Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II in US Navy Service

Last revised July 4, 2003


According to the original contract, the first A-7s had to be in service by no later than 1967. Two fleet readiness squadrons (VA-174 and VA-122) received their first A-7As in September and October of 1966. Initial A-7A carrier qualifications were performed by November 15, 1966 aboard the USS America. The first operational A-7A squadron was VA-147, which was commissioned on February 1, 1967, meeting the commitment of the contract with several months to spare, but their Corsair IIs were not yet cleared for combat. On June 1, 1967, the A-7A completed its BIS and FIP trials, demonstrating full compliance with the guaranteed performance. VA-147 received its first combat-ready A-7As in the autumn of 1967.

Vietnam

The Corsair II was to see immediate combat in Vietnam. VA-147 embarked upon its first combat cruise aboard the USS Ranger on November 4, 1967. It flew the first combat missions on December 4, 1967, an attack on communication lines near Vinh, North Vietnam.

In January of 1968, the USS Ranger was diverted to the Sea of Japan in response to the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo. After the tensions cooled off somewhat, the ship returned to its Vietnam duties. VA-147 participated in close support missions during the Khe Sanh operation.

During the Vietnam war, A-7A squadrons made 17 cruises to Southeast Asia. 22 were lost in combat, 13 of them over Vietnam and 9 over Laos. 15 were lost to AAA, four to SAMs, and 3 to undedetermined causes. 20 additional aircraft were lost in various accidents in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The first operational A-7Bs wernt to VA-146 and VA-215 in the autumn of 1968. They deployed aboard the USS Enterprise on January 6, 1969, bound for the Gulf of Tonkin. Because of a major fire of Hawaii, the carrier only spent 35 days on combat duty. No A-7Bs were lost in combat during this tour, although one was lost in an accident. While the Enterprise was being repaired, VA-25 and VA-86 received A-7Bs and deployed aboard the USS Ticonderoga in March of 1969.

In all, A-7Bs underwent through 15 war cruises to the Gulf of Tonkin,  losing 11 aircraft in combat and 12 due to accidents. Seven of the combat losses were to AAA, one to a SAM, and 3 to unknown causes. Altogether, A-7B squadrons made 45 cruisses, the last being aboard the USS John F. Kennedy in 19777. After that, the A-7Bs were relegated to Naval reserve units until January of 1987.

First A-7C deliveries were to the training squadron VA-122 at NAS Lemoore, California, which received its first planes in July 1969. Only two operational squadrons, VA-82 and VA-86, were equipped with A-7Cs. These two squadrons each made a single combat deployment to Vietnam aboard USS America. Two additional peacetime deployments were made before these two squadrons converted to A-7Es.

The definitive A-7E entered service in Southeast Asia in May of 1970 with VA-146 and VA-147 aboard the USS America. The A-7E participated in numerous close-air support missions over both North and South Vietnam, the A-7E's state-of-the-art bombing and navigation system being particularly reliable and accurate. The APQ-126 radar was a good air-to-ground system for its day, and a well-trained pilot using the system could generally deliver a weapon within 150 feet of its target at night. The A-7 weapons system, when properly maintained, was far superior to the previous systems of the A-6, A-3, and A-5, both in accuracy and reliability. Most air wings operating A-4 Skyhawks and early A-7s were re-equipped with A-7Es. The A-7E participated in the mining of Haiphong harbor in 1972, and played a vital role in the Linebacker I and Linebacker II operations that led up to the formal end of the Vietnam war on January 24, 1973.

Grenada

The next combat operation in which the Corsair II was to be involved was the 1983 invasion of the island of Grenada. Grenada is a small Caribbean island north of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. It had been a British colony until it was granted full independence on February 7, 1974.

After independence, Grenada adopted a modified British-style parliamentary system, with a governor general appointed by the Queen and a Prime Minister who is both leader of the majority party and the head of government. Sir Eric Gairy was Grenada's first Prime Minister.

On March 13, 1979, the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (New Jewel) movement ousted Gairy in a nearly bloodless coup and established a people's revolutionary government (PRG), headed by Maurice Bishop, who became prime minister. He began to establish a Marxist-Leninist sort of government and soon established close ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other Communist-bloc countries.

When Ronald Reagan became President in January of 1981, his administration became increasingly irritated by the Marxist government in Grenada, and were concerned that Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was allowing Cuba to gain undue influence in Grenada, specifically by constructing a military-grade airport with the assistance of Cuban military engineers, even though it was claimed that this airport was strictly for tourism.

On October 13, 1983, the Grenadian Army, controlled by former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, seized power in a bloody coup. Bishop and several members of his cabinet were murdered. The severity of the violence, coupled with Coard's much more hard-line Marxism, caused deep concern among neighboring Caribbean nations, as well as in Washington. Also, nearly 1,000 American students were enrolled in a medical school in Grenada, and their safety might be in jeopardy.

In response to an appeal from the governor general and to a request for help from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, in the early morning of October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the island of Grenada. The code name of the invasion was Operation Urgent Fury

The initial assault consisted of some 1,200 troops, and they were met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army and Cuban military units on the island. The first combat aircraft over Grenada were four A-7Es from VA-15 and VA-87 flying from the USS Independence. Heavy fighting continued for several days, but as the invasion force grew to more than 7,000, the defenders either surrendered or fled into the mountains. By the time the operatin was over, the A-7s had flown nearly 300 sorties, during which they had dropped 40 Mk. 82 bombs and 20 Mk 20 Rockeye cluster bombs. The internal 20-mm cannon of the A-7E was heavily used during the fighting. Scattered fighting continued as U.S. troops hunted down stragglers, but for the most part, the island quickly fell under American control. US citizens were evacuated and order was restored. By mid-December, U.S. combat forces went home and a pro-American government took power.

