Operation Odyssey Dawn

On 17 March, 2011 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 (UNSCR 1973), authorising `all necessary means’ to protect Libyan civilians. Two days later, on 19 March, French aircraft struck armoured columns approaching the outskirts of Benghazi at approximately 4.45pm in an eleventh-hour intervention that Benghazi residents recount with breathless admiration. A US-led coalition codenamed Operation Odyssey Dawn then carried out the suppression of much of Libya’s air defence systems-a crucial prerequisite for establishing the no-fly zone.

The civilian protect mission was subsequently brought under NATO authority after arduous four-way talks between the United States, Britain, France, and NATO. Twelve days after the first strikes, the US ceded leadership of the campaign to NATO under the new name of Operation Unified Protector. France and Britain conducted the majority of strikes, with Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Sweden, and Canada playing a supportive role. In tandem, NATO warships and aircraft began patrolling the approaches to Libyan territorial waters to enforce an arms embargo on the conflict as required by the UN resolution.

More than any other facet of the intervention, NATO’s civilian protection mandate was the subject of ambiguity, haziness, and frustration among anti-Qadhafi forces. Prior to UNSCR 1973, President Obama and his British and French counterparts had given speeches clearly indicating that Qadhafi’s continued rule was unacceptable. Yet early in the actual military campaign, both NATO and the US sent strong signals about the limitations on its role: in its so-called `warning order’ to deployed forces, the Pentagon reemphasised the civilian protection mission. Echoing this, President Obama stated emphatically in a 23 March speech that the US was not pursuing regime change. Yet at a ministerial meeting in April in Berlin, the definition of `threat to civilians’-originally understood to arise from any side, including the National Transitional Council (NTC)-was revised to apply only to the armed forces serving Qadhafi, anywhere in the country. Even thereafter, as will be discussed below, in the actual execution of air operations NATO commanders came close to applying the mandate against the rebel forces in their attack on Sirt.

The United Nations never defined Unified Protector’s end-state-the point by which all threats to civilians were deemed neutralised. In many respects, this haziness about the actual relationship between the NATO coalition and the anti-Qadhafi forces was essential to cement the diverse views and concerns of the coalition and retain `top cover’ from the United Nations. Anything more specific calling for Qadhafi’s ouster would not have passed the UN Security Council, given China and Russia’s opposition to such a move.

Despite its haziness, the parameters of the civilian protection mandate had several consequences for the relationship between NATO and anti-Qadhafi forces. Here it is critical to distinguish between the forces and capabilities that belonged to NATO, the organisation enforcing the no-fly zone-which did not set foot on Libyan soil throughout the engagement-and those of its member states-who did.

Firstly, NATO, unlike its member states, had no liaison office or direct line of communication with anti-Qadhafi forces. As one senior NATO officer emphasised: `There was no coordination or communication between NATO military forces-as a coalition-and the anti-Qadhafi fighters. Full stop. Our mandate was to protect civilians. We were not their air force.’ But while ostensibly noble, in fact this absence of liaison between NATO and the rebels was to increase dramatically the influence played by the individual NATO states, who did in fact establish lines of communication, liaison units embedded in the rebels’ operations rooms, and, in the second half of the campaign, ground advisers who moved with the rebels’ advancing frontlines.

Secondly, the mandate meant that NATO, again unlike its member states, was scrupulous in not taking sides during tactical engagements. It did not see itself as providing the `close air support’ that some of its member states wished of it. `If our pilots saw a fight between technicals, they would treat them both as legal combatants and did not intervene,’ noted a senior NATO commander. Indeed, in executing the UN mandate, the coalition’s air forces came close to striking rebel forces who were believed to be threatening civilians. `We were prepared to strike anti-Qadhafi forces if they had targeted civilians. Toward the end of the war, in Sirt, we came very, very close,’ noted a senior NATO planner.

Thirdly, the civilian protection mandate compelled NATO to select fixed, strategic targets-known in military parlance as `deliberate targets’. Only those facilities-whether ammunition depots, storage bunkers, or command posts-that could be proved to be supporting an attack on civilians were struck. This focus frequently at times slowed down the targeting process; some targets required ministerial approval. Unlike the aerial campaign in Iraq, there was no effort to cripple Qadhafi’s government through a massive attack on infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and electrical grids. `We left the country’s infrastructure intact,’ noted the NATO commander. `We hit only one road in seven months and this was in Brega.’ The consequences of this for the post-Qadhafi transition were profound.

NATO’s limits While NATO focused initially on its lists of `deliberate’ (fixed) targets, the more time-intensive process of identifying `dynamic’ targets (mobile, time-sensitive targets, usually identified by pilots or reconnaissance assets during battle) proved much more challenging. Though NATO’s early disruption of Libyan command and control facilities meant that Qadhafi was unable to coordinate concentrated firepower at key junctures, the `dynamic targets’-the army and security brigades, in other words-still had to be dealt with, since NATO judged these targets to pose the greatest threat to civilians. Here, however NATO faced significant limits over and above its mandate to avoid civilian casualties without explicitly supporting the rebels.

NATO faced a significant shortfall of both aircraft and, crucially, the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets needed to vet and corroborate targets. Of the former, only 130 combat aircraft, supplied by eighteen NATO members, were available, only fifty-five of which could carry out air-to-ground ops. This gave NATO an average capacity of forty-five strikes per day, and a further seventy sorties. By 9 September, NATO would have flown a total of 8,390 strikes and 22,342 sorties-a number which stretched the capacity of some member states, including the UK and Norway, almost to their limits.

Regarding the latter, the line-of-sight requirements needed for NATO to hit `dynamic targets’ were significant. Before a dynamic target could be struck, it had to be vetted by a lengthy process: positive visual identification by the pilot, geographic position (was the target east or west of frontlines established with rebel forces?), and corroboration through ISR assets, such as Predator drones. The US provided a sizeable proportion of the ISR assets used, including thirteen S&R aircraft, two Predator drones, a Global Hawk (high-altitude unmanned), and various jamming equipment; later on, it would share previously restricted satellite imagery and signals intercepts, further improving NATO’s capabilities during the Western Mountains campaign and assault on Tripoli.

Faced with limited resources, NATO needed to prioritise. `The anti-Qadhafi forces had unrealistic expectations about our coverage,’ argued one NATO commander. `We were stretched thin. They thought the sky would be black with NATO aircraft.’ NATO therefore had to prioritise its aircraft and intelligence assets to only those fronts where it believed civilians were most endangered. As noted by the NATO commander:

First above all was Brega. Qadhafi’s forces were swarming all over the city; we knew we had to stop them or they would take Benghazi. Next was Misrata, which was hanging by its fingertips. We had to keep the port open to save the population. Eventually we moved forces over to the West.

NATO’s unique mandate and restrictions, and the increasingly important role played by ground advisers, forced both loyalist forces and anti-Qadhafi forces to adapt their tactics. The first adaptation was made by loyalist forces. As early as 25 March, by the time Operation Unified Protector took over from Odyssey Dawn, Qadhafi’s troops had transitioned from armour and conventional military vehicles, to civilian vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns-the same vehicles employed by the rebels.

In response, opposition forces began marking their vehicles with a large `Z’ or `N’ on the hood or roof; very soon, however, loyalist forces began imitating this. The opposition then switched to painting their hoods with a yellow or orange fluorescent paint. When Qadhafi’s military started copying these colours, the opposition used flags fastened to the hoods of their vehicles-the colours of these flags would be announced hours before an assault. Later, revolutionary battalion commanders, usually the lead vehicle in a group of ten or so, were given a laser beacon by foreign ground advisers.

In addition, Qadhafi’s forces began placing artillery batteries and parking tanks inside schools, mosques, civilian dwellings, or under covered markets. As the battles for Misrata and Brega wore on, NATO focused increasingly on degrading artillery and GRAD capabilities and interdicting reinforcements. Consequently, loyalist forces did not adjust their barrages for accuracy because, fearing airstrikes, they would `shoot and scoot’.

Rebel commanders understood the limitations of airpower in densely populated areas and tried to adapt. A Benghazi-based commander recalled how, in the early stages of the uprising, Yunis exhorted the thuwwar to stop Qadhafi’s forces before they entered the city; once inside the city, he stated, airpower would be useless. Similarly, the Misrata military planner exhorted his colleagues to push the enemy outside the city’s environs, `otherwise we will be just like Zawiya’-a reference to a coastal city west of Tripoli that Qaddafi forces had occupied en masse, thus negating the application of airpower. In late April, opposition commanders in Misrata realised NATO was powerless to stop the shelling of the harbour from nearby Tawergha because Qadhafi’s forces, camouflaged in civilian vehicles, had ensconced artillery teams near a mosque and inside schools. In the Nafusa, a commander involved in the initial assault on Aziziyya, a town just south of Tripoli, noted that the presence of loyalist forces disguised as civilians meant that `NATO couldn’t help; it was our problem and we had to do it on our own’.

The rebels prized attack helicopters, particularly the Apache, deployed by British and US forces. Armed with heavy-calibre machine guns, sensors, and Hellfire missiles, the slow-moving aircraft were ideal for supporting rebels in close engagements and interdicting reinforcements. Though not deployed to the battlefield until the final week of May, Apaches played a particularly significant role in striking loyalist `technicals’, accounting for nearly half of these vehicles destroyed in the conflict. Both sides appeared to hold this aircraft in awe, and it quickly became a sought after asset by rebel commanders, particularly early in the Nafusa campaign. Apaches also proved pivotal in supporting the final assault on Tripoli. `Our main help during the Tripoli battle was from the Apaches,’ noted one senior Libyan commander in the Tripoli battle. `They cleared the west Janzur area for us. When tanks were moving the Apaches were responsive within an hour.’

