THE 614th TFS' INVOLVEMENT in Operation Desert Shield began on August 15, 1990, when it was notified to deploy to Gioia del Colle, ltaly. However, as soon as everyone was packed, the deployment was cancelled. As soon as they were unpacked, they were notified that the squadron was going to Andravida, Greece. Again, as soon as the flight plans were completed, they were cancelled. Time to unpack, again.
So far, the Lucky Devils were not impressed with Desert Shield. This deploy / don't deploy went on two more times for Souda Bay, Greece, and then Sigonella, Sicily.
On August 28, 1990, the first day of leave for many, and the first duty day of normal operations, the squadron was recalled for another deployment. This recall would prove to be the real thing. In 12 hours, the crews would deploy the complete squadron of 24 F-16Cís to Doha, Qatar, where US aircraft had never been stationed. They learned that there were no facilities to house a squadron deployment, and the Advon team (headed by Col. Jerry Jed Nelson, 401st TFW Vice Commander, now deployed Commander) was stuck in Germany. Due to the unusual nature of this deployment, the team had departed with a briefcase full of money (approximately 3 million dollars) to build and set up flying operations at a bare base. It was a race between the Advon team and the airplanes to be the first to arrive at Doha.
Deployment the next day was in four cells of six aircraft, with buddy departures of KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft. The F-16ís, led by Lt. Col. Bruce Orville Wright, were loaded with two external fuel tanks, six live AIM-9M missiles and a travel pod. The squadron was going to war.
Arrival at Doha was exciting. As jets were landing, crew chiefs were getting off the tankers and running over to park the jets. It's a good thing the aircraft chocks were packed in the travel pods. The pilots had no problem taxiing and finding their way around thanks to some hard work by the squadron mission planning guys (and the guys at Jeppeson's). Once the aircraft were parked, everyone assembled in the hangar that the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) loaned them to use.
About this time, the number of personnel assigned to the 401st TFW-Deployed was growing rapidly. The Commander of the Combat Support Group now had his own executive officer, and the finance, CBPO (PERSCO), orderly room, mail room, transportation, and the field exchange all posted working hours. That didn't bother the pilots at all, that is, as long as the sunrise takeoffs didn't bother those with the "working hours".
Flying training in Qatar could simply be summarized as the best of Red Flag, Green Flag, Cope Thunder, and Maple Flag all rolled into one. In place flying assets frequently involved in Lucky Devil training scenarios included Qatari Mirage F.1ís, Canadian CF-18ís, and French Mirage F.1ís.
The QEAF was equipped with a squadron of Mirage F.1ís, very similar to the type the Iraqis owned. The Iraqi and the Qatari Mirages use the same type of missiles, similar ECM pods, similar radars, and very similar paint schemes.
What the QEAF F.1's lacked, the French F.1ís made up. The French F.1ís had the same type of radar the Iraqi F.1ís had and a more sophisticated ECM pod, but a less sophisticated avionics package. French tactics were remarkably similar to the tactics the Iraqis used. Also, the French knew what the Iraqi F.1ís were capable of. The CF-18 was an all-aspect radar missile shooter used as a Red or Blue fighter, depending on the scenario.
Other assets used for large package training included US and Saudi F-15ís and AWACS, F-4Gís, F-15Eís, Tornados and Jaguars.
During the force buildup period the 614th TFS developed a training exercise called Sandy Beach. The Sandy Beach exercises allowed the 614th to train its upcoming package commanders as well as squadron pilots to operate in large package scenarios with a Red Air threat present. The lessons learned from these exercises were passed on to the rest of the CENTAF fighters. Examples of the lessons learned included the effect of Mirage ECM on the F-16, RWR indications, avionics capabilities and weaknesses, weapon capabilities and weaknesses, tactics that worked and didn't work, and pilot capabilities. The 614th TFS was the only CENTAF fighter squadron that regularly flew air-to-air missions with Mirage F.1 fighters.
The operational flying increased slightly as the new year arrived. The squadron was flying Defensive Counter Air missions just south of the Kuwait border in the unlikely event an Iraqi aircraft strayed south of the border. Likewise, the squadron alert commitment increased from two to eight aircraft. Our alert mission was to launch a counter strike in the event the Iraqis launched a pre-emptive strike against any Coalition force. This programme was held at very high classification levels, and only the pilots on alert knew any details. Since the alert consisted of half the squadron, there was a lot of "I can't tell you, you have no need to know" type of talk which only served to irritate the other half of the squadron. Finally as the deadline approached, the rest of the squadron was briefed on all the details of the operation as well as the war plan. Now the rest of the squadron could pull alert.
Within the next seven days, the Squadron received a message that Col. Jed Nelson (401st TFW-Deployed Commander) elected to share with only the pilots: Execute Operation Desert Storm reference time 0300 (L) 17 Jan. 1991.