Lebanon

The next theatre of operation where the Corsair II saw action was the ill-starred American intervention in Lebanon.

The context behind American intervention into Lebanon is a long and complicated story. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanese politicians for the most part sought to insulate their country from the Arab-Israeli dispute and were able to avoid involvement in the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973.  Consequently, Lebanon was able to achieve some years of relative peace and economic prosperity.   However, Lebanon has for long been divided along religious lines, with substantial Muslim and Christian populations, and this division lead to a series of complex civil wars in which various factions fought each other in bloody battles, leading in turn to a series of interventions by foreign forces from Syria, Israel, and the United States.

In the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Palestinian guerilla groups increasingly began using southern Lebanon as a base of operations for attacks on Israel. The Palestinian presence frustrated the effort to maintain the delicate religious balance in Lebanon, for it tended to pit Muslim Lebanese against Christian Lebanese. Periodic clashes took place between the Palestinian guerillas and the Lebanese Army. However, on November 2, 1969 the Lebanese commander in chief and Yasir Arafat, the head of Al Fatah, the leading faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), announced a cease fire which tried to set some limits on Palestinian guerilla operations in Lebanon, but clashes between PLO and Lebanese Army units still continued to take place. 

The situation got worse when large numbers of Palestinian guerillas were expelled from Jordan in 1970-71 and took up residence in southern Lebanon for continued raids against Israel. The guerrillas either tended to ally themselves with existing leftist Lebanese organizations or they attempted to form various new leftist groups that received support from the Lebanese Muslim community and caused further splintering in the Lebanese body politic. 

The now all-too-familiar pattern of guerilla infiltrations followed by Israeli counterattacks was now firmly established. An Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon took place in retaliation for the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in September of 1972. There was even an Israeli commando raid on Beirut itself on April 10, 1973. To avoid calling Israeli wrath down on their country, the Lebanese army tried to suppress some of the PLO's activities, but without much success. In May, armed clashes between the army and the guerrillas in Beirut spread to other parts of the country, resulting in the arrival of more guerrilla reinforcements from Syria, the declaration of martial law, and a new secret agreement limiting guerrilla activity.

The October 1973 Yom Kippur War was to change everything. Even though Lebanon was not directly involved in any of the fighting, the war was to have tragic consequences for the country. In 1975-76, Lebanon become involved in a long and bloody civil war, with Muslim militias and Christian Phalangists fighting each other in street battles. Although the two warring factions were often characterized as Christian versus Muslim, the situation was much more complex. The largely-Christian Phalange Party had a Fascist ancestry dating back to the 1930s, with an ideology on the right side of the political spectrum.  It was supported by Israel as a balance against Palestinian influence. Also closely aligned with the Phalange Party were the Maronite Christian militias. On the opposite site was the Lebanese National Movement, which was a rather loosely-organized assembly of militias from leftist and Muslim organizations as well as guerillas from the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The main forces of the PLO were gradually pulled into the conflict. In addition, the Lebanese Army gradually disintegrated as a series of mutinies took place in which substantial segments of the army deserted to join one faction or another.

Syrian soon also got dragged into the conflict in Lebanon.   On the one hand, the regime of Syrian President Hafiz al Assad strongly opposed the permanent fragmentation of Lebanon, fearing that the creation of a Maronite mini-state right next door would amount to the establishment of "another Israel." On the other hand, Syria had also resisted the notion of the formation of a radical, left-wing Muslim state on its western border. Furthermore, after having to deal with its own Muslim fundamentalist rebellion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Syria was concerned that a radical Islamic state in Lebanon would have negative domestic implications.

In May of 1976, alarmed at the possibility of a radical hostile state on its western border, Syria forcibly entered the conflict against the Lebanese National Movement, which placed Syria initially on the side of the Christian militias. Rather than try and crush the resistance altogether, at this time Syria chose to participate in an Arab peace conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 1976. The Riyadh Conference, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo also in October 1976, formally ended the Lebanese Civil War.  Although the underlying causes were in no way eliminated, the full-scale warfare was stopped. Substantial Syrian forces remained in Lebanon, and by this time the city of Beirut had been reduced to rubble and the town was now divided into Muslim and Christian sectors. Syria's presence in Lebanon was legitimated by the establishment of an Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) by the Arab League in October 1976. Large regions of the country still remained in Palestinian control, with certain areas becoming known as "Fatahland", after the main PLO grouping.

However, the Syrian-dominated ADF soon began to turn against its Phalangist allies.  Significant ADF action against the Phalange Party militia, headed by Bashir Jumayyil, took place around Zahlah (fifty kilometers east of Beirut) in late 1980 and April 1981. This military threat to its Christian ally caused Israel to intervene, and it shot down two Syrian helicopters over Lebanon. Syria, in turn, introduced SA-2 and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles into Lebanon.  The resulting "missile crisis" threatened to cause yet another regional war, but this danger was at least for the moment averted through the mediation efforts of other Arab nations and the United States

