody wants to know right now is: has the Russian announcement that their air defense systems will begin to track US aircraft west of the Euphrates in Syria as targets limited US air activity over Syria?
Immediately after the Russian announcement we figured the new Russian stance would affect US carrier-based aircraft (F/A-18s) would be affected the most.
Since then the US has carried a solitary strike against ISIS in Palmyra—far to the west of Euphrates—just to make a point. However, that strike was the exception. Judging by CENTCOM's own press releases virtually all strike missions since the new Russian policy have been either to the east of the Euphrates, or just a couple miles to the west of it but—still well within the river valley. Then it would seem the Russian warning did have a very substantial effect.
The US military however has been extremely stingy with information, and has declined to say just how different its air operations are now. Last week however, a Pentagon spokesman said something rather interesting:
Journalist: Colonel, so, after the F-18 shot down the Syrian regime aircraft, the Russians made the threat about coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates. Obviously coalition aircraft have continued to operate in that area, but have any anti-aircraft systems illuminated any of those aircrafts during their operations after that incident?
Pentagon spokesman: So to your first question, in reference to whether or not our aircraft, after the statements made, were painted -- were illuminated, I think, is what you -- the way you brought that up, we were able to continue to operate throughout the rest of Syria. And as I think you may have read from Lieutenant General Harrigian's statement and comments to New York Times, we will continue to operate in areas.
But we're going to make sure that our air crews are -- you know, can manage that safely. And if it takes a specific aircraft with specific capabilities to fly in -- in particular areas, then that is what he will do as a commander. That is what our -- our air crews will continue to do.
We're not going to get into the details on whether or not, you know, certain aircraft were painted. We will take very specific and calculated measures to make sure that our air crews can continue to fly safely.
If it takes a specific aircraft to fly in particular areas (Syria west of Euphrates) then that is the aircraft that will be chosen for the mission.
But that then also means that since the Russian warning only some aircraft are suitable. The rest do not have "the specific capabilities" to "manage that safely".
We won't pretend that we have a clue which types of aircraft the US military feels can still safely operate in western Syria (stealth? low-flying A-10s?), and which can not (AWACS? tankers? F/A-18s?), but it seems to us the Pentagon gave itself away a little bit here.