Wild Weasel Planning for Desert Storm
In Aug 1990, as a lieutenant colonel, I was assigned as Chief of the Weapons and Tactics Division, 52 Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and flew as a member of the 23 Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS). The 52 TFW was a Defense Suppression wing, dedicated to support NATO in Central Europe. The wing consisted of three mixed squadrons, 12 F-4G and 12 F-16C each. In Wing Weapons we had two F-4G pilots, two F-4G Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO), and two F-16 pilots, most of whom were Fighter Weapons School graduates. Although I was not a Fighter Weapons School graduate, I had eight years of fighter experience, six of which were in the F-4G.
After my first tour at Spangdahlem, I had spent two years at the USAF Tactical Air Warfare Center (TAWC), Eglin AFB, as a Wild Weasel staff officer in the F-4G Program Management Office. While at TAWC, I was responsible for F-4G Operational Test and Evaluation of the F-4G digital navigation system (ARN-101) and the new AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). I also was on the team responsible for integrating the HARM on the F-16C and participated in reviewing Tactics Development and Evaluations (TD&E). This experience was invaluable for my role as a Desert Storm planner in 1990-91.
When I returned to Spangdahlem in early 1988, there had been several upgrades that improved the Wild Weasel mission. The first was a computer upgrade, the Wild Weasel Attack Signal Processor (WASP) to the F-4G’s Radar Attack and Warning System that changed its designation to the APR-47. The APR-47 gave the F-4G a very rapid and accurate ranging capability, particularly at high altitude. There was also the AGM 88 HARM fielding, a significantly more capable anti-radiation missile than either the AGM-45 Shrike or the AGM-78 Standard ARM. The F-4G and the F-16C, then being modified to carry the HARM, were a formidable Defense Suppression team. The F-16C with its superior air-to-air radar, gave the Wild Weasel Team an excellent capability against enemy fighters, while the F-4G provided a superior capability against enemy SAMs. Although nobody would say it officially, we believed that these upgrades improved the Wild Weasels’ kill capability using missiles rather than bombs. The Wild Weasels were also teamed with the EF-111 Raven and the EC-130 Compass Call establishing an Electronic Combat (EC) triad with both a jamming and a radar killing capability.
The Israelis had proven in the Bekaa Valley in 1982 that it was possible to mount a “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) Campaign” against an Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) and to inflict significant damage to enemy SAMs. Based on the Israeli experience and our confidence in the HARM capability, Wing Weapons developed a SEAD Campaign concept for Wild Weasel use in NATO that could be effective against the full up Soviet IADS we faced across the Iron Curtain. The 52 TFW wanted NATO to employ the Wild Weasels using a campaign approach not in a piecemeal fashion. Additionally, we required medium/high altitude airspace so that we could load the F-4G with one external fuel tank and four HARMs rather than the normal configuration of three fuel tanks and two HARMs. High altitude airspace for tactical aircraft was unheard of in Central Europe during the Cold War. Captain Mark Svestka was the primary briefer for the Wild Weasel SEAD Campaign briefing. He along with Army Master Sergeants Mark Olin, our ground liaison officer, went on a road show, usually with the Wing Commander providing top cover. Many of the briefings became very heated because not everyone thought the SEAD concept at medium altitude was sound. Our Wing Commanders stood behind us because they believed that we were right.
By 1990, we had made some progress “selling” the SEAD Campaign concept supported by several parallel but related efforts. NATO, in their Cold War standing air-tasking orders, tasked the Wild Weasels for campaign SEAD with a plan to exploit favorable conditions and roll back and roll down the defenses. They also changed the air route structure to give the EC Triad the high-altitude airspace that we requested. As we practiced and studied the IADS further, our SEAD campaign ideas touched on what was then known as command-and-control warfare. This approach used more than the EC Triad.
We worked closely with the 65th Air Division to develop a theater-training plan based on the SEAD campaign concept. First the EC Triad flew missions against EC ranges using structured scenarios and then we added different types of attack and support aircraft to join the training missions. The USAFE EC training program was accentuated by USAFE’s participation in Green Flag in July 1990. During this exercise, the USAFE planning staff tasked the missions at medium to high altitude and demonstrated a SEAD campaign. This concept of operations was not well received by all the participants, but two USAFE DOs were strongly behind both the concept and training program. Many of these same leaders and USAFE people would be planning real missions in the following months based on many of the lessons they learned in Green Flag and the training program.
