This photo is likely the last taken of Tico's 87-0257, pulling into EOR on the 19th of January. Hours later this aircraft was lost to a SAM during the largest strike package of the Gulf War. See also: 257's Canopy Comes Home
The 19th of January was the 15th Anniversary of the largest strike package of the Gulf War. Made up of 56 F-16's from the 388TFW and the 401TFW - and additional support aircraft (F-15s, F-4Gs, and EF-111s) - it may have been the largest operational F-16 strike ever. The mission was directed to strike the Iraqi nuclear research facility and associated sites Baghdad - the most heavily defended area in Iraq.
Sadly the Lucky Devils lost two aircraft to SAMs that day with both of the pilots, Mike 'Cujo' Roberts flying 87-0228 and Jeff 'Tico' Tice in 87-0257 being captured and held as POW's.
From the VTR tape of that day: "Okay, SAM launch! Nose 5 low!"
(Air controller interruptions) "Bank right! Bank right!"
"Okay, missed him."
(impact) "Stroke One's a hit! Stroke One's a hit!"
"Stroke One took a hit! Stroke One took a hit!"
"Okay, I've got a fire! I'm ah-stand by. Um, just south of steerpoint number seven. Still flyin'. And I'm headin' south."
"Okay, it we took a pretty good hit. I've got no engine."
The first two attacks on Baghdad were to have formed the pre-lude to one of the more interesting episodes in the war: Package Q. This attack was the largest of the war and did in fact represent an attempt to strike a powerful blow to enemy defenses. Nevertheless, the raid illus-trates how a number of small incidents or frictions none of which by themselves necessarily serious, can contribute to a less than satisfactory outcome: in this case the loss of two F-16s.
The Master Attack Plan called for seventy-two F-16s to attack targets lying on an axis from southeast to northwest across Baghdad in the heart of Iraqi defenses. The package commander and most of the aircraft came from the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional), but some aircraft came from the 401st Fighter Wing. In the last chapter we described how Package Q moved out from its bases to link up with tankers on tracks running up to the border. Shortly after 1300, the first aircraft began to roll and the complex ballet to assemble the package began. Each section within the package had received a mission number and call sign. Each mission cell would consist of up to eight aircraft, but smaller numbers of aircraft could make up a mission cell, depending on the target. All of the various pieces need careful coordination in order for the operation to function effectively.
Unfortunately, full coordination and planning did not take place for this mission. The Air Tasking Order reached mission commanders so late that some of those who led missions on 19 January received a brief outline of the day's mission upon landing after an exhausting day's flight on 18 January. When mission commanders from the 401st began coordinating their portion of the mission on the morning of 19 January, they discovered certain crucial changes had taken place during the night. Their original target as with much of the rest of the attack had been the nuclear research facility southeast of Baghdad. But overnight, the Air Tasking Order had changed their target to three major sites in downtown Baghdad.
A major employment problem in the revised tasking was the fact that F-16s would begin striking targets in southeast Baghdad and then work their way through increasingly alerted defenses to the heart of the enemy capital. Such an approach would maximize the exposure of the F-16 train to enemy air defenses; however, it was too late to change the order in which the mission subsets would attack targets. So little time existed between the arrival of the Air Tasking Order and launch time that neither the package commander nor his mission commanders could change the order of the attack. In fact, it is not clear how it was deter-mined that the package would attack targets from southeast to northwest outside of the fact that that was the fashion in which the Master Attack Plan had listed the targets. There was time to coordinate the raid with the units at other bases, but that time was hardly optimum.
For the crews, the mission appeared risky, but within safety mar-gins; their feeling was that earlier SEAD packages had attrited enemy capabilities and that the SEAD allocated would be sufficient to suppress the remaining defenses. Because of distances and fuel consumption, the F-4Gs could carry only two HARMs; moreover they would not have much time in the target area because of their high fuel usage. The F-16s were also heavily loaded, carrying two Mark-84s, two external fuel tanks, two air-to-air missiles, ninety bundles of chaff, and fifteen flares.
Link-up and refueling with the tankers ran into problems. There was bad weather along the tanker tracks, and the tankers approached the release point too early. Consequently, they throttled back to minimum speed, which in turn seriously affected the accompanying fighters. The F-16s were soon close to stalling out, and some had to light afterburners just to stay airborne; four fighters coming off the last tanker fell so far behind that their mission commander ordered them to return to base.
Fortunately, as the package reached Iraqi airspace, it broke out into the open. But Iraqi gunners greeted the Americans with a couple of high-altitude shots in the middle of several formations. Not surprisingly, there were difficulties in communicating among mission groups in the package; the mission commander of the flight attacking downtown Baghdad estimated that he received approximately 80 percent of the calls. Adding to the excitement of the flak exploding below, the Iraqis threw 100-mm shells into the formations. From the moment the package approached Baghdad's air defenses, the Weasels engaged enemy SAM sites. However, there was a problem with the Weasels allocated to the mission; either because of fuel, timing, or the decision of the package commander, not all appear to have made it to Baghdad; moreover, some Weasels did not fire all their HARMs, which suggests that they had to leave because of fuel problems.
