Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)

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Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)
1981 Gulf of Sidra incident. F-14 Fast Eagle 107, from VF-41 about to shoot down a Libyan Su-22 with an AIM-9 Sidewinde.png
Artist's depiction of Fast Eagle 107's AIM-9 Sidewinder about to hit a Libyan Su-22
Date 19 August 1981
Location Gulf of Sidra, Mediterranean Sea
Result United States victory;

Deterioration of Libya – United States relations

Belligerents
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Libya  United States
Commanders and leaders
Muammar Gaddafi Ronald Reagan
Strength
2 Sukhoi Su-22 aircraft 2 F-14A Tomcats
Casualties and losses
2 aircraft destroyed None

In the first Gulf of Sidra incident, 19 August 1981, two Libyan Su-22 Fitter attack aircraft fired upon and were subsequently shot down by two American F-14 Tomcats off the Libyan coast.

Background[edit]

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.

In 1973, Libya claimed the Gulf of Sidra as a closed bay and part of its territorial waters.[1][2][3] This prompted the United States to conduct Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations in the area since the claim did not meet the criteria established by international law.[4][5] Libya often confronted US forces in and near the gulf, and on two occasions its fighter jets opened fire on US reconnaissance flights off the Libyan coast; once in the spring of 1973[2][6][7][8][9] and again in the fall of 1980.[1][6][10][11] FON operations intensified when Ronald Reagan came to office; in August 1981, he authorized a large naval force, led by USS Forrestal and Nimitz, to deploy to the disputed area.[12] The Libyan Air Force responded by deploying a high number of interceptors and fighter-bombers. Early on the morning of 18 August, when the US exercise began, at least three MiG-25 'Foxbats' approached the US carrier groups, but were escorted away by F-4 Phantom IIs from Forrestal and F-14s of VF-41 and VF-84 from Nimitz. The Libyans tried to establish the exact location of the US naval force. Thirty-five pairs of MiG-23 'Floggers', MiG-25s, Sukhoi Su-20 'Fitter-Cs', Su-22M 'Fitter-Js' and Mirage F1s flew into the area, and were soon intercepted by seven pairs of F-14s and F-4s.[13][14] US Naval Intelligence later assessed that a MiG-25 may have fired a missile from 18 miles away at US fighter aircraft that day.[15]

Incident[edit]

On the morning of 19 August, after having diverted a number of Libyan "mock" attacks on the battle group the previous day, two F-14s from VF-41 "Black Aces",[16] Fast Eagle 102 (CDR Henry 'Hank' Kleemann/LT David 'DJ' Venlet) (flying BuNo 160403)[17] and Fast Eagle 107 (LT Lawrence 'Music' Muczynski/LTJG James 'Amos' Anderson) (in BuNo ''160390''),[17] were flying combat air patrol (CAP), ostensibly to cover aircraft engaged in a missile exercise.[18] However, US Navy Commander Thompson S. Sanders wrote in Air & Space that his S-3A Viking's mission was the real precursor to this incident. Sanders was ordered to fly his Viking in a racetrack orbit inside Qaddafi's claimed zone but outside the internationally recognized 12 mile territorial water limit to try to provoke the Libyans to react. An E-2C Hawkeye alerted Thompson that two Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters had taken off from Ghurdabiyah Air Base near the city of Sirte.[19][20]

F-14 BuNo 162592, painted to depict the F-14 (BuNo 160403) flown by Kleemann and Venlet on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California

The Hawkeye directed the F-14s to intercept while Thompson dove to an altitude of 500 feet and flew north to evade the Libyan aircraft, an experience Sanders found stressful because the S-3A was not equipped with a threat warning receiver, nor with any countermeasures, a deficiency later remedied on the S-3B.[21]

The two F-14s set up for an intercept as the contacts headed north towards them.[19][22] Only a few seconds before the crossing, at an estimated distance of 300 m, one of the Libyans fired an AA-2 "Atoll" at one of the F-14s, which missed.[19][22] Then the two Sukhois split as they flew past the Americans; the leader turning to the northwest and the wingman turning southeast in the direction of the Libyan coast.[18][19][23] The Tomcats evaded the missile and were cleared to return fire by their rules of engagement, which mandated self-defense on the initiation of hostile action.[19][24] The Tomcats turned hard port and came behind the Libyan jets.[19] The Americans fired AIM-9L Sidewinders; the first kill is credited to Fast Eagle 102, the second to Fast Eagle 107.[19][20] Both Libyan pilots ejected.

