Tag Archives: Gulf War

This Infographic Sums Up the USAF contribution to Operation Desert Storm

The Gulf War in 1991 was the first to feature stealth and space use by the U.S. Air Force.

The First Gulf War kicked off on Jan. 17, 1991.

In order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. Air Force has released an infographic that sums up the contribution of the air branch to the war in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.

Although several air arms belonging to a wide coalition took part in the Operation against Saddam Hussein’s forces, the bulk of the sorties was provided by the USAF that unleashed its F-117 stealth jets in real combat sorties for the first time (at least publicly).

The figures provided are pretty interesting: they show that the majority of the sorties were flown by support assets (KC-135 tankers and C-130 cargo planes) and that, among the tactical planes, the F-16s, deployed in very large numbers and undertaking a variety of missions, conducted most sorties (almost 14,000).

Click below to download the infographic in hi-rez.

Desert Storm infographic hi-rez

Credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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The story of an F-14 Tomcat RIO who became prisoner of war during the First Gulf War

The dramatic story of a US Navy Tomcat RIO, POW during Operation Desert Storm.

As we have recently explained, in the early morning of Jan. 21, 1991, the F-14B (BuNo 161430, at the time designated F-14A Plus) from the VF-103 “Sluggers,” callsign “Slate 46”,  flown by Lt. Devon Jones and RIO Lt. Lawrence Slade, was hit by an Iraqi SA-2 Surface to Air Missile.

The crew was forced to eject due to the violent flat spin which followed the SAM explosion.

During the descent, the two men saw each other for the last time before entering the clouds and once they put their boots on the ground their fate was quite different.

In fact, while Lt. Jones was saved with a spectacular Combat SAR mission, Lt. Slade tried to go as far as he could from the Tomcat crash site, walking for about 2 ½ hours in the desert using his radio every hour without receiving any reply.

Then, while Slade tried to hide himself near a little knoll, the Iraqis found him.

“At about 1030, a white Datsun pickup truck came around the knoll,” Slade says in the book Gulf Air War Debrief.

“It was probably bad luck because I don’t think they were looking for me; they were just driving by. Two men stopped and got out. One had a 12-gauge shot gun, the other, an AK-47. […] They approached me, but it never crossed my mind to pull out my pistol. I was obviously had. They made me strip off all my gear.”

The two men were very polite and after they put Slade between them in the pickup, took him in their tent where they fed him.

Then, after the lunch, they put him again in the pickup and they asked him if he wanted to go to either Saudi Arabia or Baghdad. Of course, he told them Saudi Arabia, choosing the most northern town he could recall. Slade knew that if the trip took three hours, it would have been Baghdad; eight, Saudi Arabia. Sure enough, 3 ½ hours later they pulled into an army camp, and he knew it wasn’t Saudi Arabia. For the rest of the day Slade was shuttled to six different camps, blindfolded and handcuffed. Nevertheless he was for sure a subject of interest, since people came out to see him, take pictures of him and poke at his gear. They’d pick on him, kick him, and if they spoke English they’d say things like “You kill our children.”

Slade spent the following three days in Baghdad where he experienced very harsh interrogations, then he was transferred in the first of several prisons where he spent his POW (Prisoner Of War) experience.

As he recalls: “In retrospect, I was shot down on the fourth day of the war and they had already had a few prisoners: a couple of Tornado crews, an A-6 crew and a Marine OV-10 crew. ”

Lieutenant Slade and his fellow POWs changed different prisons in Baghdad where they also experienced several allied bombs raids, the most intense of which was the one that took place on Feb. 23, when 2,000-lb bombs almost completely destroyed their jail.

But for sure the most impressive experience faced by Slade were the interrogations by Iraqi jailers. He had a total of six interrogations, some of what they called soft-sell, where they just asked him questions. Then there were the hard-sells, where they pounded on him. For the most part, they didn’t use any classic torture methods. They just beat him up, tied his hands behind his back and double-blindfolded him to the point where he couldn’t even blink.

