Tag Archives: Syria

Terrorists, Tyrants, and Tobacco: How the Illicit Cigarette Trade Fuels Instability in the Middle East

This article is part of our “Border Control Week”

The sea is the circulatory system of the world economy, through which the economic blood of trade, ideas, and information flows.  At odds with this healthy economic lifeblood are the pathogens of theft, corruption, and illicit trafficking.  In addition to patently illegal contraband, such as narcotics and weapons, numerous illicit goods move through the maritime transportation system, avoiding taxes and undermining legitimate trade.  Tobacco is one of the most commonly smuggled illicit goods around the world.  The commodity moves in multiple directions, sometimes both to and from the same countries, making it challenging to understand the traffic flow.  Specifically, the distribution of substandard, untaxed cigarettes through the Eastern Mediterranean involves a complex criminal network of producers, smugglers, and dealers and benefits nefarious actors across the Levant.

Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)
Turkish Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Vessel SG-701 Dost (image courtesy Turkish Coast Guard Command)

These substandard cigarettes are often cheaply made in Eastern Europe, circumventing European Union safety regulations.  Brands such Prestige and Victory are packed aboard container ships in Bulgaria which move through the Black Sea, then into the Aegean via the Bosporus Strait.  From there, some of the contraband shipments make their way to Syria, while others continue down to the Red Sea and around to the Persian Gulf.  The Gulf-bound cigarettes likely continue into Iraq and Turkey.  In the Eastern Med, many are offloaded at the Syrian port of Latakia.  The cigarette distribution network in Western Syria is controlled by and benefits the Assad family while bypassing various international sanctions against the authoritarian regime.

Upon arrival from sea at the port of Latakia, cigarettes move through a series of storage warehouses and distribution points from Assad-controlled coastal regions of western Syria into transshipment points near the Turkish border that are sometimes controlled by smugglers aligned with the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).  The cheap cigarettes are sold at a premium price in Syria and also smuggled across several border points into Southern Turkey. In a typical display of jihadist hypocrisy, ISIL has publicly burned shipments of cigarettes to enforce Sharia while continuing to profit from their smuggling into Turkey.  The product and profit not only support ISIL and their organized crime network, but other Al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign fighters drawn to the region.  The illicit tobacco trade is an instrumental part of their funding portfolio, which also includes weapons trafficking, and sale of stolen oil.

Disrupting a trade that crosses multiple sea and land borders (some of which are in war-torn countries) is challenging to say the least.  Law enforcement and military organizations are incentivized to ignore or take action against illicit smuggling networks for various reasons.  Clearly, customs officials in more than one jurisdiction are complicit in looking the other way or even facilitating these illegal cigarette shipments that contribute to instability in the Middle East.  On the other hand, one of the more active maritime law enforcement authorities in combating the illicit tobacco trade is Turkey’s Coast Guard.  In 2013, the organization seized 177,420 packs of cigarettes, down from over half a million in 2012.  The organization’s deployments in the Bosphorus Strait and along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline place it in a strategic position to combat shipments moving towards Syria.

Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).
Contraband cigarettes seized in August 2014 at Thessaloniki. (image courtesy of Hellenic Coast Guard).

Another regional player with a demonstrated a propensity to disrupt the illicit tobacco trade is the Hellenic Coast Guard.  The agency recently arrested two smugglers and seized a container full of nearly nine million contraband cigarettes at the port of Thessaloniki.  Interdicting a cargo ship at sea to find a contraband cargo in one or more specific containers is extremely difficult from a tactical perspective and often unsuccessful.  But intelligence sharing can assist in narrowing down the search and aiding in the removal of suspect containers as the ships make port while not disrupting the flow of legal cargo.  Additional cooperation between intelligence services, private companies, and maritime law enforcement will erode the illicit cigarette trade, and reduce the profits supporting the region’s bad actors.

Chris Rawley is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve with experience in maritime interdiction and counter-smuggling at the tactical and operational levels.   The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its agencies.

