Syria Strike: Big League Cost

The USS Porter launches Tomahawk cruise missiles April 6.

The USS Porter launches Tomahawk cruise missiles April 6.

On the order of President Donald Trump, the Navy fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Air Base last week. The missiles exploded their 1,000-pound bombs on buildings and airplanes at the base.

“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said on the night of the April 6 strike.

The cost to replace each Tomahawk cruise missile is $1.869 million — a total of $110 million for the 59 missiles.

The president’s order to attack Syria stirred questions and discussion worldwide.

Trump’s decision demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to intervene when a country gasses its citizens. Bombing the air base from the launch site of Syria’s chemical weapon attack was appropriate.

On Aug. 21, 2013, Syria struck residents with chemical weapons. That gas attack was substantially larger than this month’s, with more victims. President Barack Obama considered military action.

Trump spoke strongly in opposition on Twitter.

On Aug. 29, 2013, Trump wrote: “Let the Arab League take care of Syria. Why are these rich Arab countries not paying us for the tremendous cost of such an attack?”

On Sept. 7, 2013, Trump wrote: “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!”

Building an international coalition to oppose a heinous government by using isolation, political pressure and diplomacy is just as reasonable as a military strike.

BUSINESS CASE

One question has been mute: Was last week’s attack an efficient use of governmental funds?

This is important in light of Trump’s long campaign to reduce the cost of government.

Here is how he framed the issue in a 2000 interview: “I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.”

Was the cost of $110 million in cruise missiles — excluding the cost of operation and related materiel — a good deal?

Besides the air base limping back to use the day after the attack, the damage caused by 59 tons of precision-guided bombs showed the missiles’ limits.

In a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, “I think it’s around 20 aircraft were taken out.” This corrected his Monday statement of 20 percent of Syrian Air Force craft.

Department of Defense photos above and below show bomb damage at Shayrat Air Base in Syria.

Department of Defense photos above and below show bomb damage at Shayrat Air Base in Syria.

Photos released by the Department of Defense showed that a prime target of the cruise missiles was high-strength concrete aircraft shelters. Two airplanes can be berthed under each.

The annotated photos show that seven shelters were damaged and that only one was destroyed.

An independent analysis by ISI, a satellite-imaging company, said that bombs hit 13 aircraft shelters 23 times. Some targets were hit more than once.

Bombs hit 10 ammunition depots, ISI said, along with seven fuel depots, five workshops and five SA6 motorized missile launchers, one of which was destroyed.

Despite a total of 44 targets hit by bombs, ISI said, “it seems that the overall damage to the base is limited.”

Cruise missiles are unlike rocket-powered missiles that shoot upward, then dive to their targets. Tomahawks are maneuverable airplanes with small wings and tails, and powered by jet engines. They fly an evasive course, close to the ground, guided by GPS and have remote operators who can change direction.

The Tomahawk’s precision aiming is renowned. The 59 cruise missiles’ failure to knock out a modest Syrian base is a disappointment.

Bottom line, the decision to bomb Shayrat Air Base did not produce a businesslike gain.

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