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.”
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.”
The following video, filmed by a car dash camera, shows a Ukrainian Mi-17 Hip helicopter buzzing the cars on a highway somewhere near Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth largest town, in the central-eastern part of the country.
Ukrainian helicopters, especially Mi-24 Hind gunships supporting the war against pro-Russia separatists, mainly operate at very low altitude where they can be more effective but at the same time they become more vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire: several Hind helicopters and many other Ukrainian aircraft have been shot down by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) in eastern Ukrainian during clashes with Russia-backed militia.
According to the company, the aircraft carried four 50-kg P-50T dumb bombs on hard-points under the wings.
The “attack run” would see the crew find the airfield, visually inspect it with flares and then drop the bombs ahead of landing on the field, located well behind the enemy lines.
The drops should be conducted with 500 km/h of speed (ca. 270 knots) and 500-1000 m (1650 – 3280 feet) of altitude.
Ilyushin claims that bombs will make it possible to employ the Il-76MD in operations which would involve airfields with unprepared or unfamiliar runways, located in a contested territory.
VVS aims to train 10 crews in the new “strike” role; teams that, according to IHS Jane’s, will be stationed in the Tver, Orenburg, Pskov, and Taganrog regions.
IHS Jane’s additionally notes another issue – the place where the specially trained crews are stationed, excluding the Orenburg region, which borders Kazakhstan, will make it possible for the transport jets to conduct strikes over Ukraine or the Baltic States.
Generally speaking, using bombs with a transport aircraft is not a new idea. One should take into account the (armored and heavily armed) U.S. AC-130 gunships which were fairly successful when employed as CAS (Close Air Support) platforms. U.S. Air Force has also used transport aircraft to drop GBU-43/B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also known as the Mother of All Bombs) thermobaric weapons. These were dropped with the use of C-130 Hercules aircraft, mostly the MC-130E Combat Talon I or MC-130H Combat Talon II variants.
C-17 Globemasters were also said to be capable to deliver this armament.
Even though transport aircraft have been successfully transformed in bombers in the past, the heavy and scarcely maneuverable aircraft carrying weapons can only be employed during low-intensity conflicts, in areas where virtually no air-defenses exist. Otherwise, using a troop-carrier as a heavy bomber to drop dumb bombs through a SAM-infested airspace, as the one surrounding an enemy airfield, would be almost suicidal.