Crazy! 19 January, 1991 F-16 dodges SIX Iraqi SAM Missiles: “Package Q Strike”

Well, here’s a big Desert Storm fail I never heard about until today.

Started as what would be the largest F-16 strike in history;

The main target of the strike was the Osirak Nuclear Reactor in Baghdad, along with many other military sites across the city. Two aircraft were shot down, with two pilots becoming POWs. The majority of the mission goals were met, with the reactor itself severely damaged and most of the secondary targets hit as well.[4]

The attack was the largest of the war and represented an attempt to strike Iraqi defenses a serious blow. The raid illustrated how a number of small incidents or stresses, none by themselves necessarily serious, could contribute to an unsatisfactory outcome,[4] which eventually convinced USAF commanders to call off further airstrikes against downtown Baghdad.[1]

Cockpit video below is from an F-16, call sign Stroke 3;

The situation rapidly spiraled out of control as the strike package neared the target area;

Approaching their targets, the “downtown” aircraft (flying F-16s with newer model engines) passed F-16s on the way to, rolling in on, and leaving targets all in a hostile environment. On their way to downtown, the F-4 “Wild Weasels” left, being low on fuel. This left the F-16s and F-15Cs alone against the air defenses. As Maj. John Nichols rolled in to strike his target, the Iraqi Air Force Headquarters, he heard the Weasels call that they were leaving. Unfortunately, cloud cover obscured the target; Nichols rolled off to turn to an alternate target, an oil refinery which was under attack by a portion of his formation.

Up to this point, the Iraqis had fired most of their SAMs ballistically. Within a short time of the Weasel call that they were leaving, SAMs directly engaged Nichols’ flight. Many SAMs were now guided and most of his flight had to take evasive action, which included “last-ditch maneuvers” such as jettisoning fuel tanks and bombs. Approximately half of the flight struck the oil refinery; others were en route to alternate targets when SAMs engaged and forced them to jettison ordnance.[3]

SAMs hit one F-16 just as the last bombs were striking the oil refinery. As the flight egressed Baghdad, evading SAMs, another missile impacted near another F-16. Both aircraft were lost, but their pilots survived the war as POWs. One of the two lost aircraft managed to fly for 150 miles on the return route after taking a SA-3 missile just south of Baghdad, before the engine quit.[3] In all, the participants in the wild ride over the capital counted twenty SAMs in the air; one pilot dodged no fewer than six. Many of the F-16 aircraft sustained major or minor damage, but stayed airworthy.

From the VTR tape of that day[7]:

“Okay, SAM launch! Nose 5 low!”
(Air controller interruptions)
“Bank right! Bank right!”
“Okay, missed him.”
“Stroke One’s a hit! Stroke One’s a hit!”
“Stroke One took a hit! Stroke One took a hit!” “Status?”
“Okay, I’ve got a fire! I’m ah-stand by. Um, just south of steerpoint number seven. Still flyin’. And I’m headin’ south.”
“Okay, it…we took a pretty good hit. I’ve got no engine.”

The commotion for the survivors of the strike did not end when they left Baghdad. To bring an end to their day, eight MiG-29s started closing toward the rear of the F-16s as they exited the capital’s environs; the F-15C top cover had apparently left earlier after the F-4s. When F-16s attacked the MiGs, the Iraqis fled. By the time that the F-16s approached the border some were almost out of fuel. One fighter would have crashed short of Coalition territory had not a KC-135 tanker from the Kansas National Guard crossed over into enemy territory. When the F-16s began refueling in Iraqi territory, it had only 800 pounds of fuel on board, in the words of the wing commander, flying as a wingman, “an eye-watering situation.”[3][8]

Here’s what’s left of Stroke 1, which was found in 2003 by invading US forces;

Ended as FUBAR.

Kinda makes one glad to be serving duty on the ground!


About Erick Brockway

Living in Camarillo, CA, about 45 miles North of LA. I have a son, and two daughters. Working two jobs (welcome to California life), plus a (now retired) reservist in the US Navy Seabees so life is busy!
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