Cold War Era

Suzanna, the Modified Iraqi Falcon 50 that almost sank USS Stark and led to the development of an intelligence-dedicated Boeing 727 used during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

An ambitious program

Always at the forefront of Arab states when it came to the development of its armed forces and armament industry, during the 1970s Iraq embarked on an ambitious program of becoming self-sufficient in production of almost all equipment and ammunition necessary for its armed forces. Indeed, during the following decade, many of the related projects became a necessity because of the lengthy and costly war with Iran.

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As told by Ali Altobchi with Tom Cooper & Adrien Fontanellaz in their book Al-Hussein Iraqi Indigenous Conventional Arms Projects, 1980-2003, there were also several projects conducted by or on behalf of the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) during the second half of 1980s, two of which were originally related to reconnaissance tasks.

Falcon 50 reconnaissance aircraft

The first of these was initiated in 1986, when the Director of the IrAF Intelligence Department, Brigadier General Mudher al-Farhan, was seeking a way to obtain reconnaissance photographs of several oil loading terminals constructed by the Iranians in the lower Persian Gulf, the General Military Intelligence Directorate (GMID) offered him one of its Dassault Falcon 50s: on Jun. 24, 1986 this aircraft flew from Amman in Jordan, via Kuwait and down the commercial corridor along the Saudi coast, via the United Arab Emirates to India.

Underway, it made an ‘unintended navigational error` and passed close to the Iranian island of Sirri, enabling a photographer that was on board to take photographs. As a result on Aug. 12, 1986, the tanker terminal off Siri was bombed by Mirage F.1s.

The Iraqi Air Force Falcon 50 YI-ALE (dubbed Suzanna) that fired two Exocet missiles against USS Stark.

Suzanna, a modified Falcon 50 equipped with AM.39 Exocet missiles

The excellent range of the Falcon 50 then gave birth to the idea of equipping it with French-made AM.39 Exocet missiles. Arguably, this was nothing new, for the French had been operating several slightly smaller Dassault Falcon 20s equipped with the cockpit of their Dassault Super Etendard fighter-bomber for training purpose for a while.

That said, the modification in question was beyond the IrAF’s capabilities and thus Baghdad requested that Paris organize the work in question. In late 1986, a Falcon 50, registration YI-ALE, was sent to Villarohe, where it received not only a Cyrano IVQ-C5 radar in a stretched nose, but the full cockpit of the Mirage F.1EQ-5 on the right side of its cockpit, and a launcher for an AM.39 Exocet missile under each wing.

Suzanna, the Modified Iraqi Falcon 50

Following extensive testing in France, the jet was commissioned into IrAF service in February 1987, under the official designation Yarmouk. Within the General Headquarters in Baghdad, it became known as Suzanna.

After additional testing and training in Iraq, on May 17, 1987 Suzanna flew its one and only – and most famous – combat sortie. After taking off from Wahda AB, it proceeded via Kuwait down the Saudi coast to a position north of Bahrain, where the crew turned east and after acquiring a suitable target, it released both Exocets. A few minutes later, these struck the US Navy guided-missile frigate USS Stark (FFG-31), killing 37 sailors.

The mistake shook Baghdad, which quickly apologised for this unintentional attack and compensated the Pentagon and the families for the sailors killed and for all the damage caused.

The link below is a brief documentary about the Dassault Falcon 50 used in the attack.

Modifications

This was not the end of Suzanna though. By 1989, the aircraft had undergone additional modification and it received an additional fuel tank installed in the cabin, and a hardpoint under the fuselage enabling it to load yet more fuel in the RP.35 drop tank usually carried by Mirages.

Atop of that, it was equipped with installations necessary to carry a Raphael TH reconnaissance pod; this included a side-looking radar (SLAR) and a datalink that enabled the transfer of collected intelligence to a ground base in real time. At least in theory, Suzanna thus became one of the most powerful clandestine intelligence assets in the Middle East. Moreover, it possessed the capability to – equipped with two AM.39s – reach the ‘Eastern Mediterranean area’ and carry out anti-ship and reconnaissance operations there.

Evacuated to Iran

Alas, the IrAF was not happy with the Raphael TH though, and with the French never finding time to sort out the related problems, the jet saw no further action. In February 1991, it was evacuated to Iran, together with more than 130 other aircraft of the IrAF and Iraqi Airways.

In the Persian Gulf, a port quarter view of the guided missile frigate USS STARK (FFG-31) listing to port after being hit by two Iraqi Exocet missiles.

Suzanna, the Falcon 50 that led to a heavily modified Boeing 727

That said, the experience with Suzanna meanwhile led the IrAF to another idea. The result was the least well known of all the Iraqi projects related to an aircraft, possibly codenamed Faw-727.

Essentially, this was a Boeing 727 airliner of Iraqi Airways, taken over by the IrAF, and then heavily modified – probably at the Salahuddin Works, possibly with some French support.

Airborne during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

There are several entirely different versions about the nature of the modifications in question: one is that Faw-727 was equipped as an airborne post; another that it was equipped with the TMV-018 command Syrel electronic intelligence gathering system (usually installed in the form of a pod carried under the centreline of Mirage F1EQ-2s), and an improved sub-variant of the Raphael TH pod; the third was that it was equipped with electronic warfare system like TMV-002 Remora and TMV-004 Caiman and acted as an airborne stand-off jammer.

Sadly, precise details have never became available: only detail known about Faw-727 is that it was airborne during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990.

Al-Hussein Iraqi Indigenous Conventional Arms Projects, 1980-2003 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and PA via Wikipedia

A view of damage sustained by the guided missile frigate USS STARK (FFG-31) when it was hit by two Iraqi-launched Exocet missiles while on patrol in the Persian Gulf.
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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