‘Our primary concern during our gunnery passes was the fact that we were now well within the range of MANPADS. Nevertheless, we positioned ourselves for the strafing runs just under the overcast…’ Craig Geron, Former F-14 Tomcat RIO
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was a huge success for the F-14 squadrons committed to the action. Tomcat pilots and radar intercept officers (RIOs) flew myriad missions in their 52 jets, performing air defence, forward air controlling (airborne), strike coordination, reconnaissance and photo-reconnaissance missions and precision bombing across Iraq.
As told by Tony Holmes in his book U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom, like their Hornet brethren in OIF, Tomcat crews viewed their internally mounted M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon as a weapon of last resort should the enemy still be in contact with friendlies on the ground once the F-14 had exhausted all of its bombs. On Mar. 30, 2003 while supporting the stalled V Corps advance in southern Iraq, a VF-2 section had cause to strafe. This was the first time that a Tomcat crew from on USS Constellation CV-64 had fired their cannon in OIF. Leading the section were Lt Tony Culic and his RIO, and mission commander, CVW-2 DCAG Capt Craig Geron. The latter recalled;
‘We were flying a night CAS sortie in marginal weather between An Nasiriyah and An Najaf. An Army FAC on the ground, who was operating with troops heading northwest towards An Najaf, asked my section of Tomcats to take out some Iraqi soldiers who were firing at them from behind a large fence, backed by a treeline. I could tell the guys on the ground really needed our support, so I made the decision to lead my section down through the layers of cloud that blanketed the area so that we could employ out LGBs against the enemy.
‘Once overhead, and having been bracketed by AAA, I quickly ascertained the tactical picture below us and directed a series of LGB runs on both the Iraqi troops and a nearby APC. Despite both Tomcats dropping two LGBs apiece on the targets, the FAC told us that they were still being fired upon, and he asked us could we strafe?
‘Carrying plenty of gas, we decided that it was a benign threat environment as there appeared to be no SAMs. There were no other TACAIR types or attack helicopters available to carry out this request, so after descending still further, we prepared to strafe the enemy positions.
‘Our primary concern during our gunnery passes was the fact that we were now well within the range of MANPADS. Nevertheless, we positioned ourselves for the strafing runs just under the overcast, which started at around 8000 ft, and conducted a modified strafing pattern that bottomed out at 2500 ft. Obviously, we could not achieve pinpoint accuracy when strafing at night, so these passes were more “fire for effect “. However, we got the Iraqis to put their heads down, and convinced them that the soldiers they were firing on had robust aerial support.’
Geron, Guile and their wingmen were awarded Air Medals following the success of this mission.
Lt Tony Culic Air Medal’s citation read, in part, as follows; ‘He led his flight below the cloud layers to successfully destroy an Iraqi APC hiding in a treeline. After refuelling, and despite deteriorating weather, he once again led his flight below the clouds and into a high threat area to conduct attacks in support of Coalition troops who were being fired upon. He quickly and skilfully directed multiple visual bomb and gun attacks at very high speed and low altitude, destroying or dispersing all enemy forces and rescuing Coalition troops.’
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Photo credit: U.S. Navy
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