Approaching their targets, the “downtown” aircraft (flying F-16s with newer model engines) passed F-16s on the way to, rolling in on, and leaving targets all in a hostile environment. As Maj. John Nichols rolled in to strike his target, the Iraqi Air Force Headquarters, he heard the Weasels call that they were leaving. Unfortunately, cloud cover obscured the target; Nichols rolled off to turn to an alternate target, an oil refinery which was under attack by a portion of his formation.
Up to this point, the Iraqis had fired most of their SAMs ballistically. Within a short time of the Weasel call that they were leaving, SAMs directly engaged Nichols' flight. Many SAMs were now guided and most of his flight had to take evasive action, which included “last ditch maneuvers” such as jettisoning fuel tanks and bombs. Approximately half of the flight struck the oil refinery; others were en route to alternate targets when SAMs engaged and forced them to jettison ordnance. SAMs hit one F-16 just as the last bombs were striking the oil refinery. As the flight egressed Baghdad, evading SAMs, another missile impacted near another F-16. Both aircraft were lost, but their pilots did survive the war. In all, the participants in the wild ride over the capital counted twenty SAMs in the air; one pilot dodged no fewer than six.
A mission report from the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing whose aircraft attacked the nuclear facilities south east of Baghdad suggests the fierceness of the Iraqi response:
The unit history of the 614th Fighter Squadron (of the 401st Fighter Wing) also records the intensity of the enemy's response:
The excitement for the survivors did not end when they left Baghdad. To bring an end to their day, a couple of MiG-29s started closing toward the rear of the F-16s as they exited the capital's environs; the F-15 top cover had apparently left with the Weasels. Nevertheless, all the F-16s had to do was turn on the MiGs, and the Iraqis ran. By the time that the F-16s approached the border some were almost out of fuel. One fighter would have crashed short of Coalition territory had not a KC-135 tanker from the Kansas National Guard crossed over into enemy territory. When the F-16 began refueling in Iraqi territory, it had only 800 pounds of fuel on board in the words of the wing commander, flying as a wingman, “an eye-watering situation.”
Obviously, no one factor caused the loss of two F-16s and the possible loss of others. Rather a series of frictions the lateness of the Air Tasking Order, not enough coordination time, a tactical approach that provided the Iraqis considerable warning, fuel problems for the Weasels and other aircraft, bad weather, insufficient attrition of the defenses combined to create a dangerous situation, one ultimately catastrophic for two aircraft.
There were a number of crucial lessons from Package Q. The most obvious was that enemy defenses in Baghdad remained lethal; consequently, it was not worth the risk to send conventional packages into the heart of those defenses, especially when F-117s could strike such targets with little risk. This was entirely the result of its stealthy qualities, which its precision-guided munition capabilities magnified. Conse-quently, enemy defenses never put F-117s in the position where they had to jettison bombs over populated areas, and the chances of civilian casualties that would allow Saddam to manipulate the American media were considerably lessened.
There was, however, a crucial operational turn that the mission's failure caused. Glosson and his planners had hoped that destruction or at least degradation of Baghdad's air defenses would allow them to run large packages of F-16s into the capitol's environs during the daytime. Their targets, as on the morning of day three, would have been the larger command headquar-ters and symbols of the regime, such as those of the Bacth Party, Republican Guard, and Military Intelligence. Most of these structures were so big that F-16s, even though less accurate, could hit such targets with a fair probability of success. As symbols of the regime, the destruction of such headquarters would have major political and military effects.
The difficulties, however, into which Package Q ran, as well as the potential of inadvertent bomb release by aircraft under SAM attack, caused Horner and his planners to decide against sending any more F-16 packages against downtown Baghdad. What speaks well for the American leadership in this air war was the fact that it did not repeat Package Q to prove some doctrinal beliefs of the high command at the expense of aircrew lives. American air commanders adapted to the situation as it was. There would be no more conventional packages into the heart of Iraqi defenses. Moreover, F-16 packages would remain smaller thus more manageable and easier to coordinate and fly for the remainder of the war.
"I want to tell you about two things I heard that I'll never forget.
The first one was during one of our missions in the Baghdad area. An F-16 from another unit was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Over the radio, we listened to the pilot and his flight lead talk as he tried to make it to the border so rescue forces could get to him. He'd come on every now and then and talk about how the oil pressure was dropping and vibrations were increasing. Then his flight lead would encourage him to stick with it.