They beat allied prisoners even when they answered their questions. Slade, as well as the other POWs answered to the questions just to make beatings stop “even though the answers were complete garbage. Some I didn’t know the answer to, and I’d tell them, then I’d make up something. I could hear them writing it down. I thought, ‘You idiots!’ […] Some time toward the end of February, they banged me up against the wall and broke my seventh vertebra.”

During these interrogations Slade was blindfolded and never saw his interrogators, probably so that he could not identify them later, or perhaps because the Iraqis understood how terrifying it is to be blind in the hands of  a torturer.

Lt. Slade endured interrogation, torture and starvation in the Iraqi hands for 43 days: even if his six weeks as a POW were not anywhere as long as six years in North Vietnamese prisons, to Lawrence Slade every week must have seemed like a year.

F-14B Slade 2

Image credit: U.S. Navy

 

The story of the mission to rescue an F-14 Tomcat pilot behind the enemy lines in Iraq

The story of the first Combat SAR (Search And Rescue) mission behind enemy lines since Vietnam.

One of the most famous missions flew during the Operation Desert Storm was the Combat SAR sortie performed by A-10s Sandys and by MH-53Js from the 20th Special Operations Squadron on Jan. 21, 1991 to recover Lt. Devon Jones, an F-14B (AA 212, BuNo 161430, at the time designated F-14A Plus) pilot from the VF-103 Sluggers, callsign “Slate 46”, downed in Iraq with its RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) Lt. Lawrence Slade.

Jones and Slade  were shot down by an Iraqi SAM (Surface to Air Missile) in the first hours of the morning of the fourth day of war, while they were returning to the USS Saratoga (CV-60), after a successful EA-6B escort mission. On their way back to the aircraft carrier, Jones and Slade spotted a SAM coming through the clouds: even if Jones added power and started an evasive action, the missile exploded near the Tomcat’s tail. The aircraft entered into an unstoppable spin which forced the aircrew to eject. During the descent the two men saw each other for the last time before entering the clouds.

As he descended towards the ground, Jones tried to pull out his PRC-90 radio, but due to the fact that he flew without gloves, his hands were cold and he became afraid that he would drop his radio so he pushed it back into the vest pocket. Once landed, he started to walk towards what he thought to be west, trying to reach the Saudi border, but when he saw the sun rising, he realized his mistake. Nevertheless, at that point Jones thought it was good he was quite far from the crash site. He reached a little vegetation and thanks to his survival knife scooped out a foxhole in a small mound large enough to hide.

After he had been down for about six hours,  at 12:05 local time, he tried his radio again. And someone responded to his call.

As Jones recalls in David Donald and Stan Morse book Gulf Air War Debrief: “ ‘Slate 46, how do you read?’ That was the first time that I knew that there had been an ongoing SAR effort. […] ‘Let me come a little closer so I can talk to you’ he said.”

Still, Jones didn’t know who was the guy that responded to his call when he came to the radio telling to Jones that he would release a flare.

Since he was thinking to talk with a helicopter, Jones was surprised when the pilot revealed him that he was flying an aircraft “ ‘Ok, now, I’ll come down to where you can see me,’ he said. Lo and behold, he was an A-10! He was Sandy 57, like those guys in Vietnam, trained in combat SAR. I brought him with standard aviator talk. He didn’t see me, but he flew right over me at 50-100 feet and dropped a way point in his INS (Inertial Navigation System). ‘I’ve got to get some gas,’ he called. ‘Minimize your transmissions and come back up in 30 minutes.’

