The story of the Canadian CF-18 Hornet that fired an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile at an Iraqi patrol boat during Operation Desert Storm

The story of the Canadian CF-18 Hornet that fired an AIM-7 Sparrow Air-to-Air Missile at an Iraqi patrol boat during Operation Desert Storm

By Dario Leone
Jan 20 2023
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During Operation Desert Storm Canadian CF-18 aircraft took the fight to the enemy in an unconventional way on the night of Jan. 30, 1991, when a formation of Hornet fighter jets attacked an Iraqi patrol boat.

The CF-188 Hornet, commonly called the CF-18, is a multi-role fighter aircraft. It is used for air defence, air superiority, ground attack, tactical support, training, aerobatic demonstration, and aerospace testing and evaluation.

The Hornet is a fast, light and manoeuvrable aircraft. Because of its power, speed and target-tracking capabilities, it has had great success in many military operations in Canada and around the world.

The first combat operations that saw the involvement of Canadian Hornets were during Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 war in Iraq.

As reported by AP News, 26 Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 fighter jets, and about 600 airmen and ground crew from the 1st Air Division then based at Baden-Sollingen, Germany, took part in the war.

According to Canadian Forces College document’s CF-18s in combat from Iraq to Libya: the Strategic Dividend of Fighters by Lieutenant-Colonel D.E. Molstad, during Operation Desert Storm the vast majority of the 34 confirmed allied victories against fighter aircraft were achieved by the US Air Force’s F-15C Eagle, a pure air superiority fighter dedicated to defensive counter-air, sweep and escort missions for the entire conflict. Only three victories were claimed by multi-role aircraft: two by US Navy F-18C Hornets and one by a US Navy F-14A Tomcat. Canada’s multirole Hornet manned the combat air patrols to the south where Iraqi aircraft never ventured while the sweep and escort missions occurred with air superiority already achieved. It was becoming clear that Canadian Hornets would have to take the fight to the enemy. This occurred in an unconventional way on the night of Jan. 30, 1991, when a formation of CF-18s attacked an Iraqi patrol boat.

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After two weeks of uneventful combat air patrols, Capt Steve ‘Hillbilly’ Hill and Major Dave ‘DW’ Kendall did not hesitate to accept their ship borne controller’s unexpected request: “would you like to strafe a boat?” The boat in question had escaped an A-6 attack when the American ‘Intruder’ ran out of ordnance. After receiving final clearance to engage from their controller, the two Canadian pilots emptied their 20mm cannons over multiple strafing runs. With only air-to-air missiles remaining they attempted to acquire an infrared lock to fire an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The boat’s heat signature was too low and after some trouble ‘Hillbilly’ acquired a radar lock and fired an AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar missile at the boat. The missile impacted the water short of the target at which time both pilots returned to base. The boat was eventually finished off by US bombers; but, the Canadians were officially awarded an ‘assist’ to its seaworthiness kill. Hill and Kendall were extolled by senior military officials at home for their “…example of Canadian can-do.” However, the Canadian Air Task Group – Middle East (CATGME) Commander Colonel Roméo Lalonde conveyed to the press in theatre a different opinion, asserting they should have made less passes to minimize their exposure – he was not entirely happy about the attack. They had, after all wasted a $250,000 air-to-air missile on a boat in the first offensive action by the Canadian military since the Korean War. The engagement was admittedly unorthodox but Lalonde’s criticisms were viewed to be a little harsh by most officers in the fighter community.

However, after the attack one Canadian officer said: ″We’re relieved to finally see some action. Soldiers don’t really like to fight, but if everybody else is doing it, you naturally want to participate.″

Photo credit: MSgt. Michael Ammons / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

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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