On June 6, 1982 Israeli forces massively invaded southern Lebanon in retaliation for an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to London. On June 9, the Israeli air force launched an air raid against the Syrian antiaircraft missile batteries in the Biqa Valley. The Syrians, caught by surprise, sustained severe losses; of the nineteen missile batteries, only two were left intact after the Israeli attack. The Syrian Air Force made a desperate bid to protect their air defense system by sending up scores of interceptors and fighters, resulting in over 200 aircraft engaged in supersonic dogfights over a 2,500 square kilometer area. The Israeli Air Force shot down twenty-nine Syrian aircraft that day (and later about fifty more) without a single loss. The devastation of the Syrian air defense system and the decimation of the Syrian Air Force provided the IDF with total air superiority in Lebanon and left the Syrian infantry exposed to air attack.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon had several direct consequences. First, it resulted in the deaths of several hundred Palestinian fighters and the expulsion of several thousand more, not to mention several thousand Lebanese and Palestinian casualties and massive destruction. For a time, the invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon diminished Syrian influence, as the Syrian Army was forced north and east. Bowing to political pressures, however, on June 11 Israel and Syria agreed to a truce under United States auspices.

The cease-fire signaled the start of a new stage in the war.  The IDF now focused on PLO forces trapped in Beirut. Israel maintained the siege of Beirut for seventy days, unleashing a relentless barrage of air, naval, and artillery bombardment. The Lebanese government pressured Arafat to withdraw the PLO from Beirut to spare the civilian population from further bombardment. Arafat agreed to depart, but on the condition that a Multi-National Force (MNF), made up of military units from Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, be set up to supervise the Palestinian evacuation and would stay behind to keep the peace. Under the agreement, PLO fighters were evacuated to Syria and Tunisia. The first MNF troops arrived in Beirut on August 21, 1982, On August 26, the remaining MNF troops arrived, including 800 US Marines.

The MNF occupation also created a favorable climate for Phalangist militia head Bashir Jumayyil to win the Presidency. On September 10, the Marines withdrew from Beirut, followed shortly thereafter by the withdrawal of the rest of the MNF. The Lebanese Army began to move back into West Beirut, and the Israelis withdrew their troops from the front lines. But the war was far from over. 

By ushering in Jumayyil as president and evicting the PLO from Beirut, Israel had attained two of its key war goals. Israel would also have liked to be able to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with Lebanon that would get Syrian forces out of Lebanon and would also prevent the PLO from re-infiltrating Lebanon after the IDF withdrew.  However, Jumayyil repudiated earlier promises to Israel immediately after the election. He informed the Israelis that a peace treaty was inconceivable as long as the IDF or any other foreign forces remained in Lebanon and that it could be concluded only with the consent of all the Lebanese.

On September 14, 1982, President-elect Bashir Jumayyil was assassinated by a radio-detonated explosion at the Phalange Party headquarters. The perpetrator was believed to be a Syrian agent. Bashir's brother Amin was elected as the new president with United States backing.

On the evening of September 16, 1982, the IDF, having surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, dispatched approximately 300 to 400 Christian Phalangist militiamen into the camps to rout what was believed to be the remnant of the Palestinian forces.  Over a period of two days, the Christian militiamen massacred some 700 to 800 Palestinian men, women, and children.   This atrocity caused world-wide outrage and resulted in a scandal in Israel.   According to the report of the Kahan Commission established by the government of Israel to investigate the events, the IDF had monitored the Phalangist radio network and had fired illumination flares from mortars and aircraft to light the area.  The IDF had ordered its soldiers to refrain from entering the camps, but IDF officers had supervised the operation from the roof of a six-story building overlooking parts of the area.  Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, who had masterminded the invasion of Lebanon, was held indirectly responsible for the massacre and resigned from his post.

Lebanese Shia Muslims, who were severely affected by the invasion and occupation, now turned their enmity on the Israelis. As a show of support for their fellow Shia Muslims, the government of Iran, with Syrian approval, dispatched a contingent of the Pasdaran to the Biqa Valley. The approximately 650 Pasdaran forces from Iran established their headquarters in the city of Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Biqa Valley.  Once established there, they conducted terrorist and guerrilla training, disbursed military matériel and money, and disseminated propaganda. There were several suicide-bombing attacks against IDF positions

The political disarray that characterized Lebanese politics also afflicted the Shia movement, as groups split off from Amal. Husayn al Musawi, a former Amal lieutenant, entered into an alliance with the Revolutionary Guard and established Islamic Amal. Other Shia groups included Hizballah (Party of God), Jundallah (Soldiers of God), the Husayn Suicide Commandos, the Dawah (Call) Party, and the notorious Islamic Jihad Organization

In April 1983, a terrorist attack destroyed the United States embassy, and the ambassador moved diplomatic operations to his official residence. The United States still persevered in its efforts to broker an Israeli-Lebanese agreement, and Israel still indicated its willingness to negotiate. Although Israel really wanted a treaty with Lebanon much like the Camp David Agreements with Egypt, entailing full bilateral diplomatic recognition, it settled for mere "normalization."   An agreement between Israel and Lebanon was finally hashed out on May 17, 1983.  The agreement called for an abolition of the state of war between the two countries, security arrangements to ensure the sanctity of Israel's northern border, integration of Major Saad Haddad's Christian militia into the regular Lebanese Army, and Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

However, the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was made contingent upon concurrent Syrian withdrawal. The United States had decided not to seek Syrian participation in the negotiations for the May 17 Agreement for fear of becoming entangled in the overall Syrian-Israeli dispute. Instead, the United States intended to seek Syrian endorsement after the agreement was signed. This turned out to be a big mistake--Syria vehemently opposed the agreement, and because implementation hinged on Syrian withdrawal, Damascus was able to block the entire deal. Although President Jumayyil made conciliatory overtures to Damascus, he also notified the Arab League on June 4 that the ADF was no longer in existence.

