The Pentagon unveiled one of its newest weapons — a long-range, stealthy missile — in last week’s attack on Syria’s suspected chemical weapons sites, a development with implications beyond the regime’s borders.
Adversaries such as China and Russia have developed surface-to-air missile defenses capable of downing American and allied aircraft and have sold and deployed some of the systems to lower-tier foes such as Syria. The military refers to them as “anti-access, area-denial” weapons meant to keep U.S. warplanes at bay.
The extended-range version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile made its first combat appearance and struck its targets in Syria, according to the Pentagon. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers — Cold War behemoths retrofitted to carry the missiles — launched 19 of the weapons.
The missile “performed exactly as advertised, striking its programmed targets with devastating precision,” said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, an Air Force spokesman.
President Trump had hinted they would be used before the attack, tweeting last week about “nice and new and ‘smart’” missiles headed to Syria.
The missile is difficult for radar to pick up, and, although guided by satellite, it also can find its target when those signals are jammed, according to the Air Force. Each B-1 can carry 24 of the missiles.
“In fact, the 40 missiles they did fire blindly into the sky weren’t launched until approximately 40 minutes after the last of our 105 missiles had impacted their targets,” Pickart said.
Trump, at a speech Monday in Florida, boasted that not a single U.S. missile was shot down by Syria’s Russian-made defense systems. All the U.S., French and British missiles hit their marks, according to the Pentagon.
“The equipment didn’t work too well, their equipment,” Trump said to cheers and applause. “Every single one hit its target. Think about that.”
Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said intercepting the new missiles would be an “unlikely feat” by the Russians or Syrians. The extended-range version can travel 575 miles, compared with 230 miles on the older missile, Thompson said.
“It was designed to penetrate defenses, and it generally does,” Thompson said. “And the extended-range version … enables bombers carrying the missile to stay far away from the defenses around protected targets while still accomplishing their missions.”