Gulf of Sidra incident (1989)
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The second Gulf of Sidra incident occurred on 4 January 1989 when two United States Navy F-14 Tomcats shot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers that appeared to have been attempting to engage them, as had happened eight years prior in the first Gulf of Sidra incident, in 1981.
In 1973 Libya claimed much of the Gulf of Sidra as its territorial waters and subsequently declared a "line of death", the crossing of which would invite a military response. Tensions between Libya and the U.S. were high after the U.S. accused Libya of building a chemical weapons plant near Rabta, causing the U.S. to deploy the USS America near its coast. A second carrier group, based around the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was also being prepared to sail into the Gulf of Sidra.
On the morning of 4 January 1989, the Kennedy battle group was operating some 130 km north of Libya, with a group of A-6 Intruders on exercise south of Crete, escorted by two pairs of F-14As from VF-14 and VF-32, and as well as an E-2C from VAW-126. Later that morning the southernmost Combat Air Patrol station was taken by two F-14s from VF-32, (CDR Joseph Bernard Connelly/CDR Leo F. Enwright in BuNo 159610, 'AC207') and (LT Hermon C. Cook III/LCDR Steven Patrick Collins in BuNo 159437, 'AC202'). The officers had been specially briefed for this mission due to the high tensions regarding the carrier group's presence; the pilots were advised to expect some kind of hostilities.
At 11:50 a.m., after some time on patrol, the E-2 informed the F-14 crews that four Libyan MiG-23s had taken off from Al Bumbah airfield, near Tobruk. The F-14s from VF-32 turned towards the first two MiG-23s (Floggers) some 50 km ahead of the second pair and acquired them on radar, while the Tomcats from VF-14 stayed with the A-6 group. At the time the Floggers were 72 nautical miles (133 km) away at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and heading directly towards the Tomcats and carrier. The F-14s turned away from the head-on approach to indicate that they were not attempting to engage. The Floggers changed course to intercept at a closing speed of about 870 knots (1,610 km/h). The F-14s descended to 3,000 ft (910 m) to give them a clear radar picture of the Floggers against the sky and leave the Floggers with sea clutter to contend with. Four more times the F-14s turned away from the approaching MiGs. Each time the Libyan aircraft turned in to continue to close. At 11:59 the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) of the lead Tomcat ordered the arming of the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles it was carrying. The E-2C had given the F-14 crews authority to fire if threatened; the F-14 crews did not have to wait until after the Libyans opened fire.
At almost 12:01 the lead Tomcat RIO said that "Bogeys have jinked back at me again for the fifth time. They're on my nose now, inside of 20 miles", followed shortly by "Master arm on" as he ordered arming of the weapons. At a range of 14 nautical miles (26 km) the RIO of the lead F-14A fired the first AIM-7M Sparrow; he surprised his pilot, who did not expect to see a missile accelerate away from his Tomcat. The RIO reported "Fox 1. Fox 1." The Sparrow failed to track because of a wrong switch-setting. At 10 nautical miles (19 km), he launched a second Sparrow missile, but it also failed to track its target.
The Floggers accelerated and continued to approach. At 6 nautical miles (11 km) the Tomcats split and the Floggers followed the wingman while the lead Tomcat circled to get a tail angle on them. The wingman fired a third Sparrow from 5 nautical miles (9.3 km) and downed one of the Libyan aircraft. The lead Tomcat by now had gained the rear quadrant on the final Flogger. After closing to 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km) the pilot fired a Sidewinder, which hit its target. The Tomcats proceeded north to return to the carrier group. The Libyan pilots were both seen to successfully eject and parachute into the sea, but the Libyan Air Force was unable to recover them.
It is unknown why the two MiGs operated in this manner, or why the Libyans did not launch a successful rescue operation to recover the pilots. The following day, the Libyans accused the US of attacking two unarmed reconnaissance planes, but the footage, also called the gun-camera videos, showed that the Libyans had been armed with AA-7 Apex missiles. Depending on the model, this can be either a semi-active radar-homing missile or an infrared-homing (heat-seeking) missile.
Identifications of the Tomcats vary and the narrative above used the details from Air Aces. However, another source identifies the wingman as AC202 rather than AC204. Both agree on AC207 as the lead.
F-14 Tomcat BuNos 159437, 159610
At the request of the National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Navy provided BuNo 159610 to its Udvar-Hazy location near Dulles International Airport. Although Tomcat BuNo 159610 downed the Libyan MiG-23 as a VF-32 F-14A model Tomcat, it returned from that deployment and was entered into the F-14D re-manufacture program and served later in a precision strike role as a VF-31 F-14D(R). On September 30, 2006, it was formally unveiled to the public with now-retired Captain Connelly and Captain Enwright on the podium as honored guests.
As of August 2015[update], BuNo 159437 is still resting at the Aircraft Maintenance and Restoration Group (AMARG) facility just outside Davis-Monthan AFB. This aircraft is one of seven F-14s currently remaining in the AMARG complex and has not been scrapped due to impending museum placement. If BuNo 159437 becomes a museum exhibit, it is likely to be placed on the USS John F. Kennedy once the ship becomes a museum itself.
- Gulf of Sidra incident (1981) – Another incident involving F-14s and Libyan fighters
- Hainan Island incident – similar incident between USA and China
- "Mikoyan MiG-23 Flogger". Militart-Today.
The editor prior to this stated that the pilots were lost at sea. This reference proves that the MiG-23 has a crew of one, meaning two Libyan pilots died
- Sidra 1989, Air Aces.
- Top Edge.
- "Tomcat Sunset Saturday: Celebrate the Retirement of the F-14 Tomcat".
- Brief description of the incident
- January 16, 1989 Time Europe story, with details of the radio broadcasts and times.
- Air aces record
- VF-32 photo gallery
- Audio recording of the engagement
- Libyan Wars, 1980–89, Part 6 — Chemical Reaction, Tom Cooper.
- video footage of the incident