The flying schedule for the first three days of the war was planned well in advance of any hostilities. The missions were designed to destroy mainly strategic targets such as command and control centres, chemical storage locations and research facilities, nuclear research facilities, and Scud sites. There was no pre-planned frag for missions beyond the second day. The reason for this was to allow flexibility in the targeting, or retargeting, based on the initial strike results.
The flying schedule was based on combat four-ships. That is, four pilots who have been flying together as a flight of four. The squadron had enough pilots so that there were eight combat four-ship flights. That made scheduling pretty easy. The squadron also received six additional pilots from the 613th TFS, Torrejon AB, Spain, just as the war began. The normal flying day was split into two shifts, the morning and the afternoon. In order to keep either the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Orville Wright, or the operations officer, Maj. Jon Nuts Ball, in the squadron at anyone time, they were on opposite schedules. As it happened to work out, A and C flights flew together in the morning, and B and D flights flew together in the afternoon. Once the war started it was rare for anyone on the morning shift to see anyone on the afternoon shift, and vice-versa.
Show times were normally based on the fragged time on target (TOT). Normally, the flight leads would show up seven hours prior to TOT to get a situation brief and co-ordinate the fragged plan. The wingmen usually showed up 30 minutes later.
From there, everyone proceeded to the Intel trailer to assess the threats, check the weather, and to do the mission planning. Normally air refueling would be required to reach the target. The flight leads determined what time was needed for take-off in order to air refuel and ingress to the target. The flight then worked together and assembled the maps, photos, weapon data, and Data Transfer Cartridge (DTC) load for everyone in the flight.
Missions on the first day were to Ali Al Salem airfield in Kuwait and to Tallil airfield in Iraq.
The morning mission actually had two targets: Ali Al Salem and Al Jaber airfields, both in Kuwait. The morning mission would be the first strike into Kuwait. The package for the morning consisted of F-16Cís from the 614th TFS, F-16Aís from the Syracuse and McIntire Air National Guard (ANG), French Jaguars, and F-4G Wild Weasels. The 614th TFS F-16 targets were the two airfields. The ANG F-16ís were to hunt and target the SAM sites in the area, and the French were to strike Al Jaber. Wild Weasels would suppress any air defences that challenged the package. The overall package commander was Lt. Col. Orville Wright, the 614th TFS Squadron Commander.
The weather in the refueling tracks was good which allowed the package to rendezvous and push as planned. The basic plan was to have the Guard F-16ís ingress first, just behind the Wild Weasels. Then, as the Guard F-16ís were leaving, the 614th TFS F-16ís would ingress. Part of the tactics for the mission involved saturating the command and control network in Kuwait, hence making it difficult to determine who was there, and where they were. As the package approached the border, the weather got steadily worse until the clouds were solid up to 20,000ft. Since the package was in the clear they pressed on. As they approached the two airfields, SA-2 and SA-6 radars began illuminating the fighters, and the Weasels began shooting HARMs. Too late to turn back, the first group found a hole in the weather over Ali Al Salem, and used the point-and-shoot capability of the F-16 to dive down at the specific target desired points of impact and release their bombs.
The second group of strikers were not as fortunate in terms of weather, and were forced to deliver their bombs on Al Jaber from a 'blind' mode of delivery. The French Jaguars insisted on ingressing at low level in spite of the repeated warnings as to the hazards of low level flying. Even though they were able to fly under the weather to get to the airfield, 4 of the 12 Jaguars received heavy AAA damage. One, as he overflew the airfield at 150ft, was hit by an AK-47 round that penetrated the bottom of his aircraft, went into his helmet, and cut his skull.
The afternoon package was targeted against the chemical bunkers at Tallil airfield in Iraq. It consisted of 8 F-16ís from the 614th TFS, 4 Wild Weasels, and 4 F-15ís for air cover. The mission called for destroying the bunkers with Mk.84 2,000lb bombs and mining the area, in order to deny access to the bunkers, with CBU-89, a land mine cluster bomb. Tallil was an active Iraqi Air Force base with a large number of fighters that included Mirage F.1ís and MiG- 23 Floggers.
The weather for the refueling was clear. All fighters rendezvoused at the appropriate time and place and the package crossed the border into Iraq as a unified group. Weather over the target was basically clear with some scattered clouds at 15,000ft. As the package approached the airfield there was no reaction from the Iraqi Air Force. The air defenses, however, were well aware of their arrival and welcomed them with large amounts of AAA. The background contrast was poor due to the low sun angle, but all pilots found their targets and delivered their ordnance through the exploding shells of the AAA. That afternoon there were no SAMs active, nor launched, even though Intel claimed many active SAM sites in the area. The F-15ís were disappointed with the absence of any air threat. All aircraft recovered with no damage.
The weather on the second day of the war went from marginal to bad. The targets for the day were Medina and Hamurabi Divisions of the Republican Guards in the morning and Al Rumayla airfield, west of Basra, in the afternoon.
