I have been cleared of all blame from my last flight. The jury is still out on the actual cause of the accident. Nevertheless, the flight surgeon has given me the okay to fly.
Al Taqaddum Airbase is rumored to be hiding several MiG 23s is hardened shelters. Centcom believes these fighters may have been retrofitted for ground attack. They are too close to friendly troops, so we have been tasked with eliminating the threat while it is still on the ground. Our target is the hardened shelters on the southwestern side of the airfield.
LGB’s, HARMs, and AMRAAMs complete the loadout.
Our goal is to sneak along the southern edge of the SAM rings, destroy the shelters in a single pass, and then buster out of there. The division will be running interference, dealing with whatever SAMs pop up along our route.
Here is the recon picture of the shelters. I take a moment to brief each member of the section with a specific target.
It is a dark night tonight, all the better for sneaking.
Because we’re only planning a single pass, I prime the computer to drop everything all at once.
I really do have an affinity for that island.
Feet dry and cruising by the light of the moon.
It doesn’t take long for the search radars to ping us.
Just like we briefed, we stay just out of reach to the south.
As we near the IP, I release the division to try their luck dancing with the SAMs. They dive away at full burner, each one silent, except for tense words to the affirmative.
I force my mind off their fate, and focus on my job, the sooner the shelters are dust, the sooner everyone can go home. I queue up the FLIR and begin slow sweeps along the horizon. There, a faint outline of the airstrip.
Seconds later, I find what I’m looking for.
I tell everyone to stay close, we’re making the run as a group. I make sure everyone has their targets, then push it to mil. The TTR ticks lower and lower. PICKLE!
As soon as everyone’s rocks are off the racks, we peel off to right. All the while sneaking glances at the FLIR return.
Fire, smoke and dust obscure the picture as four shelters erupt simultaneously. Good job boys!
A quick check one the division reveals that they are all still in the air, but they are very preoccupied. Intel said there would be quite a few launchers, but even their estimates were lower than reality. I tell everyone to regroup, while I launch on a few emitters just to take the pressure off.
“MiG’s, we’ve got MiG’s!” I don’t know who yelled the warning, but a quick glance down at the EW page confirmed my worst fears. A 29 stood in stark relief at my 8 o’clock. I went into overdrive, told #2 to cover me, and cleared everyone weapons hot.
“Archers, Archers!!" a few heartbeats later, “I've had it, I’m punching out.”
I never even saw the missiles, but there, yes, I think I see the MiGs. They are too close for an AMRAAM shot, I switch to Sidewinders as two gray shadows streak over my canopy.
I dump everything, roll hard left, and pull with everything I’ve got. Somehow, I have the presence of mind to uncage the ‘winders.
The growl in my headset turns into a scream, but the MiG is too quick and I miss my chance. It reverses and pulls under me. I roll inverted and follow.
He unloads and hits the burners before I can get a shot. His straight line retreat begs for a Slammer shot though. I launch, but #2’s missile gets there seconds before mine. Splash one!
Our flight is scattered and low on fuel. As soon as the radio is clear, I call for a status check. #3 and #5 are down, both with good chutes. Unfortunately none of us have the gas to stick around. I tell everyone to go home.
It is a long quite ride home. We did our job, and proved to the enemy that we still have teeth by downing one MiG 29 and an SU 22, but we left two good pilots behind. Hopefully they’ll find their way home.