At about 2am (Baghdad time) on 1/2 August 1990, three Iraqi Republican Guard divisions invaded Kuwait. In just four days Iraq secured the annexation of Kuwait and were massed menacingly along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. A further push into Saudi Arabia would not only establish Iraq as the secular leader of the Arab world, but would result in their controlling 45% of the world’s oil.
W ithin two days, F-15C Eagles, KC-10 tankers, E-3 AW’ACS and C-5 Galaxy transporters – carry ing advanced elements of the 82nd Airborne Division – had arrived in Saudi Arabia to draw “a line in the sand”, Operation Desert Shield had begun.
On 19 August 1990,22 F-117s from the 415 TFS staged through Langley AFB en route to King Khalid Air Base, Saudi Arabia.
Eighteen F-117s from the 415 TFS, led by Et Col Greg Feest arrived at King Khalid AB, at around noon, local time on Tuesday 21 August. Soon nicknamed Tonopah East, the facilities offered at the airbase were second to none and lay well beyond the range of Iraqi Scud-B missiles; however, on the down side, the return distance from the base to Baghdad necessitated the need for three ARs per sortie, with a typical mission lasting five hours.
The air armada ranged against Saddam Hussein continued to build, as did the planning on how to deploy such an awesome force to maximum effect. General Chuck Horner, commander of Joint Air Forces (CENTAF) selected a white haired North Carolinan to develop the air campaign, one, Brig Gen Buster Glosson.
An F-4 jock in Vietnam, Glosson’s background had a profound impact on the management of Senior Trend during the war planning process. His most memorable experience of the F-117 occurred in 1987, while as commander of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, he recalls,
“1 had spent enough time in the F-15 trying to successfully intercept the F-117, that I was a believer!… The initial twenty four hours of the Gulf War was meticulously planned. I directed the planners to ask themselves three questions about every target they considered, what system had the highest probability of destroying it; what system had the highest probability of its pilot coming back alive, and what system had the highest probability of no civilian casualties. As you may expect, 99% of the
time, the answer to these questions was F-117. We did not have enough F – 117s to attack every target. So, 1 directed the F-117 to be used against the most critical, the most highly defended and diflicult-to-hit targets.
That gave us the greatest probability of accomplishing our strategic objectives and creating the utmost confusion and disruption. 1 used all the other systems, he they cruise missiles, fighters or bombers, as fillers.”
On 4 December, twenty F-117s from the 416th, ‘Ghost Riders’, deployed safely to King Khalid, and on the night of the 16/17 January 1991, offensive air operations against Iraq began.
Col Greg Feest recalls the night that validated stealth technology: “The entire first wave of F-117As launched w ithout radio communications, we didn’t want the Iraqis to get a ‘heads-up’ as to our plan. My callsign was Thunder 36 and my wingman, Captain Dave ‘Dogman’ Francis was Thunder 37. We took off and flew to the tanker without saying a word to each other. My radio was on but remained silent. Since the F-117A is a single-seat fighter, there was no copilot to talk to and the next several hours would be extremely quiet. Having rendezvoused with the KC-135 tankers, we air refuelled and headed North, towards Iraq, while flying on each w ing of the tanker. The night was extremely dark and I was thankful, since 1 did not want the moon to silhouette my jet as 1 flew into Iraq.
‘At approximately 2:30 am, I topped off with fuel, ‘stealthed-up’ my aircraft and departed the tanker. In 20
Above General Buster Glosson was architect of the Gulf War air campaign. (Buster Glosson)
Right Facilities awaiting the F-1 17s at King Khalid were second to none. (USAF)
Below This aircraft, in one of the ‘canyons’ at King Khalid, has a segmented ladder unique to the F-117 operation placed on the aircraft for cockpit access. (USAF)
Below right Aircraft ‘818, pictured in its Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) at King Khalid completed 38 operational missions during Desert Storm. (USAF)
Right This warning leaflet, featuring the F-l 17,was dispersed over several Iraqi air bases and reads, "This location is subject to bombardment! Escape now and save yourselves". (USAF)
Below Hal Farley participates in a fly-by in aircraft 831 on 6 December 1990 in preparation for Ben Rich’s retirement.
minutes I would drop the first bomb of Operation Desert Storm. Crossing the Iraqi border, 1 was nervous as I armed my weapons. My target was an IOC [Intercept Operations Centre] located in an underground bunker, southwest of Baghdad, near Nukhavb. This IOC was a key link between border radar sites and the air defense headquarters in Baghdad. Destroying it would allow other non-stcalthy aircraft to enter Iraq undetected.
