As the Cold War drew to an end in the late 1980s, the B-52’s role began to change. Improved defences led to the adoption of new tactics and weapons, some of which would prove suitable for the new world order.
While the B-52H remained committed to the nuclear strike role, older B-52Gs were increasingly pressed into service in the conventional role, forming the backbone of US bombing assets during Operation Desert Storm, when they dropped about one third of the ordnance delivered by the USAF, as well as firing some of the opening shots of the campaign.
Undertaking over 1600 sorties, and dropping nearly 26,000 tons of bombs – 29 per cent of the total tonnage delivered – the B-52 had a devastating effect on Iraqi morale.
As told by Jon Lake in his book B-52 Stratofortress Units in Operation Desert Storm, B-52s based at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport (Jeddah New), Saudi Arabia, flew more than half of the total wartime Stratofortress missions (841 of 1625 sorties). Jeddah ‘s ‘Buffs’ also dropped more munitions than the rest of the B-52 wings combined (36,580 of the 72,289 bombs dropped by B-52Gs). Even more amazingly, the Jeddah-based 1708th BW(Provisional) was responsible for 20 per cent of all bombs dropped during the war by Coalition aircraft.
Air and ground crews were similarly drawn from throughout the B-52 force, with the 29 load crews including personnel from units operating the B-52H (the load crews came from the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 42nd, 92nd, 93rd, 97th, 379th, 410th and 416th MMS).
Scott Moore was assigned to the 1708 BW(P) as a staff instructor pilot from the 416th BW:
‘At Jeddah, I believe the wing staff and a majority of the crews were from Wurtsmith, but we had approximately three crews from Griffiss. It was very hard for a non-Wurtsmith guy to get added to a mission. I spent most of my time there as an SOF, pre-flighting aeroplanes, helping mission-plan and trying to get on a mission.’
While Scott Moore did not fly a Desert Storm mission, Wurtsmith-based navigator Andy Bloom managed to play a very active part:
‘Of the 24 combat missions I flew over Iraq and Kuwait, about three of these sorties were pretty hairy. The first memorable incident occurred during our second mission, when our target was Republican Guard forces dug in along the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border. We were No 3 in a three-ship formation of B-52Gs. We had just released our weapons — M117s — and made the post target turn heading for our base. The co-pilot was watching a friendly fighter off our right wing when, all of a sudden, the pilot announced SAMs, and began manoeuvring to avoid them. The EWO called “I’ve got no missile guidance!”, meaning the missiles were launched unguided at us.
‘In the meantime, the rest of us were bracing for impact at any moment because we couldn’t see outside the aircraft, and therefore did not know how far away the missiles were from us. We spent the next two minutes, what seemed an eternity, manoeuvring until we were out ot- the threat zone. Apparently, four missiles were shot at us with no impact and, according to the pilot, they were about four miles from us.
‘The second incident was during a daytime raid on a weapon storage facility south-west of Basra. Our planning staff had worked out a support package with the US Navy and Marines, because they were working in the same area as our mission. After checking in with AWACS about our package, the Navy’s response was, “I’m not working, them”. With comments like those, we knew something was wrong! About 15 minutes from the bomb run, we heard the following warning from a US Navy/Marine F/A-18 Hornet —”Aircraft at such and such position, identify yourself!” AWACS began to inform the pilot that we were “friendly chicks, so leave them alone”. This went back and forth for about four minutes. After being spooked, the Hornet pilot got “lock on and asked permission to fire his missiles! Finally, somebody informed our friend that we were B-52s at such and such altitude position, and airspeed. So much for communications security, and no letting the Iraqis know our position! This appeared to calm our Navy/Marine buddy down, but not very much. We later learned the AWACS replayed the tape recordings, got his call-sign, and tracked him down. We hoped his commanding officer had a good talk with him!
`The third event was a night raid on an oil refinery and petroleum storage facility. This mission called for two formations of three B-52Gs, with five minutes’ separation between formations. The plan called for a multi-axis attack to get the maximum weapons coverage across the target, without hitting the civilian community, and their mosque. Aircraft Nos 1, 2, 4 and 5 had a west-to-east axis, and Nos 3 and 6 had a south-west to north-east axis. This called for a different routing for Nos 3 and 6 — we were No 3 aircraft in this formation. It was a good plan, but suffered from one problem. Because of the routing, Nos 3 (us) and 6 ended up gaining time, and thus changing formation lead over the target! This would not have been so bad if there was prior coordination, but there wasn’t any.
`Our first indication that a problem existed was coming up to the target. I was watching the target in the FLIR camera, and I didn’t see the lead jet’s weapons detonating within the target area. After our weapons release, we started to look for the other aircraft when the gunner called out, “I’ve got five aircraft behind us.” After some time, we determined those aircraft were the rest of the formation. We began to realise what could have happened if our timing was a little different. Since we stacked up in altitude during formation flights, we were in the higher position, and our weapons dropped down through the other aircraft’s altitude! We could have lost several aircraft due to this plan, and the route we flew.
`There were some interesting phrases that we came up with while over there. When a mission called for bombing the minefields along the Kuwaiti and Saudi border, it was a “make a run for the border” or “Taco Bell run” [named alter a TV Commercial for Taco Bell]. This was because our bomb release line — a point in-flight where the bombs needed to be released to hit their target — was in Saudi Arabia, and our post-target turn kept our jets within country as well. We had the “Baghdad Express” name for those missions going up to Baghdad.’
B-52 Stratofortress Units in Operation Desert Storm is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy
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