The U.S. military is planning for the possibility of strikes against Iran and Syria using a mix of conventional and cyber weapons as tensions in the region continue to rise, according to senior Pentagon officials.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, told an audience at an investors conference sponsored by McAleese and Associates and Credit Suisse March 8 that his staff is exploring options for strikes in both countries.
Carlisle made his remarks within an hour of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledging in an interview with the National Journal that the Pentagon is planning for strikes against Iran, and a day after Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the DoD was reviewing military options.
Although the country denies an intent to create nuclear weapons, Iran’s development of its nuclear program has sparked calls for military intervention to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power, while the rebellion in Syria and the government’s military response have led to calls for a Libya-type assistance effort.
On Iran, Carlisle cited classification limitations that prevented him from providing specifics.
“I won’t get into any details on that, obviously, because it’s ongoing operational planning,” he said.
But in response to a question, he did confirm that cyberwarfare is an option.
“There [are] ... electronic warfare pieces. There are offensive cyber operations. There are defensive cyber operations. Without stepping over any line of classification, I would say again, everything is on the table. That could be a component,” he said.
At the same conference, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, was quick to point out that airstrikes in Syria would be more complicated than ones conducted by NATO forces in Libya last spring.
Schwartz said many factors would need to be addressed, including the objectives of the mission.
“It requires thought and deliberations,” he said. “A key challenge is that Syria is not Libya. Syria is a much more demanding air defense environment as a case in point and would require a level of effort far in excess of what we did in Libya.”
The country operates a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile network, which would likely mean any U.S. strike would need to include the use of stealth aircraft, including the B-2 bomber or F-22 fighter.
B-2s were used at the beginning of operations in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, the F-22, a stealth fighter that can strike targets in the air and on the ground, has not been used in combat.
Carlisle cited efforts toward preparation for intervention.
“We are actively engaged in taking all of these things that we have concepts, at least starting some that would come closer to fruition to help in the planning if there was anything that needed to be done,” he said.
Carlisle said that the creation of plans is not unusual.
“In standard military fashion, we plan,” he said. “That’s what we do. So we’ll think about everything and every eventuality. We’ll think about what would be required of us and how we would accomplish it.”