The Sandy pilot directed the helicopters toward Lt. Jones. As the SAR force headed for the downed Naval Aviator, they heard MiGs being vectored toward them. An F-15 RESCAP (REScue Combat Air Patrol) chased the threat away. After they got their gas, the A-10s returned, caught up with the helicopters and brought them in. After that a farmer truck passed nearby Jones, finally the F-14 pilot heard the A-10s telling to the helicopters they were 30 miles from his position. They asked him to shine his signal mirror south and after Jones did it, one of the A-10s told him to look for a helicopter 15 miles out, but he saw only the A-10s flying in a circle and Jones gave them instructions to his position.

But since the Iraqis were listening to their communications, while the planes came in, half a mile down the south road, Jones saw an army truck. After a moment of panic he remembered that the A-10s as well as the helicopters were heavy armed and, in fact, within 3-4 seconds, the Sandys opened fire with their 30 mm cannons, destroying the enemy truck.  Then for the first time he saw a helicopter “I had never seen such a beautiful sight as that big, brown American H-53. […] I grabbed my kneeboard cards and gear as he landed about 20 yards away. One of the special forces guys jumped out and waved me on. I jumped in and off we went, 140 miles to go at 140 knots, at 20 feet! Pretty impressive machine. Just what you’d expect from these special forces people with lots of guns hanging off them.”

Lt. Jones was brought to a forward base in Saudi Arabia, where he was hospitalized for a brief medical exam, then the next day an S-3 from his carrier flew him back to his squadron. Following a three-day rest, he returned to the cockpit.

On the contrary, Lt. Slade, Slate 46 RIO, was less lucky: he endured interrogation, torture and starvation in the Iraqi hands for 43 days.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

The story of one of the largest air strikes conducted by U.S and British jets in Iraq during OSW

The attack that took place against Iraq on Feb. 16, 2001 was one of the largest strike missions conducted by U.S and British aircraft during Operation Southern Watch.

Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, to enforce the no fly zone (NFZ) that was set to narrow Iraqi airspace, two different operations were conducted: the Northern Watch, which started in 1997 succeeding to Operation Provide Comfort, to monitor the airspace above the 36th parallel, and the Southern Watch, that began in 1992, to control the airspace south of the 32nd parallel, extended to the 33rd parallel in 1996.

Iraq soon decided not to respect the no fly zone, and Iraqi air defense systems began to attack both Northern and Southern Watch aircraft, even though the SAM (Surface to Air Missile) sites were more active against Southern forces: many no fly zone violations occurred since 1992, with Iraqi fighters that crossed the no fly zone several times. Nevertheless the main threat to the allied aircraft was posed by the Iraqi SAM and anti-aircraft artillery batteries that soon became the target of several air strikes. As the ones conducted during Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and the powerful raid conducted by Joint Task Forces Southwest Asia, on Feb. 16, 2001.

As explained by the U.S. Marine Corps historian Fred Allison to Giampaolo Agostinelli for his book “Where Sea Meets The Sky,” about 70 aircraft were involved in this air strike, a quarter of those released weapons. Among the strike aircraft which took part in the mission there were eight U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and an element of Royal Air Force Tornado GR1s from bases in Kuwait, with fourteen F/A-18s belonging to Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 312 (VMFA-312) Checkerboards and to Strike Fighter Squadron 105 (VFA-105) Gunslingers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Truman (CVN-75).

The strike was supported by E-2Cs in the AWACS role, S-3Bs and KC-10s for air-to-air refueling and EA-6Bs for electronic warfare. The escort for the strike force was provided by VF-32 Swordsmen F-14B Tomcats and by USAF F-15C Eagles.

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Some of the targets (that consisted in radars, communications centers and command centers) were placed north of Baghdad and to hit them the Hornets were loaded with external tanks, 200 rounds of 20 mm ammunition combined with AIM-120 and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles  for self-defense and two types of standoff weapons: three AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapons (JSOWs) for each VMFA-312’s jet and Standoff Land-Attack Missile – Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles for VFA-105’s F/A-18s.