For their part, loyalist forces reportedly offered rewards for downing an Apache. That said, the Apaches’ deployment was circumscribed by stringent requirements for ISR support, restrictive rules of engagement (ROE), and technical limits on sortie generation (most Apaches were launched from British and US ships). Much of its reputation, therefore, appears to have been fed by its performance in Afghanistan and bolstered by the use of psychological operations (PSYOP) leaflets dropped by NATO forces onto loyalist forces in Misrata and in the east that bore a picture of an Apache.

NATO Libyan Campaign Review I

NATO Post Libya

On Thursday, 27 October 2011 the UN Security Council voted unanimously for a resolution ‘ending the mandate for foreign military action at 23:59 Libyan time on 31 October’. During the military action the NATO-led coalition had flown 26,000 sorties of which 10,000 were labelled strike missions. Interestingly, the resolution was passed despite an eleventh-hour appeal from Libya’s NTC to continue the mission, arguing that it needed more time to assess its security needs.

For NATO the Libyan campaign was a success. However, as the leaders of the alliance meet in Chicago in May 2012, there will be some important lessons to be learned. The reliance on the United States for the backbone of the Command and Control system is one that will need to be addressed if other coalitions of the willing are to be deployed at short notice. The combination of low collateral damage, the replacement of the regime and the zero-casualty count for their own forces provides an outcome that political leaders entering any kind of war would dream about. The Libyan rebels paid the price in blood whereas the collation paid the price in treasure. The final debate as to the actual cost of the campaign will no doubt be the subject of some discussion as various media sources try and come up with a final and definitive answer. But, by any standard metrics of war, the campaign in Libya was a new form of conflict. One conducted principally from the air and with great precision. But is it one that can be replicated elsewhere?

The answer to that question is a resounding no. Libya had a number of quite specific aspects to it. These need to be appreciated before anyone suggests that suddenly a new form of casualty-free (i.e. painless) warfare can be carried out by NATO at locations across the world where they feel they need to intervene. The horrors of the humanitarian intervention in Somalia by President Clinton still beckon for anyone rash enough to believe that warfare can be painless.

That air power showed its huge flexibility in OPERATION UNIFIED PROTECTOR is not in doubt. Towards the end of October 2011, the RAF Tornados had flown over 1,400 sorties and amassed over 8,000 hours of flying time. The RAF Typhoons also flew 600 sorties and accumulated over 3,000 flying hours.

New tactics, flying Tornados and Typhoons together as a two-ship configuration, had also been developed. Warfare often sees tactical innovation and OPERATION ELLAMY was no different. The mix of the two aircraft, flown as a two-ship configuration, provided additional versatility in terms of the weapons payloads that were available on a single armed reconnaissance mission. The mix of the 1,000 pounds Enhanced Paveway carried on board the Typhoon and the Brimstone and other Paveway variants on the Tornado provided a huge level of flexibility to address emerging targets. During the campaign the RAF, RN and Army Air Corps (AAC) launched 1,470 guided weapons. The Paveway achieved a hit rate of close to 88 per cent. The bombs that fell outside the immediate designated area missed the target by a matter of a few meters.

Throughout the campaign the French Air Force and the RAF both undertook a large range of missions that showed the inherent versatility and flexibility that now exists in their weapons systems. In the course of the NATO operations over 26,000 missions had been flown. Many of those lasted a number of hours and required a number of visits to tankers to refuel. In the course of OPERATION ELLAMY over 30,000 tonnes of fuel were transferred from VC-10 and Tristar aircraft operating in support of the mission.

When deployed on armed reconnaissance it is hard to forecast the type of targets that might emerge. What appears from an orchard or emerges from the side of a street to threaten civilians, is hard to predict at the point the aircraft is prepared for a mission. Emergent targets were not always single units, such as a MBT, APC, Artillery piece or Pick Up Trucks (PUT). Complex targets also presented themselves in the form of troop concentrations at staging points, ammunition and fuel dumps and mobile command and control centres. Having a range of weapon systems at the disposal of the crews allowed them to be selective in their application of air power.

Being able to select an appropriate weapon system to attack an emergent target, whilst reducing the risk from collateral damage, is a hugely important capability. The Storm Shadows also proved their value working alongside the Tomahawk missiles launched in the course of the campaign by the RN. The RAF and the RN can be very pleased with their current inventory. The future prospects also look good, as the RN adds the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) into its inventory in the future. Operating from a carrier offshore that ability to project air power will also add an additional level of versatility into the ability to conduct a range of possible intervention missions on a global basis.

That does not mean that lessons cannot emerge from the Libyan campaign that might suggest that Paveway and Brimstone might also have additional versatility built into their warhead designs. The ability to ‘dial a yield’ before a target is attacked would undoubtedly provide an additional element of versatility when attacking lightly armed vehicles.

The contribution of naval gunnery, an art that many will think must have gone out many years ago, is still something to be considered. As warships have tended to go for stealthy shapes the guns have always appeared to stand out. In an age of the missile system there may be those tempted to think that removing guns from warships is a good idea. For many the use of naval gunnery in the Falklands conflict is a distant memory. OPERATION ELLAMY was to highlight its enduring contribution to the littoral battle.

Any notion that naval gunnery is a capability that is no longer required should be rejected very quickly. Even though little was made of its use in the media, naval shore bombardment is not a capability that should suddenly be lost. In the course of OPERATION ELLAMY the warships HMS Liverpool, Iron Duke and Sutherland would fire 240 rounds from their guns. These varied from star shells that illuminated suspicious activity on the coastline to high explosive rounds aimed at destroying coastal artillery installations that had fired upon NATO warships.

On several occasions Libyan Special Forces who had tried to approach NATO warships in inflatable boats were chased away by star shells. Being illuminated at night when you are trying to operate covertly has a huge psychological impact. As the RN develops its thinking for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, and its export potential, they would be wise to retain that capability.

Their collation colleagues also contributed to the overall effort providing a blend of air power that enabled strike missions to be shared out across many NATO countries. As always in such situations the Danish Armed Forces and the Norwegians made significant contributions, as did the Belgians.

For those in NATO seeking to use the campaign in Libya as a form of new approach to intervention on the international stage, a moment’s reflection might be in order. Colonel Gaddafi and his sons were not that difficult a regime to topple.

In order to take an objective view of the outcome it is vital for anyone to analyse the mistakes made by the Gaddafis. Had they played any one of these differently, the campaign may well have gone on long enough to make the international community tire of what would readily be characterised by the media as another failed and flawed attempt to intervene in an overseas country.

Gaddafi made several obvious mistakes. Many of these are reflective of an ego and personality that was deeply flawed. In part these contributed to his downfall. The list of mistakes is long and worth some detailed analysis and discussion. They include:

The regime appeared to be totally unprepared for war. It was as if Gaddafi had concluded that by making the right noises and gestures to the international community he would be allowed to survive. He dramatically underestimated the will of many of those, including David Cameron and Nickolas Sarkozy, to follow up on their rhetoric. This was a bad misjudgement and typical of a person who is unable to read the international hymn sheet that was being written at the time.

Gaddafi’s rhetoric, labelling of the rebels as members of Al Qaeda, was an attempt to sow confusion into the ranks of the international community. It barely raised an eyebrow in political circles. Certainly many so-called experts in international terrorism raised themselves from their armchairs to venture into the television and radio studios to echo his narrative. Many opined that the rebels had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda, with the implication that if Gaddafi’s regime were to fall woe betide the international community, especially European nations, whose southern flank would be exposed to an Al Qaeda-led government in Libya that their military action had installed.

Gaddafi should have played for time when the international community was debating establishing a no-fly zone. His offers of a ceasefire appeared opportunistic and insincere. His words and actions appeared out of kilter with each other. Given the degree of ISTAR coverage of Libya he should have known that he needed to visibly show a lessening threat to Benghazi as the second week of March came to a close. Had he done this, and played his long-established ties with Russia carefully, he could have dragged out the debate within the United Nations.

This mistake was repeated when progress on the campaign slowed to a halt in June. This is a crucial issue for NATO and one that is often overlooked. When conducting military operations of this type it is unlikely that the end game, whatever that means, will suddenly be reached. The 100 hours ground war that brought the Iraqi War in 1991 to an end is not representative. It had taken weeks of bombing to shape the battlefield so that, as the ground forces moved in, the Iraqis surrendered en masse. Gaddafi should have anticipated the stalemate and played for time when some members of the international community started to debate a possible end game where Gaddafi would have stayed in power. He should have seen this as a moment of weakness in the international community’s resolve and made gestures that would have seen him remain in some titular position. His intransigence at this point was crucial. It is axiomatic in international politics that delay and obfuscation creates opportunities. This was a lesson and insight that Gaddafi failed to appreciate. Had he played for time, offered a segregation of Libya and then played a longer psychologically-focused campaign, he may still be alive today.

Gaddafi’s employment of mercenaries showed from the outset how unsure he was about the loyalty of some parts of his military establishment. When a leader is so uncertain about such a fundamental point it shows that he is in a very bad situation. As events in Syria and Egypt have shown, when a dictator retains the loyalty of his armed forces it is difficult for a rebellion to gain the kind of traction needed to bring down a government.

One mistake Gaddafi and his henchmen was to make throughout the campaign was to underestimate NATO’s ISTAR capabilities, and the ways in which sensors could rapidly cue aircraft in to destroy emergent targets. All the NATO-wide experiments on sensor cueing that had been undertaken over a number of years suddenly all bore fruit. It was, and remains, an impressive capability and one that NATO should do all it can to maintain for the future. Despite the subordinate role played by the United States in the campaign, its ISTAR assets were essential to the precise nature of the way targets were attacked, helping avoid collateral damage.