Syria responded by announcing on July 23, 1983, the foundation of a National Salvation Front (NSF) in its occupied territory in Lebanon. This coalition attempted to unify many sects under Syrian sponsorship, including the Druzes led by Walid Jumblatt, Shias led by Nabih Birri, Sunni Muslims led by Rashid Karami, Christian elements led by Sulayman Franjiyah, and several smaller, Syrian-sponsored, left-wing political parties. These groups, together with Syria, controlled much more of Lebanon's territory than did the central government. Therefore, the NSF constituted a challenge not only to Jumayyil but also to his patrons, the United States and Israel. 

To emphasize their opposition to the May 17 Agreement, Syrian and Druze forces in the mountains above the capital opened up a artillery barrage on Christian areas of Beirut.   Terrorist activity resumed, and between June and August 1983, at least twenty car bombs exploded throughout Lebanon, killing over seventy people. 

At the behest of the Lebanese government, the Multinational Force (MNF) was deployed again to Beirut, but with over twice the manpower of the first peacekeeping force. It was designated MNF II and was given the mandate to separate the IDF from the Lebanese population. Additionally, MNF II was assigned the task of assisting the Lebanese Army in restoring the authority of the central government over Beirut. In support of the MNF II, the United States dispatched a contingent of 1,400 men, France 1,500, and Italy 1,400. A relatively small British contingent of about 100 men was added in January 1983, at which time the Italian contingent was increased to 2,200 men. Each contingent retained its own command structure, and no central command structure was created.  The 32nd United States Marines Amphibious Unit returned to Beirut on September 29, where it took up positions in the vicinity of Beirut International Airport. The Marines' positions were adjacent to the IDF front lines. Tactically, the Marines were charged with occupying and securing positions along a line from the airport east to the Presidential Palace at Babda.  The intent was to separate the IDF from the population of Beirut.  On the economic level, the United States planned to assist in Lebanon's reconstruction. These tasks were never completed.

Unfortunately, the United States support for the pro-Jumayyil, Christian brigades of the Lebanese Army during the 1983-84 Mountain War turned into a fiasco. On October 23, 1983, a suicide truck bomb blew up the Marine billet at the Beirut airport, killing 241. In response, President Ronald Reagan made a decision to launch a retaliatory strike against Hizballah and Syrian facilities in Lebanon. For various reasons, this strike was indefinitely delayed. However, on December 3, 1983 an F-14 Tomcat was fired upon by Syrian missiles, and President Reagan decided to go ahead and retaliate right away against Syrian missile sites. A strike package of 28 planes including six A-7Es taken from VA-15 and seven from VA-87 aboard the USS Independence was hastily planned for December 4 and carried out in daylight. Unfortunately, things did not go well. The daylight attack met intense Syrian AAA fire as well as batteries of SA-7 and SA-9 missiles. An A-7E was hit by a SAM and the pilot was forced to eject, the wind blowing him out into the Beirut harbor where he was kicked by a Christian Lebanese fisherman and eventually returned safely to his carrier. Another A-7E from VA-15 was hit by a SAM, but the pilot was able to land safely on the Independence. However, the aircraft was so badly damaged that it could not be repaired. Not so fortunate was an A-6E TRAM from VA-85 crewed by Lt. Mark Lange and Lt Robert Goodman, Jr, which was shot down by a Syrian SAM. Lt Lange was killed and Lt Goodman was taken prisoner. Goodman was held for 30 days until Syrian president Hafez Assad released him into the hands of US presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Not only did the United States lose two aircraft to ground fire, but the shelling of Druze and Shia population centers by the U.S.S. New Jersey convinced most Lebanese Muslims that the United States had taken the Christian side. Likewise, by 1984, in the face of renewed fighting, the business of reconstruction became a faint hope. The attacks on the United States embassy and annex, and on the MNF contingent, and the kidnapping of United States citizens eventually forced the administration of President Ronald Reagan to minimize United States involvement in the increasingly ungovernable Lebanese state. Most of the MNF force was withdrawn shortly thereafter.

Libya

The A-7 was soon in action again, this time against Libya. On September 1, 1969, a coup by about 70 army officers and enlisted men had seized control of the Libyan government and ousted the monarchy. A twelve-member directorate named the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) became the head of government. Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi soon gained control of the RCC and became the de-facto head of state.

In the last months of 1969, the RCC moved vigorously to institute a series of domestic reforms. It loudly proclaimed neutrality in the Cold War confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union as well as opposition to all forms of "colonialism" and "imperialism." It also made clear Libya's dedication to Arab unity and to the support of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. The RCC reaffirmed the state religion as Islam. It abolished parliamentary institutions, all legislative functions being assumed by the RCC, and continued the prohibition against political parties, in effect since 1952. The new regime also categorically rejected Communism--in large part because it was officially atheistic--and officially espoused an Arab interpretation of socialism that integrated Islamic principles with social, economic, and political reform. Libya had shifted, virtually overnight, from the camp of conservative Arab traditionalist states to that of the radical nationalist states.

