Sadaam Hussein invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The UN gave repeated warnings along with leading nations in the world. The message was; leave Kuwait or you will be forcibly removed. The coalition forces didn’t move until 17 January 1991 but they were ready and waiting before that.
John Peters was a Squadron Leader in the RAF with XV Squadron when Sadaam starting acting like a dick. His plane was shot down and together with his co-pilot John Nichol was held as a prisoner of war and subjected to some Iraqi interrogation. He never thought he would actually go to war against Iraq though. I think the world thought they would back off when they realised the size of the army that would be coming to shove them back across the border. They didn’t move though, they actually stayed there to try and fight an unwinnable battle.
Practice Runs Were a Daily Occurrence
Before any operational flying took place there were plenty of practice runs. Flying low and fast in the desert when you had never flown in that environment could be asking for trouble so they were getting in daily flying sessions to adjust to the area.
The US Navy was the perfect pretend enemy for the practice sorties the RAF wanted to complete. The US Navy wasn’t only worried about mines, they were also wary of the sea-skimming missile threat and rightly so. In 1987 an Iraqi Exocet missile badly damaged the USS Stark, a frigate that was on patrol in the Gulf area. Two missiles ploughed into the ship during the Iraq-Iran war, killing 37 and injuring 21.
The practice attacks would be conducted by Peters’ Tornado among others. The pilots would split into pairs and their training mission was to attempt to ‘sink’ the US Navy ship.
Sea-Skimming Attacks Were Dangerous
The sea-skimming missile attacks work with both Tornados playing a part. The jets would fly in a pair, one plane acts as the launch aircraft, one as the missile. The ‘missile’ Tornado tucks itself up, tight as hell to the wing of the ‘launch’ jet. The pair then flies very low and very fast towards the ship they will be attacking.
By flying so low it’s harder for enemy radars to pick you up although you can be more at risk from enemy anti-aircraft fire. Peters is expecting the US Navy radar to pick them up from a distance. He writes;
The Combat Air Patrol (CAP) covering the ships ought to nail us first, 100 miles out. It does not. We come on. Fifty miles, forty miles. Onboard the target vessel, deep in the belly of the ship, in the hushed darkness of the Operations Room, the radar operators are watching, watching the rotating radar sweep. Suddenly a blip appears at thirty miles – us.
We are ‘popping’ to illuminate our target. John switches his radar on. Four sweeps are enough. The ship’s electronic listening gear ‘hears’ our radar and confirms the worst fears of the Anti-Air Warfare Officer. ‘Red nine-zero, hostile, closing. Missile attack!’
Spotted by the Enemy
The missile launchers from the ship swing in the direction of the Tornado. They’ve spotted it. It’s time for the US Navy to protect their ship from the incoming fire. The top Tornado of the pair now pulls away sharply. This indicates the ‘missile’ has been fired for this training evolution.
The ‘missile’ aircraft engages combat power, glues itself right down on the surface of the sea, hugging the wavetops, arrowing in even faster and lower at the ship, really low now, bouncing on the pressure wave between the Tornado and the sea. The ship’s Ops Room is buzzing like a hornet’s nest. Incoming!
Sea-skimmers hadn’t been dealt with too well in combat situations by anti-missile missiles. The ship had the six barrels of the Phalanx rotary cannon that fired a not too shabby 3,000 rounds a min. The problem with the sea-skimmers though is you don’t have time to aim at them as they come in, you probably have around four seconds to find it, aim at it and fire on target if you want to destroy it. That will be hard enough in training sessions, let alone under pressure in a combat situation.
Training Needs to be Hard
This is why training is so hard, it has to be so that the real things seem easy (they won’t be), hence the old saying ‘train hard, fight easy’. More people survive the battles this way.
Peters had flown over the ship, the attacking training run being complete at his end when the CAP wanted to get involved with their defence. The USAF has some awesome jets and a few were lying around waiting to get some training complete before heading to Iraq.
…a pair of Hornets, F-18s, the US Navy’s most agile fighter. Oh good. John Nichol spotted them; I was concentrating on avoiding the sea at the time. The crew members on the bridge deck were looking down at us as we wazzed gleefully over their ship.
The Hornets swooped down out of the sun, a classic move. If Nichol hadn’t spotted them things would have been much harder but luck was on their side today. Peters was slinging the jet around the sky to prevent the Hornets getting a missile off in their direction.
Tornado Defensive Measures Put into Action
The Tornado threw out all defensive measures. Chaff to try to mess their radars up, flares that could attract the heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles away from their rear end of the Tornado.
Luckily this was only a training run. The Hornets were only given a slight delay in their inevitable victory.
The Hornet is a first-class fighter, one of the best in the world, in a different league to our Tornado where manoeuvrability is concerned. And there were two of them.
They parted ways after the training session, both sides having a good practice run that would see the day out in the desert as war approached nearer and their preparations for battle continued.