The US Air Force shot down a Syrian Russian made Su-22 fighter on June 18th and two days later shot down an Iranian drone, both over Syria. In neither case did the US Air Force notify the joint US-Russian hot line recently created to avoid air conflicts.
As a result according to New York Times , June 19, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued the following response to the downings, “All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets.” Note that the Russian MOD did not say that all flying objects would be shot down, only followed as targets.
Such a statement may seem weak, but The Saker, a former NATO military analyst thinks differently. In an article posted on Unz Review on June 23, The Saker suggests that the Russian warning, while threatening no action, did cast a pale over future US air sorties over Syria.
The Saker, fluent in Russian, translated the Russian warning into literal English as saying:
“In areas of the combat missions of Russian aviation in the skies of Syria any airborne objects, including aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle of the international coalition discovered to the West of the Euphrates river, will be tracked by Russian ground based on airborne assets as air targets”.
He goes on to explain that there are two types of radar tracking and two types of radar signals the US fighter picks up. The first is general. The US fighter picks up both ground and air signals from various radars tracking it. These radar trackings are for informational purposes, who’s in the sky, where are they, what direction are they flying. Call it a business-as-usual inventorying of who has which assets in the sky.
However, The Saker notes that when “a decision is made to treat an object as an ‘air target’ a completely different type of radar signal is used and a much narrower energy beam is directed at the target which can now be tracked and engaged. The pilot is, of course, immediately informed of this. At this point the pilot is in a very uncomfortable position: he knows that he is being tracked, but he has no way of knowing if a missile has already been launched against him or not.”
He notes that S300/S400 rockets are extremely fast, 4,000 miles an hour fast. This means that a rocket launched 120 miles away will reach the aircraft in two minutes and one launched 30 miles away will arrive in 30 seconds, not a great amount of time for decision making.
Now here’s the rub. Traditional missiles home on a target by sending out their own radar signal. That way the target aircraft has some warning of attack through its own radar systems. The S-300s and S-400s don’t do it this way. The S-300s and S-400s don’t send homing signals to the target aircraft at all except for several microbursts just before impact. Instead, they receive homing information in real time from the array of ground radar. Ground radar alone directs the S-300 and S-400 to the target. Therefore, the pilot of the US aircraft, while knowing that he has been targeted, has no way of knowing if the targeting is for potential attack, an attack at that moment or perhaps an attack that began thirty seconds or two minutes ago. The Saker makes the point that if you were a fighter pilot knowing that you were targeted yet having no idea if in the next instant your aircraft would be destroyed, you would be under extreme psychological pressure. He suggests that this is why the Australian Air Force immediately called off all future flights over Syrian territory.
As The Saker puts it: “Just try to imagine this: you are flying, in total illegality, over hostile territory and preparing to strike a target when suddenly your radar warning receiver goes off and tells you ‘you got 30 seconds or (much?) less to decide whether there is a 300lbs (150kg) warhead coming at you at 4000mph (6400kmh) or not’. How would you feel if it was you sitting in that cockpit? Would you still be thinking about executing your planned attack?”
The Saker article has much more detail and many other different scenarios. It can be found at