Bomb Syria?


It Probably Can’t be Done


by  Bob Nichols

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(San Francisco) Back when all the hoo-rah started about bombing Syria by the high up mukety-mucks, I wondered if it could be done. So, I started with looking up the essential facts. Seems simple enough; it was anything but. Let’s do the math.

Capture  RED SEA TO SYRIA  2
How far is it from the Carrier in the Red Sea to Syria? Did President Obama put the American Aircraft Carrier out of range in a political deal? The answer is “Yes.” – Picture from Google Maps

Start from Where?

The days when American Carriers confidently patrolled the Mediterranean Sea are gone since Putin’s Russian Navy took over the Med. There are only four US destroyers there, carefully watched and under the gun from many Russkie warships. The US Carriers and their battle groups quickly split and ceded the Med to the Russians.
The Carriers, with their complement of about 80 short range fighters, ran to the Suez Canal and exited to the Red Sea. It is too narrow for a thousand foot long Aircraft Carrier to maneuver; but beggars and former super powers can’t be choosy.

Bomb With What?

The trick is to get beat up planes back to the Carrier when Russian arms are shooting at them, reload, refuel and go again.
The trick is to get beat up planes back to the Carrier when Russian arms are shooting at them, reload, refuel and go again.

The first thing to do is figure out the mission. In other words, where the designated aircraft start from, what ordinance they carry, where they bomb, the return flight and landing space, then, as many repeat missions as are required to complete the Assignment. This assumes it is not a Kamikaze mission.
The WWII Kamikazes were Japanese pilots who customarily died diving planes at high speed into an enemy ship or other target.
To get to the target and return a bombing run has to carry fuel (weight,) ordinance (weight,) and run a flight path with clearly understood refueling points and alternates. Russia’s Putin has already said he would nuke any refueling air base and shoot down airborne tankers.

By the Numbers

It’s way too far to go on a combat mission in a short range fighter from the Red Sea to Damascus in the south of Syria. Without refueling; maybe two, three or four times it is a mission for suicide jockeys. As old pilots say “without jet fuel a jet has the glide path of a rock.”
Here are the numbers for a clear flying weather, normal altitude passenger flight from an Egyptian city on the Red Sea to Damascus, Syria.
The distance to Damascus, Syria from Bur Safajah, Egypt on the Red Sea is 489 miles.[1]
A F18’s combat radius is 330 miles on a hi-lo-lo-hi mission.[2]
That makes the F18s one hundred and fifty-nine miles short of just getting to Damascus.[3] The aircraft comes bone stock with a 330 mile combat radius. External bolt-on fuel tanks add extra fuel to increase the range; as well as extra weight and aero-drag. Anyway, the first thing the fighter/bombers do in combat is drop the external fuel tanks.
That’s 318 miles short of a round trip, not counting fuel used in combat beyond the allowance.[4] As a result, the pilots are doomed to crash in the desert.
Further, the US does not control the skies in the area anymore, either. Aerial refueling is by no means assured with the advent of modern Russian weapons, aircraft and warships in the neighborhood. So, what’s a used-to-be superpower to do?
Use magical thinking instead of jet fuel, of course!

President Obama decides.
President Obama decides.


That clearly will not take the place of actual jet fuel. It’s long on the Woo-Woo factor and short on petroleum. But, it will sell well in the States and no one will do the Math. That’s life in the dumb-as-a-post United States these days.
@Copyright by Bob Nichols, Oct 3, 2013, All rights reserved. This content may be freely reproduced in full or in part in digital form with full attribution to the author and a link to Please contact us for permission to reproduce this content in other media formats.

Notes and Sources

No classified data was divulged in this article, all data is publicly sourced from public, open repositories, such as Wikipedia(™) and public, daily newspapers or blogs such as VeteransToday dot com and a US Government Agency, the CIA.
1. The distance to Damascus, Syria From Bur Safajah, Egypt on the Red Sea is 489 miles / 786.97 km / 424.93 nautical miles.
2. A F18’s combat radius is 330 mi / 537.7 km / 286.7 nm on a hi-lo-lo-hi mission.
3. That makes the F18s one hundred and fifty-nine miles / 256 km / 138 nm short on fuel just getting to Damascus in the Southern part of Syria.
4. That’s 318 mi / 511 km / 276 nm miles short of a round trip, not counting fuel used in combat.
Exception: With engineering changes, full drop tanks, a full internal fuel load, combat and reserve fuel allowances and the right ordinance-weight, the aircraft might get 740 mi, 650 nm, or 1,204 km. An uncomplicated airliner quality flight round trip is still 978 miles. Care to bet your life on it? … or, somebody else’s perhaps?
Just In: Boeing is trying to sell the Navy the Advanced Super Hornet upgrade kit including new engines and conformal fuel tanks that would increase the attack range to 932 Miles. 810 nm, or 1,500 km, which coincidentally fits the current Syrian situation assuming probable refueling. And all thoughtfully provided by Boeing for the US at “only” One Billion Dollars boot plus US$56 million bucks per plane. See:
First flight of the F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks and Enclosed Weapons Pod,” August 28, 2013, USNI News Editor, “… Production versions of the CFTs — built by Northrop Grumman — plan to add 3,500 pounds of fuel [Ed:419.3 gallons] to the aircraft in a bid to replace extra fuel tanks Super Hornet’s sling under the wing and below the centerline of the aircraft….” Short URL:
5. “Israel Loses Face (and an F-16) in Syria” Michael Chester, Friday, July 12th, 2013, VeteransToday,
6. “Nuclear Strike on Syria,” Jon Snow, Wednesday, August 7th, 2013, VeteransToday,
7. CIA, The Middle East: Syria, Oct 4, 2013,
8. “Putin Calls Kerry a Liar on Syria,” David Jackson, September 05, 2013,
9. “Pentagon: 4 Destroyers, Aircraft Carrier To Remain Near Syria
( – The Navy will keep four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and an aircraft carrier strike group in the Red Sea to maintain a “strong military posture” for a potential strike on Syria, the Pentagon said Thursday. See full article in the Washington Times: National Security
10. “US aircraft carrier heading to Red Sea to support possible strike against Syria,” By Reuters, 12:27AM BST 02 Sep 2013, Edited by Bonnie Malkin, The Telegraph, Short URL:
11. “Russia Equipped Syria with Most Advanced Anti-Ship Missile Systems” By Michael Snyder, Posted by Jim Fetzer on Sep 3, 2013, VeteransToday,
12. Google Maps. Searchable map/satellite view of Arab Republic of Egypt, the Red Sea to Syria, including Central and Western Asia with useable 100 Mile and 200 Kilometer Scales. Imagery @2013 TerraMetrics, Map data@2013 Basarsoft, Google, ORION-ME. Short URL:


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Bob is a long-standing senior fellow with VT Foreign Policy since 2010.  He is also a Project Censored Award winner, a former correspondent for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and a frequent contributor to various online publications. He reports on war, politics, and the two nuclear weapons labs in the Bay Area. Nichols is writing a book based on 20 years of nuclear war in Central Asia. He is a former employee of an Army Ammunition Plant. Follow Bob on his YouTube channel, Nichols on Nuclear, Twitter, and visit his website You are encouraged to write Nichols at [email protected] - Visit Bob Nichol's Latest Posts, Archives (2010-2015) - Archives (2016-2022)