Sea Control 42: Asian-Pacific Fighters in Iraq and Syria

seacontrol2This week, Sea Control Asia Pacific turns its focus to foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, interviews Andrew Zammit, a researcher at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre (GTReC), and Levi West, a lecturer in terrorism and National Security and course coordinator for Masters of Terrorism & Security Studies at Charles Sturt University. Both guests discuss the ways in which foreign fighters returning from the Middle East impact on Australian and regional security and on the global jihadist movement. Both Andrew and Levi also discuss the role of social media.

 DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 42 – Asian-Pacific Fighters in Iraq and Syria

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‘Drones’ for Peace

Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), commonly referred to as ‘drones’, have been the subject of much discussion surrounding potential operations in Syria, primarily in the context of enforcing a ‘no-fly’ zone or enforcement role similar to their role in Libya and modeled after operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.  This paper examines the prospects of the use of RPAs in Syria, finding RPAs as currently operated today counterproductive to potential political aims in Syria in an enforcement capacity.  Smaller RPAs, operating in a number of other roles, could however play a critical role in overcoming the humanitarian conflict in Syria, from monitoring key sites designated by the International Community and allowed by the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to providing humanitarian aid, to overwatch of convoy movements to include the removal of chemical weapons.  The stigma of RPAs, given their use in other conflicts, must be overcome to allow them to be evaluated and used as a tool for monitoring and aid among other roles, not just as offensive weapons of war.

Following NATO operations in Libya, a number of analysts in the United States spoke of the prospect of applying the ‘Libya Model’ to Syria. In August of 2011, a Washington Post article on the Syria conflict began with the passage “[t]he success of Libya’s rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention (Sly, 2011).”  That same day, the New York Times ran an article outlining the prospects of such a model being applied elsewhere, noting President Obama’s March 2011 speech outlining principles for humanitarian intervention. In February 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter outlined a strategy for intervention consisting of the creation of ‘no-kill zones’ near the Turkish, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders, the arming of opposition forces to create the zone, and for Turkey and Arab allies to enforce the zones “through the use of remotely piloted helicopters, either for delivery of cargo and weapons — as America has used them in Afghanistan — or to attack Syrian air defenses and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”

Today, as problems with enforcement of the chemical weapons agreement have bogged down and as the Obama Administration has signaled that the al Nusra Front appears increasingly to be a direct threat to the U.S. (Rohde, 2014), speculation is rising once more that a military option may be back on the table for Syria.  While any military option would be fraught with a number of obstacles to planning, execution, and justification, the semi-regular talk of RPAs as a key instrument in many of these options is especially problematic.  This stems in part from a limited popular understanding of the roles and capabilities of RPAs, and also a lack of imagination by policymakers for other ways in which RPAs could be a positive good, both for warzones like Syria and for other humanitarian crises globally.  A move away from the mythology of the ‘drone’ and toward an appreciation for the spectrum of potential roles unique to RPAs over manned aircraft is vital to understanding how the ‘drone’ will likely play a far greater role as an instrument in peacetime.

Understanding Classes of RPAs

Conflation of the capabilities of strategic RPAs and the proliferation of tactical RPAs clouds RPA discussion.  Just as strategic bombers such as the B-2 represent only one class of aircraft, Predator and Reaper represent only one limited application of RPAs.  Understanding the array of RPAs and differentiating capabilities and limitations of systems is necessary to overcome the stigma of the RPA as a tool of war or assassination, and appreciating its potential uses in humanitarian crises. I divide RPAs as platforms between tactical and strategic RPAs based on their connectivity to their operator, which differentiates those that are reliant on global communications and intelligence infrastructure and are capable of long range, extended duration operations, and those that are more simple locally controlled line-of-sight RPAs.[1]

The strategic requirements and organizational capacity of states and organizations dictate which types of RPAs they will pursue, while the rate and nature of diffusion can be predicted by applying Michael Horowitz’s Adoption-Capacity Theory (Horowitz, 2011).  This theory projects the rate of diffusion of a military innovation by evaluating its costs to implement versus its organizational capacity to adopt the change.  Costs are a factor of the dual-use civilian-military applications of the innovation and the per-unit cost of the asset.  Organizational capacity, meanwhile, is a function of the organization’s age, willingness to experiment, and critical task focus.  The division of RPAs into two categories as previously defined allows us to evaluate both the diffusion of RPA platforms, as well as the potential uses of those platforms given the array of potential users.

