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US Air Dominance Falters As Pilots Contend With Advanced Russian Anti-Aircraft Systems

The Syrian proxy war has shifted the balance. US military might is being challenged by the Russian S-400 air-defense missile system.

The Pentagon has now acknowledged that the new Russian air defense systems have severely restricted the US Air Force’s freedom of movement in US overseas operations. The report, published in part by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), is presented as a big surprise.

But, as early as the Cold War, US pilots and their NATO allies had shown the utmost respect for the precursor systems of the modern Russian S-300 and S-400 systems. The quoted Pentagon report therefore basically does not reveal anything new.

<figcaption>The S-400 Triumf anti-air missile system</figcaption>
The S-400 Triumf anti-air missile system

The only new issue is that Russia has introduced these missile systems into the hotspot of Syria in order to limit the operations launched by the US Air Force.

The loss of absolute dominance in airspace has hit the US War Department particularly hard. If the Pentagon “reports” such developments to the media, it is usually to obtain more money from taxpayers however. The military industrial complex often complains in such reports about the gaps in military technology or even the alleged superiority of potential opponents, says former spy Rainer Rupp.

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Experience has shown that this is done with the intention to demand more funding in the next budget. Alarming reports on the dangers to “national security” have usually succeeded in winning approval for more military spending. And the Pentagon is chronically in need of funding for the new “requirements” against Russia and China.

Since 2001, the start of the “War on Terror” (WOT), the Pentagon has transformed the structure of the US war machine to build an army of commando soldiers. Today, this consists of countless, highly mobile, smaller task forces, which are largely on their own and operate around the globe – with or without the consent of the countries concerned – against the “enemies” of the United States.

This may include reconnaissance or reconnaissance missions or targeted hijacking or killing missions.

Meanwhile, the resurgent and independent Russia and superpower China have at least partially succeeded in putting Washington’s global claims to power in check. Therefore, in recent years, an influential faction in the Pentagon has been trying to change the course for the force structure back to preparing for major land wars against strong opponents, Rupp noted.

According to the Wall Street Journal, over the last two years the Kremlin has used Washington’s total obsession with alleged Russian “destabilization and disinformation campaigns” to “establish air superiority in regions where US planes could have operated with impunity”.

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From the north of Syria, along the borders of Eastern Europe to the Arctic Circle and further into the Far East, Russia has built an anti-aircraft ring that “threatens the US military’s reach” and forces Washington to “reconsider its position as the world’s undisputed air force”.

Russia’s wide-ranging air defense system S-400 also detects stealth (stealth) aircraft, and is “an irritating and potentially deadly defense shield that has changed the calculus of the US and its allies in potential hotspots,” starting with its deployment in Syria.

In fact, the Kremlin has used this “series of effective and far-reaching air defense systems” to set up a “new iron curtain” around Russia the WSJ complained.

Although the Pentagon has not yet been able to test the Russian anti-aircraft systems in a battle, it has already acknowledged in its report the need for flight routes to be changed and for US Air Force aircraft not to be deployed anywhere.

For example, the S-400 batteries in Syria “forced adjustments to the operations of the US-led anti-Assad coalition”. According to the WSJ article, this is the most significant revelation in the Pentagon report.

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At the end of 2017, the White House revised its national security strategy to address the so-called “new challenges” of Russia and China. It states, among other things, that Russia has “developed military capabilities, which in times of crisis deny America access and deny our ability to operate freely and unhampered”.

A similar formulation can be found in a Congressional report drawn up by a bipartisan commission to assess the White House’s defense strategy. As quoted in the WSJ article, the Commission noted that Russia “is seeking regional hegemony and seeking ways to project its power globally” and that this has already “brought about a reduction in US military advances” and is “a threat to vital US interests”.

Although Russia’s military spending and capabilities are inconsistent with those of the United States or even China (Russia’s defense budget is about a tenth of that of the Pentagon), the Kremlin has skillfully moved to startle Washington, the WSJ continues.

At the same time, Washington is concerned that “the lethal reach of the S-400” may be increased due to the sale of the system to other countries, such as China and India, which are both against Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

However, the WSJ admitted that the war in Syria was the reason why the S-400 systems were eventually stationed outside Russia’s borders. Washington and its US allies should only blame themselves for this development.

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Especially as some US officials have admitted, albeit only in rare moments, that Russian troops had come to Syria only in response to the covert regime change war that was waged against Damascus.

The WSJ quoted Sergei Karaganov, Putin’s foreign policy advisor, as saying: “Russia does not want military superiority, but it has ended the superiority of the West or the US. Now the West can no longer use force indiscriminately.”

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