The morning mission was the first large strike on the elite Republican Guards in Iraq, just post the northwest corner of Kuwait. The package consisted of 16 F-16ís from the 614th TFS and 28 F/A-18s from the 3rd MAW. The weather had degraded such that the clouds were solid up to 32,000ft. Sensing the package was on the verge of doing something less than prudent, the mission was cancelled and the bombs were brought home.
The afternoon flight was another large package whose targets were the Al Rumayla airfield and Al Rumayla Republican Guard Division. The package consisted of 16 F-16ís from the 614th TFS, 24 F-16ís from the 388th TFW, Hill AFB, 4 Wild Weasels, 2 EA-6B, and 4 F/A-18ís. The 614th TFS F-16ís were to deliver Mk.84, 2,000 pound bombs on the airfield, with the support buildings as specific aim-points. The Hill AFB F-16ís were dropping cluster bombs on the Republican Guards located nearby, and the F-4Gís, the F-18s, and the EA-6s were designated to suppress any active air defenses.
Configuration for the F-16ís was an ECM pod, two external fuel tanks, two Mk.84s, and four AIM-9 missiles. The air refueling was accomplished south of Kuwait in Saudi airspace without any problems, but as the package approached the Iraqi border the weather became thicker until the package had leveled at 41,000ft in order to remain in the clear. No one was very enthusiastic about flying that high with that configuration, but the jets were humming along with no problems (a benefit of the big-mouth, GE engined F-16's). One good thing about being that high was the Mach number was high, but the indicated airspeed was low so the wing tips didn't flutter too badly. It appeared that with the two Mk.84, 4 AIM-9 configuration, when flying foster than 350 KIAS the wing tips would flutter so much that the pilots could not read their line-up card, nor the radar.
Since no one was receiving any threat radar warning, the flight continued on to the target. As they approached the IP just prior to the target, the Hill AFB package of F-16ís joined them and proceeded east with them, while on their way to their target. Now there were 40 F-16ís coming at 41,000 feet, all in the same piece of sky. The second package of F-16ís were hitting a target very near Al Rumayla, and when they merged, everyone became just a little confused as to who was who. The damage to the airfield could not be assessed for approximately two weeks due to the overcast skies, but in the meantime, the airfield was hit quite a few more times by additional packages.
The morning package had turned around at the border for two main reasons: no Wild Weasels, and poor weather. The target had been the Al Taji Rocket Production Facility located in the north of Baghdad. The package did, however, drop their bombs on the alternate target of Salman North airfield, located in central Iraq.
Meanwhile, the afternoon group had shown up for mission planning and discovered that their target had been changed from the nuclear research facility located south of Baghdad to three targets located in the heart of the city itself: the Air Force Headquarters, the Republican Guard Headquarters, and the oil refinery. The 614th TFS would fly the first daylight F-16 raid on downtown Baghdad.
As the 16-ship F-16 package arrived at the air refueling track, it was discovered that there were not enough tankers for the entire group. Consequently, the last four-ship, call-sign Stroke 1-4, was engaged in a radio conversation with any Forward Air Controller (FAC) they could raise on the radio in order to be used as opportunity air strikers in Kuwait. As the four-ship was about to deport on an alternative mission, a pop-up tanker arrived which allowed everyone to proceed as planned.
As the package proceeded to the Iraqi border the weather become steadily worse until everyone was in the weather, unable to climb out into the clear. As planes got out of position, the package finally broke out into the clear just past the Iraqi border. At this time, a large calibre AAA gun began firing on the aircraft. The AAA consisted of extremely large airbursts that looked like big black rain clouds. The AAA, coupled with the confusion of sorting out the package formation, resulted in 25% of the package being sent home at that time. Meanwhile the package, now a 12-ship, pressed on to Baghdad.
As the flight approached the Baghdad IP, AAA began firing at tremendous rates. Most of the AAA was at 10-12,000ft (3,658m), but there were some very heavy, large calibre explosions up to 27,000ft (8,230m). Low altitude AAA became so thick it appeared to be an undercast. At this time, the 388th TFW F-16ís were hitting the Nuclear Research Centre outside of the city, and the Weasels had fired off all their HARMs in support of initial parts of the strike and warnings to the 614th F-16ís going further into downtown went unheard. The F-15ís also provided air cover and departed with the first part of the strike group. Again, a warning that went unheard. Without knowing it 614th TFS F-16ís were all pretty much alone in downtown Baghdad with no air cover and no electronic support assets.