Gaddafi failed to implement the full suite of asymmetric options that he could have done as the campaign unfolded. The efforts of the Libyan military in the maritime sphere were particularly derisory. Despite frequent attempts by Libyan Special Forces to mount operations at sea none were successful. Royal Navy submarines became adept at using their sonar systems to track the Rubber Inflatable Boats as they launched. Each mission was successfully intercepted. The Libyan Navy was almost ineffective and the half-hearted attempts to mine various harbours in Libya using a form of floating IED added little to the military effort. Had the Libyan Navy been able to confront and perhaps sink a NATO warship in Libyan coastal waters, with some loss of life, it may have placed what was an uneasy alliance under some increased pressure. Moreover had he been able to resort to cyberspace or to unleashing acts of terrorism in Europe – as he threatened to do at one point – he would have tested the political cohesion of the NATO alliance and a public wary of being drawn into yet another apparently endless campaign. A suicide bomb attack in London, Paris or any other national capital of a nation involved in the campaign, would have quickly created media comparisons with the backlash from the war in Iraq and its impact of Muslim communities in Europe.

Gaddafi’s harnessing of his terror weapons – the FROG and SCUD missiles – came to epitomise a military campaign that was flawed. The single time a SCUD was launched against the rebel forces it fell short and did not cause any casualties. By owning such weapons Gaddafi could well have terrorised the local people in Tripoli as the campaign moved into its end game. The way the Iraqis camouflaged and continued to fire their SCUD missiles in the 1991 war created huge problems for the coalition – causing the diversion of a great deal of military effort to detect and eliminate the launchers. In Libya on several occasions the launchers were discovered by ISTAR and quickly destroyed by attacks from the air. His failure to adopt the classic tactics of using human shields also missed an opportunity. The exceedingly low levels of civilian casualties during the war are a reflection of a huge effort put into targeting by NATO. But is also reflected the fact that Gaddafi was clearly no student of recent military history.

This catalogue of failures should be remembered and if necessary debated at length as people come to analyse the campaign in greater detail. It was Gaddafi’s ineptitude as a leader in a time of war, and the fact that he surrounded himself with family and sycophants, that led to his demise. Had he been more agile and flexible he could well have survived.

NATO Libyan Campaign Review II

The Paradigm of Intervention

In the immediate aftermath of publishing its much-maligned Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the United Kingdom’s coalition government became embroiled in a military adventure in Libya. Somewhat unexpectedly this would shine an intense spotlight on the outcome of the SDSR. It would also provide an immediate opportunity to conduct a detailed assessment of its impact on the United Kingdom’s ability to project military power onto the world stage using the outcome from the campaign to validate the decision-making that took place in the SDSR.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, perhaps tiring of all the criticism of the SDSR, seemed really keen to prove his doubters wrong. At the time of writing, as aircraft from many of the coalition partners involved in the Libyan campaign return home and the newly-recognised National Transitional Council (NTC) gets down to work to create a new Libya, the final outcome is far from certain.

For many commentators the outcome of the military campaign in Libya creates an opportunity to redefine the paradigm of intervention that has arisen since the events in America on 11 September 2001. Upstream activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hugely expensive, very complicated and difficult for member states with governments created from electoral mosaics across the political spectrum. As military campaigns they have had to learn whilst ‘in contact’ with our adversaries rather than lay out the doctrine of how to fight a war and then execute that approach.

For David Cameron this was not an approach that was sustainable. It is always difficult during wartime for a political leader to overtly criticize his armed forces. The ongoing military commitment of the United Kingdom provided a huge constraint on the Prime Minister’s freedom of manoeuvre. The general public would not wear any challenge to the military in the open. Cameron has insisted on at least one occasion that he has ‘robust’ discussions with the UK CDS – Sir David Richards.

What the nature of these discussions are one can only speculate, but it is not difficult to imagine that the Prime Minister has a specific set of views on the degree of overlap that exists between some areas of military capability. It is not hard to believe that one of the principles of David Cameron’s approach to defence matters is to imagine that the United Kingdom’s armed forces did have excess capacity that could be taken out. The question was how to do it?

Any leader who tried to place any blame for failure on the armed forces would pay a heavy political price. Cameron has instead not chosen to provide an audible criticism. He has chosen to be far more subtle. Through the mechanism of the SDSR he chose to take out capability that was felt to be redundant for the kind of balanced forms of warfare that he envisaged, with the ODA, the FCO and the MoD playing specific roles within an overall strategy by which the military instrument of power would be applied in the future.

It the heat of the SDSR, and given the speed with which is was undertaken, it is not difficult to imagine that the implications of the some of the decisions taken around the table were not discussed in any great depth. It was an assumed outcome that the force levels would be cut, the only issue was by how much.

Cameron’s doctrine for the United Kingdom’s armed forces has therefore been based on a covert recognition by some close members of the Cabinet that there was a little too much overlap built into the United Kingdom’s military capability. To state that view would have to receive the opprobrium of the press and the British public at large. To hold it covertly, only for its stealthy hand to be revealed in the wake of the SDSR, is a very different matter.

For David Cameron the outcome of the initial phase of the war in Libya will have reinforced his view that it’s now time for NATO to take similar ‘difficult decisions’ and to stop fielding equipment that sustains industries in countries that frankly cannot possibly get value for money out of the investment in equipment. What is needed is bulk buys of equipment from seasoned and expert suppliers. This will be at the heart of the next stage of the reformation on which David Cameron has embarked. It will prove a most difficult challenge. Resolving overlaps in the capabilities of the United Kingdom’s armed forces is one thing. Addressing the wider issues at a European and then NATO level is a very different matter.


AAC       Army Air Corps

AAG       Air-to-air Gun

APC        Armoured Personnel Carrier

AQIM     Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

ASaC      Airborne Surveillance and Control

AWACS  Airborne Early Warning and Control System

CIA         Central Intelligence Agency

CJEF       Combined Joint Expeditionary Force

COMUKTG Commander United Kingdom Task Group

COIN      Counter Insurgency

CSAT      Supreme Council of National Defence

FAC        Fast Attack Craft

FATA      Federally Administered Tribal Area

FEBA      Forward Edge of the Battle Area

GAINS    Global Positioning System Aided International Navigation System

GPS        Global Positioning System

IED         Improvised Explosive Device

ICC         International Criminal Court

IMINT    Image Intelligence

ISAF       International Security Assistance Force

ISTAR     Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Recognition

JFHQ      Joint Force Headquarters

JSF         Joint Strike Fighter

JSTARS   Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System

MBT       Main Battle Tank

MANPAD   Man Portable Air Defence

MRLS     Multi-Rocket Launch System

MoD      Ministry of Defence

NATO     North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

NEOCC   Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Coordination Cell

NSC        National Security Council

NTC        National Transitional Council

OAV       Other Armoured Vehicles

ODA       Overseas Development Aid

OV         Other Vehicles

ORBAT   Order of Battle

PUT        Pick-up Trucks

RAPTOR Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado

RFTG      Response Force Task Group

RAF        Royal Air Force

RN          Royal Navy

SAS        Special Air Service

SDSR      Strategic Defence and Security Review

SDR        Strategic Defence Review

SDT        Social Dominance Theory

SIS          Secret Intelligence Service

SPG        Self-Propelled Guns

TARDIS  Tactical Air Reconnaissance Deployable Intelligence System

TIW        Tactical IMINT Wing

TLAM     Tactical Land Attack Missile

TLC         Toyota Land Cruiser

UAE       United Arab Emirates

UN         United Nations

UNITAR United Nations Institute for Training and Research

UNOSAT  UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme

UNSCR   United Nations Security Council Resolution

Skynight: The Deadliest Night Fighter in Korea

With a profile that would never be considered glamorous, the Douglas Skyknight was a conventional design delivering truly mediocre performance. Still, the Navy needed a sedan, not a sports car, and designer Ed Heinemann, who won fame for the World War II Douglas Dauntless and the 1953 Collier Trophy for the F4D Skyray, gave them what they wanted. Surprisingly, Skyknights would soldier on for two decades of service, easily outlasting speedier, more nimble contemporaries.

Conceived as the Navy’s first purpose-built night fighter, the Douglas F3D was built big to accommodate a complicated radar system along with a powerful battery of four 20-mm cannon. There were three radars: search, fire control, and a novel tail-mounted unit warning of threats approaching from behind. Pilots took off in darkness, flew by instruments, and trusted the radar operators sitting next to them to guide them to enemy aircraft that blipped across scopes mounted on the radar console.

The major production version of the Skyknight was the F3D-2. Preliminary specifications for the F3D-2 were released by the Navy on May 23, 1949, and the letter of intent was issued in October of 1949. The F3D-2 had improved cockpit air conditioning, a thicker armored windshield, revised electronic equipment, as well as improved versions of interception, tail warning, and gun targeting radars. In addition, the F3D-2 had a General Electric G-3 autopilot and was provided with wing spoilers for an improved rate of roll. According to original plans, it was to have been powered by two 4600 lb.s.t. Westinghouse J46-WE-3 turbojets housed in enlarged nacelles, which would have offered a substantially enhanced performance.

Unfortunately, the J46 experienced severe developmental difficulties and was still not available when the first F3D-2 was ready for its maiden flight in early 1951, and the first F3D-2 was powered instead by two 3400 lb.s.t. J34-WE-36s. It took off on its maiden flight on February 14, 1951. In the event, the J46 never did overcome its teething troubles and production of this engine was cancelled, forcing all production F3D-2s to settle for the less-powerful J34-WE-36s. However, all F3D-2s retained the larger engine nacelles that had been designed for the J46.

A total of 237 F3D-2s were built, the last example being produced on March 23, 1952.

The following Navy squadrons operated the F3D-2: VC-3, VC-4, VC-33, VX-3, VX-4, VX-5, VFAW-3, VF-11, VF-14, VF-101, VF-121, and VT-86.

The following Marine Corps squadrons operated the F3D-2: VMF(N)-542, VMF(N)-513, VMF(N)-531, VMF(N)-46, VMC-3, VMFT(N)-20, VMCJ-1, VMCJ-2, and VMCJ-3.

VMF(N)-542 deployed to Korea with its F3D-2s in the spring of 1952. They were soon transferred to VMF(N)-513 based at Kunsan (K-8). Their primary mission was to fly night escort missions for Air Force B-29 bombers. On November 2, 1952, pilot Maj William Stratton and radar operator Hans Hoagland shot down a North Korean Yak-15, the first jet-vs-jet night kill.

