F-15 Eagle in Desert Storm

Last revised February 27, 2000


On August 1, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. On August 6, the US launched Operation *Desert Shield* to defend against any Iraqi moves southward against Saudi Arabia. The 1st Tactical Fighter Wing based at Langley AFB began deployment of its F-15C/Ds to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. On August 12, F-15Es from the 336th TFS of the 4th TFW based at Semour Johnson AFB left for the Gulf. The F-15E Strike Eagle was still not completely ready for combat, since it did not yet have the targeting pod of its LANTIRN system installed.

The F-15C/Ds began to fly combat air patrols in cooperation with Saudi F-15Cs and British and Saudi Tornado F.Mk 3s, whereas the F-15Es began to train for the strike mission should that become necessary. During such a training mission, F-15E serial number 87-0203 crashed on September 30, 1990, killing both crewmen.

A second round of Desert Shield buildups took place in November of 1990. The 33rd TFW deployed its 58th TFS, equipped with F-15C Eagles, to Tabuk in western Saudi Arabia. The 53rd TFS of the 36th TFW based at Bitburg in Germany also deployed to Tabuk. Aircraft of the 525th TFS joined the 7440th Composite Wing based at Incirlik in Turkey. the 32nd TFS based at Soesterberg in the Netherlands also deployed to Incirlik. A second F-15E squadron, the 335th from the 4th TFW, moved to Al Kharj.

Operation Desert Storm began on the morning of January 17, 1991. Most of the air-to-air engagements during the war were fought by the F-15C, and most of these by pilots of the 58th TFS. 36 enemy aircraft were destroyed by USAF F-15Cs during the Gulf War, against zero losses. Many of the kills were against Iraqi aircraft caught by chance or attempting to flee to Iran. There was relatively little of the dogfighting at which the F-15 had been built to excel--most of the kills were made at BVR range by the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, which had performed so poorly in Vietnam but which turned in an outstanding performance in the Gulf War. Nine kills were made by the F-15C with the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, and one kill was credited to a F-15C pilot who maneuvered his MiG-29 opponent into flying his aircraft into the ground. The F-15C's 20-mm cannon was never fired in anger during Desert Storm. In addition, the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile was not fired in anger during the war, although there were more than 1000 "captive carries" of the missile during combat missions in the last few days of the war.

One F-15C (85-0102) scored three aerial victories during Desert Storm, although not all were scored by the same pilot on all three occasions. Two F-15C pilots are credited with three aerial victories apiece, although one of each pilot's victories occurred on March 22, 1991, after the war was officially over.

Although the F-15E Strike Eagle was still not fully combat-ready, 48 F-15Es flew in the Gulf War. F-15Es joined other Coalition aircraft in searching for and attacking Iraqi "Scud" missile launchers. These Scud hunt missions were largely unsuccessful, but the F-15Es attacked many other Iraqi targets of opportunity. Most of these sorties were flown at medium altitudes, and the F-15E did not get much of a chance to demonstrate its low-level capabilities. Although only some of the F-15Es were equipped with their LANTIRN targeting pods by the end of the Gulf War, pilots claimed that 80 percent of the laser-guided bombs dropped by F-15Es hit their targets. However, difficulties were still being encountered in fully integrating the LANTIRN system with the F-15E. The commitment of the targeting pod to battle seems to have been premature, and the system was not employed in combat to its full capacities.

No F-15C/D Eagles were lost in combat, although two F-15E Strike Eagles were shot down by ground fire, one on Jan 18 (88-1689) and the other on Jan 19 (88-1692). The crew of the first plane were killed, the crew of the second were taken prisoner.

After the war was officially over, F-15Cs continued to carry out combat air patrols, enforcing the "no-fly" restrictions on Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft imposed under the terms of the cease-fire. On March 22, F-15C 84-0014 flown by Capt John T. Donski of the 22nd TFS shot down one of two Iraqi Su-22s with an AIM-9 missile, the other Su-22 making a hasty landing. On March 24, F-15C 84-0010 flown by Capt Thomas N. Dietz of the 53rd TFS shot down another Su-22 violating the no-fly order. This was Capt Dietz's third kill, he having gotten a pair of MiG-21s on February 6. The pilot of another F-15C, Lt Robert Hehemann was able to claim a Pilatus PC-9 trainer which was flying in close vicinity of the downed Su-22 when its pilot baled out without a shot being fired. This was kill number three for Lt Hehemann as well.

Wartime experience with the F-15E was handed on to the F-15 Combined Test Force (CTF) at Edwards AFB, which is doing work on F-15E engine, software, radar, weapons, and LANTIRN development. Even after the Gulf War was over, work still had to be done to clear the F-15E for the full set of weapons it could carry, including the Mk 20 Rockeye and CBU-87 cluster bombs, Mk-82 and Mk-84 500-lb and 1000-lb bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and GBU-10 and GBU-15 laser-guided weapons.

On April 14, 1994, there was a tragic "friendly fire" incident over northern Iraq, when a pair of F-15Cs of the 52nd Fighter Wing enforcing the "no-fly" rule mistakenly shot down two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, killing 26 American and United Nations personnel who were carrying out humanitarian aid to Kurdish areas of Iraq. One of the helicopters was destroyed by an AIM-120, the other by a Sidewinder.

Sources:


  1. Combat Aircraft F-15, Michael J. Gething and Paul Crickmore, Crescent Books, 1992.

  2. The Fury of Desert Storm--The Air Campaign, Bert Kinzey, McGraw Hill, 1991.

  3. F-15 Eagle, Robert F. Dorr, World Airpower Journal, Volume 9, Summer 1992.