A low overcast deck covered the northern portion of the city which extended south to the point where the AF Headquarters and the Republican Guard Headquarters were mostly obscured, and the package commander, Maj. John Nips Nichols, called a weather abort for those two targets. The southern portion of the city was clear, and the oil refinery was clearly visible to Crud and Stroke flights. As they approached the action point to roll in on the refinery, an SA-2 launch warning was received. The fighters turned to honour the threat missile launch warning, and some SAMs were seen in the air, but they were not an immediate threat. The remaining F-16ís each pinpoint bombed separate refectory towers on the site, and set the refinery ablaze. The destruction was so complete that the flames from the refinery were seen on Cable News Network (CNN) film for the next two weeks.
As the initial SA-2 launch warning faded however, Maj. ET Tullia, Stroke 3, received additional SA-2 and SA-3 acquisition warnings that went unheeded as he rolled in on the towers. The high angle diving delivery, combined with the on-board ECM pod delayed a full SAM missile system acquisition until he pulled off the target and turned south. As the missiles closed, ET's tape reveals the screams of the radar warning receiver into his headset of a missile launch. The missiles overshot and harmlessly detonated above his aircraft, and he turned back to the egress heading.
Multiple SAMs were launched at the package, some ballistic and unguided and some tracking with a full system lock-on. In spite of this, some members of the package refused to jettison their bombs until clear of the city to avoid possible damage to civilian non-combatants. One of the missiles guided toward Clap 4, piloted by Capt. Mike Cujo Roberts. A missile break warning sounded over the radio and Cujo saw the missile as it guided towards him. It passes behind his aircraft and detonates, and Cujo believes he is safe until his aircraft begins to pitch over and he loses control. As the jet approaches negative 1'g', Cujo ejected over downtown Baghdad. No one observed an ejection, nor saw a 'chute.
Meanwhile, ET became separated from the rest of the package because of his missile defensive break turns. As he defeats the missiles coming off the target, additional missiles are fired, this time, from either side of the rear quadrants of his aircraft. Training for SAM launches up to this point had been more or less book learning, recommending a pull to an orthogonal flight path 4 seconds prior to missile impact to overshoot the missile and create sufficient miss distance to negate the effects of the detonating warhead. Well, it works. The hard part though, is to see the missile early enough to make all the mental calculations.
The energy required to execute these missile break turns forced Maj. Tullia's jet to descend to 10,000ft (3,050ml, which put him in the heart of the AAA envelope. The only answer in this case was to select afterburner in order to increase airspeed and climb. However, being extremely low on fuel, and 700 nautical miles from home, afterburner must be used very judiciously. Before sufficient airspeed is increased, however, ET is faced with another multiple missile launch. In this case two separate SA-6 missile sites launch at his jet while he is climbing out of the AAA envelope. By continuing to unload his aircraft, ET watches the missiles as they close on his aircraft. The unloading and accelerating causes his aircraft to change its flight path, and a change in the missile flight path can be observed as well. As the timed break turns are accomplished, one missile flies so close that ET can hear the roar of the rocket as it passes where, just a fraction of a second earlier, the right wing was. Two missiles are launched towards him from the front of his aircraft and can be easily seen on his HUD film. Finally, as he reaches the outskirts of the city an optically guided missile of unknown type is fired. There is no radar warning of the launch, but the track of the missile can easily be observed to be guiding towards his aircraft. A defensive turn overshoots the missile, and Maj. Tullia proceeds on his way, now searching for the rest of his Flight.
Unknown to Maj Tullia, Tico was hit by an SA∑3. He had an uncorrelated missile launch
on his radar warning receiver (RWR), and as he turned, he visually acquired the missile guiding on his aircraft from below. He timed his missile break turn, the missile overshot his aircraft and detonated behind him. Unfortunately, the miss distance was not sufficient to guarantee the safety of his aircraft, and Tico observed large, peeled-back holes on the surface of the jet with fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluid forming a smoke trail behind him.
While Tico was egressing, all the warning lights in his cockpit had illuminated, and he had no indication of airspeed, heading, or altitude. Fortunately, Capt. Bruce Crutch Cox was nearby, and the two of them formed a Flight as they headed south. As the two were egressing, Crutch received some very unusual radar warning indications. About that time the AWACS called bandits airborne and heading south out of Baghdad. The bandits in this case were MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters. Crutch pitched back to look at the source of the threat warning with his radar and saw that he was flying line abreast with one of the MiGs. As he turned into the MiG and locked onto it with his radar, it turned and ran. Since Crutch didn't have the fuel to chase him, he turned his attention back to helping Tico.
Shortly after, Tico's jet quit flying. He was forced to eject over 150 miles (240km) into Iraq. As he ejected and was descending in his parachute, he extracted his emergency radio and talked to the Flight. A large number of enemy personnel on the ground were observing his descent and they were trying to shoot at him as he was descending. He asked for assistance, but the fuel situation prohibited anyone from orbiting. Once on the ground there was no chance of evading. Tico was captured by nomadic, Bedouin tribesmen of Iraq.