After the September coup, United States forces proceeded deliberately with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base under the agreement made with the previous regime. The last of the American contingent turned the facility over to the Libyans on June 11, 1970. As relations with the United States steadily deteriorated, Qadhafi forged close links with the Soviet Union and other East European countries, all the while maintaining Libya's stance as a nonaligned country and opposing the spread of communism in the Arab world. Libya's army--sharply increased from the 6,000-man pre-revolutionary force that had been largely trained and equipped by the British--was re-armed with Soviet-built weapons despite the official atheism of the Soviet state.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya was widely suspected of financing international terrorist activities and political subversion around the world. Recruits from various national liberation movements reportedly received training in Libya, and Libyan financing of Palestinian activities against Israel was openly acknowledged. There were also allegations of Libyan assistance to Lebanese leftists, the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, and left-wing extremists in Europe and Japan. However, some observers thought that this support was more verbal than material. Nevertheless, in 1981 Libya declared support of national liberation movements a matter of principle, an act that lent credence to charges of support for terrorism.

Support for international terrorism was a major problem in Libya's relations with the United States and Western Europe. The United States, in particular, viewed Libya's diplomatic and material support for what Tripoli called "liberation movements" as aid and comfort to international terrorists. In general, after the early 1970s relations between the two countries went from bad to worse, even while the United States continued to import Libyan crude oil.

Since 1973 Libya had considered the Gulf of Sidra as its own territorial waters. Beyond that, Libya claimed another twelve nautical miles of territorial waters. The United States and most other nations refused to recognize Libya's claims, and this refusal became a recurrent cause for contention between the two countries. Under President Jimmy Carter, United States armed forces were ordered not to challenge Libyan claims by trying to cross into the claimed territory, even after the United States embassy in Tripoli was burned on December 2, 1979 by demonstrators apparently influenced by the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran.

In 1981, the newly-elected President Ronald Reagan ushered in a change in policy and began taking more direct action against Libya. On May 6, 1981, the Reagan administration ordered the closing of the Libyan People's Bureau in Washington, and twenty-seven Libyan diplomats were expelled from the United States on charges of supporting international terrorism. Then, on August 19, 1981, two Libyan SU-22 fighters were shot down by United States F-14 jets during naval maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra. In December President Reagan called on the approximately 1,500 American citizens still living in Libya to leave the country or face legal action. In March 1982, oil imports from Libya were officially embargoed and all technology transfer was banned. In January 1986, Libyan assets in the United States were frozen as part of a series of economic sanctions against Libya.

President Ronald Reagan's administration was determined to assert the principle of free passage in international waters. In August of 1981, Khadafi had declared a "line of death" across the Gulf of Sidra, over which the US fleet would be forbidden to pass. Since the Gulf of Sidra was recognized almost universally as being international waters, President Reagan decided to challenge these territorial claims by sending a carrier task force into the Gulf of Sidra.

This effort was given the name Operation Prairie Fire. Three carrier task forces of the Sixth Fleet with 225 aircraft assembled off the Libyan coast for maneuvers in March 1986.  On March 24, 1986, an incident took place in which six SA-5s were launched from the new missile base at Surt against patrolling American F-14 aircraft. None was hit, however, because the SA-5, with a range of 240 kilometers, could threaten high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the Gulf of Sidra but was relatively ineffective against high-performance jet fighters. A probing mission by a pair of MiG-25s followed shortly thereafter. Later that day, more missiles were fired at US fighters. In retaliation, a series of strikes were planned. Two A-7Es from VA-81 served as decoys while two other A-7Es from VA-83 attacked the radar site near Sirte with AGM-88A HARM missiles. Later that night, a repeat sortie was flown by VA-81 and VA-83 from the USS Saratoga. In the meantime, A-6Es from VA-34 and VA-86 attacked and crippled a Libyan corvette with Harpoon missiles (marking the first use of this missile in combat). The ship was later finished off by bombs.  That same day, the missile site that had fired on the F-14s was put out of action by carrier-based A-6 Intruders firing High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), that homed in on the Libyans' radar guidance signals. A second Libyan vessel was sunk by Harpoons launched by the Intruders of VA-85 on March 25. In addition, torpedo boats and shore-based missile installations were hit. During these attacks, EA-6Bs from VAQ-135 flew cover and scrambled Libyan electronic defenses.

On April 5, a bomb exploded in a Berlin nightclub frequented by United States service personnel. The explosion killed 2 people, one an American serviceman, and injured 204 others. Messages intercepted by United States intelligence agencies, including one from the Libyan mission in East Berlin, furnished what the United States government described as evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, which was probably carried out by the Abu Nidal organization. In retaliation, another series of strikes against Libya were carried out on April 14-15, 1986 under the name El Dorado Canyon.

At the beginning of El Dorado Canyon, eighteen F-111 bombers, supported by four EF-111A electronic countermeasures aircraft, left England, refueling several times enroute, and struck the Tripoli airport, a frogman training center at the naval academy, and the nearby al Aziziyah barracks, where Qadhafi often resided. At the same time, A-6, A-7, and F/A-18 aircraft from the USS America and USS Coral Sea hit the Al Jumahiriya barracks and the airport at Bengazi. These Navy squadrons included A-7Es from VA-46 and VA-82 and A-6Es from VA-55 and VA-34, supported by Prowlers from VAQ-135 and VMAQ-2.

As a result of the El Dorado Canyon strikes, several transport aircraft and some Soviet-built MiG-23 fighters and helicopters were destroyed on the ground at the two airfields.  Some Western embassies were hit, and a number of Libyan civilians, including Qadhafi's adopted infant daughter, were killed. Observers speculated that the attack was intended to kill the Libyan leader himself, although this was officially denied by US sources.  The air strikes were certainly intended to encourage the Libyan military to overthrow Qadhafi. However, this did not happen because the air strikes were opposed by virtually all segments of the population, who rallied behind their leader. Nevertheless, the raid does seem to have had an effect in curbing Libyan sponsorship of terrorism, which seems to have diminished considerably in recent years.

