Tag Archives: Israeli Air Force

36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

Syria claims it shot down an Israeli combat plane; Israel denies: dissecting the latest IAF strike on Damascus

According to a Syrian Army statement, an Israeli jet involved in a raid over Syria was shot down. The Israeli Air Force denies.

Early in the morning on Mar. 17, the Israeli Air Force carried out an air strike near Damascus, in Syria.

The Israeli jets hit Mezzeh Military Airport, an airbase located south-west of the old centre of Damascus, where a local ammunition depot and a few other military installation were reportedly hit with a surgical strike.

Just a few ago, citing French intelligence sources, Le Figaro’s journalist Georges Malbrunot, said the brand new Israeli F-35Is,  had already had their combat debut over Syria on the night of Jan. 12-13 (only one month after being delivered!) targeting a Pantis-S1 mobile SAM system warehouse located at Mezzeh.

Although the IAF has often been quick to put new assets into action, the (obviously unconfirmed nor denied) F-35’s participation in both the January and today’s raids seems to be pretty unlikely.

The Syrian military said a total of four IAF jets breached the Syrian airspace: one aircraft was shot down whereas another one was damaged. At the time of writing, such claims have not been backed by any evidence so far.

Actually, the IAF utilizes weapons with the range and targeting capabilities required to hit the target from inside Lebanese airspace, without intruding the Syrian one. With a range of little less than 50NM, the EO/IR targeting and large 750-lb warhead the Popeye, could easily be the weapon of choice for the Mezzeh raid.

Although unlikely, it is still possible that the Israelis used the Delilah air to surface missile, a low-speed, loitering weapon that could strike moving targets and be reprogrammed after launch. Still, its small 66-lb warhead is a poor choice for a large target such as a warehouse. Same can be said for the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.  The folding wings of the glide weapon give the requisite range but the small warhead makes the weapon a less attractive choice.

While acknowledging the raid “on several targets” in Syria (something quite unusual), the Israeli Defence Forces have denied any of the jets was harmed by the Syrian Air Defence.

“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF [Israeli Air Force] aircraft compromised,” an Israeli military spokesman said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

According to the Israeli military the jets were targeted with Syrian anti-aircraft missiles “of which one was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, heard as far away as Jerusalem, and two others landing in Israel but causing no damage or injuries.”

Some media outlets have reported that one Syrian missile was intercepted by the Arrow-3 anti-missile defense system, Israel’s most advanced Arrow system. However, the Arrow-3 is highly maneuverable system designed to intercept ballistic missiles when they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Other sources said the Syrian SAM was intercepted by a Arrow-2, an air defense system more likely to be employed against an SA-5 considered the size, operating altitude and range of this surface-to-air missile.

Anyway, the one conducted earlier today is just the last of long series of raids carried out (without any apparent issue) by the Israeli Air Force in the last year.

The IAF jets have proved to be able to operate almost freely in (or close to) the Syrian airspace, hitting targets across the country with PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) without the SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) being able to pose a real threat to the Israeli attack planes that most probably enjoy a solid and effective EW (Electronic Warfare) cover during the air strikes. Without even requiring any stealth capability. At least until they need to operate well inside an S-300 or S-400’s MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone).

The last time the Syrian Air Defenses shot down a foreign aircraft was back in 2012, when a Turkish Air Force RF-4E that had shortly violated the Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Image credit: Israeli Air Force

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Need Your Own Private Air Force in a Hurry? Here’s One For Sale.

Listing Offers Twenty Complete Combat Aircraft For Sale, With Parts! For “only” 200K USD.

Ever wanted to command your own private air force? Here’s your chance, and the price seems reasonable.

Raptor Aviation of Port St. Lucie, Florida in the U.S has listed the sale of 20 jet trainer/light strike aircraft, an entire squadron, with spare parts and sundries. The aircraft are IAI Tzukits, the Israeli version of the Fouga CM.170 Magister.

The price? Only 200,000 USD takes the lot according to their advert.

“They’ll need about 20,000-25,000 USD in repairs before they can fly again,” Albert from Raptor Aviation told us in a phone interview, “They need some restoration.”

The detailed listing on Raptor Aviation’s website and Facebook page shows the aircraft have relatively high hours on them, with the remaining hours listed. All the avionics and other components are specified in the .pdf file on the listing. When we phoned Raptor Aviation to ask about the aircraft, they picked up on the third ring and were ready to answer any questions about the planes.

The Tzukit is a twin-engine, tandem two-seater with a mostly straight wing and unique “V” tail like a Beechcraft Bonanza. The aircraft are listed by independent sources as originally costing $75,000 USD as new in 1955 dollars.