After talking to Tico on the radio, the Flight passed the information on his location to the orbiting AWACS in order to begin a Search-and-Rescue (SAR). The rest of the flight home was a quiet one as everyone thought of two friends left back in Iraq.
It was a long night. It was most people's first introduction to losing friends in combat. As the night wore on, the word finally arrived, there was no contact with Tico. The largest SAR effort to date had been under way. C-130ís and F-15E Strike Eagles orbited, circling over Tico's last known position, trying to raise him on the radio. Little did anyone know that Tico was sitting in the Bedouin chief's tent listening to the C-130 fly overhead, trying to devise a way to talk on the radio. No one would hear from Tico or Cujo again until they were seen on CNN three days later.
The next day, the weather continued to be poor in Iraq. Both the morning and afternoon missions were cancelled for weather.
QATARI AIR FORCE
On January 21, the 614th TFS flew the first US/QEAF joint attack mission. The target was an artillery site approximately 20 miles south of Kuwait City on the coast. The QEAF had been eager to get into the war to show their support and contribution to the Coalition, but the US had balked at the idea because it didn't seem very prudent to send sand camouflaged Mirage F.1ís up to Kuwait flown by Arabic-accented pilots. It was decided that if the 614th TFS sent some F-16ís along as escort and to serve as package commanders, the F.1ís could be reasonably assured of not being fired upon by an over eager F-18 or F-15 pilot wanting a kill.
The first US/QEAF package consisted of 16 F-16ís and 6 F.1ís, with Maj Jon Nuts Ball, the 614th TFS Operations Officer, as the package Commander. Due to SAM sites listed just south of Kuwait City, F-4G Wild Weasels were requested for support. However, due to the heavy tasking, they could not support the package, but the Navy was able to provide two EA∑6B Prowlers.
In addition to the artillery along the coast, 8 F-16ís were fragged ta hit Al Jaber airfield in Kuwait. The other 8 F-16ís would fly with the F.1ís as a Flight. The attack plan was to approach the coast of Kuwait from the Gulf at medium to high altitude, and roll in for a high altitude dive bomb pass on the target. Since the F.1ís were not equipped for air refuelling anyway, there was none planned for the mission. The route of flight was up the centre of the Arabian Gulf as a long train of two-ship Flights which would continue north until abeam the target, turn due west and attack, then turn back out toward the Gulf and return home.
As the flight proceeded north, the weather was getting solid underneath. At least now the ceiling was lower, but it was still solid undercast in Kuwait and Iraq. The back-up bombing plan was to do max range radar bombing. The mission planning included the coordinates and precise depiction of a large pier along the Kuwaiti coast that the pilots could use to update their system prior to release. Because of the location of the target, the pilots had to confirm the target location prior to bomb release. Updating the fire control computer on the pier was adequate confirmation.
As the package turned west toward the Kuwaiti coast, missile contrails were observed flying upwards and away. The Navy EA-6Bs had arrived and were firing pre-emptive HARMs, and if a threat radar dared to illuminate or target anyone, the HARMs would, and could, quickly take the site off the air. As the last flight was inbound, a wingman identified SAMs at high 6 o'clock. They were actually HARMs, and the missile contrails were friendly.
So far, there were no threat radars on the air. No one in any of the fighters had any radar warning indications. All was quiet. However, as the first element released their bombs, the package commander, Maj. Jon Nuts Ball's, aircraft exploded and began trailing a huge white trail of smoke. Confusion broke out on the radio. There were seven aircraft behind him getting ready to drop their bombs, all needing some questions answered, and soon. The rest of the package pressed toward the target to release their bombs. Nuts calmly stated that he was hit and was turning "feet wet".
As the last aircraft were coming off target, Nuts was talking on his survival radio to the orbiting fighters overhead. An SA-6 radar launch warning was received by some of the Flight, but it turned out to be a false warning, and the package continued with the task at hand of co-ordinating Nutsí rescue.
Nuts was picked up in good shape by a helicopter from the USS Nicholas. He stayed on the ship for two more days recuperating until he was finally returned to Doha to continue flying with the squadron.
That night, everyone had a different opinion as to what happened. Some thought it was a single AAA round that speared his jet and some thought it was a single SAM missile. Since no one had any radar warning indications, the threats were being ruled out. However, after viewing Capt. Kevin Spunky Booth's HUD film, it became obvious that Nutsí Mk.84 bomb detonated at the expiration of the fuse arm time, thus sending bomb fragments into his jet. The fuse on the bombs that day were FMU-139 fuses which were electrically activated.
Apparently, in the operational test and evaluation of this fuse, there were some instances of the fuse activating at the expiration of the fuse arm time, however, this warning was not published in any of the weapons manuals on the F-16. Well, after a visit by an Air Force representative and a representative of the manufacturer they reluctantly admitted the fuse was at fault. As a result, the 614th TFS used no more FMU-139 fuses for the duration of the war.