Tactical RPAs are likely to rapidly diffuse and see the most independent innovation in terms of their potential usage due to their low cost and the potential for numerous applications beyond the military sphere.  In the U.S., a strong community of RPA enthusiasts already exists that is experimenting with a variety of commercial, recreational, and government applications for smaller RPAs.  Amazon.com received attention earlier this year for their 30-minute RPA delivery plan,[2] but other initiatives are at work to allow citizens to use RPAs to monitor crops, take overhead images for commercial purposes, and to assist in search and rescue for as low as $740 for a single system (Kelly, 2014).  Such small RPAs already play a role in assisting in Search and Rescue missions providing both search and improved communications capability in isolated or hazardous environments (such as fires), and for delivery of small cargo such as heart defibrillators and medicine among other positive uses for such RPAs (Newman, 2013).

Figure 1: Reaper Manning[3]

Picture 1

Strategic RPAs require higher costs both to procure and to operate, which applies both to the unit and to the larger global intelligence and communications system involved in operating the asset.   This results in higher operational costs relative to those of similar piloted airframes if a manned alternative exists.  In examining relative costs, Table 1 shows the problem with conflating the costs of RPAs purchased online with the capabilities of strategic RPAs.  The Global Hawk and U-2 represent the closest to a direct comparison of capabilities,[4] while Table 1 shows the flight-hour cost are roughly comparable.  Given the reachback and precision engagement requirements, the military-only applications of these airframes, and the resulting high per-unit costs these RPAs will be very slow to diffuse and innovation within the class of RPAs will likely be slow and incremental.

Table 1: U-2/RQ-4 Cost Comparison

  Procurement Cost Flight-Hour Cost
U-2 Classified/no longer in production $31,000[5]
Global Hawk (2010) $46.4-80 million $40,600[6]
Global Hawk (2013) $46.4-80 million $18,900

Due to their high costs and the significant infrastructure requirements required to build and operate strategic RPAs, innovation occurs with these RPAs slowly and deliberately, with new innovations regularly referred to as ‘using only proven technology.’[7] This trend can be seen within the U.S. RPA force.  Figure 2 shows the growth of U.S. RPAs, to include target drones, tactical, and strategic reconnaissance RPAs since the 1930s.  Tactical RPAs have adopted across a wider variety of missions and from multiple platforms, as their lower cost and limited operational capacity requirements has enabled both private sector and tactical operations innovations to allow a number of platforms to supplement existing operations.  Strategic RPAs, on the other hand, have slowly evolved from wither the Predator or Reaper families, with the RQ-170 representing likely the baseline of future RPAs merged with the advancing Predator family under the Avenger.

Figure 2: U.S. Military RPA Development

Picture 2

Given this classification of RPAs we are better positioned to evaluate the prospects for RPAs in both peacetime environments and in humanitarian crisis situations.  Traditionally, RPAs in general are categorized as being ideally suited for missions that are ‘dull, dirty, or dangerous.’[8]  However, given the high cost of strategic RPAs, low cost of tactical RPAs, and the capabilities and vulnerability associated with each class of RPA, strategic RPAs are best suited for those missions which can be categorized as ‘dull,’ with tactical RPAs better suited for those which are ‘dirty’ or ‘dangerous.’  ‘Dull’ missions require the lack of a threat and are enhanced by the persistent nature associated with the dwell time of strategic RPAs.  The high cost of strategic RPAs precludes them in many cases from being used in dangerous environments unless deemed absolutely necessary given the risk of loss.  Tactical RPAs, however, are relatively expendable given their low per-unit cost, while in many cases the shorter dwell times associated with these aircraft as well as the shorter range limited by line-of-sight control makes them less optimal for ‘dull’ missions.  They can, however, be fielded by a wide range of actors who are free to innovate a wider variety of uses for the airframes.