On the night of 2:3 November 1952, a Sky Knight piloted by Marine Major William Stratton, accompanied by radar operator Master Sergeant Hans Hoagland, shot down what they reported from the exhaust pattern to be a Yak-15 fighter, and claimed a confirmed kill since the Sky knight flew through debris, narrowly evading damage. Russian records indicate the target was actually a MiG-15

— the Yak-15 was really not suited for operational use, and wasn’t used in combat in Korea or anywhere else — and though the Sky knight set the MiG on fire, the pilot managed to extinguish the flames and get back to base. The MiG was fully operational in a few days, a tribute to its rugged construction.

However, five days later, on the night of 7:8 November, another F-3D Sky knight under the command of Marine Captain Oliver R. Davis with radar operator Warrant Officer D. F. “Ding” Fessler shot down a MiG-15. Russian sources do confirm this kill and that the pilot, a Lieutenant Kovalyov, ejected safely.

On 10 December 1952, a Sky knight piloted by Marine Lieutenant Joseph Corvi with radar operator Sergeant Dan George spotted a “bogey” on radar. They could not establish visual contact, but since no “friendlies” were supposed to be in the area, they fired on the target.

A kill was confirmed when Sergeant George spotted a wing tumbling past them. This was one of the first times when an aircraft destroyed an enemy that the crew could not see. It turned out to be one of the little Po-2 biplanes used by the North Koreans to harass UN forces at night.

The Po-2 was a difficult target, since it flew low and slow, it was small and agile, and its mostly wooden construction did not show up well on radar.

The Marine Sky Knights claimed a total of at least six kills and no B-29s under their escort were lost to enemy fighters. Two Skyknights were lost in combat for unknown reasons.

In subsequent night actions, F3D-2s accounted for another Yak-15 and six MiG-15s, with no losses to themselves, which gave the Skyknight an overall 8-0 superiority in Korea. In addition, no Air Force B-29 was ever lost on a F3D-2-escorted mission. VMF(N)-513 crews also flew some night strike and interdiction sorties. Two Skyknights were lost in combat to unknown causes.

ARAB MiG-21F/FL “FISHBED” 1961-67





During the opening attacks of the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli Air Force struck Arab air forces in four attack waves. In the first wave, IDF aircraft claimed to have destroyed eight Egyptian aircraft in air-to-air combat, of which seven were MiG-21s; Egypt claimed five kills scored by MiG-21PFs. During the second wave Israel claimed four MiG-21s downed in air-to-air combat, and the third wave resulted in two Syrian and one Iraqi MiG-21s claimed destroyed in the air. The fourth wave destroyed many more Syrian MiG-21s on the ground. Overall, Egypt lost around 100 out of about 110 MiG-21s they had, almost all on the ground; Syria lost 35 of 60 MiG-21F-13s and MiG-21PFs in the air and on the ground.

Between the end of the Six Day War and the start of the War of Attrition, IDF Mirage fighters had six confirmed kills of Egyptian MiG-21s, in exchange for Egyptian MiG-21s scoring two confirmed and three probable kills against Israeli aircraft. During the War of Attrition itself, Israel claimed 56 confirmed kills[citation needed] against Egyptian MiG-21s, while Egyptian MiG-21s claimed 14 confirmed and 12 probable kills against IDF aircraft. During this same time period, from the end of the Six Day War to the end of the War of Attrition, Israel claimed a total of 25 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed; the Syrians claimed three confirmed and four probable kills of Israel aircraft.

High losses to Egyptian aircraft and continuous bombing during the War of Attrition caused Egypt to ask the Soviet Union for help. In June 1970, Soviet pilots and SAM crews arrived with their equipment. On 22 June 1970, a Soviet pilot flying a MiG-21MF shot down an Israeli A-4E. After some more successful intercepts by Soviet pilots and another Israeli A-4 being shot down on 25 July, Israel decided to plan an ambush in response. On 30 July Israeli F-4s lured Soviet MiG-21s into an area where they were ambushed by Mirages. Asher Snir, flying a Mirage IIICJ, destroyed a Soviet MiG-21; Avihu Ben-Nun and Aviam Sela, both piloting F-4Es, each got a kill, and an unidentified pilot in another Mirage scored the fourth kill against the Soviet-flown MiG-21s. Three Soviet pilots were killed and the Soviet Union was alarmed by the losses. However, Soviet MiG-21 pilots and SAM crews destroyed a total of 21 Israeli aircraft, which helped to convince the Israelis to sign a ceasefire agreement.

In September 1973, a large air battle erupted between Syria and Israel; Israel claimed a total of 12 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed, while Syria claimed eight kills scored by MiG-21s and admitted five losses.

During the Yom Kippur War, Israel claimed 73 kills against Egyptian MiG-21s (65 confirmed). Egypt claimed 27 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft by its MiG-21s, plus eight probables. However, according to most Israeli sources, these were exaggerated claims as Israeli air-to-air combat losses for the entire war did not exceed five to fifteen.

On the Syrian front of the war, 6 October 1973 saw a flight of Syrian MiG-21MFs shoot down an IDF A-4E and a Mirage IIICJ while losing three of their own to Israeli IAI Neshers. On 7 October, Syrian MiG-21MFs downed two Israeli F-4Es, three Mirage IIICJs and an A-4E while losing two of their MiGs to Neshers and one to an F-4E, plus two to friendly SAM fire. Iraqi MiG-21PFs also operated on this front, and on that same day destroyed two A-4Es while losing one MiG. On 8 October 1973, Syrian MiG-21PFMs downed three F-4Es, but six of their MiG-21s were lost. By the end of the war, Syrian MiG-21s claimed a total of 30 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft; 29 MiG-21s were claimed (26 confirmed) as destroyed by the IDF.

Between the end of the Yom Kippur War and the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel had received modern F-15s and F-16s, which were far superior to the old Syrian MiG-21MFs. According to the IDF, these new aircraft accounted for the destruction of 24 Syrian MiG-21s over this time period, though Syria did claim five kills against IDF aircraft with their MiG-21s armed with outdated K-13 missiles.

The 1982 Lebanon War started on 6 June 1982, and in the course of that war the IDF claimed to have destroyed about 45 Syrian MiG-21MFs. Syria claimed two confirmed and 15 probable kills of Israeli aircraft. In addition, at least two Israeli F-15 and one F-4 was damaged in combat with the MiG-21. This air battle was the largest to occur since the Korean War.

Egyptian Air-to-Air Victories since 1948

Both the Arab and Israeli purchase of Mach 2 fighters shared one common feature – the acquired type was not selected following an exhaustive competitive or evaluative process. The MiG-21 and Mirage IIIC were simply offered by the USSR and France, respectively, on a “take it or leave it” basis, as no other Mach 2-capable combat aircraft were then available to the Arab nations or Israel.

Initially at least, the Egyptian acquisition of the MiG-21F ran in parallel to the Israeli procurement of the Mirage IIICJ. As IDF/AF pilots were converting onto their new fighter in France in 1961, so their EAF counterparts were undertaking a MiG-21 conversion course in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan. Deliveries of Shahaks to Israel commenced in April 1962, with the first of 50 MiG-21F-13s reaching Egypt the following month. There were differences, however. While the IDF/AF equipped its fighter squadrons with 24 aircraft, the standard EAF unit was issued with just 15 jets. Like the Israelis, the Egyptians equipped three squadrons with the new fighter, two of them being based at Inshas, in the Nile Delta, and one at Cairo West – all three were reportedly subordinated to a single air brigade.

The EAF and IDF/AF also differed in respect to their organisation, as the Israelis did not divide their airspace up into zones of responsibility or have units that were the equivalent of Egyptian air brigades. The IDF/AF had only squadrons and air bases. The latter were administrative units in their own right in charge of the day-to-day running of the squadrons assigned to them, as well as base defence and logistics. However, the squadrons received their operational orders from IDF/AF headquarters, as it directly controlled all missions. The EAF’s organisational structure was more complex. Although its bases functioned in a similar way administratively to their IDF/AF counterparts, the overall chain of command also included air zones and air brigades. EAF headquarters issued orders to air zones, which in turn passed them on to air brigades. To further complicate things, a MiG-21 squadron flying from one base could be subordinated to an air brigade with headquarters at another air base.

Egyptian MiG-21F-13 acquisition continued into 1964, and in January of that year IDF/AF Intelligence stated that the EAF’s order of battle included 60 “Fishbed-Cs”. Elsewhere in the Middle East, both Iraq and Syria had received MiG-21F-13s by 1964. The IrAF would eventually take delivery of 60 “Fishbed-Cs”. Finally, the Algerians also started to receive a small number of MiG-21F-13s from 1965. An updated IDF/AF Intelligence evaluation from April of that year reported Egyptian MiG-21 strength at 60 aircraft, with 30 more in Syria and 16 in Iraq. The numerical balance of power in April 1965 was, therefore, with the Arab nations, who could field 106 MiG-21s versus 67 Shahaks. The EAF activated No 40 Sqn in March 1965 at Abu Sueir, this unit becoming Egypt’s fourth MiG-21 squadron.

Arab pilots praised their MiG-21F-13s for sheer performance and robust reliability. They were critical of its limited range and austere weapon system, however – both faults that also afflicted the Shahak. The MiG-21F-13’s firepower consisted of just two infrared-homing R-3S “Atoll” AAMs and a single 30mm cannon that only had enough ammunition to be fired for about two seconds. The combination of these weapons gave the “Fishbed-C” a theoretical engagement range of two miles down to 100 metres.

The two Mach 2 fighters shared comparable performance, and except for the MiG-21’s all-moving horizontal tailplanes, they both had a similar delta wing configuration. The horizontal tailplanes increased the wing loading for the Soviet fighter, however, despite it being lighter than the Mirage III. This in turn meant that the French aircraft enjoyed superior sustained performance in a dogfight, most prominently in horizontal manoeuvring. Thanks to its light weight, the MiG-21 had a better thrust-to-weight ratio, giving it an advantage in vertical manoeuvring.

