Tag Archives: Operation Desert Storm

A RAF Tornado GR4 was given the iconic Gulf War ‘desert pink’ paint scheme to celebrate 25 years of continuos combat ops

The Royal Air Force has unveiled a new special-colored Tornado.

The RAF has painted a Tornado GR4 fighter-bomber in ‘desert pink’ paint scheme to honour the aircraft type’s almost continuous operational service since the Gulf War 25 years ago.

Desert Pink Paint Scheme

The jet, ZG750 and based at RAF Lossiemouth with XV(R) Squadron, was one of those that took part in Operation Desert Storm (code-named Operation Granby by the Royal Air Force), the air campaign to free Kuwait.

Tornado GR4

On Feb. 28, 2016, on the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s forces’ withdrawal from Kuwait, the aircraft will perform a flypast at the National Arboretum during an event honouring the British forces involved in the Gulf War.

25 years on Operations

The aircraft fin carries 11 “battle honours,” recalling the Tornado’s almost continuous service on operations worldwide since 1991, an achievement proudly remarked by Air Vice-Marshal Gary Waterfall, who is responsible for RAF strike aircraft as Air Officer Commanding 1 Group RAF: “The Royal Air Force can look back at Tornado’s service on Operation Granby with great pride. In the 25 years since the Gulf War, Tornado has proven itself again and again to be a formidable strike aircraft with an enviable operational record; today it continues to serve the nation in the fight against Daesh.”

Special colored Tornado

Image credit: Crown Copyright

Gulf War 25th Anniversary Special: the SEAD missions flown by USMC F/A-18 Hornets to protect strike packages over Iraq

The first large deployment of the U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets took place in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, when they flew many of their sorties in SEAD role.

During Operation Desert Storm, the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions were performed by USAF, U.S. Navy and USMC aircraft. However, those flown by Naval Aviators and by Marine Corps pilots were not the same as the Air Force’s Wild Weasels. In fact, as told by Marine Corps Maj. Steve Pomeroy of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 333 to Steve Davies for his book US Multi-Role Fighter Jets, USAF’s aircraft “went out to hunt SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles). It didn’t matter if they were accompanying a strike or they were preparing for one to come later. They considered a mission successful when they removed the radar.”

On the contrary, USMC F/A-18s went out to escort a strike package and destroy air defense sites using AGM-88 HARMs (High-speed Anti Radiation Missiles) to make sure that the enemy radar was turned off or destroyed by the time the attackers hit their intended targets.

This kind of missions were known as “SEAD roll-back” and thanks to these sorties the enemy air-defense systems in Kuwait or southern Iraq were either destroyed or moved back to safety, allowing coalition aircraft to freely operate in the area of operations going after significant military targets like artillery positions, infantry concentrations and armor.

Pomeroy remembers his first SEAD roll-back sortie during Desert Storm: “Our squadron’s first mission actually took off before the first bombs hit Baghdad. That was a high-speed defense-suppression run, using HARMs in support of a strike package going into Iraq. My own first mission was the same thing, in support of a Navy carrier strike at Basra. I don’t know the specific targets the Navy was going after, though being Basra the chances were that they were after petro-chemical complexes, airfields, air-defense sites or possibly bridges. We stood off from the target area before the strike package arrived, trying to locate and neutralize all of the radar-guided SAMs that we knew were there. I guess we were successful. Nobody was shot down.”

F/A-18 Desert Storm

A strike package was generally made by more than 12 aircraft and involved HARM shooters, bombers, electronic warfare aircraft along with the tankers for air refueling support. If the Hornet drivers were able to destroy the SAM sites before the arrival of the strike package, the attack planes could not only hit their targets with greater accuracy but also have more chances to return home safely.

Obviously, this kind of job exposed the F/A-18 pilots to the fire of Anti-Aircraft-Artillery (AAA) and to SAM launches.

At night, both AAA and SAMs could be clearly seen, while if a SAM was launched in the daylight, the only way to see it was paying attention to the trail left by its ignition: in particular, the shoulder-launched missiles were fairly easy to spot because of their intense ignition signature. If the pilot was able to see the smoke of the missile leaving the ramp he could take an evasive action: SAMs could be deceived by a combination of onboard expendable such as chaff or flares, electronic jamming and hard maneuvering. If a missile maintained the same relative position to the locked on aircraft the pilot usually maneuvered on it, performing a sharp turn that could brake the lock.

