Tuesday, March 01, 2011

30 Years On

For anyone too young to remember the last time anyone tangled with the Libyan airforce, two of their Soviet fighters were 'Splashed', almost exactly thirty years ago, by a pair of United States Navy F14 Tomcats operating from an aircraft carrier in the 'Gulf of Sidra Incident.'

On the morning of August 19, 1981, two VF-41 "Black Aces" F-14As, "Fast Eagle 102" and "Fast Eagle 107" were flying combat air patrol to cover aircraft engaged in a missile exercise. An E-2C Hawkeye made radar contact with two Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters which had left Okba Ben Nafi Air Base near Tripoli.

The two F-14s were ordered to intercept. Only a few seconds before the crossing, at an estimated distance of 300 m, one of the Libyans fired an AA-2 "Atoll" at one of the F-14s, which missed. Then the two Sukhois flew past the Americans and tried to escape. The Tomcats evaded and were cleared to return fire by their rules of engagement, which mandated self defense on the initiation of hostile action. The Tomcats then turned hard port and came behind the Libyan jets. The Americans fired AIM-9L Sidewinders; the first kill is credited to Fast Eagle 102, the second to Fast Eagle 107. Both Libyan pilots ejected.

The official United States Navy report states that both Libyan pilots ejected and were safely recovered, but in the official audio recording of the incident taken from USS Biddle, one of the F-14 pilots states that he saw a Libyan pilot eject, but his parachute failed to open.

Less than an hour later, while the Libyans were conducting a search and rescue operation of their downed pilots, two fully-armed MiG-25s entered the airspace over the Gulf and headed towards the US carriers at Mach 1.5 and conducted a mock attack in the direction of USS Nimitz. Two VF-41 Tomcats and one VF-84 Tomcat headed towards the Libyans, who then turned around. The Tomcats turned home, but had to turn around again when the Libyans headed towards the US carriers once more. After being tracked by the F-14s' radars, the MiGs finally headed home. One more Libyan formation ventured out into the Gulf towards the US forces later that day.

If you've seen the movie. Top Gun' then it's loosely based on the action around that time.

In terms of any exclusion zone around Libya today, it's a different world, with a great deal of hot air being blown by the European nations who badly need the Americans to help make such a thing effective. Libya has a very good selection of modern fighter aircraft but as demonstrated in numerous incidents, since 1981, the Americans reign supreme in the air, if only because they spend so much time and money training their fighter pilots with an almost unlimited fuel budget and training regimes like Red Flag and 'Top Gun' the nation's Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

The French of course, do things a little differently as the video below illustrates only too well. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Boys and their Toys eh....

Andrew said...

Just for once I may have done something that Simon hasn't because - I WAS THERE. Yes, I saw this happen, albeit from a long way away. My ship, a Saudi flagged reefer was crossing the Gulf of Sirte that day and we saw the whole thing unfold on the southern horizon. And then shortly afterwards we realized that the traditional Merchant Navy way of showing that this wasn't your fight (hoist your ensign) was not a good idea in this situation because at Mach 1 point whatever they do the Saudi flag probably looks pretty similar to the Libyan one to a Tomcat pilot. We found this out as what seemed like an endless procession of them screamed down both sides of the ship repeatedly. Probably was only a minute ot two but my Captain was reminded of the eventual reluctance of the Allies to call in air support after D Day because this inevitably meant the US Air Force and they always bombed the wrong side, even then. Just the sort of cheery news that you want under those circumstances!

DrM. said...

I'm impressed Andrew.. Tell us more if you can remember.,. One for the Thanet Gazette too perhaps or Radio Kent

Andrew said...

That's it really. My watch ended that was that. If it hadn't been a Saudi ship, and therefore dry, we would have repaired to the bar - normal MN response to this sort of thing - well it was in those days anyway! Pretty small beer anyway compared to Persian Gulf between 84 and 88 or Lourenco Marques in 75 - now they were seriously scary.