.

Friday, September 07, 2012

CSIS releases report on scenarios for attacking Iran

The Center for Strategic and International studies just released a report detailing a number of scenarios of either the US or Israel attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Here's the executive summary:

• Over the past couple of months, speculation about a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has made headlines around the globe. This report addresses how the U.S.  could take the lead in carrying out a preventive  Military Strike against Iran If all peaceful options have been exhausted and Iran has left no other means to convince it to stop or change its course in pursuing nuclear weapons . It also examines how the US could provide a defense umbrella against any Iranian air and  missile retaliation that would be aimed at U.S. military targets and allies in the region, in particular the GCC states.

• A key question arises is what should the objectives of a military strike be? To halt the Iranian nuclear program? To set it back five years or for one year? This criteria is the key to defining the force allocation required to achieve a successful mission against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

• The study shows that the initial strike should be against key Iranian nuclear enrichment and research facilities, ballistic missile basis located around the country, numerous mobile ballistic missile launchers dispersed around Iran and main ballistic missile production facilities. At the same time, it shows that the payloads required to hit underground enrichment facilities with a high level of damage, to carry out the scale of initial and follow-up attacks, and providing  resources such as near real time intelligence required to detect and destroy other potentially lethal Iranian military weapons, for instance ballistic missiles that could be used in a retaliation, can only be carried out by the United States.

• An initial U.S. strike will require a large force allocation consisting of Defensive Counterair and Offensive Counterair Operations, such as the main Bomber Force, the Suppression of Enemy Air Defense System, Escort aircraft for the protection of the Bombers, Electronic Warfare for detection and jamming purposes, Fighter Sweep and Combat Air Patrol to counter any air retaliation by Iran.

• While such first strike will try to be as effective as possible, the U.S. would be the only country that has the air power, support capability, and mix of sea-air forces in the Gulf  to continue a sustained campaign over a period of time and restrike after an initial  battle damage assessment it is found that further strike sorties are required.

Several other key points are made in the analysis:

• The aging Iranian airforce will definitely be no match against the U.S. and even the GCC airforces. In addition the Iranian Air Defense systems do not have the Command Control Communications and Intelligence required to detect, track and shoot down the US advanced military combat aircraft. However U.S. planners will definitely take all operational planning precautions necessary to ensure that both the Iranian Airforce and Air Defense system are ineffective and all U.S. combat aircraft have a high probability of survival throughout.

• U.S. officials are working with allies in the Gulf to develop the capability to defeat the threat Iran poses to the Gulf, allied territory, and the flow of trade and energy exports GCC countries worry that during a crisis, Iran could try to prevent their ships from traversing the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off their oil export business.

• The only effective counter-strike capability Iran has other than asymmetric warfare in the Gulf, and the use of proxies like Hezbollah,  is their Ballistic Missile Force. A massive retaliation strike with whatever launching sites that have survived the U.S. first strike could still cause quite a considerable damage to the GCC states, in energy, finance and various other critical infrastructure centers.

• The U.S. is currently involved in building a Defensive Shield against a massive Iranian Ballistic Missile attack targeted at the GCC states. The defensive shield consists of a Multi-Tier Ballistic Missile Defense System consisting of  Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability, PAC-3, missile systems supported with the most advanced Radar and Command and Control facilities.

• Ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems have been provided to Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, as well as stationing Aegis-equipped warships in the waters of the Arabian Gulf. The U.S. has been developing an integrated early warning radar system across the GCC states that could help U.S. and GCC forces to quickly respond to an Iranian missile attack.

• Israel does not have the capability to carry out preventive strikes that could do more than delay Iran’s efforts for  a year or two.

• Finally, the fact that US has the capability  to carry out preventive strikes does not mean it should not seek to negotiate an end to the threatening aspects of Iran’s nuclear programs. The brief shows just how dangerous any war in the Gulf could be to the world’s economy – although Iran is more vulnerable than any of its Southern Gulf neighbors.

• The U.S. also needs its Gulf allies as key partners and must consider the “law of unintended consequences.” Preventive military strikes could push the presently volatile middle east region into a war with far reaching global political, military, and economic consequences.

The report gives two scenarios for an Israeli strike. One is a conventional strike using aircraft. the other is using tactical nuclear weapons as the only means to attack the underground facilities.


It is possible that Israel will carry out a strike against Iranian Nuclear Facilities, if the U.S. does not, with the objective of either destroying the program or delaying it for some years. The success of the Strike Mission will be measured by how much of the Enrichment program has it destroyed, or the number of years it has delayed Iranian acquisition of enough Uranium or Plutonium from the Arak reactor to build a nuclear bomb.

• We conclude that a military strike by Israel against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible and the optimum route would be along the Syrian-Turkish border then over a small portion of Iraq then into Iran, and back the same route. However, the number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate
.
• The U.S. would certainly be perceived as being a part of the conspiracy and having assisted and given Israel the green light, whether it did or had no part in it whatsoever. This would undermine the U.S. objectives in increasing stability in the region and bringing about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It will also harm for a very long period of time relations between the U.S. and its close regional allies.

• Another scenario is in using Low Yield Earth Penetrating Nuclear Weapons as a substitute for conventional weapons to attack deeply buried nuclear facilities in Iran. Some believe that these are the only weapons that can destroy targets deep underground or in tunnels.

• The U.S. would not allow any other country, even a strong ally such as Israel, to use them, unless another country had used nuclear weapons against the U.S. and its allies.

• A strike by Israel on Iran will give rise to regional instability and conflict as well as terrorism. The regional security consequences will be catastrophic.
Their conventional scenario estimates a strike force of some 95 planes.
In essence over 25% of the high end combat aircraft of Israeli Airforce and 100% of the Tankers will have to be allocated for this mission.

• One strike would not necessarily be enough to achieve the mission objectives. Strike aircraft need to return for another strike. This would put a heavy burden on the Israeli Airforce.

• We can conclude that a military strike by the Israeli Airforce against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible, however, it would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate.

• Iranian retaliation will have a devastating regional consequences. U.S. expects Israel to be responsible and not to carry out such a strike.

• Air to ground strike mission can be difficult to implement and would involve some risks. Flying on a very tight route, practically hugging the Turkish-Syrian borders. Aerial refueling along the way and avoid being detected by Turkey, Syria and the U.S. Flying down to S/L when in Iranian territory, avoid being detected by flying low and applying ECM all the way. If detected by Iranian air defense the strike formation should be prepared to encounter interceptors, and to encountering firing of
ground based SAMs.
It is a very interesting, if sobering, report.

(h/t Challah Hu Akbar)