This went on for about 15 minutes. Finally the pilot said, "Oil pressure just went to zero." And then, "My engine quit." Finally he said, "That's all I got. I'm outta here." The silence was deafening. I'll never forget those 15 minutes."
Col. Jerry Nelson, 401st TFW (P) commander, said wing pilots knew they might get shot down in combat. "But when it happens, there's really no way to prepare for it," he said. "When our pilots got shot down, it hit us hard. With everything we did, we remembered those two guys."
A ritual quickly developed. Before every mission, pilots stepping out of the operations building would slap the top of the door, above which is painted, "God bless Tico and MR." Fellow pilots called Captain Roberts "MR."
The two pilot's tactical call signs became the names for squadron flights. "Tico and Cujo flights flew every day," Colonel Nelson said. "They were with us all the time."
Based on a drop of more than 90 percent in the activity levels of Iraqi surface-to-air missile (SAM) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) radars, planners elected to send “Package Q,” ultimately the largest of the war, against Baghdad. The plan placed seventy-two F-16s in the heart of Iraqi defenses and, once the accompanying F-4G Wild Weasels departed after using their available fuel, the circumstantial evidence proved less than accurate. At one point, participants counted twenty SAMs in the air, with one pilot evading no fewer than six. Many engaged fighters jettisoned fuel tanks and bombs, significantly increasing the likelihood of completely unforeseen collateral damage, and, ultimately, Iraqi guided missiles took down two of Q’s fighters. This immediately resulted in a ban on further conventional packages overflying Baghdad.
From Keith "Rosey" Rosenkranz of the 388TFW:
I was roughly 60 miles in front of Maj. Tice when he was shot down. The strike package we flew in was the largest of the war - 78 aircraft. And the mission to knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear research facility was arguable the most important mission of the war.
This particular flight to Baghdad happened to be my second combat mission. And it was a long one - over 7 hours.
I had just come off target and because of all of the flack around me, I pulled my nose up too quickly and got slow. As I was turning south, I plugged in the afterburner to help regain speed. Within seconds, my RAW indicator signaled to me that an SA-6 had locked on my jet and was heading in my direction.
As I continued to climb, I looked off my right shoulder toward the ground and saw the missile streaking towards me. Knowing I was slow, I hit the emergency jettison switch so I could get rid of my wing tanks.
As strange as this may sound, I wanted to see what the tanks looked like when they came off the jet. I banked the jet back to the left and looked over my left shoulder. The tanks were tumbling in slow motion toward the ground. The vapor from the moisture in the air seemed to wrap around them. To this day, I can still see those tanks tumbling!!!
When I got that thrill out of my system, I decided I had better look back to see if the SA-6 was still guiding on me. Nice priotities, huh? As it turned out, the missile went behind my jet and began to fall back toward the ground.
I finally got my airspeed and altitude back and began to work out the rejoin with my flight lead. The steerpoint I was flying to was set for the southern border of Iraq. I remember seeing the DME hit 180 when Maj. Tice started screaming on the radios that he had taken a hit. At that point the radios fell silent as everyone listened for his next call.
Within minutes, an EF-111 eventually joined on Tico and started escorting him to the south. As time passed, Tico's F-16 started to lose oil pressure. We had a long ways to go and in my heart I knew he probably wasn't going to make it. His engine eventaully seized and his EPU fired, which allowed him to keep his hydraulics for ten minutes. This would give him the ability to still use his flight controls.
When Maj. Tice got to the point where he had to eject, he called out, "I'm giving it my best Bogart." He then said, "That's all I've got." I was taken back by his calmness. My friend Maj Scott "Foot" Goodfellow clicked his mike and replied bluntly, "Good luck!"
I had tears streaming down my face when Tico ejected. I can still hear his voice and I will never forget that mission.
As maintenance troops, that Saturday in January was the day that the war really hit us - it followed the jets and came right back to our base. We'd been in and out of chem gear during SCUD warnings, but this made it personal.
I was working NBC Decon at EOR when the aircraft returned from the mission. They skipped past us and went straight back to the ramp. I can't even begin to describe how it felt to count the jets as they touched down, having jettisoned their external tanks, and to know that they weren't all there... Hoping that perhaps they stopped in Saudi for fuel, but knowing that just wasn't the case.
Bill Hinchey was the dedicated crew chief on the aircraft Tico flew on his last mission. "Just before the jets landed, they told me that it was my jet that went down..." I'll never forget the look on Bill's face as I sat the the next table from him in the chow hall that night. I felt as bad as he looked. It was definatly our roughest day in Qatar.
"I still think about the day Cujo and Tice were shot down and the faces of the Pilots
we they returned, red faced and teared eyed. But the next day when they came out
of Op's and high fived, and said "Lets go get um" I still haven't ever respected
any other pilots as I did them." - Kraig Bolus