As Desert Shield became Desert Storm on 17 January 1991, one of the top targets was the Al Qa’im Super Phosphate Plant near the Syrian border…
Designed by aviation artist Mads Bangsø in collaboration with former F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) David Parsons, the cool artwork in this post is one of the prints realized by our friends at Aircraftprofileprints.com to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the mighty Tomcat.
According to the artwork [named shows Going to “Big Al” (Al Qa’im)] description, as Desert Shield became Desert Storm on 17 January 1991, one of the top targets was the Al Qa’im Super Phosphate Plant near the Syrian border. It was postulated that it had a role in refining Yellowcake Uranium for use in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and harboring SCUD missile launchers. It’s importance was evidenced by the six SAM batteries arrayed around the facility creating a super Missile Engagement Zone (MEZ) unrivaled except for Baghdad itself. Four SA-3 Goa and 2 SA-2 Guideline Surface to Missile (SAM) sites were positioned in mutually supporting locations thereby creating a crossfire against any approaching aircraft.
Al Qa’im was taken under attack by a trio USAF B-52 Stratofortresses and also by F-15E Strike Eagles supported by EF-111 Raven Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) assets. The Iraqi Air Force launched MiG -25 Foxbat interceptors which caused the Ravens to retire thereby removing the jamming protection for the F-15E Strike Eagles. One of the SAM batteries took advantage of the situation and scored against a Strike Eagle piloted by COL …. who became a POW. Big Al was still intact as even the tremendous bomb-load carried by the B-52 missed altogether due to considerable high winds.
The Navy was up next when Al Qa’im was chosen to launch an AGM-84 Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM) from a VA-75 Sunday Puncher A-6E Intruder flying off USS John F Kennedy. SLAM had never been used in Combat and had only recently arrived onboard ship. An A-7E Corsair II provided guidance via a Walleye guidance store. The mission was successful with the SLAM standoff range allowing the strike package to remain outside the bristling and lethal Al Qa’im MEZ. Since the Walleye guidance relies on the SLAM IR seeker to provide imagery, it was clear the missile found its target but provided no indication of what happened after seeker impact.
Rear Admiral Riley Mixson, Commander of the Red Sea Battle Force operating from USS Kennedy, USS Saratoga and USS America considered the dilemma and ordered a F-14 Tomcat Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) to be flown during daylight the following day. Fighter Squadron 32 was assigned the mission. The commanding officer assigned the most experienced TARPS aircrews to plan and execute the mission which would necessitate flying directly over Al Qa’im to get the required images. An EA-6B Prowler equipped with ECM pods and a HARM missile would provide jamming protection and an A-7E Corsair II equipped with 4 HARM missiles would conduct Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) with preemptive HARM launches timed to arrive as the Tomcats penetrated the MEZ engagement envelopes.
LCDR Dave “Hey Joe” Parsons served as overall Strike Lead and Mission Commander of the 2 Tomcats with LT Jim “Dog” Kuhn as his pilot. The wingman was LCDR Jerry “Truck” Trudell with CDR Tom “Chain” Zelibor as the RIO. Both Tomcats had a TARPS pod with an ALQ-167 ECM pod and an expanded chaff adapter (ECA) in addition to 2 Sparrow and 2 Sidewinder missiles. The plan was to use a USAF tanker track near Iraqi Border and take on full bags of gas in order to have plenty of fuel to conduct a single high speed pass through the MEZ in a Northeasterly direction thereby taking advantage of the jet stream which would add another 100 knots of ground speed.
The weather was clear and visibility unlimited. Great for spotting SAMs and for the Iraqi Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) to spot the approaching Tomcats. Unloading the aircraft from 30K to 20K in a “Toboggan” maneuver, both Tomcats accelerated through Mach 1 to their maximum speed obtainable of M1.2 as they approached the MEZ. The Corsair SEAD launched all 4 HARMs as planned. Time seemed compressed as the Tomcats penetrated the outer MEZ ring with all eyes scanning the ground looking for the telltale SAM launch. Suddenly, Kuhn shouted “SAM” over the radio as a dirty cloud blossomed just north of the complex. Parsons spotted it as well, but quickly announced “It’s a HARM!”
Up to then, the Prowler ECMOs were concentrating on countering the various SAM batteries which were all menacing the approaching Tomcats. Intel had surmised that not all the SAM sites were still functioning but the ECMOs saw all six were up and trying to lock onto the Tomcats. They had fired their HARM and unleashed their powerful jamming. However, when Parsons called “It’s a HARM!”, the Iraqi IADS immediately shut down thereby allowing the Tomcats to complete their photo run unmolested.