The next morning, the CNN channel had film clips of Cujo and Tico as shown on Iraqi television. The relief the squadron felt seeing them alive was tremendous.
After that first QEAF escort mission, the squadron flew a weekly escort mission, but with fewer F-16ís. The normal US/QEAF package was four F.1ís and two F-16ís. Sometimes the F-16ís would work as forward air controllers and mark the target for the F.1ís, and sometimes the F-16ís would only escort. Whatever the case, the F-16 flight lead would always be the package commander. The limited range of the F.1 assured that the mission targets would be no further north than Kuwait City.
As the war progressed, the QEAF Alpha Jets joined the F.1ís, and to everyone's surprise, they made it all the way to Kuwait and back. There were no attempted shoot-downs of the F.1ís, but there were many occasions that the F.1ís were intercepted over the Gulf. It was only through the F-16ís keen radar lookout and frequent announcing of friendly F.1ís over the Gulf that none were lost to friendly fire.
On January 22, the squadron began hitting the Republican Guards. Flights began as packages of 8 F-16ís, but soon became Flights of four. The basic four-ship Flight offered a flexibility that tactical airpower prides itself on, that is, the ability to adapt to the situation at hand to accomplish the mission. Intelligence was totally unprepared for the Republican Guard campaign on the fighter pilot level. Intel was responding to the requests of the staffs and higher levels at the expense of the pilot in the cockpit. For example, satellite imagery would be taken of the battlefield, only to have the results reviewed by analysts in the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) who claimed the targets were not destroyed.
The pilots and the analysts had differing opinions as to what the targets really were. The pilots did not have the security clearance necessary to view the photographs, nor did the base have the facilities to store information at a high enough classification level. Consequently, it was rare that pilots ever saw a photo of the target they were tasked to destroy. Hence, the four-ship Flight offered the ability of the pilots to scout the target area in search of the fragged target and to react to threats that were not plotted or expected.
Flying in the area of the Republican Guards was a fighter pilot's dream come true. There were revetments full of tanks, APCs, ammunition, AAA, and artillery as far as the eye could see. The guards were dug in, with no intention of going anywhere. The threats in the area were heavy AAA, mostly at 10-13,000ft, and SAMs. Weasels trolled the area constantly, and whenever a radar operator was careless enough to illuminate a fighter for too long, or stay on the air too long, a HARM was on its way to shut him down. The main tactic for the BAI campaign was the high altitude roll-in from 20-25,000ft, and recovering above 10,000ft. Due to the lack of rapid intel support in the way of target photos, target layout, array, or even what the target was, flight leads were required to exercise their best judgement. Ingressing the target area, the Fight usually made a 'sighter' pass over the target location. It then either split up for separate element attacks from opposite directions or completely departed the area and re-attacked from a different direction. Because of this, Flights could usually make up to three passes on a target before the threats began to single out aircraft. There was no single best tactic used for the BAI campaign, and for that reason many of the AAA gunners resorted to barrage-fired AAA where they would just shoot up into the air saturating a piece of sky, and hoping a jet would be careless enough to fly through it. The F-16 tactics were completely unpredictable to the Iraqi gunners.
The accuracy of the F-16 bomb delivery systems was a key element in the destruction of the Republican Guards. The Guards were smart in that they reveted every piece of equipment. The revetments were also spaced up to a quarter of a mile apart, making a carpet bombing campaign totally ineffective. Pilots could often see strings of bombs from B-52s cut right through an array of tanks, the bombs would do nothing except provide a ground marker from which to reference. To destroy the Republican Guards, the BAI campaign would have to be tank by tank, one at a time, and the F-16 was just the aircraft to do that. As a result, the effectiveness of the campaign was so thorough and so devastating that the Iraqis began to bury tanks and APCs inside the revetments in an effort to camouflage them from the pilots above.
In addition to bombs, the squadron was periodically tasked to drop leaflets on the Republican Guards which were contained in a cluster bomb type of bomb shell opened at a preset time from release. By dropping the bombs upwind, the leaflets could be spread over miles of territory. Normally, there was one aircraft in the morning and one in the afternoon assigned to deliver that powerful message. The pilots were never able to see what the leaflets looked like as they were classified and the pilots did not have a "need-to-know"!
As the BAI campaign progressed, and the destruction rapidly spread, flight leads began spending too much time trying to determine the status of a target once in the target area. Often the Iraqis would bulldoze out the remains of a destroyed tank from a revetment and park a new tank in its place. The result was a black scorched revetment that looked destroyed from the air, but wasn't. They also set up decoy tanks and trucks which look remarkably real from 20,000ft. The answer was an F-16 fast FAC (forward air controller) mission with the call sign, Pointer.
