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It's been claimed in a Russian documentary that

When NATO delivered a Tomahawk strike against Damascus, it was the Pantsir systems of the Syrian army that destroyed 23 targets, using just 25 missiles. Those Tomahawks that pieced through did so in places without deployed Pantsir complexes.

In a war I'm used to expect both side to exaggerate their feats, but is there any basis/evidence for the Russian (documentary) claim?

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    It might improve the question to specify when this is supposed to have occurred, as well Sep 17 at 23:51
  • @fyrepenguin: that's not said in the video.
    – Fizz
    Sep 18 at 4:05
  • @fyrepenguin: I'm fairly certain this refers to the 2018 attack on the Barzah "Research Center" near Damascus; the 2017 one on the Shayrat air base wasn't that close, geographically, to Damascus.
    – Fizz
    Sep 18 at 4:19
  • @CGCampbell: I said no such thing. I just pointed out that the news sources cited rely on NATO briefs for those facts. And I also said I've upvoted the answer, as it at least pointed to a major contradiction. As for accepting, please don't attempt to strong-arm me. The story of the Scuds and Patriots, although exaggerated in Rekesoft's [comment] account, is a fairly good reason to not merely accept one side's claims in such a matter. And actually that story didn't end with Scuds as the more recent claims of the Saudi's feats against Houthi missiles have also been questioned.
    – Fizz
    Sep 24 at 12:44
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I completely rewrote my initial answer to give a more in depth assessment of the claim. The previous one can be found here

I will try to address the specific claim but also two probably more relevant related claims. I assume this all relates to the 2018 cruise missile attack on Syria by US, UK and French forces.

  1. Did Syrian air defence intercept precisely 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles using precisely 25 S-400 missiles near Damascus?
  2. Did Syrian air defence intercept any cruise missiles during the strike?
  3. Did Syrian air defence repel the cruise missile attack?

Cruise Missiles launched by US/UK/French

The BBC has a detailed breakdown of missiles launched.

  • 76 missiles total (57 Tomahawk and 19 JASSM) at the Barzeh research and development centre in/near Damascus
  • 24 missiles total (9 Tomahawk, 8 Storm (UK), 5 ``naval cruise missiles'' and 2 SCALP (French)) at the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage sites (west of Homs)
  • 7 SCALP (French) at Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker (west of Homs)

This would give a total of 107 launched missiles which is in line with the 103 missiles launched claimed by Russian sources and 110 missiles launched claimed by Syrian sources according to both BBC and Aljazeera.

Note: SCALP and Storm seem to be the same type of missile (it is a joint UK-French development), the names reflect whether they were fired by UK or French forces. The not further specified "navel cruise missiles" also seem to be of the same type, just fired by French Naval forces.

Surface-to-air missiles launched by Syrian Air Defence

According to the BBC, the US claim that "surface-to-air missiles were launched by Syrian government forces". While both Russia and Syria confirm that Syrian Air Defence fired missiles, they do not appear to have given a concrete number.

The US claim that the S-400/Pantsir system did not fire any missiles.

In line with the US claim, the Russian news by TASS claiming that "70% of missiles were intercepted" as well as Aljazeera only mention the older S-125, S-200, Buk, Kvadrat and Osa air defense systems but not the more modern S-400/Pantsir. This agrees with their statement that it was the Syrian Air Defence and not Russian units stationed in Syria that engaged the missiles. The Syrian army does not appear to possess the S-400 system.

Intercepted cruise missiles

According to the US, all cruise missiles hit their targets. By contrast, Syrians and Russians claim that 71 missiles were intercepted, again according to both BBC and Aljazeera.

Evaluation

  1. It seems very unlikely that the precise claim is correct, since the US claims the S-400/Pantsir never fired and the Russians do not contradict this. So all sides are in agreement that the S-400 did not play a role.

  2. This is probably impossible to tell. However, the question whether 71 missiles were intercepted has been addressed by other sites and found unlikely to be true.

  3. In the before/after pictures shown by BBC, it is quite obvious that the three structures suffered at least extensive damage. Therefore, even if a number of missiles were intercepted, this probably did not have a major impact on the result of the strike.

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    "Credible" and "western sources" are in conflict here, though. Credible western sources claimed how Patriot missiles had intercepted 95-98% of iraqi Scuds during the first Gulf War, only for declassified reports 20 years after to say that "there's no evidence that Patriot missiles ever intercepted a single incoming Scud". The sources claiming that all Tomahawks landed on target are the ones firing those missiles, so I give them a little more credibility than russian propaganda. But not much.
    – Rekesoft
    Sep 21 at 10:57
  • This is not true, I don't think Sweden was in any way involved in the strikes. While Sweden is of course part of the "western world", I don't see a reason to assume they would rubberstamp claims by the US/UK.
    – Daniel
    Sep 22 at 14:25
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    I've upvoted, but the source is essentially relying on newspaper reports... which are based on briefs by NATO sources, so it's not like the Swedish have done some independent field work.
    – Fizz
    Sep 23 at 20:02
  • They cite more than newspaper reports but it is certainly true that they did not do field work. However, given the circumstances in Syria, I doubt anybody will be able to do that. I will see if I find other sources, though.
    – Daniel
    Sep 24 at 6:53
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    @Rekesoft The problem with the Patriots in the Gulf War is that "intercepted" doesn't equate to "killed". Typically, a missile that detonates near it's target throws enough bits into the target that it is no longer functional. However, this didn't work so well against the Scuds--the targets were warheads, the only vital part of them is the detonator and the warhead often came off the missile during re-entry, the Patriots went for the boosters. Sep 25 at 2:35

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