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, I challenged the members of Weapons Shop to determine how the wing could get involved in what looked to be imminent military action. Major Kurt “2-Lips” Dittmer and Major Rich “Snooker” Snook seized the challenge immediately. The first thing we did was to obtain the Iraqi SAM and fighter orders of battle and plot them. We then developed an option to deploy to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and fight Iraq from there. We ran the flight plans and determined we could stage out of Incirlik and make it to Baghdad. We didn’t think the 52 TFW would get involved in the main fight because the Wild Weasels from the 35 TFW at George AFB were already on their way to the desert, so we went about selling our “back door” option up the chain of command.
Soon the USAFE staff began to further develop the plan with the US European Command, with Major 2-Lips Dittmer taking over the planning and coordination for the 52nd. In January 1991, the plan became Operation Proven Force.
As we developed the Proven Force concept, the wing was alerted to develop a plan to deploy 12 F-4Gs to the desert to join the 35 TFW that was already in place with its 561 TFS. The plan was to send the F-4Gs from the 81 TFS, with some personnel from the 480 TFS. All that we had been preaching was about to become reality; all we had to do was pray that we were right.
Late on the evening of 5 Sep 90, I arrived at Shaikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain. Shaikh Isa was a new air base at the southern end of the island of Bahrain. There were aircraft from the 561st as well as a full wing of Marine aircraft. It was quite a sight to see over 100 fighters fully loaded with all types of live munitions parked wingtip-to-wingtip on the small ramp.
My job was to work the mission planning for the 81 TFS and eventually for the 35 TFW (Provisional). A few days after arriving, I went to CENTAF headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to meet the planners in the “black hole.” Brigadier General Larry Henry oversaw the SEAD planning. Brigadier General Glossen oversaw the overall planning effort.
The command and control targets of concern were hit early on in the campaign. Since the command-and-control aspects of the air campaign were well in-hand, we applied the proper SEAD to maximize our effect. The CENTAF planners studied the Israeli Bekaa Valley operation, and we more or less modeled the SEAD campaign on that. We used drones to stimulate the SAM radar environment so they would turn on their radar for our missiles to destroy .
We hoped to engage and kill the SAMs before the attackers entered the threat rings; if the threats did not cooperate, we would ensure we were positioned to protect them. This was the classic Wild Weasel “First In – Last Out” approach.
We planned two different types of Wild Weasel missions: SEAD only and direct support. Our initial SEAD missions were in the Baghdad area with Navy EA-6B jammers and Navy HARM-shooters. In the KTO, we planned only direct support missions, but we built a targeting plan and flow that gave us a SEAD campaign in the area. Some of the combinations of missions were interesting. During the initial attacks in the KTO, there were F-4Gs providing direct support to Marine F/A-18 HARM shooters who were supporting a Marine attack package in the Basrah area. The Marines requested F-4G support because of the mobile SA-6s positioned in the vicinity of the F/A-18’s HARM launch points.
Because of the threat environment (approximately 300 radar guided SAMs, over 3000 IR guided SAMs, and over 6000 AAA pieces), the long distances we had to travel, the fact that we conducted our first missions at night, and the possibility that the Iraqis could use chemical weapons, we determined that medium to high altitude employ would be best. Working at high altitude would also give our APR-47 optimum detection and ranging capabilities and the HARM had a longer employment range.
When we first arrived, we began an around the clock flying training cycle, with aircrews normally flying day – day – night. Everybody got more night training than they had ever had before. We flew primarily as pilot and EWO crews and as dedicated four ships.
The biggest advantage we had was our previous training. Our specialized Wild Weasel training prepared us well for the mission. Our participation in Red Flag and Green Flag exercises raised everyone’s situational awareness and gave us some idea what to expect in combat. Some of these missions were part of the deception plan to condition the Iraqi defenses.
The Secret defensive Air Tasking Order (ATO) called for the same target priorities as the Top Secret Desert Storm ATO, which allowed us to have academic discussions on how best to target within the flights. In general, we targeted by geography first, and then by type.