While developed largely as a primary jet trainer, the Israelis used the somewhat lumbering Tzukit in the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War as a strike aircraft. It’s also been flown by the Belgian “Red Devils” and Irish “Silver Swallows” aerobatic teams- and 20 of your own aircraft would make an impressive private jet demo team!

Adding to the colorful history of this type, the Tzukit/Magister was flown by mercenaries in Congo-Léopoldville, Central Africa during the siege of Jadotville in early 1961. The hired-gun pilots reportedly destroyed two large, four-engine DC-4s and a smaller twin-engine DC-3 during a ground attack using its 7.62 guns and somewhat cobbled up locally made aerial bombs.

If you want to start your own air force in the United States, however, the FAA, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) will need to have a chat with you.

Albert of Raptor Aviation told us “fleet” sales like this aren’t unusual, “I could list you a dozen fleets for sale right now, everything from these to other types of retired trainers. It’s just like anything else; air forces have to update their equipment. This is one place the old planes go.”

“One of two things will happen with the planes,” Albert told us in a phone interview, “Someone will buy them and sell them off as individual aircraft, we see that all the time, or, they’ll be sold as scrap.”

Considering a single aircraft ejector seat can fetch well over $20,000 USD as a cool-looking souvenir for a well-heeled aircraft enthusiast (see below…), this could be a good money-making venture.

Before you ring up Albert though, he reminded us that, “Whoever buys them has to get them back [to the United States] here though.” When I asked Albert where they are, he told me, “Israel”.

Image credit: Raptor Aviation

 

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Italy has become the first country to operate the F-35 outside of the U.S.

Actually, the Italian (not the Israeli) Air Force has been the first service to take delivery of the first operational F-35s outside the United States.

On Dec. 12, whilst several Israeli and international media outlets focused on the delivery of the first F-35I “Adir” to Nevatim airbase (delayed by some 6 hours because of fog) highlighting how Israel had just become “the first country after the US” to get the new plane, far from the spotlight, the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) received its first two F-35A Lightning II, becoming the very first country to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S.

Noteworthy, the delivery flight was carried out by two Italian military pilots (the Israeli planes were flown by Lockheed Martin pilots) who flew their two JSFs (Joint Strike Fighters) to Amendola, where the aircraft landed in the early afternoon on Monday.

Indeed, whereas the arrival of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian Air Force has kept a very “low profile” about its achievements with the F-35 so far.

However, Italy has made some significant work on the Lightning II: on Dec. 3, 2015, the ItAF welcomed the first F-35 at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy. That aircraft was also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2016 the first Italian Air Force F-35, successfully completed the type’s very first transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. To prepare for the 7-hour transoceanic flight the Italian Air Force conducted tanker trials in the U.S. (in July 2015) with its KC-767A, that became the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with an F-35.

Three Italian F-35s are currently deployed at Luke’s multinational F-35 pilot training centre.

And, as explained mentioned, on Dec. 12, the first two aircraft (reportedly AL-5 and AL-6) arrived at their operational base in southeastern Italy.

The first ItAF F-35 during the type’s first transatlantic crossing earlier this year (AM)

The F-35 is for sure the most famous (and controversial) defense program in Italy.

For the moment, Rome’s plan is to procure 90 F-35 to replace the ItAF’s ageing AMX and Tornado and the Italian Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.

 

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Arrival of the first F-35A “Adir” in Israel delayed by heavy fog at departure airfield

Heavy fog forced the F-35 to the ground, delaying the arrival of the first “Adir” jets in Israel. Not a good start, on the very same day Trump slammed the program’s cost for being “out of control.”

The arrival of the first two F-35I “Adir” stealth jets in Israel was delayed because of heavy fog at Cameri airbase, the final stopover of the Lightning II aircraft on their way to Nevatim airbase, on Dec. 12.

The aircraft were initially scheduled to arrive in Israel at around 2.00PM LT but the aircraft could not depart from the Italian airbase experiencing bad weather conditions with a horizontal visibility between 250 and 700 m, with clouds at 200 feet, well below the IFR minimums for the ferry flight.

Although some immediately blamed the F-35 for the delay, it must be said that the same wx (weather) would have grounded any other modern warplane on delivery or not involved in an actual combat mission.

An unlucky start for the “Adir” that caused the ceremony, to be attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashotn Carter, to be delayed by about 5.5 hours.

As if the delay was not enough, on the very same day, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter that the F-35 cost is out of control, and that he would save billions on that once he takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.

As a consequence of the tweet, Lockheed Martin’s stock fell by as much as 3% and was down 2.55% as of 8:45 a.m. ET according to Business Insider.

The “attack” on the F-35 comes just one week after Trump tweeted on the costs for the replacement Air Force One.

H/T Avi Scharf for providing updates on the Adir delivery

 

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