How an Air-to-Air Victory by Navy F-14 Fighter Jets Turned a Headache for the Pentagon

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On January 4, 1989, the U.S. Navy plane service John F. Kennedy was crusing by the Mediterranean Sea with quite a few plane from its air wing aloft for coaching workouts and patrol missions — a typical follow whereas carriers are at sea.

At 11:55 a.m., a kind of planes, an E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and management plane, detected two Libyan Air Pressure MiG-23s taking off from an air base in northeastern Libya and heading towards the service.

Two close by F-14 Tomcats had been ordered to intercept the MiGs. The air battle that adopted was a victory for the Tomcats, but it surely quickly grew to become a headache for the Pentagon.

Mediterranean tensions

A Libyan Nanuchka-class corvette burning within the Gulf of Sidra, 24 March 1986. (U.S. Navy picture through Wikimedia Commons)

By the late Nineteen Eighties, U.S.-Libya relations had deteriorated, pushed partly by territorial disputes within the Mediterranean.

In 1973, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi claimed nearly all the Gulf of Sidra as territorial waters and declared that any crossing of his “Line of Loss of life” would obtain a army response.

The U.S. categorically rejected the declaration and performed freedom-of-navigation workouts with warships and plane in defiance of Gaddafi’s declare. Consequently, there have been quite a few intercepts and standoffs within the airspace and waters round Libya, a few of which turned violent.

In 1981, U.S. Navy service plane shot down two Libyan Su-22 fighter-bombers within the Gulf of Sidra. In March 1986, a conflict with the US Navy left dozens of Libyan troops useless and a number of Libyan ships sunk or broken. That April, the US bombed dozens of Libyan targets, together with Gaddafi’s residence, in retaliation for a Libyan-sponsored terrorist assault in Berlin.

All of the whereas, Gaddafi continued supporting terrorist teams with coaching, gear, and financing. In 1988, the scenario grew to become much more tense when the U.S. accused Libya of trying to construct a chemical-weapons plant.

‘Good kill! Good kill!’

The usJohn F. Kennedy was crusing to Haifa for a scheduled port go to amid these tensions, however the service was not within the Gulf of Sidra. It was really some 120 miles north, nearer to Crete.

Regardless, two Libyan MiG-23s from Al Bumbah airfield close to Tobruk had been dispatched and flying towards its common location.

The 2 Navy F-14s tasked with intercepting them, name indicators Gypsy 207 and Gypsy 202, arrived in radar-tracking vary inside minutes. Quickly the 4 plane had been approaching one another some 70 miles from Tobruk.

Flying at excessive speeds, the F-14s performed a collection of turns and lowered their altitude. The Libyans matched these turns and even accelerated to make sure they had been approaching the Tomcats head on.

U.S. Navy F-4J Phantom II  escorts Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23
A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II of Fighter Squadron VF-74 Be-Devilers escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 over Gulf of Sidra in August 1981. (U.S. Navy picture through Wikimedia Commons)

Because the MiGs closed in, the Individuals fearful they is perhaps carrying Soviet-made AA-7 Apex missiles, which have a 12-mile vary. Kennedy’s air-warfare commander warned the pilots that the MiGs might be getting ready to assault and gave them permission to fireside in the event that they felt the plane had been hostile.

The Tomcats had taken place beneath the MiGs, which allowed them to make use of ocean litter to confuse their radar — a tactic discovered by coaching towards secretly acquired MiG-23s again within the US — and made 5 extra turns that had been matched by their Libyan opponents.

Now lower than 20 miles from the Libyan jets, the Individuals armed their weapons. At 13 miles, the radar intercept officer aboard Gypsy 207, Cmdr. Leo Enwright, fired an AIM-7 Sparrow at one of many MiGs — with out telling the pilot, Cmdr. Joseph Connelly, beforehand — however the missile failed to trace. Enwright fired a second missile at 10 miles, which additionally failed.

The 2 F-14s then performed a defensive cut up — Gypsy 207 turned left and Gypsy 202 turned proper. The MiGs turned and headed straight for Gypsy 202, whose radar intercept officer, Lt. Cmdr. Steven Collins, fired an AIM-7 that hit one of many MiGs at a variety of roughly 5 miles.

Observing the kill, Connelly radioed, “Good hit, good hit on one!”

Gypsy 207 then took place behind the opposite MiG and, after some issue buying a lock and a few colourful language, fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder that introduced down the Libyan fighter.

“Good kill! Good kill!” Connelly transmitted. Gypsy 202’s pilot, Lt. Herman Cook dinner III, responded: “OK, good kill.”

Earlier than returning to the service, each F-14s reported seeing the Libyan pilots eject and deploy parachutes.

Although a victory, the shoot-downs grew to become a little bit of a headache for the Pentagon and the Reagan administration.

After the incident, Libya claimed the Individuals had shot down two unarmed reconnaissance planes. Gaddafi claimed it was ”official U.S. terrorism” and referred to as for an emergency assembly of the U.N. Safety Council to sentence the U.S.’s actions.

Different Arab officers, together with Yasser Arafat, stated the incident would negatively have an effect on Arab-American relations and set again the Center East peace course of.

The Pentagon repeatedly defended the actions of the F-14 crews, saying the MiGs displayed “clear hostile intent” and the U.S. jets had been justified in firing. “If something, they fired too late,” Protection Secretary Frank Carlucci stated.

The U.S. Navy additionally launched footage from one of many F-14s displaying that a minimum of one of many MiGs was armed with two AA-7 Apex missiles and two AA-8 Aphid missiles. A Pentagon spokesman stated the video debunked Libya’s claims in regards to the US capturing down reconnaissance plane, although media reviews on the time famous that the video was blurry.

The Pentagon did acknowledge the MiGs by no means turned on their on-board radars wanted to information their Apex missiles towards the US jets.

Rep. Les Aspin, the chairman of the U.S. Home Armed Providers Committee, later stated that in keeping with secret Pentagon briefings and discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and different authorities officers, the MiGs’ turns had been too slight to be thought-about hostile.

Aspin and Navy aviators interviewed on the time additionally raised doubts in regards to the Pentagon’s characterization of the F-14’s actions as “avoidance” maneuvers. The pilots stated they seemed to be normal intercept maneuvers.

Aspin did say, nonetheless, that the F-14s’ actions had been justified given the velocity at which the MiGs had been approaching and the Libyans’ file of capturing first in earlier engagements.

The Libyan pilots’ mission remained unclear after the incident and was not more likely to ever be identified, Aspin stated in March 1989, and whereas the Libyan pilots had been seen ejecting and parachuting into the ocean, it is unknown whether or not they had been ever recovered.

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