In early January 1991 all the flight leads were read into the Desert Storm plan and took over planning the final details of their missions. The Wild Weasels prepared and trained well and were ready for the start of Desert Storm.
Our SEAD campaign was effective. After about 18 hours on Day One, we did not see a coherent SAM threat in the KTO. In my estimation, our initial barrage of HARMs and other munitions must have hit many of their intended targets. The SAMs that survived just stayed off the air. We didn’t hit the Baghdad area with SEAD quite as hard as we did the KTO, so there were some SAMs that remained up until the end of the war. But overall, the SAMs were largely ineffective since they were not integrated and there were only a few of them active at any one time. There were some losses to radar SAMs, but none while Wild Weasels were on station.
Despite pre-war predictions that Saddam Hussein would quit after four to six days of the air campaign, he did not. After the initial day, we were tasked to fly most direct support missions. Unfortunately, we couldn’t cover all the missions that requested Wild Weasel support. To minimize the impact, we came up with an area support concept in the KTO that became known as “Wild Weasel Police,” which was nothing more than a Wild Weasel Combat Air Patrol (CAP). We could protect many attack missions over the KTO with a small number of Wild Weasels.
Towards the end of the war the SAMs did not turn on their radars or shoot at anyone. We achieved Air Supremacy from surface threats through our SEAD campaign.
Story by Edward M “Victor” Ballanco WW # 1774
Coors 65 Flight
Last night I sent a valentine to Saddam–an AGM-88 HARM!
We were the second of two four-ships of Weasels. We supported the second half of twelve B-52’s striking Ish Kandar, south of Baghdad. There were also EF-111s and F-15s.
On the way up we saw the usual fires and explosions off in the distance in Kuwait. Vinnie was giving me Astronomy lessons, pointing out the various constellations.
As we entered the target area all was quiet. But as the BUFFs started hitting their targets the triple-A came up. I had been working an SA-2 but had little information. His position was within ten nautical miles of the target. Suddenly a B-52 calls out that he has an SA-2 missile guidance up. I do not, but nonetheless I act almost instinctively. I call for Vinnie to select the HARM, but we get a failure on that missile. We select the other HARM, and “Magnum,” we shoot at the 2 and call “Coors 68 hose alpha,” which was our intra-flight code for what we did. The signal is dotted (not emitting radar energy) and a long way off. It’s a two-minute plus time-of-flight to the target. At about the right time, the signal comes back up. At the end of the time-of-flight the signal goes down and stays down the rest of the sortie. I was going to call this a probable kill, but alas my CONRAC recorder did not record the video from my 47, just the audio, so I couldn’t verify impact time versus signal activity for sure. But I felt as though we had done a shit hot job, and no aircraft were lost.
That is the bottom line.
The BUFFs hit something last night. We saw many fires and secondary explosions on the ground. It’s about time they hit a target.
Since the other night when Paul worked too far from the target area, Vinnie has taken to calling him “Sir Data” as a joke. Vinnie is quite the cut-up. This nickname comes from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the song about “Brave, brave Sir Robin, who bravely ran away.” Vinnie constantly sings this song every flight. I’ll probably have nightmares about it for years. Paul is no slouch, but sometimes he is a little over-conservative. Vinnie and I tend to think we’ve found the middle ground (all fighter jocks think they have the right solution). We try to work outside or at the edge of the envelope for the threats we’ve actually seen, and we give consideration to those threats we haven’t seen but Intelligence keeps briefing might be there. But at the same time, there are some risks inherent in our job, and we must never forget we have a mission to perform. If that means overflying an inactive, never seen, SAM site to work closer to the target, then so be it. We’ll make an orbit or two to test the area, then move in. We keep the AAA off to the side, several miles distant. Data and I both agree on that consideration, and Vinnie has gone that route ever since the high-altitude AAA of the first mission gave us a small scare.
On the way to the post-strike tanker, we made radio contact. After the preliminaries someone asked if Malf was in the flight. We said “Yes.” Next, a female voice came over the radio, “Happy Valentine’s Day, honey!” Malf’s wife was the navigator on the lead tanker. Malf, somewhat embarrassed, gruffly acknowledged his wife’s salutation with a “Roger.” (Note: We found out days later that this made the news back in the States.)