The mission was launched after sunset and the Hornets refueled from an Air Force KC-10 tanker over Kuwait. The F/A-18s were the last aircraft to reach their targets over Baghdad, with the Iraqi gunners already alerted from the previous strikes: their first Gunslingers jets launched their SLAM-ERs which hit their targets with great accuracy as demonstrated by the TV data sent back by one that hit Al-Taji air base that, when slowed down, showed a man outside the building smoking a cigarette.

Then, Checkerboards Hornets delivered their JSOWs from 36,000 feet while the sky was erupting “into a blaze of AAA and SAMs.” But in the rarefied air at FL360, the F/A-18s were too slow to maneuver away from the SAMs, so they lit the burners for a steep dive descending into the thicker air where the pilots could maneuver more effectively against the surface to air missiles.

Moreover in addition to the SAMs launches, the Hornets drivers were notified that also a MiG-23 Flogger had taken off from Al-Taqaddum airfield below them. Luckily for them (and with great Tomcat crews disappointment) the MiG escaped immediately towards north.

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Then with the afterburners still ignited, the Hornets avoided the last Iraqi SAMs and reached the tanker on a racetrack on the border of Kuwait. Suddenly  a British voice came over to the radio: a Tornado was being targeted by a SA-6 which was receiving good tracking information from its radar.

Three seconds later another voice radioed: “Magnum!”: a VAQ-130 (Electronic Attack Squadron 130) Zappers EA-6B pilot had just launched an AGM-88 HARM missile which destroyed the Iraqi SAM site.

The mission ended after the safe recovery of the aircraft onboard the Truman’s deck. As Allison recalls: “The mission had lasted slightly more than four hours and had accomplished its purpose. The Iraqis shut down their radars and there were less attacks on coalition aircraft over the NFZ, at least for a time…”

Image credit: U.S. Navy

23 tanks destroyed in one day: the A-10 Warthog in action

Without the presence of the A-10A Thunderbolt II attack planes, allied forces would have suffered a far higher cost in terms of lives during the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991.

This is proved by what happened in the morning of Feb. 25, 1991, during the second day of the ground war.

That day, a large column of Iraqi tanks was moving south from areas controlled by the Republican Guard and two “Warthogs” (the most common of the A-10 nicknames) belonging to the 76th TFS (Tactical Fighter Squadron) of the 23rd TFW (Tactical Fighter Wing) were scrambled to destroy them.

The two A-10s,  flown by Captain Eric Solomonson and Lieutenant John Marks, were led to the target area by an OA-10 FAC (Forward Air Controller).

Solomonson and Marks noted that some Iraqi tanks had scattered and tried to hide in prepositioned revetments while some others were pulling off from both sides of the road.

However there were enough targets for both infrared AGM-65 Maverick missiles and for the powerful 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger seven barreled cannon of the two Warthogs.

In a matter of ten minutes six tanks were destroyed by the Mavericks and two more were killed by the brutal force of the Avenger.

Instead of returning to their base, the Thunderbolts landed to a FOL (Forward Operating Location), were refueled and reloaded of weapons and took off again to help the Marines near Kuwait City.

A “Fast FAC” F/A-18 Hornet directed Solomonson and Marks in the area where two AV-8B Harriers had been hit. One of the two Harrier pilots had to eject and so the Warthogs had to cover the rescue mission for the “jump jet” pilot.

Once in the target area, during a rapid and tough engagement, the two A-10s killed eight more tanks, six by using the Mavericks and two by means of the cannon.

However for Solomonson and Marks, it was not yet time to rest because, as they returned to their main base, their Thunderbolts were re-armed and took off once again for more Marines support. During this third sortie the two Warthogs destroyed seven more tanks!

On an interview featured in the excellent book “Gulf Air War Debrief” by Stan Morse, Salomonson says: “There are a lot of jets that fly a lot faster, a lot higher, but don’ t drop nearly as much stuff , nor can they hang out in the target area as long as we can.”

The A-10 is one of the most imporant U.S. assets. It will be replaced by the F-35 in the future.

 

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