The Tanker War

The A-6 was to see action again in the so-called "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf.

One of the earliest focuses of Iran's interest in exporting its Islamic revolution was the Persian Gulf area. The revolutionary leaders in Iran viewed the Arab countries of the Gulf, along with Iraq, as having tyrannical regimes subservient to one or the other of the superpowers. Throughout the first half of 1980, Radio Iran's increasingly strident verbal attacks on the ruling Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party of Iraq irritated that government, which feared the impact of Iranian rhetoric upon its own Shias, who constituted a majority of the population. There is also evidence the Iraqis hoped to bring about the overthrow of the Khomeini regime and to establish a more moderate government in Iran.

The friction between Iran and Iraq led to a series of border incidents, beginning in April 1980.  On September 22, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq suddenly launched an invasion of Iran. The assault began with an Iraqi air attack on six Iranian air bases and four Iranian army bases. It was followed by an Iraqi land attack at four points along a 700-kilometer front. Baghdad believed that the post-revolutionary turmoil in Iran would permit a relatively quick victory and would lead to a new regime in Tehran more willing to accommodate the interests of Iran's Arab neighbors. This hope proved to be a false one for Iraq.

As the war dragged on, both the USA and the USSR began to get increasingly worried about the security of the region. Soviet deputy foreign minister Vladimir Petrovsky made a Middle East tour expressing his country's concern over the effects of the Iran-Iraq War. In May 1987, United States assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy also toured the Gulf emphasizing to friendly Arab states the United States commitment in the region, a commitment which had become suspect as a result of the disclosure of Washington's secret transfer of arms to the Iranians, officially as an incentive for them to assist in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon. In another diplomatic effort, both superpowers supported the UN Security Council resolutions seeking an end to the war.

The war soon entered a new phase in which the superpowers were becoming more involved. For instance, the Soviet Union, which had ended military supplies to both Iran and Iraq in 1980, resumed large-scale arms shipments to Iraq in 1982 after Iran had banned the Tudeh (Iranian Communist Party) and tried and executed most of its leaders. Subsequently, despite its professed neutrality, the Soviet Union became the major supplier of sophisticated arms to Iraq. In 1985 the United States began clandestine direct and indirect negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran.

The fortunes of war gradually had turned against Iraq, and Iranian forces began to press into Iraq. In February 1986, Iranian units captured the port of Al Faw, which had oil facilities and was one of Iraq's major oil-exporting ports before the war. In late 1986/early 1987, the Iraqi port of Basra appeared in jeopardy of falling to Iranian forces. The superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in largely Shia-populated southern Iraq.

Throughout the Iran-Iraq war there had been attacks on oil tankers traversing the Persian Gulf. As early as May of 1981, Baghdad had unilaterally declared a war zone and had officially warned all ships heading to or returning from Iranian ports in the northern zone of the Gulf to stay away or, if they entered, to proceed at their own risk. The main targets in this phase were the ports of Bandar-e Khomeini and Bandar-e Mashur, and very few ships were hit outside this zone. Despite the proximity of these ports to Iraq, the Iraqi navy did not play an important role in the operations. Instead, Baghdad used Super Frelon helicopters equipped with Exocet missiles or Mirage F-1s and MiG-23s to hit its targets.

In March 1984, the tanker war entered another phase when an Iraqi Super Etendard fired an Exocet missile at a Greek tanker south of Khark Island. Until this attack, Iran had not intentionally attacked civilian ships in the Gulf, but this new wave of Iraqi assaults led Iran to reciprocate. In April of 1984, Tehran launched its first attack against civilian commercial shipping by shelling an Indian freighter. Most observers considered that Iraqi attacks, however, outnumbered Iranian assaults by three to one.

Iran's shipping attacks were largely ineffective because only a limited number of aircraft equipped with long-range antiship missiles were available and there were few ships with long-range surface-to-surface missiles. Moreover, despite repeated Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, Iran itself depended on the sea-lanes for vital oil exports.

During the first four months of 1987, Iran attacked twenty ships and Iraq assaulted fifteen. Kuwaiti ships were favorite targets because Iran strongly objected to Kuwait's close relationship with the Baghdad regime. Kuwait turned to the superpowers, partly to protect its oil exports but largely to seek an end to the war through superpower intervention. Moscow leased three tankers to Kuwait, and by June the United States had reflagged half of Kuwait's fleet of twenty-two tankers.

Finally, direct attacks on the superpowers' ships drew them into the conflict. On May 6, for the first time, a Soviet freighter was attacked in the southern Gulf region, hit by rockets from Iranian gunboats. Ten days later, a Soviet tanker was damaged by a mine allegedly placed by Iranians near the Kuwait coast. More shocking to the United States was the May 17, 1987 accidental Iraqi air attack on the U.S.S Stark in which thirty-seven sailors died. The attack highlighted the danger to international shipping in the Gulf.  By late 1987 Iran's mine-laying activities and attacks on ships had drawn a large fleet of Western naval vessels to the Gulf to ensure that the sea-lanes were kept open.

On April 14, 1988, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts was damaged when it struck an Iranian mine, and the Navy decided on April 18, 1988 to retaliate. The operation was given the code name Praying Mantis. By this time, the Corsair II was well on its way out of Navy service--10 squadrons of A-7s had already been replaced by F/A-18s, and 11 others had been disestablished. Nevertheless, two A-7E squadrons (VA-22 and VA-94 based on the USS Enterprise) participated in strikes against Iranian oil platformas and naval vessels.