‘Approaching the target I was apprehensive. Two thoughts crossed my mind. First, would I be able to identify the target? Second, did the Air Force really want me to drop this bomb? These thoughts only lasted several seconds.
T had practised for three years and I could find and destroy any target within one second of my scheduled time-over-target (TOT). Having trained for so long, nothing was going to stop me from dropping my bombs. All I had to do was play, what 1 called, a highly sophisticated video game, and in 30 minutes I would be back in Saudi Arabia.
‘As 1 approached the target area, my adrenaline was up and instincts took over. My bomb was armed and my systems checked good. I found the target on my infrared (IR) display and concentrated on tracking the target by slewing the cross hairs over the aimpoint. The target had been easier to find than I envisioned. I was able to take time to glance outside the cockpit. Everything was dark except for a few lights in the town. It appeared that no one knew I was in the sky. Looking back at my display, my laser began to fire as I tracked the target. I waited for the display to tell me I was ‘in range’ and I depressed the ‘pickle’ button. Several seconds later the weapons bay door snapped open and I felt the 2,000 pound bomb depart the aircraft. The bay door slammed closed as I watched the IR display while continuing to keep the cross hairs on the target. The bomb appeared at the bottom of the display just before it hit. At exactly 2:51 am, I saw the bomb go through the cross hairs and penetrate the bunker. The explosion came out of the hole the bomb had made and blew out the doors of the bunker. I knew I
This page, all GBU-27s were particularly effective against Iraqi HASs. (USAF)
had knocked out the target. The video game was over.
‘Having destroyed the target, I turned my aircraft 210 degrees left to head for my second target. While in the turn, 1 decided to try and see my wingman’s bomb hit, since his was due one minute after mine. As I looked back I saw something completely unfamiliar. It looked like fireworks, big bursts of red and orange, Hying at me and lighting up the sky. After being stunned for several seconds, I realised it was tracers from triple A. During all my peacetime training missions flying exercises like Red Flag, I had never anticipated what actual triple A would look like. After all it cannot be simulated. 1 snapped my head forward and pushed the throttles up as far as they would go. I wanted out of the target area as fast as I could.
‘As I headed towards my second target, an Iraqi SOC [Sector Operations Centre] at the H-3 airfield in western Iraq, I looked out in front of my aircraft. 1 now saw what everybody at home sav on television. Tracers, flashes, and flak were all over the place. The w hole country had come alive with more triple A than I could ever imagine.
I watched several SAMs launch into the sky and fly through my altitude both in front and behind me. But none of them appeared to be guided. Stealth technology really seemed to work! Even if the AAA and SAMs were not guided, the intense ‘barrage fire’ in my target area was scary. All it would take was a lucky hit.
‘I decided to ignore what was happening outside my jet. I lowered my seat and concentrated on my displays. After all, w hat 1 couldn’t see couldn’t hurt me! I dropped my second bomb and turned as fast as I could back towards Saudi Arabia. I don’t think I ever manoeuvred the F-l 17A as aggressively as I did coming off my second target. For a second time in less than 30 minutes, I wanted out of the target area as fast as possible.
for my 2-ship, 1 headed for the rejoin point. At a predesignated time, I called Dogntan on the radio to see if he was ready to rejoin. I prayed I would hear a response. I didn’t hear an answer, so I waited several seconds and tried again. This time I heard him answer. He said he had my aircraft in sight and was ready to rejoin. Now the question was, how many other Stealth Fighters would make it home?”
Today of course we know that all F-l 17s made it home, not just that night, but every night of the 43-day campaign. On 24 February at 03:00 hours (local), the coalition ground assault began. In true blitzkrieg fashion, it was all over in just three days. On 27 February, Kuwait City was liberated and a ceasefire declared.