SAMs could not always be defeated, but any F/A-18s that were hit were not so seriously damaged that they couldn’t get back. In fact as Maj. Pomeroy explains the aircraft performed exceptionally well in this role also because of the strength of its airframe: “the Hornet could, and did, take some pretty serious hits and still get 200 miles or more back to base.”

F/A-18 SEAD roll-back

Image credit: U.S. Navy

Gulf War 25th anniversary special: a quick look at the RAF Tornado’s reconnaissance missions over Iraq

Scud Hunt has been one of the main tasks for RAF Tornado aircrews during the First Gulf War.

Born in response to Great Britain, Germany and Italy’s requirement for an advanced attack aircraft capable to fly at ultra-low altitude, the MRCA (Multi Role Combat Aircraft) program led to the birth of one of Europe’s most important combat planes: the Panavia Tornado.

The “Tonka” (as the plane was later dubbed) was developed in three main variants: the IDS (Interdiction and Strike) fighter bomber, the ECR (Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance) specialized in SEAD role, and the ADV (Air Defense Variant) fighter.

The first flight of the Tornado took place on Aug. 14, 1974 and its variants (excluding the Tornado ADV) are still in front line service with the Royal Air Force, the German Air Force, the Italian Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The first large deployment of Tonkas was in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm (named Operation Granby by the Royal Air Force) in Iraq, where RAF brought also some examples of Tornado GR.Mk 1A, the reconnaissance version of the European multirole aircraft. The latter represented a new generation in data acquisition platforms, since it recorded its pictorial information on videotape instead of traditional film.

Since this “recce” variant had only recently entered service and was experiencing several problems with the quality of its imagery, six GR.Mk 1As from Nos II and 13 Squadrons were only able to arrive at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, between Jan. 14 and 16, 1991, hours before the beginning of the war.

But this late deployment didn’t prevent a worthwhile use of the Tornado GR.Mk 1A: in fact, the first three missions performed by the reconnaissance verision of the Tonka were all “Scud hunts”, conducted against the mobile missile launchers which were attacking Saudi Arabia and threatening Israel. In this kind of mission, the GR.Mk 1A proved to be an invaluable asset, thanks to the so-called “Tornado Reconnaissance System” which consisted of a near real-time observable infra-red line scan mounted beneath the fuselage.

Tornado Scud Hunt

Since the line scan could operate at night without need of photo flashes, all Desert Storm missions were flown after the sunset. The first sortie was flown by the commander of No. II Squadron, Wing Commander Al Threadgould with Flight Lieutenant Tim Robinson as navigator who, due to the lack of tankers, took off with a pair of 2,250 liter drop tanks under the wings and two 1,500 liter tanks beneath the fuselage which dramatically boosted their range.

However, a fuel feed problem forced the two to abort the mission and another pair of Tonkas, flown by Squadron Leaders Dick Garwood and Jon Hill and by Flight Lieutenants Brian Robinson and Gordon Walker, took over the sortie for them.

The two aircrews were able to bring several images of a Scud launcher in firing position back home but the bad weather prevented attack aircraft from destroying the launcher before it was driven away.

Garwood revealed some details of that sortie in the book Gulf Air War Debrief: “It was a very, very black night: probably one of the darkest I have flown on. Once you get out over the desert, especially over Iraq, there are no lights on the ground. You are flying very low. We saw the odd Bedouin encampment flash by on the left-hand side of the wing.” After they landed back to Dhahran, a single flack hole was found in the top of the rudder of their Tornado.

Noteworthy, most of the Scud hunt missions lasted from 2 ½ to 3 hours with 20 to 60 minutes over Iraq, except for one sortie flown by the Flight Lieutenants Rick Halley and Hangus Hogg, of No. II Squadron, which protracted for 4 hours and 25 minutes.

A typical reconnaissance mission involved three to four line searches of a strip of road or a section of river and the aircrews always operated in pre-planned routes to avoid Iraqi air defenses. For this type of sortie the normal operating altitude was 200 ft, with hard ride selected on the TFR (Terrain Following Radar) and speeds between 540 and 580 kts.

Other types of missions flown by RAF reconnaissance crews included target overflights before and after the attack to supply detailed imagery material for pre- or post- strike examination and several sorties to provide cover for Special Forces infiltration routes.

Tornado GR.Mk 1A

Image credit: Crown Copyright via Wg Cdr David Bolsover