In respect to the fighters’ internal fuel capacity, the MiG-21F-13 and Mirage IIICJ were closely matched at 2,480 litres and 2,550 litres, respectively. The Shahak had greater combat persistence though thanks to its three-missile/twin-gun armament, the latter capable of firing twice as many rounds from the larger magazine fitted in the fighter’s gun pack. The Shahak’s superiority in this area increased still further with the introduction of the MiG-21FL in the Middle East. The latter was slightly heavier than the MiG-21F-13 thanks to its improved avionics (primarily an RP-21 Spfir (Sapphire) AI radar), so the Soviet fighter’s marginal thrust-to-weight ratio advantage over the Shahak disappeared.

Egypt received the first of its 45 to 50 MiG-21FLs in 1965, and these reached operational status the following year. The designation FL was used both by an export version of the MiG-21PFM and a variant manufactured in India. However, the PFM and the Indian-built FL had a twin-barrelled Gsh-23 23mm cannon in an externally mounted pod beneath the fuselage. The MiG-21FLs in Egypt were not fitted with these pods until after the Six Day War, being solely armed with a pair of heat-seeking R-3S missiles. They could more properly be designated MiG-21PFs. In most respects the PF was even less suited to the kind of fighting involving Arab pilots than the MiG-21F-13, which at least had reasonably good cockpit visibility and a powerful 30mm cannon. In fact they came to be seen as a disaster for the Arab air arms that flew them in 1967.

The McDonnell F-4 Phantom


The big F-4 fighter-bomber was gradually evolved from the F3H, with which it had no more than a configurational similarity. Despite its size and bulky look, the F-4 had excellent performance and good maneuverability; it was adopted by both the USN and the USAF. Early F-4’s had no fixed gun, but this was corrected after combat experience in Vietnam showed the need for one. Over 5000 were built, making the F-4 one of the most numerous modern combat aircraft. Many are still in service. Now and then, plans are announced to upgrade the F-4 with new engines and electronics. The RF-4 is a recce version of the F-4 fighter with a camera nose. Currently retired F-4s are being converted into QF-4 target drones.

The F-4 Phantom II (simply “F-4 Phantom” after 1990) is a two-place (tandem), supersonic, long-range, all-weather fighter-bomber built by (originally McDonnell Aircraft Corporation) McDonnell Douglas Corporation. It was operated by the US Navy, the USMC and later the USAF, from 1961 until 1995. It is still in service with other nations. In service, it earned it nicknames like “Rhino” (a reference to both its prodigious nose and its rhinoceros-like toughness) and “Double-Ugly”/”DUFF” (Double Ugly Fat F*er, a reference to the B-52 Stratofortress).

Its primary mission capabilities are: long range, high-altitude intercepts utilizing air-to-air missiles as primary armament; long-range attack missions utilizing conventional or nuclear weapons as a primary armament; and close air support missions utilizing a choice of bombs, rockets and missiles as primary armament. It was one of the few aircraft types that have served in the US Navy, USMC and USAF. It was one of the longest serving military aircraft post-war.

First flown May 27, 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for US Navy fleet defense. The initial F4H-1 (later F-4B) entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it (as the F-110A Spectre) for close air support, interdiction, and counter-air operations and, in 1962, approved a USAF version, the F-4C. The F-4C made its first flight on May 27, 1963, and production deliveries began in November 1963. The Navy/USMC version progressed to the improved F-4J mark, with earlier F-4Bs upgraded in service to F-4N and later the F-4J upgraded to F-4S standard. The USAF replaced the F-4C with the optimized F-4D, and then, from 1967, the F-4E with an internal M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon. 116 F-4Es were later converted for the SEAD “Wild Weasel” role as the F-4G. Reconnaissance versions were also built, the RF-4C for the USAF, RF-4B for the USMC, and the export RF-4E.

Phantom II production ended in 1979 after over 5,000 had been built — more than 2,800 for the USAF, about 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest for friendly foreign nations.

In 1965 the first USAF Phantom IIs were sent to Vietnam. Early versions lacked any gun armament. Coupled with the unreliability of the air-to-air missiles (AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder) of the time, this major drawback resulted in the aircraft loss after they ran out of missiles. During the course of the Vietnam War, its contemporaries, the MiG-19 and MiG-21, inflicted heavy losses on the F-4s when the American aircraft were ambushed after returning from bombing assignments. This prompted the USAF to introduce an M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon in the nose of the aircraft, below the radome (although no Navy or Marine Phantoms ever had an integral gun). This later version was the mainstay of the USAF Phantom II forces. The last Phantoms in USAF service were retired in December 2004 with the deactivation of the 20th Fighter Squadron, the Silver Lobos. The last Phantoms in Marine Corps service were F-4S models of VMFA-112 and were retired in 1992 when VMFA-112 transitioned to the F/A-18A.

Naval aviators flying the F-4 transitioned to the F-14 Tomcat in the mid-seventies. Some aircraft, however, remained in service aboard the Midway class ships, as their decks and hangars were too small to handle the much larger F-14. Eventually, all Navy F-4s were replaced by the F-14 or F/A-18 Hornet. The F-14 boasted more powerful engines, better agility, a longer-range weapons system, and better close-range dogfight capability.

Operation BOLO

Event Date: January 2, 1967

A ruse designed by the U. S. Air Force to engage Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF, North Vietnamese Air Force) MiG-21s on an equal footing. Because the Lyndon B. Johnson administration prohibited U. S. aircraft from bombing airfields in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam) until April 1967, the U. S. Air Force sought another method of reducing increasingly dangerous levels of MiG activity in North Vietnam. Consequently, in December 1966 Seventh Air Force Headquarters planned a trap for the MiGs by exploiting deception and the weaknesses of the North Vietnamese ground radar network.

Normally U. S. Air Force strike packages flew in standard formations, which included refueling Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers at lower altitudes than their McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II escorts. In Operation BOLO, F-4s imitated F-105 formations-including their electronic countermeasure emissions, attack patterns, and communications-to convince North Vietnamese ground controllers that their radars showed a normal F-105 strike mission. However, when controllers vectored VPAF MiG interceptors against their enemies, the MiG-21s found F-4s, equipped for air-to-air combat, rather than the slower bomb-laden F-105s.

To maximize fighter coverage over Hanoi and deny North Vietnamese MiGs an exit route to airfields in China, Operation BOLO called for 14 flights of U. S. Air Force fighters to converge over the city. Aircraft from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based at Ubon Air Base in Thailand would fly into the Hanoi area from Laos, while fighters from the 366th TFW based at Da Nang would arrive from the Gulf of Tonkin.

Marginal weather on January 2, 1967, delayed the start of the mission until the afternoon and prevented more than three flights of F-4s from reaching the target area. Colonel Robin Olds, 8th TFW commander, led the first of the three flights; Lieutenant Colonel Daniel “Chappie” James led the second flight; and Captain John Stone led the third flight. Olds’s flight passed over the Phuc Yen airfield twice before MiG-21s popped out of the clouds. The intense air battle that followed lasted less than 15 minutes but was the largest single aerial dogfight of the Vietnam War. Twelve F-4s destroyed seven VPAF MiG-21s and claimed two more probable kills. Colonel Olds shot down two aircraft himself. There were no U. S. Air Force losses. The VPAF admits that it lost five MiG-21s in this battle. One of the Vietnamese pilots shot down that day, Nguyen Van Coc, went on to become North Vietnam’s top-scoring ace, credited with shooting down nine American aircraft.

Ultimately Operation BOLO destroyed almost half of the VPAF inventory of MiG-21s. Although bad weather prevented the full execution of the plan, it did achieve its primary objective of reducing U. S. aerial losses. Because of the reduced number of MiG-21s, the VPAF had no choice but to stand down its MiG-21 operations.

References Bell, Kenneth H. 100 Missions North. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1993. Middleton Drew, ed. Air War-Vietnam. New York: Arno, 1978. Momyer, William W. Airpower in Three Wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1978. Nordeen, Lon O. Air Warfare in the Missile Age. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985. Pimlott, John. Vietnam: The Decisive Battles. New York: Macmillan, 1990. Ta Hong, Vu Ngoc, and Nguyen Quoc Dung. Lich Su Khong Quan Nhan Dan Viet Nam (1955-1977) [History of the People’s Air Force of Vietnam (1955-1977)]. Hanoi: People’s Army Publishing House, 1993.



“The P-38 was very unusual. Imagine what I felt when first climbing on board that airplane. Sitting on that tricycle landing gear, it was very high off the ground. There was a stepladder that dropped out of the tail end of the fuselage pod, and you took two steps up this ladder and the third step was onto the wing next to the canopy. … It was a good sized airplane. In comparison the P-39 was a midget, almost like a toy.

It was very fast and had good firepower. That gave a lot of people false confidence when they first went to P-38s. Their limitations on tactics were the same as those we were accustomed to in the P-40s, but even more so. You did not go looking for a close-in dogfight with an Oscar or Zero. Japanese planes were quicker … at slow speed. But new pilots did not always realize the consequences. If the speed bled off a P-38, which happened very easily, it could be in serious trouble against a Japanese fighter. Many of our men found out the hard way, particularly when we first started receiving the P-38s.”

Robert DeHaven, a P-38, 14-kill ace with the 49th Fighter Group

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a formidable and unique fighter. With its distinctive twin booms each containing an engine and a single, central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament. Originally, due to be called the Atlanta, it was a failed RAF order for 143 aircraft that led to the Lightning name. As well as interception, the P-38 was used in night fighting, photo reconnaissance, radar and visual pathfinding for bombers and with drops tanks fitted as a long-range escort fighter.

The P-38 came about in response to a United States Army Air Corps specification in February 1937 known as Circular Proposal X-608. It was based on performance goals set by First Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey and First Lieutenant Gordon P. Saville. The specification was for a twin-engine, high-altitude “interceptor” having “the tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraft at high altitude.

