The F-15E in ‘Desert Storm’ – 1 – Daylight Strikes

On January 17,1991, the order for the first strikes was given — Operation ‘Desert Storm’ had begun. With great media attention focused on Baghdad, waves of attack aircraft flew at low level to hit the eyes and ears of the Iraqi military machine. The integrated air defense system (IADS) was the primary target for many of the first sorties, with airfields, hardened aircraft shelters and aircraft on the ground also being attacked so that air superiority could be more readily attained. The Air Tasking Order (ATO) called for subsequent strikes against Iraqi armor, command, control and communications, and logistics supplies, thus paving the way for a less protracted ground war to rid Kuwait of its uninvited guests.

By the time ‘Desert Storm’ actually started, the F-15E’s Strike Eagles had been moved from Oman to the Saudi military base at Al Kharj, also known as Prince Sultan AB (PSAB). It was from here that numerous fixed ‘Scud’ missile sites in western Iraq were attacked by Strike Eagles that first night. A total of five sites were hit by 24 jets that divided into three-ship or four-ship packages, each carrying two fuel tanks, 12 Mk20 Rockeyes, and two AIM-9M missiles. The exception was ‘Chevy’ flight, which was to attack ‘Scud’ sites at H-2, an Iraqi airfield, and which carried 12 Mk82s per jet. The Strike Eagles would ordinarily have been loaded with not two, but four AIM-9s, but that would have taken them above the mandated 81,0001b maximum take-off weight limit. At 81,000lb the pilots were restricted to a maximum loading of 3g and were less than comfortable about the limitations in maneuverability that remained until either the bombs were expended or their fuel load burned down to a lighter weight.

As for the fixed ‘Scud’ sites, these were relatively simple to strike, not least of all because the F-15E’s AN/APG-70 radar could create maps of the sites that were so detailed that even the chain-link fences that surrounded them were visible. The crews of ‘Dodge’ flight chose to ingress the target area at low level at 540kt. Climbing briefly to altitude as they neared the target, they patch-mapped the area (recorded the terrain on radar) before descending once again to 300ft. AWACS called several unidentified aircraft in their locality, but none came closer than 30 miles.

A final target update was taken with the radar some three minutes from the target to update the navigation computer known as the Mission Navigator (MN). The MN then provided azimuth steering cues on the head-up display so the pilot could precisely position his aircraft for bomb release. Nearing the target, the Strike Eagle crews executed either ‘pop’ or less aggressive ‘level’, deliveries, and the first jet released its CBUs at 03.05hrs local time. Attacking the ‘Scud’ sites was risky as they were well defended, and several pilots exceeded the prescribed g limits as they hauled the aircraft into jinks and evasive turns to avoid seemingly impenetrable streams of unguided anti-aircraft artillery. In the haste to avoid the AAA at least one jet came within 90ft of flying into the ground, saved only as a result of a 7g pull prompted by the panicked yell of the WSO who had noted his pilot’s error just in time. ‘Chevy’ flight was the only F-15E package to attack their target at medium level that night.

Daylight strikes

In the daylight deliveries that followed, a ‘dive toss’ delivery profile was used to put bombs on target from the relative sanctuary of medium level. Rolling the jet inverted from 30,000ft and diving towards the target for final visual verification, the pilot would pull out no lower than 15,000ft Above Ground Level (AGL), the approximate ceiling for a majority of the Iraqi AAA. This tactic worked well and, while the RAF continued to use the low-level option despite mounting losses until well into the conflict, Strike Eagle crews were more inclined to operate at medium altitude whenever possible or practical. Naturally, weather played a major role in allowing the pilots and WSOs to operate at medium level — where a low undercast existed, they had to drop based on a radar designation, abort the mission, or descend into the heart of Iraq’s air defenses.

Capts Jerry ‘One-Y’ Oney and Bill ‘Shadown’ Schaal had to do the latter when they flew their first two missions, both in daytime. With the rapid destruction of the fixed ‘Scud’ sites, the two men were tasked against the much more enigmatic mobile sites, and that required ‘eyes on’ the target. Oney explains: ‘We were sent after some more mobile ‘Scuds’ on our second mission and this was probably our most eventful one. Our two-ship had been scheduled on a pre-planned target but just before step time we got re-tasked to go after some mobile ‘Scuds’. Apparently a two-ship of ‘Hogs’ [A-10s] had been looking for these things, had bingo’d out [had only enough fuel to return to base] and gone home, so we were sent to have a look. The ‘Scuds’ were supposed to be located somewhere along a certain road in south-east Iraq, so we pressed up there as quickly as we could. We crossed the border, went to a trail formation, and started to look for the bad guys. In the process of looking for the ‘Scuds’we’d found a smallish Iraqi AAA site/encampment and had patch-mapped it for future use. Personally, I wanted to sling at least one Mk82 on the camp, but we had other priorities at the time.

‘Well, there we were, a couple of the USAF’s finest flying the mighty Strike Eagle at around 2,000ft AGL, below a mostly scattered cloud deck, in a two-mile trail, doing 500kt, and doing road-recce looking for some ‘Scuds’. Even then I was thinking, This ain’t the greatest idea in the history of earth: I was soon proved correct as we flew past this Iraqi airfield and saw the smoke trail of an SA-7 or maybe an SA-9 heading past us and right towards lead. As luck would have it, lead had just looked over his right shoulder starting an easy right turn, and saw the missile smoke trail heading his way. The next bit of action that happened seemed compressed into about two seconds or less; lead broke hard into the missile in an attempt to defeat it, and I watched the thing overshoot and detonate about 500ft above him. I could’ve sworn I actually heard the thing explode. Bill maneuvered hard to avoid lead as we now had a big face-full of F-1SE heading more or less right towards us. Damn but an Eagle can turn!

‘I felt all of our ordnance and fuel tanks come off the airplane as Bill calmly punched the jettison button as part of our attempt to avoid hitting lead, and to get our weight down in anticipation of another shot coming our way. We continued our evasive action more or less to the north, and lead continued his hard maneuvering heading south. We eventually joined up a few minutes later. Our day wasn’t done yet, though. We regrouped, got our noses in the same direction, got back into a trail formation, got down low, got real fast, and headed home.

‘Murphy’s Law is alive and well no matter the country or continent. We managed to fly right past that same AAA site I’d wanted to bomb not 10 minutes earlier! As we came upon it, I could actually see this guy run to his quad-barreled 23mm gun, swing the thing around, and begin shooting at us; at least this is how my mind’s eye recalled it once we’d crossed back into Saudi territory. Well, in that particular space of time the longest distance in the world was between my brain and my mouth. I wanted to tell Bill all about the guy running to his gun, it turning towards us, and about all the tracers heading our way. The net result of all those efforts was me taking the throttles and slamming them into full afterburner to help the situation out. Unbeknownst to me, Bill had seen the entire thing too, and, having the throttles flung from his hands with a resounding bang’ against the stops, thought we’d been hit! After we figured out we both had the same situation awareness, Bill’s comment was a classic and shows what an always-thinking fighter pilot he was — and is; ‘That’s a good way to soak up a heater!’ Roger that!’ source: combat aircraft monthly

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