Russia completed the much-challenged delivery of the S-300 missile system to Syria this week, sparking concerns among U.S. officials.
Russia finalized the delivery of four S-300 missile systems, accompanied by radars and support vehicles, raising concerns for U.S. forces and allies and prompting considerations of using the F-22 to counter the systems, according to a report by The Drive on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed concern over the delivery of the missile system, telling reporters, “I hope that they did not. That would be sort of a serious escalation and concern.”
— Al-Masdar News (@TheArabSource) October 4, 2018
However, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed the delivery on Tuesday, adding that Russia will train Syrian forces to operate the system over the next three months.
“We have completed the delivery of S-300 systems. It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers,” Shoigu said, adding that the delivery was one of “a number of measures to reinforce Syria’s air defense systems in order to ensure better protection for our servicemen.”
U.S. Army Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, asserted that the delivery “hasn’t changed anything.”
Early in the Syrian conflict, the U.S. Air Force deployed F-22 fighter jets and F-16CJ to take out Syria’s air defense systems, Air & Space Magazine reported. They maintain a heavy fleet of F-22s based at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, and are believed to patrol in the range of the new S-300 systems.
The nearby F-22 fleet could be used to scramble or destroy the new S-300 systems depending on how Assad intends to use them, though U.S. officials have not yet revealed their potential response to the systems.
Army General Joseph Votel called the systems’ delivery “a needless, needless escalation,” and called it “an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities in Syria,” according to a Reuters report.
Last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem thanked Russia for the delivery, saying the missile systems were “enough to respond to these threats [from Israel].”
The missile systems were delivered just weeks after Syrian air defense systems mistakenly shot down a Russian IL-20 aircraft while intending to target an Israeli jet. Israeli Defense Forces carried out a strike on a suspected weapons production facility in northwest Syria, then left the airspace before the Syrian systems could reach them.
Each S-300 missile system has a range of 124 miles, and if placed in Damascus, they could reach Israel. The new systems now jeopardize Israel’s ability to operate in Syrian airspace, leaving open the possibility for the Israeli Air Force to carry out a counter operation.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the systems were “a problematic matter for us,” adding, “And it could be for the Americans too. This is a system which certainly makes things difficult for us and requires that solutions be found.”