Pointer FACs were F-16s from the 388th TFW, Hill AFB, Utah, stationed at another base in the theatre. The benefits were enormous. They worked the same area every day, and they could easily determine what had changed since the day before. Another huge benefit was that an F-16 pilot was talking to an F-16 pilot. Frequently, the lack of visual ground references required Pointer to mark the target with Mk.82 500lb bombs. After a flight of F-16ís worked a target area, Pointer would pass the damage assessment to the command and control centres, allowing real-time battlefield status. The concept was not new to the Tactical Air Force; it was used in the Vietnam theatre with positive results as well.
In addition to hitting the elite Republican Guards, the 614th TFS also flew SAM killer missions in the Basra / Kuwait area. The mission involved a Flight of four F-16ís that 'hunted' for a particular SAM site and then destroyed it. The concept seemed straightforward, but the inaccurate information on site locations and the threat passed by attacking an active SAM site made the mission difficult and challenging.
One particular SAM killer mission was led by Capt. Kenneth Railer Rosson, his Flight attacked an active SA-3 site just south of Basra. The Flight had a difficult time finding the site as it had rained heavily the night before, and all the ground was the same colour - dark brown. As the Flight orbited near the site, AAA began firing upwards. They knew they were close. As they made one final sighter pass, the number two man saw the site, and released his cluster bombs. His bombs hit the target, but did not make a noticeable mark for the rest of the Flight, the mud on the ground merely splashed as the bomblets exploded. The Flight continued to attack the site, until all the bombs had been expended. As they pulled off the target and departed the area, SAMs were seen spinning like pinwheels on the ground. The rocket motors had been ignited by the exploding cluster munitions. Scratch one SAM site.
As the middle of February approached, the targets began to spread out from Kuwait more westerly into central Iraq near the Salman North airfield. The orders remained the same, hit the dug-in Iraqi army. Kuwait was a disaster area; the once beautiful country was now pock-marked by attack after attack by Coalition fighters on the Iraqi army. The southern portion of Kuwait and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia was completely covered by a huge, thick black cloud formed by the burning oil wells. On some days, the black cloud would extend 350 miles south to Doha.
As the Flights flew along the Iraqi border toward Salman North airfield, the pilots saw countless Coalition tanks and APCs lined up along the berm marking the Iraqi and Kuwaiti border.
The Flights attacking Salman North airfield and the surrounding area could only guess at what would occur in the next few days. Keeping the runways and shelters intact pointed to one thing - the ground war was imminent.
As the ground war approached, headquarters' personnel in Riyadh briefed the pilots on their close air support (CAS) role. The F-16ís would predominately attack the second echelon forces, operating much as they had been in 'kill zones' with the Pointers. A-10ís would work up close with the Army. As a final caution, the pilots were instructed to obtain the ground commanders initials prior to dropping their bombs during close-in, troops-in-contact, situations. The presence of friendly troops would always be in mind as the pilots rolled in on a target and released their bombs.
On the first day of the ground war, the bad weather returned. Solid overcast, and it rained continuously in most areas of the battlefield. In order to see the target area, pilots were forced to descend below the overcast deck, which highlighted them to any personnel on the ground. Consequently, enemy hand-held, infra-red SAMs became a real threat. Coalition forces lost four aircraft the first day of the ground war.
The 614th TFS performed a mix of BAI with the second echelon forces and CAS with the army. The BAI was usually with the Pointers, but in certain areas, flight leads could use flight lead control to destroy targets. The ground war had caused much of the Republican Guard forces to emerge from hiding, and many convoys of lucrative targets were seen on highways between Basra and Baghdad. However, the AAA and SAM threat had increased significantly, and frequent evasive maneuvering was required by the Flights.
Bad weather made the F-16 ill-suited for CAS. Low ceilings and absence of forward firing ordnance required the F-16s to get too close to the direct firing line in order to be effective with their unguided bombs. The limited range of the on-board 20mm gun was not suited to a duel with ground-based guns. However, due to the possibility of friendly casualties many CAS missions left the battlefield with the bomb load intact and hit second echelon forces before return to base.
As the ground war progressed, the free-fire 'kill zones' began to diminish. The rapidly moving line of friendly troops was followed closely by all the pilots who were particularly careful to update the troop positions prior to entering the battlefield area. By the end of February there were 'no kill zones accessible'. The ground forces had advanced so quickly, it was like a 100-hour prisoner round-up. The air campaign was an overwhelming success. The lessons learned in the training build-up had paid off. Air power had devastated the world's fourth largest army.
As pilots watched the forward line of troops (FLOT) advance, it was no big surprise when on the morning of February 27, flying was cancelled due to a limited ceasefire. It was with mixed emotions that everyone went back to the BOO to either sleep or watch television. Certainly CNN would have the real story. It was then that they learned of the conditions, and what it would take to start the war again. Since the first newscasts showing Cujo and Tico, the squadron had received no word on their condition, and as far as the Lucky Devils were concerned, the score was not settled until they were back. Until then, the squadron would sit alert, waiting to be scrambled due to a cease fire violation.