The Iran-Iraq war finally ended in 1988, with both sides totally drained. Before the war, somewhere between 500,000 and a million people were dead, between 1 and 2 million people were injured, and there were two to three million refugees. Although little-covered in the Western media, the war was a human tragedy on a massive scale.

Desert Storm

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield was launched to protect Saudi Arabia against Iraq, and a demand was made that Saddam Hussein withdraw his troops from Kuwait. 600,000 Coalition troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, and six carrier battle groups were sent to the Persian Gulf equipped with seven Intruders plus detachments of EA-6Bs from most of the Prowler units. Repeated warnings to Iraq that it must withdraw its forces from Kuwait were ignored, and Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991.

By the time of Desert Storm, only two A-7E squadrons still remained in operational service. These were VA-46 and VA-72 aboard the USS John F. Kennedy. They were inaction from the start. Before dawn on January 17, 1991, 16 A-7Es from these two squadrons carrying AGM-88 HARM missiles attacked radar sites in and around Baghdad. The next day, A-7Es fired AGM-62 Walleye II missiles, and the day after that they launched AGM-84E SLAMs. The next two weeks involved attacks by these two squadrons on targets in Iraq and Kuwait, which included airfields, railroads, ammunition depots, Republican Guard positions as well as suspected Scud missile positions. At the end of the Gulf War, 817 sorties had been flown by these two squadrons. No A-7Es were lost in combat, but one was damaged beyond repair after its nose gear collapsed during launch. The A-7E had a very high availability rate during the conflict, with only one sortie having to be cancelled and achieving a mission completion rate of 99.7 percent.

Retirement

After the end of the Gulf War, the final retirement of the A-7E proceeded swiftly. The last A-7E carrier launch took place on March 27, 1991, and VA-46 and VA-72 were formally disestablished on May 30, 1991. Surprisingly, front line fleet A-7 squadrons actually outlived the Corsair in Naval Reserve service, the type having been retired by the last Corsair reserve squadron, VA-204 at NAS New Orleans,  on May 1 in preparation for its conversion to the F/A-18A and subsequent redesignation as VFA-204.

After that time, the only A-7s still flying were with land-based units, most of them being two-seaters. Those serving with VAQ-33 at NAS Key West, VAQ-34 at NAS Patuxent River, MD, as well as those with the Naval Strike Warfare Center at NAS Fallon, NV were withdrawn on April 1, 1992. These last planes were finally withdrawn from service in November of 1994. Most of the Navy A-7s were consigned to storage at AMARC, from where some have been subsequently transferred to the air forces of Greece, Portugal, and the Royal Thai Navy.

Navy Front-Line Squadrons Flying A-7 Corsair II


  • VA-12 "Flying Ubangis", then "Clinchers"

    Transformed from A-4C to A-7E December 1970.  Seven cruises to Mediterranean. Disestablished October 1, 1986.

  • VA-15 "Valions"

    VA-67 redesignated VA-15 June 1, 1969 and equipped with A-7B.  Transitioned to A-7E October 1975. 10 cruises to Mediterranean. Participated in Grenada operation and in Lebanon.  Redesignated VFA-15 October 1, 1986 and transitioned to F/A-18A

  • VA-22 "Fighting Redcocks"

    Transitioned from A-4F to A-7E January 1971. Two combat cruises to Vietnam. Nine cruises to Mediterranean. Redesignated VFA-22 May 4, 1990 and re-equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-25 "Fist of the Fleet"

    Transitioned from A-1H to A-7B April 1968. Transitioned from A-7B to A-7E in 1970. 3 combat cruises to Vietnam, 5 cruises to Pacific. Redesignated VFA-25 July 1983 and re-equipped with F/A-18A.

  • VA-27 "Royal Maces"

    Activated September 1,1 967 and equipped with A-7A. Transitioned to A-7E in 1970. 4 combat cruises to Vietnam, 10 cruises to Pacific. Redesignated VFA-27 January 24, 1991 and equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-37 "Bulls"

    Activated July 1, 1967 with A-7A. Transitioned to A-7E December 1973. 2 combat cruises to Vietnam, 10 cruises to Mediterranean. Redesignated VFA-37 November 1990 and reequiped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-46 "Clansmen"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7A in 1968, from A-7A to A-7B Jun3 1970, and to A-7E in 1977. 11 cruises to Mediterranean. Disestablished June 30, 1991

  • VA-56 "Champions"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7B in 1968, to A-7A in 1973, to A-7E in March 1977. 3 combat cruises to Vietnam. Disestablished Aug 31, 1986.

  • VA-66 "Mod Squad", then "Roadrunners"

    Transitioned from A-4C to A-7E in 1971. Nine cruises to Mediterranean. Disestablished October 1, 1986.

  • VA-67

    Established August 1967 with A-7B. Disestablished June 1, 1969 and planes and personnel used to activate VA-15.

  • VA-72 "Blue Hawks"

    Transitioned from A-43B to A-7B September 1969. Transitioned to A-7E in 1977. 12 cruises to Mediterrranean. Participited in action in Lebanon and Persian Gulf. Disestablished June 30, 1991.

  • VA-81 "Sunliners"

    Transitioned from A-4C to A-7E in 1970. Nine cruises to Mediterranean. Participated in action against Libya. Redesignated VFA-81 and reequipped with F/A-18C February 1988.