Strategic RPAs as Peace Enforcers versus Tactical RPAs as Peace Keepers

Most discussion of RPAs in Syria see RPAs employed in a ‘Peace Enforcement’ mission.  Peace Enforcement is defined by U.S. military doctrine as “[a]pplication of military force, or the threat of its use, normally pursuant to international authorization, to compel compliance with resolutions or sanctions designed to maintain or restore peace and order (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2012, p. I8).“  This is different from ‘Peacekeeping,’ which U.S. doctrine defines as operations “undertaken with the consent of all major parties to a dispute, designed to monitor and facilitate implementation of an agreement (cease fire, truce, or other such agreement) and support diplomatic efforts to reach a long-term political settlement (Ibid).”

The RPA appears advantageous as it is seen by some as less of a violation of sovereignty than manned aircraft or a ground force.  This is likely due to perceptions of U.S. operations where the U.S. has been accused of violating sovereignty with no recourse or justification.[9]  The realities of RPAs are more complicated however, and the likelihood of tacit Pakistani approval of operations as outlined by David Ignatius in 2008 (Ignatius, 2008) and more recently by the International Crisis Group (Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan, 2013) undercuts the likelihood of sovereignty actually being violated and which should in turn serve as a warning to future operations.  If Turkey were concerned that manned flights would constitute a violation of Syrian territory, there should be no reason to believe that Syria would be less justified based on a similar violation by an RPA.

The low speeds, lack of defenses, and mission requirements of extended loiter over a fixed area as Predator and Reaper are generally employed would make them easy targets for a state with an active air defense system and the will to employ it.  Syria maintains a significant, though likely ill-maintained Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) capable of engaging a variety of targets.  The June 2012 shoot-down of a Turkish RF-4 which violated Syrian airspace briefly illustrates Syria’s general willingness to shoot down aircraft in defense of its territory (Times of Israel Staff, 2012). Slaughter attempted to reframe this by saying all forms of intervention must be purely defensive, “only to stop attacks by the Syrian military or to clear out government forces that dare to attack the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”  However, it is hard to see how any military operation designed to limit the Syrian government’s sovereignty anywhere within Syrian territory would be viewed by Syria, Russia, China, or Iran as anything but an offensive move.  RPAs, seeking to enforce a no-kill zone from inside Syrian airspace against the will of the Syrian government would find themselves highly vulnerable to Syria’s air defense network, necessitating a large-scale air campaign to destroy most of the Syrian Air Force before RPA operations could commence.  Due to the likely lack of UN approval for an operation, the threat posed by the Syrian IADS system and the necessity to secure airspace in advance of operations, and the implications of the loss of even a few strategic RPAs in Syria, RPAs as a tool for enforcement of either a no-fly or no-kill zone in Syria should be viewed as a non-starter.

An incremental approach aimed at limited purely humanitarian aims should be the objective for planners interested in stopping the humanitarian crisis as modest interim agreements to limit fighting, protect civilians, and achieve other objectives such as eliminating chemical weapons appear to be feasible near-term objectives.  In early 2014 a 72-hr truce was reached to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs, a limited ceasefire that was extended as peace talks faltered (Agence France-Presse, 2014).  Similar evacuations have been thwarted by violence in the surrounding areas, while the removal of chemical weapons from storage depots in Syria were similarly delayed by such threats in addition to accusations of stalling on the part of the regime.  In each of these cases, tactical RPAs similar to those used for search and rescue in the U.S. could have been used to supplement the operations in order to increase transparency of operations and assist in the delivery of vital humanitarian supplies of food, medicine, and other aid items to besieged communities and hard to access locations.

Here, the aforementioned distinction between peace enforcing operations and peace keeping operations is critical, and in a sense the vulnerabilities of RPAs that were a vice for strategic RPAs can be a virtue for tactical RPAs.  Unarmed RPAs could only be used with the consent of parties to the conflict and thus would need to be approved as part of a concept of operations with the approval for the intervention, be it removal of chemical weapons or humanitarian relief, and with it a reduced threat environment.  The primary goal of a mission like convoy support would be to increase transparency both of the relief operation and the emergence of threats to the operation, which in part should serve as a deterrent to the emergence of threats.  However, given the relatively low cost of tactical RPAs, were deterrence to fail resulting in RPAs being lost the economic cost would be relatively small while the likelihood that sensors aboard the RPA could identify the origin of the threat would in turn lead to greater clarity in assignment of blame for the attack and with it the potential to shape future negotiations to the violators detriment.  The small size of tactical RPA payloads, limited range, and local control of operations would also allow for increased transparency to parties to the conflict for inspections of payloads to ensure no contraband is shipped in violation of agreements.

