In the event of a punitive strike or a limited operation to reduce al Assad's chemical weapons delivery capability — for instance, by targeting key command and control facilities, main air bases and known artillery sites — the United States already has enough forces positioned to commence operations now. Four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — and probably a nuclear cruise missile submarine — are already within Tomahawk cruise missile range of Syrian targets. In addition, the United States can call upon strategic bombers based in the continental United States as well as B-1 bombers from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. In such an operation, the United States would be able to carry out standoff attacks beyond the range of Syrian air defenses, while B-2 bombers could stealthily penetrate the Syrian integrated air defense network to drop bunker-busting bombs with minimal risk.
Considering that al Assad's forces have a number of ways to deliver chemical weapons, ranging from air power to basic tube and rocket artillery, an operation that seeks to degrade the regime's ability to launch chemical weapons would necessarily be far wider in scope and scale. As a result, it would require considerable resources. This type of campaign would involve striking a number of hardened facilities, possibly repeatedly, thus necessitating the use of far more sorties of fixed-wing aircraft.
This means tactical aviation would have to play a key role in such a campaign, which in turn would entail the deployment of significant enabler aircraft such as aerial refueling tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. Given the threat from Syrian air defenses to manned tactical aircraft flying over Syria, considerably more ships equipped with cruise missiles would be needed for the inevitable suppression of an enemy air defense campaign, and aircraft carriers would be needed to bolster the tactical aviation assets available for the operation.
In effect, the more resources the United States and its allies utilize the more damage they can inflict. However, as the intervention grows, the potential costs also increase due to the commitment of more numerous and vulnerable assets into the warzone. In an operation of this scope, combat search and rescue helicopters and special operations forces would be required due to the high risk of aircraft being shot down over Syria.
It would be easy to see an operation of this magnitude coming because of all the resources and equipment movements needed for it. The United States has not yet begun to deploy the forces needed for this level of intervention, but significant combat power is not far off. Two U.S. supercarriers and their escorts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations are only a few days away, and the U.S. Air Force can rapidly surge squadrons into the theater if necessary, especially if air bases in Turkey, Greece, Jordan and Cyprus are available.