In August, I wrote a pointed article on why the US military was not prepared for how the fight had evolved with ISIL (http://www.blackboxwire.com/2014/08/30/the-next-911-we-are-not-prepared-for-how-isil-will-use-advanced-military-weapons-to-attack-us-targets/) in which I warned specifically about them using captured air assets. For this specific warning, I received some very dismissive comments from government sources. However, just this last week, Reuters (re)broke the story that ISIL is training pilots to fly captured Syrian MiGs (http://news.yahoo.com/islamic-state-training-pilots-three-captured-jets-syria-094406157.html; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/islamic-state-isis-flaunts-captured-syrian-fighter-jets-in-video-showing-massacre-9720471.html).
This “news” was of course was two months late for our readers, but it is nonetheless an important update. The quotes from the article continue to demonstrate the arrogance of the US military establishment and the lack of imagination of our intelligence analysts. In short, the military doesn’t see this as any kind of threat and apparently has no information related to ISIL acquiring fighter jets. Further, other articles suggested the military was confident it could destroy any of these aircraft on the ground before they ever took off. This may be true, but until the US can effectively identify who it is dropping weapons and supplies to, it should probably proceed with caution (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/us-accidentally-air-dropped-weapons-to-isis.html). The analysts also were skeptical that ISIL could muster the maintenance capability to operate these jets seeming to forget that the MiG is a very basic jet. Although it still requires maintenance to operate, it is no American piece of machinery. It is a classic piece of crude, yet, reliable Soviet military aircraft designed to operate with limited support in austere environments. As such, contrary to the CIA and DoD’s analysts, the MiG 21 is a jet that I assess ISIL has the capability to fly.
Disturbingly, nowhere did I find anyone directly talking about the potential for short range sprint attacks by ISIL pilots using these jets for one way suicide missions. This would require only the most basic flight training. From Syria or Iraq it is possible that a MiG 21 could take off and have the range to make it to Baghdad. Further, the top speed of a MiG 21 is 1, 351 miles per hour in a fully capable jet (which the old Syrian jets are not). This is fast enough to outrun both our F-16’s and F-18’s if they are combat loaded. Further, even though the F-15 and F-22 have higher top speeds, they still may not be able to intercept a MiG depending on the distance to intercept and the amount of time it would take to identify the jet as hostile. As such, a MiG 21 loaded with explosives or chemical weapons (which they were recently proved to possess and as I assessed over a year ago) could make a successful strike on a high visibility target such as the US Embassy, Baghdad or the Syrian capital of Damascus. The effects of the attack would likely be limited, but the psychological shock it would send would far exceed any value of bomb damage.
As I have repeatedly warned and predicted, the US does not have an effective plan for ISIL and ISIL is acting and adapting quicker than we can observe and react. This means they will remain one step ahead of us for the foreseeable future. To date, the US has underestimated the capabilities of ISIL and they continue to make gains on the battlefield. We will be embarrassed in the near future. The only way to rectify this is for the DoD and intelligence community (CIA, DIA, etc.) to bring in outside analysis and fresh perspectives. Ideally, this would be at the appointee level and would have to come from the White House since the rank and file have shown no ability to dissent and Congress is brain dead. I would be happy to point them in the right direction if they cannot get it right internally. Short of this, they will continue to get the same milk toast politically baked assessments and strategies that have strategically failed without exception during the last decade and a half of war.
By Guiles Hendrik
October 21, 2014