For the next few days the squadron enjoyed a hard-earned rest. A few days after the ceasefire, Qatari F.1 pilots invited all the fighter pilots at Doha to a party at Lt Al Thani's ranch in the country outside of Doha. The pilots invited were Canadian, French, US, and Qatari. The US pilots, already familiar with a Qatari fighter pilot party, were anxious to go.
Maj. Mubarak, the QEAF F.1 squadron commander, made a reference to camel racing in the desert. The squadron knew it would be fun, but they also knew that there would be no women, and no alcohol. Oh well, c' est la guerre.
The next day was still a no-fly day, and the squadron was sleeping in. However, the Iraqis had announced they were releasing the Prisoners of War, and ET was to go to Riyadh to pick up Tico and Cujo. Apparently, there was a Swissair flight in Baghdad that would pick up the POWs and fly them directly to Riyadh.
Time was against them. There was a C-130 flight that was to arrive at Doha in 3 hours that would carry ET and Butch to Riyadh. As the C-130 was due to arrive, word was received that a C-21 was being flown out specifically to pick up the escorts. When it arrived, they got a taste of the first class treatment that was to accompany them for the next week. A passenger already on the plane was Capt Val Bags Bagnani, another F-16 pilot from Hahn AB, Germany. Their unit was stationed in the United Arab Emirates and one of its pilots was shot down on the last day of the war.
Once in Riyadh some well placed phone calls determined that the weather in Baghdad was bad, and the POWs would not be returning that afternoon. A huge wave of disappointment fell over the group. They would try again the next day.
The next day the Swissair flight was on again / off again until finally it was announced that it had taken off. A list of the POWs was passed along, and it was double checked to make sure our guys were there. The group assembled on the ramp at Riyadh. A C-141 was parked and ready to receive the returning POWs. The game plan was to hustle the POWs right into the C-141 and fly directly to Manama, Bahrain, where everyone would unload and stay on a US Navy hospital ship, the USS Mercy. The escorts waited next to the C-141, and were instructed to wait until our guys walked up to the aircraft before greeting them, right. The Swissair flight would pull straight in toward the terminal where it would be greeted by General Schwarzkopf and others.
As Tico and Cujo walked off the steps and turned toward the C-141, ET and Butch ran up to them and gave them a great big bear hug. Tico was strong enough to pick up ET and spin him around a couple times. They looked great, skinny, but great. Once on the way to Bahrain, Tico and Cujo quickly changed into flight suits. It had been 46 days since they last looked that good. After snacking on the inflight meal the nurses and doctors had provided for each of them, the flight had arrived in Bahrain, and the buses were ready to take everyone to the USS Mercy.
On the ship, all the returning POWs were placed in a single ward for monitoring. The stay on the ship would be as long or short as required to stabilize and evaluate the returnees' medical condition. A welcome home ceremony was planned in Washington DC as soon as possible. On the ship, each returnee had an individual doctor watching after them.
The arrival ceremonies at Andrews AFB were eye-watering. The ramp was packed with people as far as the eye could see, all waving American flags and holding signs welcoming home the returnees. Most of these people had waited for hours in the 30į windy day to view the arrival. Everyone aboad the airplane knew it was going to be cold, but no one was ready for the blast of cold air as the airplane door was opened. Seven months in the Gulf had got them used to a slighrly warmer climate.
After the official remarks, everyone assembled in a large hangar where the families were all reunited. Congressmen and Generals mingled with the families, escorts, and returnees, and all shared stories of their adventures over the past seven months.
That night everyone celebrated. The POWs had returned, the escorts were back in the US, and the families were reunited.
Over the next few days, the squadron in the Gulf would see Tico and Cujo on various news broadcasts to include the Larry King Live show on CNN. Both Tico and Cujo wanted to return to the squadron and redeploy to Torrejon AB in Spain with the squadron, but their days were filled with a Washington agenda.
The squadron redeployed to Torrejon AB, Spain on March 29, 1991. It planned on returning in four waves, just like the deployment to Doha. It had been seven months since they left home.
The flight back to Torrejon didn't seem nearly as long as it looked on paper. All aircraft arrived at home within two hours of each other to a hero's homecoming. As the pilots and families gathered in the hangar to greet one another again, the American Ambassador to Spain greeted some of the fliers as they walked in. More impartantly, the wives, kids, parents, commanders, and supportive Americans gathered to say hello, and say thanks for a job well done.
Looking back on the wartime experience it is easy to see that the build-up and training had paid off. Flying experiences with the Coalition forces all underline the premise that you fight like you train. The 614th TFS pilots had indeed fought like they trained. Maj. Tullia's HUD tape has been shown at Nellis AFB during the Red Flag exercises as an example to other fighter pilots. In all of tactical lighter flying there is no bigger honour than to be recognized by fighter pilot peers for flying excellence in combat.