  1. A speed of at least 360 mph at 20,000 feet. (The desired maximum speed was 400 mph).
  2. Climb to 20,000 feet in six minutes or less.
  3. Fuel for one hour at operating speed.
  4. Armament was to be designed around a Rapid-fire cannon, as destruction of enemy bombers was considered the primary function.

At the time these were the toughest proposals the United States Army Air Corps had set. The proposal also required a liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 engines with turbo-superchargers and gave extra points for tricycle landing gear.

Lockheed set to work on meeting the specification led by the famous Kelly Johnson who would go on to later design the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes. Kelly considered a range of design proposals including having two engines back to back with a push pull propeller arrangement. The final design was contemporary for fighter design at the time and in some respects ahead of its time.

The XP-38 gondola mockup with armament, concentrated in the nose of the aircraft and was designed to mount two .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns, two .30-caliber Browning’s, and a T1 Army Ordnance 23 mm autocannon with a rotary magazine In the YP-38s, a larger John Browning-designed, Colt-made M9 1.46 in autocannon with 15 rounds replaced the T1. Although the M9 did not perform reliably in flight. Further armament experiments from March to June 1941 resulted in the P-38E combat configuration of four M2 Browning machine guns, and one Hispano .79 in autocannon with 150 rounds. Having all the armament was a move away from almost all other U.S aircraft at the time. A P-38 could reliably hit targets at any range up to 1,000yd.

The Lockheed design also incorporated tricycle undercarriage and a bubble canopy with two 1,000hp turbo-supercharged 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engines fitted with counter-rotating propellers to eliminate the effect of engine torque which was put into practice by engines that had engine crankshafts operating in opposite directions. Another new design feature was the use of stainless steel and flush riveted aluminum skin which along with its twin engines helped it become the first fighter to pass the 400-mph mark. The YP-38 won the competition on 23 June 1937 and a prototype XP-38 although the money awarded for the prototype did not cover the prototypes eventual cost which was nearly five times the amount awarded to build the prototype.

Construction on the XP-38 began in July 1938 and the XP-38 made its first flight on 27 January 1939. However, on 11 February the prototype crashed just short of Mitchel Field runway in Hempstead, New York due to carburetor icing. The XP-38 had proved itself enough in is few short number of flights for the USAAC to order 13 prototypes now designated s YP – the Y being for prototype and the X for experimental. Initial production faced delays due to the mass production techniques required making them substantially different in construction from the XP-38. Lockheed’s works also needed to be expanded to accommodate production.

The first YP-38 was not completed until September 1940, with its maiden flight on 17 September. The final YP-38 being delivered to the USACC in June 1942. The YP-38 was actually lighter and the rotation of the propellers changed from inward to outward to improve stability as a gun platform. During test flights wat was initially believed to be tail flutter was found. The problem was that as the aircraft approached Mach 0.68, especially in a dive the YP-38s tail would start to shake violently and the nose pull downward making any dive even steeper. Once in the dive the aircraft would enter a high-speed compressibility stall. This was characterized by the controls locking up and the pilot being unable to pull out. In denser air there was a small chance the pilot would be able to pull out of the dive. In once such instance the pilot a Major Signa Gilkey managed to recover gradually using elevator trim. This issue was of a concern to Lockheed, but they also had the pressure of fulfilling the current order of aircraft. It was not until November 1941 that the engineering team had time to start tackling the problem. Several different solutions were tried including spring-loaded servo tabs on the elevator trailing edge that would give almost a power assistance to the controls once yoke forces rose to over 30 pounds. This however failed and an YP-38 and its pilot lost after a high G pull-out and the tail unit failing. The USAAC were positive it was caused by flutter and ordered the Lockheed design team to look at the tail. Flutter at the time, was a common issue with tails that were too flexible. However, the YP-38s tail was made from a rigid aluminum construction as opposed to the usual fabric construction common at the time. Lockheed skinned one tail with 63% thicker aluminum, but this did not solve the problem. Extra external masses were also tried but to no avail. Although these external masses were added to every new P-38 coming off the production line.

Finally, after tests, in a Mach 0.75 wind tunnel the compressibility problem was revealed to be the center of lift moving back toward the tail when in high-speed airflow. The problem was solved by changing the geometry of the wing’s underside when diving. This was achieved with quick acting dive flaps installed outboard of the engine nacelles. They extended downward 35° in 1.5 seconds. The flaps did not act as a speed brake; they affected the center of pressure distribution in a way that retained the wing’s lift. In February 1943 Lockheed’s test pilots proved this to be a successful solution. A kit was also designed so that the flaps could be retrofitted to existing P-38s. The flaps were incorporated into production line in June 1944 on the last 210 P-38Js. In the end, only the final 50% of all P-38s produced had the flaps factory fitted.

Johnson later recalled: “I broke an ulcer over compressibility on the P-38 because we flew into a speed range where no one had ever been before, and we had difficulty convincing people that it wasn’t the funny-looking airplane itself, but a fundamental physical problem. We found out what happened when the Lightning shed its tail and we worked during the whole war to get 15 more mph of speed out of the P-38. We saw compressibility as a brick wall for a long time. Then we learned how to get through it.”

Another issue found with the P-38 was it tendency to violently Yaw if it had an engine failure at takeoff. This was due to its unique design feature of outwardly rotating propellers which if failed caused a sudden drag to be induced yawing the nose and rolling the wingtip down on the side of the dead engine. If the pilot simply increased power to the good engine this made the situation worse and the P-38 would flip over. This issue was overcome by reducing power on the good engine feathering the prop on the failed engine and increasing thrust again on the good engine.

The first unit to receive P-38s was the 1st Fighter Group. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the unit joined the 14th Pursuit Group in San Diego to provide West Coast defense. The first Lightning to see active service was a P-38E in which the guns were replaced by four K17 cameras. They joined the 8th Photographic Squadron out of Australia on 4 April 1942.

Three P-38E F-4s were operated by the Royal Australian Air Force in this theater for a short period beginning in September 1942.

On 29 May 1942, 25 P-38s began operating in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The fighter’s long range made it well-suited to the campaign over the almost 1,200 mi –long island chain, and it would be flown there for the rest of the war.

After the Battle of Midway, the USAAF began redeploying fighter groups to Britain as part of Operation Bolero, and Lightnings of the 1st Fighter Group were flown across the Atlantic via Iceland. On 14 August 1942, Second Lieutenant Elza Shahan of the 27th Fighter Squadron, and Second Lieutenant Joseph Shaffer of the 33rd Squadron operating out of Iceland shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor over the Atlantic. Shahan in his P-38F downed the Condor; Shaffer, flying either a P-40C or a P-39, had already set an engine on fire. This was the first Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed by the USAAF.

After 347 sorties with no enemy contact, the 1st, 14th and 82nd Fighter Groups were transferred to the 12th Air Force in North Africa as part of the force being built up for Operation Torch. On 19 November 1942, Lightning’s escorted a group of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers on a raid over Tunis. The P-38 remained active in the Mediterranean for the rest of the war. It was in this theatre that the P-38 suffered its heaviest losses in the air. On 25 August 1943, 13 P-38s were shot down in a single sortie by Bf 109s without achieving a single kill. On 2 September 10 P-38s were shot down, in return for a single kill. Kurt Bühligen, a German pilot, later said “The P-38 fighter along with the B-24 were easy to burn. Once in Africa we were a flight of six and met eight P-38s and shot down seven.” Experiences over Germany had shown a need for long-range escort fighters to protect the Eighth Air Force’s heavy bomber operations. The P-38Hs of the 55th Fighter Group were transferred to the Eighth in England in September 1943, and were joined by the 20th, 364th and 479th Fighter Groups soon after. P-38s soon joined Spitfires in escorting the early Fortress raids over Europe.

A little-known role of the P-38 in the European theatre was that of fighter-bomber during the invasion of Normandy and the Allied advance across France into Germany. The 370th participated in ground attack missions across Europe until February 1945 when the unit changed over to the P-51 Mustang.

After some disastrous raids in 1944 with B-17s escorted by P-38s and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, Jimmy Doolittle, then head of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, asking for an evaluation of the various American fighters. Fleet Air Arm Captain and test pilot Eric Brown stated, “We had found out that the Bf109 and the Fw190 could fight up to a Mach of 0.75, three-quarters the speed of sound. We checked the Lightning and it couldn’t fly in combat faster than 0.68. So it was useless. We told Doolittle that all it was good for was photo-reconnaissance and had to be withdrawn from escort duties. And the funny thing is that the Americans had great difficulty understanding this because the Lightning had the two top aces in the Far East.”

However, the P-38 found itself most extensively used with success in the Pacific theatre, where it proved ideally suited, combining excellent performance with very long range, and had the added reliability of two engines for long missions over water. The P-38 was used in a variety of roles, especially escorting bombers at altitudes between 18 and 25,000ft. The P-38 was credited with destroying more Japanese aircraft than any other USAAF fighter. Whilst the P-38 could not out-turn the A6M Zero and most other Japanese fighters when flying below 200 mph, its superior speed coupled with a good rate of climb meant that it could utilize energy tactics, making multiple high-speed passes at its target. Also, its focused firepower was even more deadly to lightly armored Japanese warplanes than to the Germans’. The concentrated, parallel stream of bullets allowed aerial victory at much longer distances than fighters carrying wing guns.

The end of the war left the USAAF with thousands of P-38s rendered obsolete by the jet age. The last P-38s in service with the United States Air Force were retired in 1949. A total of 100 late-model P-38L and F-5 Lightning’s were acquired by Italy through an agreement dated April 1946. Delivered, after refurbishing, at the rate of one per month, they finally were all sent to the AMI by 1952. The Lightning’s served in 4 Stormo and other units including 3 Stormo, flying reconnaissance over the Balkans, ground attack, naval cooperation and air superiority missions. Due to unfamiliarity in operating heavy fighters, old engines, and pilot errors, a large number of P-38s were lost in at least 30 accidents, many of them fatal. Despite this, many Italian pilots liked the P-38 because of its excellent visibility on the ground and stability on takeoff. The Italian P-38s were phased out in 1956; none survived the inevitable scrapyard.

