‘As we came down the ladder, we were given the news that the war had ended minutes ago. I muttered to myself: “We went to war and came back in peace,”’ Brig. General Ali Asghar Jahanbakhsh, former IRIAF F-14 Tomcat Pilot.
In the following story former Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) F-14A pilot Brig. General Ali Asghar Jahanbakhsh (the first Tomcat pilot to engage a MiG-25 Mach 3 interceptor) remembers the last sortie flown against Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) aircraft during the 8-year long conflict between Iran and Iraq.
‘Date: Fall 1988
‘As you know, in the latter stages of the war, Iraqi’s growing air force had resorted to bombing civilian population centers in order to create terror and panic among the Iranian people. They had absolutely no regards for the laws of warfare, nor had any mercy for innocent civilians.
‘Per tactical instructions, our quick reaction alert aircraft usually responded to any intrusion into our air space within a 15 minute time frame meaning it would take around 15 minutes to get airborne from the moment scramble klaxon rang to the second the jets got airborne. However, the last few years had seen an exponential growth in Iraqi air force’s capabilities in employing stand-off ordnance. They, with the help of their French and Russian allies, had acquired stand off munition that enabled them to bomb our cities, oil refineries and industrial centers from far away. In one instance, an Iraqi jet had released its ordinance from 40-50 kilometers away and by the time our interceptors got to the intruding jet, it was too late. Despite the intercept, the bombs had destroyed their intended targets.
‘To counter this new challenge, we employed the ‘hot scramble’ tactic. It gave us the opportunity to take off quicker and it would only take less than 4 minutes time. In a ‘hot scramble’ scenario, both pilots sit ready in their jets on the runway instead of the shelters. Target data would later be given to our pilots upon completion of their take off roll by the combat radar controllers. This new tactic would help cut our take off time to less than 4 minutes which in turn gave us a fighting chance to close in with, and thus prevent the Iraqi bombers to accomplish their missions.
‘I was given one of these ‘hot scramble’ duties on a hot August day in 1988 at Bushehr’s 6th air base. Radar controller told me 3 bogeys are about 35 miles away and closing. I managed to see three bogeys on my own radar and then our position was roughly 27-28 miles away from them.
‘My RIO was then 1Lt. Ali Jarah (who became later the IRIAF’s Plans deputy). He was constantly updating me. As soon as we got to about 7 miles of now what were three bandits. At that time, I locked on their lead aircraft (which we suspected had the stand off ordnance), and made him break from his formation and run for the Iraqi air space. I engaged the two escort fighters and pushed them back 80-85 kilometers away from what might have been their intended target: Kharg island. They broke off and ran as fast as they could back to Iraq.
‘Mission accomplished. Three Iraqi jets failed to fulfill their dastardly job.
‘I thought to myself that we were out of danger and decided to turn back. A few seconds in our return trip, my jet’s ECS system failed. ECS is the jet’s ‘environmental control system’ which also cools and warms the cockpit. As a result of this malfunction, hot air was blowing inside the cockpit. My RIO tried to reset the system, it didn’t work. I followed the check list a couple of times hoping to reset or shut off the ECS but alas it didn’t work. Moments later, my poor RIO said he is burning alive in the backseat. He even suggested we should eject. I told him: “hey, look at those big hungry sharks down there.”
‘Any ways, I went supersonic in order to quickly get to home base that was now less than 80 kilometers away. We were going above 600 knots. Ten miles out, I could make out the runway but I noticed we weren’t aligned with it. At 400 feet above the ground, I brought the engines to idle, deployed the air brakes and pulled 5g to slow down the jet. We were under 350 knots. By touch down, we were going 210 knots. It was awfully faster than the normal 125 knots instructed in the manual. I gently pressed on the brakes to avert a disaster and my concern was a burst tire. It did not happen. After a long taxi down the runway, we came to a stop. Ground crew rushed to us and helped us de-plane to what seemed to be a freezer compared to the internal temp underneath the canopy inside the cockpit. As we came down the ladder, we were given the news that the war had ended minutes ago. I muttered to myself: “We went to war and came back in peace.”’
Iranian Tomcats – Background Info
Iran originally placed an order for 80 Tomcats and 714 Phoenix missiles: by the time relations between Tehran and Washington were interrupted, in April 1979, 79 F-14As and 240 AIM-54s were delivered. However, Iran never received any of the advanced AIM-7F Sparrow and AIM-9H Sidewinder missiles intended to complete the arsenal of its Tomcats and thus for the first months of the war the type had to serve armed with Phoenixes and internally installed 20mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel cannon. It was only in spring 1981 that the technicians of the IRIAF adapted the fleet to carry rather dated and less reliable AIM-7E-2 Sparrows and AIM-9J Sidewinders.
As explained by Tom Cooper & Milos Sipos in their book Iraqi Mirages The Dassault Mirage Family in service with the Iraqi Air Force, 1981-1988, out of about 120 Iranian pilots and slightly less than 100 radar-intercept officers (RIOs) that had completed their training on F-14s by 1979, fewer than two thirds were still serving as of 1981. Nevertheless, each of them had received extensive training in air combat tactics in the USA and at home, and this was refreshed during rushed courses launched following the first border clashes with Iraq in August 1980. Cut off from US support and with its support infrastructure in chaos, most of the time the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) was unable to keep more than 12-20 (out of 76 available) Tomcats in fully mission capable (FMC) condition at any time. Still, these were enough to maintain combat air patrols (CAPs) over Khuzestan, Khark Island and Tehran, usually lasting from 0900 in the morning until 1700 in the afternoon.
Photo credit: Fars News Agency and Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force