For many of these operations, lessons can be learned from military applications of RPAs in conflicts like Iraq, but narrowly tailored to a neutral role.  In 2006, the U.S. Army developed Task Force ODIN as a specialty team to detect and neutralize threats to convoys in Iraq.  In its early years, this consisted primarily of coordinating ISR operations with convoys to secure route clearance, but over time evolved to a broader mission to identify and track insurgent networks to defeat cells before they could even emplace bombs (Glass, 2009).  While the latter mission would involve direct intervention to proactively eliminate threats as part of a military campaign, lessons learned from early operations to clear routes and monitor activities in the areas of convoy movements could be tailored to meet the needs of international teams performing missions in Syria.  For humanitarian relief, the lessons learned from search and rescue missions in the U.S. could provide a first step for developing concepts of operations to employ RPAs in those environments.

Figure 4: Sample simplified CONOP for humanitarian RPA operations

Picture 3 Picture 4

In the case of a future humanitarian operation to provide support for a besieged city like Homs, tactical RPAs could be used in the initial phases of the operation to provide overwatch in order to reduce violence.  A ceasefire limited to an area such as a stadium would allow peacekeeping forces to set up a base of operations, to include an RPA ground station and launch/recovery zone, sufficient to enable several orbits of RPAs with both electro-optical and infrared sensors.  These RPAs would allow for intelligence preparation of the operating environment to increase visibility of levels of destruction, identification of areas where people have taken shelter, and in addition could deter violence through increased visibility of ongoing operations.  The RPAs themselves could be vulnerable to man portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADs), but given the relative cost of the RPAs versus the information that could be gleamed from a shoot-down of an RPA by a MANPAD may justify the cost by both aiding to identify those who would violate a ceasefire agreement and by increasing visibility of the types of arms being brought into Syria and the levels of violence associated with the conflict.  Figure 4 shows what a sample CONOP might look like, with multiple RPA orbits over selected areas of the city to be evacuated with additional orbits providing route pre-clearance for convoys of vehicles moving displaced persons to the port city of Tartus.


Discussion of RPAs and the Syria conflict is heavily clouded by the images of Predator and Reaper as weapons of war, both by those who would like to see greater U.S. involvement in the conflict that may see them as a virtue, or by those who fear involvement and worry about escalation.  The limited image of ‘drones’ has become a hindrance to their effective employment in humanitarian crises, a stigma which must be overcome to allow for their effective use in crisis situations.  Smaller RPAs, flown by neutral operators, with the consent of parties to the conflict or impacted by the crisis, can play a major role in humanitarian relief, from search and rescue to increasing transparency.

One major challenge to this point has been the stigma of ‘drones’ combined with the expertise residing largely in the military community or with military and government contractors.  Many countries are uncomfortable with the U.S. flying ‘drones’ over their territory due to this stigma, even in crisis situations.    Non-government organizations may similarly be unwilling to use RPAs for fear of being associated with military equipment which might negatively impact their mission.  Understanding the nature and characteristics of the tool is vital to understanding their potential for both good and ill in humanitarian crises.  Overall, given the stakes involved in the humanitarian crisis and the demands of the international community to ‘do something,’ the potential of unarmed tactical RPAs to be a force for peace in Syria in cooperation with limited  international peacekeeping efforts appears to be a risk worth taking.

Michael P. Kreuzer is a PhD Candidate in International Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a Graduate Student Associate at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University.  His forthcoming dissertation examines the military utility and likely patterns of diffusions for remotely piloted aircraft, and their impact on future international relations.  He is an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and holds a BS in History from the United States Air Force Academy, an MPA from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and an MSI from American Military University. 


