Britain, America's closest ally in the world, just decided that it will not participate in any strikes punishing the regime of Bashar al-Assad for killing hundreds of civilians with chemical weapons. While there may be political fallout from Britain's decision not to participate in an offensive U.S. military campaign for the first time in two decades, the loss of its military muscle won't severely hamper America's ability to hit Assad.
Yes, the Royal Navy could send a submarine to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian targets as it did to help oust Muammar al-Qaddafi from Libya in 2011. But let's put things in perspective: HMS Triumph fired six Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya during the month of March. Meanwhile, the American guided missile submarine USS Florida fired more than 90 Tomahawks at Libyan air defenses, clearing the path for American, British and French jets to drop bombs on Libya without fear of being shot down.
Speaking of aircraft, British Typhoon and Tornado strike fighter jets -- the former being one the of the world's most advanced fighters -- did destroy targets throughout the Libyan campaign. In fact, European fighter jets took the lead in bombing Qaddafi's forces in the months after the Americans kicked down the doors to Libya with Tomahawks and strikes by B-2 stealth bombers. Still, the U.S. had to provide its allies with $24 million worth of ammunition and spare parts after it was revealed that NATO forces were running out of guided munitions in the middle of the campaign. The French were even dropping GPS-guided concrete training bombs at one point in Libya. (These weapons were found to be very useful at taking out tanks through sheer kinetic energy. The French claimed the non-exploding concrete bombs lowered the risk killing innocent civilians who were near their targets.)
The Libyan campaign was a seven-month long campaign designed to neutralize Qaddafi's air force and protect the Libyan rebels from his ground forces. That meant that a large, international coalition was extremely helpful to a U.S. military that was largely focused on the surge in Afghanistan at the time.
Any strikes against Syria, on the other hand, are likely going to be very limited -- described by U.S. President Barack Obama as a warning shot across Assad's bow aimed at scaring him into never using chemical weapons again.
If the U.S. really is planning on simply wrapping Assad's knuckles, it can likely do this with the U.S. Navy's four Arleigh Burke class destroyers that are sitting in the Eastern Mediterranean. Each of those ships can carry about 90 Tomahawk guided missiles. Even if these ships aren't armed with their full payloads of 90 Tomahawks apiece, this small armada still carries plenty of firepower for a shot across Assad's bow.
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.