Surplus P-38s were also used by other foreign air forces with 12 sold to Honduras and 15 retained by China. Six F-5s and two unarmed black two-seater P-38s were operated by the Dominican Air Force based in San Isidro Airbase, Dominican Republic in 1947. The majority of wartime Lightning’s present in the continental U.S. at the end of the war were put up for sale for US$1,200 apiece; the rest were scrapped. P-38s in distant theatres of war were bulldozed into piles and abandoned or scrapped; very few avoided that fate. This brought the end to a unique and legendary fighter, it was not without its issues and overshadowed by the P-51 but was without a doubt a great American warbird.

Israeli Skyhawks

An A-4H of No. 102 ‘Flying Tigers’ Squadron, upgraded with most of the features of the A-4N.

Israel (Israel Air Force/Defence Force)

Israel is and has been the largest A-4 operator outside the US. Up to 1976, the Israel Defence Force/Air Force (IDF/AF) is believed to have acquired 321 new and used Skyhawks. A further seventeen TA-4Js were delivered in the early 1990s for a total of 338, although some sources give a figure as high as 355.

Israel first requested Skyhawks in 1964. In February 1966 the US agreed to supply Israel with A-4s if it agreed to certain demands and in August a contract was signed for the first twenty-four of a version of the A-4E to be designated A-4H. There was an option, soon taken up, for a further twenty-four. Israel had pledged to allow more and fuller inspections of the nuclear research facilities at Dimona and that their Skyhawks would not be equipped with nuclear weapons.

The first A-4H was flown at Palmdale by test pilot John Lane on 27 October 1967. Prior to delivery of the Skyhawks, Israeli pilots and groundcrew trained in Florida with VA-44 and VA-45, although this was interrupted somewhat by the Six-Day War in June 1967, which saw the first group of pilots urgently recalled to Israel to rejoin their units.

The initial delivery of four A-4Hs arrived at the port of Haifa on 29 ready for flight by 1 January. These became the first American jets to enter service with the warring nations in the Middle East. Known as the ‘Ayit’ (Vulture) in IDF/AF service, they soon began to replace Dassault Ouragons and Mystères in the ground attack and close air support roles. The first unit to transition to the Skyhawk was 109 ‘Valley’ Tayeset (Squadron) at Hatzor, with whom it replaced the Mystère IV Compared to the older French jets, the A-4 offered greater lifting capability, better engine reliability (requiring a tear-down inspection each 200 hours versus every thirty hours for the Mystère IV), greater speed and longer range, and the option of aerial refuelling. Using J52-P8A engines supplied as spares with the A-4s Israel reengined at least twenty-five of its Super Mystère B2s in 1969-72 to create the ‘Sa’ar’ (Tempest), which proved faster than the Skyhawk due to its slicker airframe and a very effective ground attack platform in the 1973 war.

The first Skyhawk combat missions came on 15 February 1968, when A-4s of 109 ‘Valley’ Squadron attacked Jordanian artillery and Palestinian bases along the Israel-Jordan border following attacks on Israeli settlements. The proximity of the target to the A-4s’ base at Hatzor meant that all five pylons could be used for carrying bombs, which at that time were 2501b and 5001b French-made weapons.

New squadrons formed as Skyhawk deliveries continued. No. 102 ‘Flying Tiger’ Squadron formed at Ramat-David in June 1968. Later it became the advanced jet training squadron. No.115 Flying Dragon’ Squadron received A-4Hs in March 1969 at Nevatim. In March 1971, 116 ‘Flying Wing’ Squadron converted to the A-4E from the Mystère IV, followed by 110 ‘Knights of the North’ at Ramat-David with A-4Hs. Just before the Yom Kippur war in October 1973, No. 140 ‘Golden Eagle’ Squadron began forming with A-4Es as the advanced training unit, completing the process after the war. In April 1976 143 ‘Smashing Parrot’ squadron began A-4E operations at Etzion in April 1976. Finally, reserve unit No. 147 ‘Battering Ram’ squadron was re-established in August 1978 with A-4Ns at Hatzerim. The Flight School at Hatzerim, also known as No 252 Squadron, used single- and two-seat A-4s from 1972, with the former mainly being aircraft borrowed from the ‘Flying Tigers’.

The initial deliveries of forty-eight A-4Hs were followed by a further forty-two to make ninety of this model, derived from the A-4F. The last of these arrived in 1970. Somewhat surprisingly considering US losses in Vietnam and the political fallout from the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in June 1969, the US government released twenty-five A-4Es for supply to Israel in 1969, followed by another thirty-five for a total of sixty. These came from Navy and Marine Corps squadrons, some of which were forced to revert to the A-4C because of shortages of A-4Es. The A-4Es were shipped in three batches during 1971 and were issued to 116, 110 and 102 Squadrons in turn.

Israel’s A-4Es and A-4Hs were heavily involved in the ‘War of Attrition’ with Egypt of 1969-70. During this time the TA-4H joined the inventory. This was a version of the TA-4J with Israeli equipment, five pylons and a combat capability more akin to that of the TA-4E In some US documents the last fifteen two-seaters built for Israel are referred to the TA-4J(H). Although mainly used for conversion training, the IDF/AF two-seaters were also employed in a combat role as and when necessary, including as forward air controllers. A total of twenty-five TA-4Hs were built for Israel. The following TA-4Fs are believed to have been transferred to Israel in the early 1970s: 153464, 153466, 153470, 153514, and these TA-4Js: 158492, 158493, 158497, 158502, 158503, 159101, 159102, 159103, 159104, 159546, 159547, 159548, 159549, 159550, 159551, 159552, 159553, 159554, 159555 and 159556. Following the First Gulf War, in 1992 fourteen TA-4Js were provided by the US as part of a package in payment for Israel’s non participation in the war, including 153672. In 1994, these three were also delivered: 152853, 153500 and 153672, but it is not certain if they were ever used before being resold to ATSI in Arizona.

Despite their use in action on many occasions, there are only eight known A-4 losses before October 1973, three of which were caused by Egyptian ground fire or SAMs.

Israel was very impressed with the improvements made by McDonnell Douglas to create the A-4M for the US Marines, particularly its high powered and fuel efficient J52-P408 engine. In March 1971 the US government approved an Israeli request for supply of a new designated A-4N Skyhawk II version based on the A-4M. The first A-4N flew in June 1972 and the first was handed over to Israel in January 1973. The N was basically similar to the M but lacked the self-starting capability. Israeli avionics and 30-mm cannon were added once the aircraft were in Israel. Thirty A-4Ns had been delivered by October 1973 and they equipped 115 ‘Flying Dragon’ Squadron at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

Additionally, a programme was begun in 1972 to upgrade the A-4Hs in the inventory to a similar standard as the A-4N, with the P408 engine, slightly wider intakes, the new HUD and navigation system and an avionics hump as found on US A-4Fs. Also in 1972 the two squadrons operating A-4Es had their aircraft updated with 30mm cannon, nosewheel steering and a brake parachute.

Yom Kippur War

Following a fortnight of tension, on 6 October 1973, the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Syrian and Egyptian forces crossed Israel’s borders. The initial days of fighting were the most desperate for Israel and the IDF/AF. In the first three days alone, nearly sixty Israeli aircraft were lost, including twenty-four of the 162 A-4s of various models and configuration that were then in service.

The war situation quickly deteriorated and Prime Minister Meir made a direct appeal to President Nixon for immediate military aid to replace lost equipment and bolster the beleaguered IDF. It is possible that Meir hinted that the nuclear option might be used if there was a serious danger that Israel would lose the war.

Although impossible to confirm, some analysts believe that Israel assembled up to thirteen 20kt nuclear bombs for use in the event their forces were overrun and major population centres were threatened. Such a possibility was explored in the opening chapter of the Tom Clancy novel ‘The Sum of All Fears’, which was filmed in 2001 using an A-4N owned by US private contractor ATSI.

On 15 October 1973 the Nixon administration began Operation Nickel Grass to supply Israel with much needed war materiel. C-141 StarLifter and C-5 Galaxy transports from Travis AFB delivered APCs, artillery guns, ammunition, CH-53 helicopters and parts for damaged and F-4s and A-4s. The latter included nineteen entire Skyhawk rear fuselages, which were rushed straight from the transport aircraft to the repair hangars and fitted to A-4s that had been damaged by SAMs and were lined up ready to receive them. They are said to have flown into battle before the new sections could be repainted in Israeli colours. At least one of the A-4s was flown in Israel, at least for a time in standard US colours with Star of David insignia. The A-4s that arrived in October 1973 were credited with eighty-five combat missions before the cease-fire on the twenty-fourth.

Aid to Israel included nearly fifty complete Skyhawks taken directly from US squadrons. One US airman recalled being on a Marine Reserve unit’s flightline during October 1973 when the call came to urgently ‘de-class’ (remove classified equipment from) the u nit’s newly-received A-4Es and send them to Norfolk, Virginia for delivery to Israel.

A-4s were delivered via US Navy carriers in the Mediterranean. The assumption has often been that the aircraft belonged to a particular air wing and were just handed over as is where is. The actual process was more complicated. The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) left port in the USA on 14 September 1973 with CVW-6 embarked, this being an air wing with no A-4 squadrons. On 30 October, the ‘FDR’ deployed off Crete (other sources say south of Sicily) and served as a jumping off or transhipment point for A-4s that had flown from the USA via the Azores. Personnel of former A-4 squadron VA-15, which by 1973 flew A-7s, serviced the incoming Skyhawks. One aerial refuelling was given to the A-4s between the FDR and Israel.

