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Wednesday, 23 October 2019

UK and US keep secret the information that could save lives in Syria

After the Putin-Erdogan deal over northeastern Syria, there are growing fears of an undisclosed side-deal between the Turkish and Russian leaders trading part of Idlib to the Assad regime in exchange for Russian cooperation with Turkey along the northern border.

Reinforcing these fears, at the same time as Putin and Erdogan met in Sochi, Assad appeared for cameras with regime forces in southern Idlib, supervising artillery fire against the opposition held area. Russian air attacks have also escalated in recent days.

If the worst comes to pass and we see a full renewal of Putin and Assad’s campaign of eradication against people in Idlib, their aircraft will be watched in silence at every step by American and British military officers.

Back in 2015, Syria Civil Defence called on the US to share radar data to help give early warning to civilians of Assad’s air attacks. The US refused.

Since the UK joined the air war in Syria, we have been calling on them to publish tracking information to help identify parties responsible for the targeting of hospitals, aid workers, and markets, and to hold them accountable. The UK refuses.

In response to these calls, the UK Government has tried to obscure its capacity to track Syrian and Russian aircraft. The truth is that the UK has for years been part of the Coalition operation to track these aircraft for deconfliction.



This is a US Air Force photo of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. See the original here.

Note the display at (A) showing aircraft flights over Syria. Journalist Michael R Gordon described his visit to Al Udeid Air Base in an article for The New York Times, 23 May 2017:
“The challenge in operating in Syria’s crowded airspace is clear from a glance at a large video screen inside the center that tracks aircraft across the region. Russian and Syrian planes are marked with yellow and orange icons; American and allied planes are delineated in green while civilian aircraft are blue.”

Note the British presence at (B) — including a picture of the Queen. Air Vice-Marshal Stringer, in oral evidence to the Commons Defence Select Committee on 15 May 2018, talking of the importance of the UK contribution to the Coalition effort, singled out the RAF contribution of “E-3 aircraft to support our awareness of what was going on in the air environment, and to aid deconfliction, as well as the flow of sorties.”

A fuller picture of how the system works was given in the most recent issue of Syria Notes:
According to Justin Bronk, Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute, NATO AWACS aircraft and other Coalition aircraft “will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time that they take off to the time they land.”

NATO’s AWACS inventory includes Royal Air Force E-3Ds, US Air Force E-3Gs, French Air Force E-3Fs and the NATO pooled E-3A fleet. These are the cornerstone of the Coalition’s airspace surveillance and management over Syria, including deconfliction with Russian and Syrian aircraft, Justin Bronk explained to Syria Notes.

Coalition aircraft typically broad­cast a radio transponder signal which can be picked up by any radar controller, including by those in Damascus, and by the E-3 AWACS. Also, Coalition aircraft will be on Link 16, an airborne datalink network which allows all aircraft on the link—from fighters, tankers, surveillance aircraft to AWACS themselves—to share sensor data to build collective situational awareness. This means that all Coalition aircraft are typically well aware of allied aircraft and what those can see, with the AWACS fleets providing overall coordination as well as contributing a lot of situational awareness from their on-board wide-area surveillance radar.

For deconfliction and tracking of Russian and Syrian aircraft, which typically do not broadcast a transponder signal, more traditional tracking and radio communications are used. AWACS and fighter assets where available will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time they take off to the time they land. If there is a need to deconflict for flight safety, the AWACS crew will typically contact these aircraft via the internationally recognised ‘guard’ frequency—243.0 MHz for military operations—to advise or warn them.

To positively identify these non-transponder broadcasting aircraft, many Coalition assets such as AWACS aircraft and the US Air Force’s F-15 and F-22 fighters can use techniques such as Non-Cooperative Threat Recognition (NTCR) which involves using onboard radar to focus on and classify unknown aircraft by identifying distinctive features like engine fan blade size and engine spacing.

So when Putin and Assad return to bombing schools, hospitals, bakeries and markets, know that the UK and US militaries watch every move, but do nothing to warn the victims, nothing to publish evidence of who is responsible, and nothing to stop the slaughter continuing.

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