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[1] This terminology is problematic for some airpower scholars as the airpower notion of ‘Effects Based Operations” defines all platforms as fundamentally tactical which in turn can have strategic effects based on the exploitation of the mission, but for my basic purposes it suffices as stressing that some RPAs will be limited to a narrow radius for operations in an environment where their operators are vulnerable (tactical RPAs) vice those that are the focus of air campaigns through a global operating system (strategic RPAs).  The terminology here defines the character of the airframe vice the nature of the mission it performs.

[2] This claim is likely unrealistic and meant to garner headlines.  Although Amazon is reportedly also working to patent a system that can predict customer orders in advance, for a small RPA which flies at under 100 mph Amazon would have pre-position warehouses with most of their inventory on hand roughly every 30 miles or at least within 30 miles of every major market in order to make such a system a reality even before processing and loading.  At that point Amazon may as well allow in-person pickup which begins to look more like a catalog store.

[3] Figure derived from an unclassified Air Force slide provided to author by Lt Gen David Deptula (USAF, Ret).

[4] Even this comparison is imperfect as the U-2 has defense mechanisms, can fly faster, and carry a greater payload.

[5] Information from DailyTech report (Hatamoto, 2011).

[6] See Shalal-Esa (2013) for Global Hawk flight-hour costs.

[7] Discussing the development of the U.S. Air Force’s next generation bomber and the prospects for an unmanned variant, Lt. Gen. Charles Davis emphasized the need for developing the manned capable aircraft first.  “Very rarely should we be out maturing new technologies in new platforms…Once we are certain that a technology is at a usable level, then our acquisition programs can do the hard work of integrating. We have a hard enough time integrating engines, air frames, sensors; we should not be inventing things that have not been developed (Osborn, 2013).”

[8] Likely noted first in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030 (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030, 2005), accessible online at http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uav_roadmap2005.pdf.   Singer and others readily use this phrase when describing the utilization of RPAs.

[9] Prominent examples include the report Living Under Drones (Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan) and UN Investigator Ben Emmerson’s report from March 2013 (Abbot, 2013).

A2AD Since ’73

Wreckage of a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)
Wreckage From a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)

The threat posed by Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) capabilities is at the core of the the U.S. Navy and Air Force’s Air Sea Battle (ASB) operational concept.  However, A2AD weapons are not new,  in particular playing an important role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A2AD and the ASB Concept

The ASB operational concept defines A2AD capabilities as “those which challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces to both get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.”  One of the main capabilities that ASB has been established to counteract and mitigate against is the “new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality” that are increasingly available to states around the world.  Figuring out ways to operate in a world in which missiles are easy to acquire and operate is extremely important to the U.S. military, since A2AD weapons “make U.S. power projection increasingly risky, and in some cases prohibitive,” threatening the very foundation upon which the ability of the U.S. military’s ability to operate at will across the globe rests upon.

Missile Warfare in the Middle East

Using A2AD weapons, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAM), surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), to conduct a form of asymmetric warfare is not a new idea.   In particular, the use of missiles to counteract an enemy’s superiority in the air or on the ground was very much a part of Soviet doctrine by the 1960s.  To protect against the U.S. air campaign during the Vietnam War, Soviet missiles and personnel were extensively used by North Vietnam.  Perhaps the best example of A2AD in action, however, was the Soviet-enabled missile campaign waged by Egypt against the Israeli military during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War or October War).

The use of missiles formed an essential part of the plans of Egypt and Syria to win back the territories lost so precipitously during the 1967 Six Day War.  In his book the Arab-Israel Wars, historian and former Israeli President Chaim Herzog noted that:

“the Egyptians had meanwhile studied and absorbed the lessons of the Six Day War: with the Russians, they concluded they could answer the problem of the Israeli Air Force over the battlefield by the creation of a very dense “wall” of missiles along the canal, denser even that that used in North Vietnam.  The problem posed by Israeli armour was to be answered by the creation of a large concentration of anti-tank weapons at every level, from the RPG shoulder-operated missile at platoon level up to the Sagger missiles with a range of some 3000 yards and the BRDM armoured missile-carrying vehicles at battalion and brigade level.”