Thirty-six A-4s were delivered this way via the FDR. The Kennedy and Independence were also positioned in the Mediterranean and provided assistance during Nickel Grass. The figure of ‘some fifty’ A-4s delivered via carriers is also quoted by one source, and another breaks total war-related deliveries down into thirty A-4Es and Fs in October and another sixteen in November/December. These later deliveries are believed to have come via the Independence. Other sources quote up to eighty A-4 deliveries and speak of US Navy F-4J Phantoms joining F-4Es supplied from USAF stocks, although no evidence of Navy Phantoms in Israel has yet emerged.

A figure of forty-six deliveries tallies with the thirty A-4Es and sixteen A-4Fs struck off USN/USMC charge at Norfolk between 21 October and 2 November and allocated to the Military Assistance Program (MAP). The official ‘strike’ records of only twelve indicate that Israel was the recipient, the others only recording ‘MAP’. A further six new A-4Ns were handed over at Long Beach during October 1973. Ex-US Skyhawks believed transferred to Israel include:A-4Es 149647, 149664, 149964, 149990, 149995, 149971, 150016, 150082, 150087, 150091, 150095, 150124, 150134, 151040, 151084, 149984, 149994, 150026, 150127, 150138, 151028, 151066, 151072, 151120,151163, 151177, 151184, 152006 and 152097. A-4Fs were: 154178, 154191*, 154990, 154997*, 154998, 154188, 154195, 145065, 155005*, 155007, 155008, 155010, 155040, 155043 and 155048. *Not confirmed

At roughly the same time as US Atlantic Fleet carriers were preparing to act as ‘lily pads’ for A-4 deliveries, the USS Hancock, then on her final cruise in Vietnamese waters, was ordered to the Indian Ocean and then to the Arabian Sea. Aboard were VA-56, -164 and -212 with A-4Fs. As they approached the war zone, CVW-21 ’s pilots were warned that they would probably be asked to fly off their A-4s and F-8s and hand them over to the Israeli Air Force. It was never quite made clear what the rules of engagement might be if they met Arab air opposition on route or how the pilots were supposed to return, but in the end the situation stabilized before they were called upon, and the Hancock set sail for home.

Post war

It is generally accepted that fifty-three to fifty-five Israeli Skyhawks were lost in the Yom Kippur War. Many of the losses were caused by infrared-guided SA-7 SAMs. The Sa’ar survived many SA-7 hits in cases where the Ayit was lost. This was attributed to the Sa’ar’s exhaust pipe extending aft of the tail surfaces, which were easily damaged by warhead fragments on the Skyhawk. To reduce their IR signature, Israel’s A-4s were fitted with a tailpipe extension, called ‘chavit’ (barrel) in a post-war modification programme. This moved the heat source as seen by the missile seeker further aft and cooled it slightly. A missile that did explode in the heat plume was likely to be further behind the aircraft where its shrapnel could do less damage to the tail control surfaces. A variation of this idea had been tested at China Lake on the first production A4D-1 Skyhawk as early as 1963 using a long asbestos pipe that protruded from the exhaust. Although several variations of tailpipe extension and shield were tested as part of Project DIRTY, the concept was not applied to American A-4s.

Following the Yom Kippur War, nearly a decade of relative peace followed, and the A4 was gradually supplanted by new supersonic attack types such as the Kfir and F-16s and by further F-4E deliveries. In June 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, five regular Ayit squadrons (102, 115, 116, 140 and 147) were in service, flying the A-4N or A-4Hs and Fs upgraded to N standards as well as the TA-4J/H. Although facts are sparse, three reserve squadrons of A-4s (137, 145 and 202), are believed to have existed in the 1980s and 1990s but since disbanded.

Various further upgrades were implemented to maintain the A-4’s combat effectiveness. The Elisra self protection system integrated chaff, flares and radar warning receivers to defend against enemy missiles. In 1982-3 some A-4Ns of 116 Squadron, including Nos. 309, 331 and 337 were fitted with AN/ABS-19 angle-rate bombing system (ARBS), allowing them to designate LGBs including the Paveway I and II and IAI Griffin. Other weapons used by, or at least cleared for use by, IDF/AF A-4s include TAL-1 220 kg and TAL-2 250 kg cluster bombs, ATAP cluster bombs, Guillotine LGBs, Opher LGBs, Pyramid TV-guided bombs, PB-500 penetration bombs and Gabriel radarguided air-to-surface missiles. AIM-9D Sidewinders and Shaffir II AAMs could be carried for self-defence.

At least thirty-five Israeli Skyhawks have been destroyed in non-combat accidents as of 2004, in addition to the sixty-five lost to enemy action. An independent 2002 estimate in the ‘Military Balance’ yearbook gave active IDF/AF A-4 strength as one squadron of twenty-four A-4Ns and a training squadron with a strength of twenty-six two-seaters, nineteen TA-4Js and seven TA-4Hs. A small number of additional TA-4Js were supplied to the IDF/AF in the 1990s, but are not known to have actually entered service.

In January 2003 a contract was awarded to RADA Electronic Industries of Netanya to install an advanced debriefing system on the ‘entire fleet’ of A-4 and T A-4s. RADA’s initial press release talked of “all fifty” A-4s, agreeing with the ‘Military Balance’ estimate, although one aircraft crashed in February 2004. Installation of the new debriefing system, which integrates GPS, INS, a data processor and a video recorder to give a synchronized three-dimensional record of each mission was planned for 2004/5 and the A-4 is expected to remain in Israeli service in the training role up to 2010. Units believed to still operate the A-4 in 2003 include 102 ‘Flying Tiger’ Squadron at Hatzerim, which pools its aircraft with the Flying Training School (also known as 252 Squadron) and 116 ‘Flying Wing’ Squadrons at Nevatim.

From about 1989 about a dozen A-4Es were stored in anticipation of their sale to Argentina at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Under British pressure not to help Argentina replace its 1982 losses, the USA would not allow the sale. When the political situation eased, the US sold Argentina some of its (much more capable) A-4Ms and OA-4Ms, and the A-4Es were mostly sent to desert storage at Ovda or passed to the Hatzerim Museum.

The Israeli Air Force Museum has quite a large collection of (mostly unrestored) Skyhawks. About ten A-4s including E, F, H and N models are stored or preserved at the Hatzerim museum or elsewhere on the base. A further half-dozen are displayed at other bases or are known to be in use as ground instructional airframes.

In 2000 and 2001, seventeen ex-Israeli Skyhawks joined the US civil aircraft register. Ten A-4Ns and three TA-4Js were delivered to Advanced Training Systems International (ATSI) in Arizona for contract work, and in a separate deal, four A-4Ns were upgraded and sold to BAE Systems for use as target tugs at Wittmund in Germany. Further A-4Ns (including 333 and 358) have been seen at Israel Aircraft Industries’ facility at Ben Gurion under rework for ‘a customer’ not believed to be either ATSI or BAE.

Israeli secrecy is notoriously tight, and no official listing of IDF/AF Skyhawks has ever appeared. The following represents the best attempt to match Bureau Numbers of aircraft delivered to Israel with individual IDF serials or side numbers, a process complicated by the fact the side numbers changed at least once for many aircraft and twice in some cases. For example, ninety A-4H models were produced for Israel. Initially they had two-digit serials such as ‘07’ until 1971 when the surviving aircraft were given three digit serials starting with ‘1’ (thus ’07’ became ‘107’). From 1974 they were reserialled in the ‘200’ range.

A-4H for Israel

Israel’s Skyhawks were in action soon after the arrival of the first of forty-eight A-4Hs in December 1967. The A-4H was based on the F airframe and had a braking parachute and a squared-off fin-tip which housed AN/APX-46 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment. As delivered they all lacked the dorsal avionics package. By October 1973, many Hs had been ‘given the hump’, which was filled with the locally-developed WDNS 391 TAAL-Crystal navigation package.

The contract to supply the A-4H was signed in August 1966 and the first aircraft flew on 27 October 1967. In light of combat experience, the IDF/AF soon began to modify these aircraft, plus a further forty-two delivered in 1969 and the 106 A-4E and Fs transferred from the US Navy in October 1973 and shortly thereafter for greater survivability and combat effectiveness. The first modifications begun in 1974 included extending the jetpipe to reduce the heat difference between the efflux and the outside air as a defence against infrared missiles, and installing radar warning equipment. Chaff dispensers were another defensive addition. In 1970, the Israelis began to fit French-made 30-mm DEFA type 552 cannon to their Skyhawks in place of the jamming-prone 20mm Colt Mk 12. The A-4Es were further modified with wing spoilers and brake parachutes. The Es appear to have mainly retained their avionics humps and kept the curved tailfin tip. The equivalent two-seater was the TA-4H, of which 25 were built. This combat-capable version was used as a trainer and at times in action as a bomber.

A-4N for Israel

Based on the A-4M, the A-4N for Israel incorporated all of the indigenous improvements developed following combat experience in 1971. Most of these, including the Crystal navigation system, 30-mm DEFA cannon, extended tailpipe and locally designed ECM were fitted after delivery. Other features were an Elliot HUD, dual-disc mainwheel brakes and a new weapons delivery computer based on that of the A-7 Corsair II. The N lacked the self-starting capability of the A-4M. From 1972 to 1976, 117 A-4Ns were supplied to Israel.

Although the A-4Ns were delivered with AN/APQ-145 radar, a few appeared after 1982 with the AN/ABS-19 ARBS sensor in a glass nose cone as seen on the A-4M, although without the associated ECM blisters.

IDF/AF A-4s could carry the full range of US ‘dumb’ bombs, plus the French-made bombs in the Israeli inventory. SUU-30 and Mk.20 Rockeye cluster bombs were widely used, as were napalm and rockets. AIM-9B and D Sidewinders were available by 1973, later supplemented by Shafrir II IR-guided AAMs. AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles were used effectively against SAM radars.

Precision weapons included the GBU-8 HOBO TV-guided glide bomb, the AGM-62 Walleye and the Gabriel 3 radar-guided ASM. ARBS-equipped A-4Ns could carry Paveway I and II series LGBs. It is believed that 20mm SUU-16 gun pods were used at one time.