Taken during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the video in this post features General Dynamics F-111 tank plinking GBU-12 LGB attacks on Iraqi Republican Guard armored vehicles in Kuwait.
Using their PAVE Tack targeting pods combined with laser guided bombs, the Aardvarks took out over 1,500 Iraqi armored vehicles.
By contrast during the First Gulf War A-10s destroyed “only” 900 Iraqi military vehicles.
After ten days of battle much of Saddam’s vast war machine remained intact, including half of the strategic targets, virtually all the mobile Scud launchers and all but 25 of his 800 battle tanks. F-111s and F-117As were the only strike aircraft to maintain high sortie rates against major targets, as other tactical aircraft were impeded by bad weather or the ceaseless hunt for Scuds. While US Army and US Marine Corps commanders concentrated on driving Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Brig Gen ‘Buster’ C Glosson, in charge of USAF air assets, focused on weakening Saddam’s homeland industrial and military base through air power alone.
Tanks, particularly those that were embedded in sand and disguised by netting in Kuwait, had escaped destruction from tactical aircraft due to their effective camouflage and the anti-aircraft hazards when flying low enough to destroy them with direct hits from ‘dumb bombs’ dropped by F-16s, AV-8B Harriers or A-10A Thunderbolt IIs. CBUs were suggested, but the effects of their sub-munitions were easily absorbed by the sand dugouts and revetments in which the tanks were hidden.
Mid-way through the campaign, Gen Schwartzkopf was persistently accused by the media of a lack of progress in destroying enough tanks to allow the ground war to start. The 48th TFW(P) was asked by Gen Glosson to devise a solution using PAVE Tack. Previous experience in trials dubbed ‘Night Camel’ during Desert Shield had shown that widely-spaced American tanks were hard to identify using the F-111F’s sensors if they had been standing with their engines switched off for some time. However, crews from the wing discovered that PAVE Tack’s infra-red detection set could recognise the solar warmth retained by sun-heated tank hulls compared with the cold desert around them. It was also found that Iraqi tank troops kept their engines running at night in order to keep warm, thus raising the heat signature of the tanks.
On Feb. 5 Col Lennon and his regular WSO Steve Williams led two F-111Fs over the northern Kuwaiti border at 2100 hrs. Whilst flying at an altitude of 14,000 ft, PAVE Tack revealed the heat signatures of several Republican Guard tanks on Williams’ VID. The two aircraft targeted and dropped GBU-12D/B Paveway IIs on eight of the luminous traces, and seven disappeared, accompanied by numerous secondary explosions. Seven Republican Guard battle tanks or personnel carriers had been knocked out. Two nights later a mass launch of 40 F-111Fs against designated ‘tank box’ target areas on the northern Kuwaiti border initiated a programme of rapid attrition of the main obstacle to re-taking the country. Shortly thereafter Gen Schwartzkopf coyly announced to the press that they had come up with an answer to the tank-killing problem without directly stating that, once again, the 48th TFW was answering the call when others could not.
Tank destruction soon occupied 44 per cent of the wing’s time as it delivered 2500 GBU-12s on Iraqi armor out of its total of 4666 LGBs expended — more than half of the precision-guided munitions (PGMs) dropped by Coalition aircraft. A formation of 20 F-111 Fs knocked out 77 tanks with 80 GBU-12s in one night, and in general results were up to ten times better than the daylight bombing scores by F-16s against similar targets. In fact, the inaccurate dumb-bombing during daytime by Fighting Falcon pilots became such a problem (by creating hot-spots in the desert that could be mistaken for tanks at night) that they were ordered to stay away from the tank ‘kill box’ target areas during afternoon hours.
The 48th TFW(P) switched fully to anti-tank ‘plinking’ from Feb. 13, when 46 F-111Fs hit 132 tanks and other armored vehicles — each jet dropped four bombs. By the end of the war one crew was credited with 31 tank kills among a score of 920, and 252 artillery pieces, for the ‘Liberty Wing’. Tank `plinking’ was later performed by F-15Es using similar infra-red targeting, which could often distinguish `live’ targets from those that had already been destroyed. Gen Schwartzkopf, who described himself as a former tank driver, found the expression tank `plinking’ (devised by F-111F flyer Maj Cliff Smith) demeaning and duly banned it. His troops subsequently came up with suitable synonyms such as ‘busting’ or ‘popping’.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
F-111 & EF-111 Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
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