As part of Operation Caucasus, the Soviet Union “deployed an overstrength division” of air defense forces, with eighteen battalions each composed of SAM batteries, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and teams equipped with Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).  Although technically identified as instructors, the Soviet troops actually “were dressed in Egyptian uniforms and provided full crewing for the deployed SAM systems.” Using lessons learned in Vietnam, the air defense forces along the Suez Canal were capable of  “relocating frequently and setting up ambushes for Israeli aircraft using multiple mutually supporting batteries.”  Syria also procured Soviet SAM batteries to support their part of the planned surprise attack.  In Herzog’s words, the overwhelming array of SAMs and AAA “would provide an effective umbrella over the planned area of operations along the Suez Canal” and “to a very considerable degree neutralize the effects of Israeli air superiority over the immediate field of battle.”

Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)
Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)

The Egyptians pursued a similar effort in their efforts to combat Israel’s ground forces.  Per Herzog, Israel’s “armoured philosophy” emphasizing “massive, rapidly deployed, armoured counterattack” would be faced by an Egyptian Army that had crossed the Suez Canal “equipped to the saturation point in anti-tank weapons and missiles in order to wear down the Israeli armour.” The Arab leaders were not just concerned with achieving missile dominance inside the expected battlefield along the canal, however, but also that Eyptian and Syrian aircraft could not match their Israeli counterparts “outside the range of missile surface-to-air defence systems.”  Therefore, the Soviets also provided surface-to-surface FROG and SCUD missiles capable of directly striking at Israel itself, with the hope that they could deter against Israel’s ability to attack their own capitals.

Egypt and Syria’s employment of A2AD weapons had a significant tactical impact on the war.  Estimates of the losses of Israeli aircraft vary.  Herzog stated that 102 Israeli planes were shot down (50 during the first three days), with half shot down by missiles and the other half shot down by AAA.  According to other articles, “Israeli public claims are that 303 aircraft were lost in combat,” crediting SAMs with shooting down 40 and “between four and 12 to Arab fighters.”  This means that although most Israeli aircraft may have been shot down by AAA, the “missile wall” can be credited with “denying the use of high and medium altitude airspace, driving aircraft down into the envelope of high-density AAA.”

One can argue that the lessons learned from employment of A2AD in 1973 can be overstated (after all, Israel eventually won the war, at great cost).  However, Herzog’s claim that it was “a war of great historic significance” is merited, as it “was the first war in which the various types of missiles – surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and sea-to-sea – were used on a major scale,” and that “the entire science of military strategy and technique has had to be re-evaluated in the light of” its lessons.  In particular, the Egyptians in 1973 executed what the Air-Sea Battle concept identifies as an important objective of A2AD, in which “an aggressor can slow deployment of U.S. and allied forces to a theater, prevent coalition operations from desired theater locations, or force friendly forces to operate from disadvantageous longer distances.”

Evolution of Air-Land Battle and the Influence of the 73 War

If the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1970/1980s can be seen as an intellectual precursor to Air-Sea Battle in its emphasis on “degradation of rear echelon forces before they could engage allied forces,” then the link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Air-Sea Battle is clear.  General William DePuy was the first commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) upon its establishment in 1973.  In particular, “DePuy had taken an intense interest in the reform of tactics and training, in line with tactical lessons drawn from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.”  During the tenure of DePuy’s successor, General Donn Starry, TRADOC formulated AirLand Battle and laid the doctrinal framework for the modernization of the U.S. Army and inter-service, joint operations.

What is the Answer?

How and why Israel won the war in 1973 entails a much longer discussion possible in this particular blog post.  The solution to A2AD that the Navy and Air Force  have proposed through Air-Sea Battle “is to develop networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces.”  The reader can decide whether those are just buzzwords and whether the A2AD threat faced by the Israelis forty years ago was an easier challenge to  overcome than what could be faced by the U.S. military today and in the future  What is clear, however, is that the notion of A2AD is not new, and was very much an important part of Soviet-supported military operations during the Cold War.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.