Cold War Era

F-4G pilot explains how he was able to escort a B-52 Raid during Operation Desert Storm after his flight of Wild Weasels was left without the Support of Tanker Aircraft

As the F-4G crew prepared to take off in ‘Michelob 61’ (F-4G 69 0270, which ended Desert Storm credited with five radar kills), they were told that their tanker aircraft had aborted and there were no spares.


The F-4G Wild Weasel aircraft were modified F-4E Phantom II fighters with their cannon replaced by AN/APR-47 electronic warfare equipment. The F-4G carried a pilot and an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), who navigated, assisted with communications and coordinated attacks on the surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites. One hundred sixteen F-4Es were rebuilt as F-4Gs for this special purpose.

The F-4G Wild Weasels’ mission was to attack enemy air defenses, including surface-to-air missile (SAM) air defense radars.

During Operation Desert Storm, Carrying AGM-88A/B/C High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM), the F-4G worked in concert with other F-4Gs or as a hunter aircraft directing fighter-bombers, such as the F-16, against SAM sites.

As told by Peter E Davies in his book F-4 Phantom II Wild Weasel Units in Combat, Weasel support also extended to the B-52 strikes on the IRG divisions whose tanks and artillery were embedded in the Kuwaiti desert. Flying at 30,000 ft, the ponderous bombers were as vulnerable to SA-2s as they had been in Vietnam, but other more potent SAMs were also awaiting them in 1991. The designated F-4G flights flew ahead of the bomber cells, making pre emptive HARM launches at the threat sites that had the improved SA-2D/E missiles.

Maj Steve Jenny and Capt Mark Buccigrossi were each awarded the Silver Star for a mission on Jan. 18 in which they diverted three pairs of SA-2s away from a cell of B-52s. Using chaff, their ECM pod and SAM evasion manoeuvres, they caused the missiles to explode harmlessly behind their F-4G.

An air-to-air left side view of two F-4G Wild Weasel aircraft at sunset during Operation Desert Shield.

There was almost a B-52 shoot down on Jan. 28 when four SA-3s and an SA-2 were launched from Al Qaim, a site which had already been so heavily bombed that it was considered to be free of missile batteries. The B-52s had been diverted to that target unbeknown to the SEAD force, so no Weasels were on hand. This led to Lt Gen Glosson’s policy of destroying all SAM sites until there was ‘nothing but sand out there’ through an increased SEAD effort. He told Maj Gen Glenn Profitt, Director of Electronic Combat for Desert Storm, that he wanted a chart to show him every SAM site, and the date on which it had been destroyed.

Maj Uken and Lt Col Gelwix scored their ‘most satisfying HARM shot ever’ on Night 4 (Jan. 20, 1991) during a support mission for ‘Boston 30’, a cell of B-52s hitting the Medina Republican Guard Division headquarters in Kuwait. As the F-4G crew prepared to take off in ‘Michelob 61’ (F-4G 69 0270, which ended Desert Storm credited with five radar kills), they were told that their tanker aircraft had aborted and there were no spares. Uken explained what then transpired;

‘Knowing that the B-52s had already departed Cairo West airfield [in Egypt] and were flying across the barren lands of western Iraq, we were betting that they were unaware of our dilemma. With only a centreline tank, and four HARMs, we knew we were already going to be well beyond our minimum fuel plan, including a pre strike refuelling. Despite having no chance of a post attack refuelling, we were committed to the support task anyway, even if it meant having to land short at one of the Coalition bases just south of the Kuwaiti border.

‘Loss of the tanker required some re planning. We told the rest of “Michelob” F-4G flight to stand by while we came up with a plan. After plugging the target coordinates into the INS, arriving at a straight line distance and calculating flight time and fuel requirements, it became apparent that we could get to the target, but would have no loiter time. To cover the B-52s’ vulnerability period in the threat ring, we decided on breaking the flight into four single aircraft with 20 mile spacing in trail formation to extend our collective on station time. After calculating take off time, we called the other jets in “Michelob” flight and explained the amended plan to them.

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‘Once airborne it all went pretty much as planned, and as we approached the target from the south we were able to find “Boston 30” on radar still about 15 miles from the threat ring. Less than a minute later, an SA-6 target tracking radar came up and we started working him. As the B-52s were still outside the threat ring, we calculated that the SA-6 was focused on them, so we delayed the shot for a few seconds. We fired, made the perfunctory “Magnum” call and verified the missile’s Time to Impact cue, which looked good.

‘Just as the SA-6’s missile guidance radar came up, we got an excited call from the EWO in the lead B-52 informing us that he thought they were going to shoot. I was able to tell him “Okay, HARM time to impact is x seconds”. The HARM fly out cue soon showed “:00”, and four seconds later the SA-6 “went dotted” [off the air]. “Boston 30” had one happy aircraft commander, who promised us a case of scotch (still waiting for it).

‘“Michelob 62” then called “In position” as we turned south for our “skosh” egress and headed for home plate. We “zoomed for the moon” for fuel [economy], did our best imitation of a Space Shuttle descent and were able to make it back to Shaikh Isa after logging a single bag [one drop tank] mission of just 1.9 combat hours.’

F-4 Phantom II Wild Weasel Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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