Fast Eagle 102, one of the two F-14 Tomcats on the deck of the USS Nimitz immediately following the incident

Prior to the ejections, a US electronic surveillance plane monitoring the event recorded the lead Libyan pilot report to his ground controller that he had fired a missile at one of the US fighters and gave no indication that the missile shot was unintended.[25][26] The official United States Navy report states that both Libyan pilots ejected and were safely recovered, but in the official audio recording of the incident taken from USS Biddle, one of the F-14 pilots states that he saw a Libyan pilot eject, but his parachute failed to open.[27]

Less than an hour later, while the Libyans were conducting a search and rescue operation of their downed pilots, two fully armed MiG-25s entered the airspace over the Gulf and headed towards the US carriers at Mach 1.5 and conducted a mock attack in the direction of USS Nimitz.[28] Two VF-41 Tomcats headed towards the Libyans, which then turned around. The Tomcats turned home, but had to turn around again when the Libyans headed towards the US carriers once more.[28] After being tracked by the F-14s' radars, the MiGs finally headed home. One more Libyan formation ventured out into the Gulf towards the US forces later that day.[29] Fast Eagle 102 (BuNo 160403) is presently stored at the Commemorative Air Force headquarters in Midland, Texas awaiting restoration. Fast Eagle 107 was destroyed in an accident on 25 October 1994.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Congressional Research Service Issue Brief for Congress: Libya". (2002, April 10). Foreign Press Centers, U.S. Department of State, Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b St John, Ronald Bruce. (2002). Libya and the United States: Two Centuries of Strife. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-8122-3672-6.
  3. ^ Davis, Brian L. (1990). Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. Praeger Publishers. p. 14. ISBN 0-275-93302-4.
  4. ^ Lehman, John F. (2001) [1988]. Command of the Seas. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. p. 351. ISBN 978-1557505347. 
  5. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  6. ^ a b Davis, Brian L. (1990). Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. Praeger Publishers. p. 47. ISBN 0-275-93302-4.
  7. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  8. ^ Beecher, William. (1973, March 23). "U.S. Asserts Plane Fled Libyan Jets: 'Eavesdropping' Transport Ignored Arabs' Signal to Land, Officials Say". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Finney, John W. (1973, March 25). "Trouble Again Over The 'Elint'". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Martin, David C. and John Walcott. (1988). Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism. Harper and Row, Publishers Inc. p. 68 ISBN 0-06-015877-8.
  11. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  12. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  13. ^ Wilcox, Robert K. (1996). Wings of Fury: From Vietnam to the Gulf War – The Astonishing True Stories of America’s Elite Fighter Pilots. Pocket Books. Pp 10. ISBN 0-671-74793-2.
  14. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  15. ^ Wilcox, Robert K. (1996). Wings of Fury: From Vietnam to the Gulf War – The Astonishing True Stories of America’s Elite Fighter Pilots. Pocket Books. pp. 10-11. ISBN 0-671-74793-2.
  16. ^ Brown, Craig. (2007). Debrief: A Complete History of U.S. Aerial Engagements 1981 to the Present”'. Schiffer Military History. pp 13-14. ISBN 978076432785.
  17. ^ a b Brown, David F. (1998). Tomcat Alley: A Photographic Roll Call of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat”'. Schiffer Military History. pp 99, 104. ISBN 0-7643-0477.
  18. ^ a b Wilcox, Robert K. (1996). Wings of Fury: From Vietnam to the Gulf War – The Astonishing True Stories of America’s Elite Fighter Pilots. Pocket Books. pp 68-69. ISBN 0-671-74793-2.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Brown, Craig. (2007). Debrief: A Complete History of U.S. Aerial Engagements 1981 to the Present”'. Schiffer Military History. p 15. ISBN 978076432785.
  20. ^ a b Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  21. ^ Sanders, Thompson, Bait and switch, Air & Space, June/July 2012, pp. 18-19
  22. ^ a b Martin, David C. and John Walcott. (1988). Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism. Harper and Row, Publishers Inc. p. 69 ISBN 0-06-015877-8.
  23. ^ Martin, David C. and John Walcott. (1988). Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism. Harper and Row, Publishers Inc. p. 71 ISBN 0-06-015877-8.
  24. ^ Kimmitt, Robert M. (2006, August 20). "Reagan and Gadhafi". The Washington Times, Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  25. ^ Martin, David C. and John Walcott. (1988). Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism. Harper and Row, Publishers Inc. p. 72 ISBN 0-06-015877-8.
  26. ^ Stanik, Joseph T. (2003). El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi. Naval Institute Press. pp. 54, 56. ISBN 978-1-55750-983-3.
  27. ^ "USS Biddle Ship's History 1967–1993 (Audio recording from the dogfight and a short text transcript)". United States Navy. 1981-08-18. [dead link]
  28. ^ a b Wilcox, Robert K. (1996). Wings of Fury: From Vietnam to the Gulf War – The Astonishing True Stories of America’s Elite Fighter Pilots. Pocket Books. p. 26-28. ISBN 0-671-74793-2.
  29. ^ Libyan Wars, 1980-1989, Part 2 By Tom Cooper[dead link]

External links[edit]