  • VA-82 "Marauders"

    Activated with A-7A May1, 1967. Transitioned to A-7E 1970 and to A-7C in 1971, to A-7E Mar 1975. Three combat cruises to Vietnam. Redesignated VFA-82 July 15, 1987 and re-equipped with F/A-18C

  • VA-83 "Rampagers"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-73 in December 1969. 12 cruises to Mediterranean. Action against Libya and Lebanon.

  • VA-86 "Sidewinders"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7A March 1967. Became first A-7 operational squadron June 1, 1967. Transitioned to A-7B 1970, to A-7C 1971, and to A-7E March 1975. 3 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. 7 cruises to Mediterranean, 2 to North Atlantic., one world cruise. Redesignated VFA-86 July 15, 1987 and re-equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-87 "Golden Warriors"

    Established February 1, 1968 as first A-7B squadron. Transitioned to A-7E 1975. One combat cruise to Tonkin Gulf. 8 cruises to Mediterranean (2 of these to Indian Ocean as well) Participated in Grenada operation and in Lebanon. Redesignated VFA-87 May 1, 1986 and re-equipped with F/A-18A.

  • VA-93 "Blue Blazers"

    Transitioned from A-4F to A-7B 1969. Transitioned to A-7A 1973, to A-7E May 1977. 3 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. Transferred to Yokosuka, Japan for deployment aboard USS Midway in 1973. Disestablished August 31, 1986.

  • VA-94 "Mighty Shrikes"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7E 1971. 2 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. 8 cruises to Western Pacific (5 of these to Indian Ocean as well) 2 cruises to Western Pacific, One to North Pacirfic, and one world cruise. Redesignated VFA-94 June 28, 1990 and re-equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-97 "Warhawks"

    Established June 1, 1967 with A-7A. Transitioned to A-7E 1970. 4 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. 8 cruises to Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. One cruise to North Pacific and one world cruise. Redesignated VFA-97 January 24, 1991 and re-equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-105 "Gunslingers"

    Established March 4, 1968 with A-7A. Transitioned to A-7E 1973. 2 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. 10 cruises to Mediterranean (2 of these to Indian Ocean as well), one world cruise. Redesignated VFA-105 December 17, 1990 and re-equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-113 "Stingers"

    Transitioned from A-4F to A-7B 1968. Transitioned to A-7E 1970. 2 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf. One cruise to Mediterranean, 5 cruises to Western Pacific. Redesignated VFA-113 March 25, 1983 and re-equipped with F/A-18A.

  • VA-122 "Corsair College" then "Flying Eagles"

    Received first A-7A November 15, 1966 as Pacific Fleet Fleet Readiness Squadron. To A-7B in 1967. Received first fleet A-7E July 1969. Received first TA-7C May 23, 1978. Disestablished May 31, 1991.

  • VA-125 "Rough Raiders"

    Equipped with A-7A and A-7B 1970. A-7A a training discontinued 1975, A-7B training discontinued 1977. Disestablished October 1977.

  • VA-174 "Hell Razors"

    VF-174 redesignated VA-174 July 1, 1966 as Fleet Readiness Squadron for A-7. Received A-7A Oct 1966, A-7E Dec 1969, TA-7C July 1978. Dieestablished June 30, 1988.

  • VA-146 "Blue Diamonds"

    Transitioned from A-4B/E to A-7B 1968. Transitioned to A-7E 1969. 4 combat cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 7 cruises to Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. One world cruise, one cruse to Northern Pacific. Redesiganted VFA-146 July 21, 1989 and equipped with F/A-18C.

  • VA-147 "Argonauts"

    Established February 1, 1967 with A-7A, becoming first fleet squadron to receive Corsair II. Received first combat-ready A-7As September 11, 1972. Received firstr operational A-7E September 17, 1969. 5 combat cruises to Tonking Gulf (with diversion to Korea). 8 crusies to Western Pacific.

  • VA-153 "Blue Tail Flies"

    Transitioned from A-4F to A-7A in 1969. To A-7B in 1973. 3 cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 2 to Western Pasific, one to Indian Ocean, one to Mediterranean. Disestablished September 30, 1977.

  • VA-155 "Silver Foxes"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7B 1969. 3 cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 2 to Western Pacific, 1 to Indian Ocean, and one to Mediterranean. Disestablished September 30, 1977.

  • VA-192 "Golden Dragons"

    Transitiooned from A-4E to A-7E February 1970. 2 cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 4 to Western Pacific, 1 to Mediterranean, and 2 to Indian Ocean. Redesignated VFA-192 January 10, 1985 and re-equipped with F/A-18A.

  • VA-195 "Dambusters"

    Transitioned from A-4E to A-7E 1970. 2 cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 4 to Western Pacific, 1 to Mediterranean, 1 to Indian Ocean. Redesignated VFA-195 April 1, 1985 and equipped with F/A-18A.

  • VA-215 "Barn Owls"

    Reactivated March 1, 1968 with A-7B. 3 cruises to Tonkin Gulf, 2 to Mediterranean, 2 to West Pacific. Disestablished September 30, 1977.

Sources:


  1. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, GordonSwanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  3. Corsair--Sterling Ending To a Glorious Naval Career, Stephane Nocolaou, Air Fan International, Vol 1, No. 6, September 1996.

  4. Military Aviation Review, World Air Power Journal, Vol 8, Spring 1992, p 13.

  5. E-mail from Jesse Emerson on radar system of A-7E.