For several days now, four U.S. Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyers (DDGs), the USS Stout, Ramage, Barry and Gravely have been poised in the Eastern Mediterranean awaiting a go/no-go decision by President Obama for strikes on Syria in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. A fifth destroyer, the USS Mahan, is reported to be moving into position. While five destroyers may not seem like much of a force, particularly compared to the massive naval deployments that took place during the conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan, these ships are extremely capable.
The Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) is a class of multi-mission destroyers capable of conducting anti-air, antisubmarine, surface and land attack warfare. One of the most important features of the DDG-51 is its powerful SPY-1D radar and Aegis Combat System that allows the Arleigh Burkes to simultaneously track and engage multiple airborne threats — with the Standard Missile 2 — out to very long ranges. Some 23 Arleigh Burkes have been upgraded with software improvements to the radar, a new battle management system and the advanced Standard Missile 3 to give them the ability to defend against ballistic missiles. Two of these are the USS Stout and Ramage now in the Eastern Mediterranean. In addition to the two variants of the Standard Missile, the DDG-51 also carries a mix of antisubmarine weapons as well as Harpoon antiship and Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles in some 90 vertical launch cells.
The Navy doesn’t release information on the actual load outs of its ships but one could easily hazard a guess that half the VLS tubes contain Tomahawk cruise missiles. This means that the five ships could easily hit Syria with two hundred of these long-range missiles, each packing a 1,000 lb warhead. The USSStout and Barry are old hands at this kind of mission; in 2011 they launched close to 100 Tomahawks against Libya. At the same time as they would be performing this mission, the Arleigh Burkes could defend themselves against any attempt by the Syrian Air Force to retaliate and, in the case of the USS Stout, Ramage and Mahan, provide ballistic missile defense for surrounding countries such as Israel.
While there are some targets that the DDG-51’s weapons cannot strike effectively, in general these are powerful warships that could do some serious damage to the Assad regime’s military and infrastructure. If their capabilities were supplemented with air strikes by theater-based fighters and U.S. strategic bombers, the regime in Damascus would really feel the pain.
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