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Flogger Shoot Down

Posted by Jolly on January 4, 2014


25 years ago today two Navy F-14 Tomcats splashed two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers.  Here at FU we are result oriented; so we would have a hard time being critical of an element kill on two MiGs followed by a successful bug out back to the boat.  But if we were to conduct a “fighter pilot debrief” of the event, I’m sure we could find some points to ponder from the 8-minute engagement.  Having flown both a two seat fighter and a single seat killing machine, I can fully understand the comm required between cockpits and wingman to achieve a successful air-to-air engagement.  

If I had to sum up the things these four guys did very well:

-       They maintained mutual support throughout the engagement (not as easy as it sounds)

-       They successfully employed multiple missiles at the appropriate time and appeared to be sorted prior to the merge with high SA post merge.

-       They made the right call to engage the Floggers who were a threat to the boat and them.  It sounded as though the Flogger had locked them up (Maybe a tomcat bro can clear that up for me, was that tone inside 20 miles the RWR??).

-       Nice job getting below the bogeys for look up shots

-       Great use of an F-Bomb when there was no tone from the Aim-9

-       They bugged out with mutual support and returned to the boat with four less missiles than they departed with!

Now as fighter pilots, we are always looking to improve and learn from an engagement like this.  So here are some points to ponder (feel free to add your own):

-       It was not exactly the best example of C3 Comm (Clear, Concise, Correct).  What do I mean by that?  It was too much CB comm and not enough standard concise comm.

-       Too Much Comm.  I.E. not short and to the point.  It’s hard to tell who was talking as well, and there was obviously some confusion about the altitude of the bogeys.

Comm is the biggest take away from this engagement; it usually is the most important point to ponder from any engagement.   I saw the evolution from CB comm in the early 80s to pure comm in the late 80s and 90s.  We really did a lot of great work making our communication between flight members standard and concise, and then when data link (Link 16) came on board it almost eliminated the need to talk on the radios.  Overall, these four guys did a fantastic job downing two MiG’s and maintained great mutual support throughout the engagement, but the comm was pretty gross.  Except for the F-Bomb, that was brilliant!

You can listen to the comm below, along with a nice summary of the engagement from the whoever posted this on YouTube.  The video refers to pilots and radar controllers.  What they really mean is pilots (front seaters), RIOs (back seaters), and GCI (E2 controllers).  Most of the talking on the tape is from the lead RIO.

On the morning of January 4, 1989, the USS Kennedy battle group was operating some f14.jpg130 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, AC207 (CDR Joseph Bernard Connelly/CDR Leo F. Enwright 159610 AC207) and AC202 (LT Hermon C. Cook III/LCDR Steven Patrick Collins 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 hrs, after some time on patrol, the E-2 informed the F-14 crews that four Libyan MiG-23s had taken off from Al Bumbaw airfield, near Tobruk. The F-14s turned towards the first two MiG-23s some 50 km ahead of the rear pair and acquired them with radars. At the time the Floggers were 72 nautical miles (133 km) away at 10,000 ft (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 didn't want to engage. The Floggers MIG-23-Libya.jpgchanged course to intercept at a closing speed of about 870 knots (1,000 mph, 1600 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 did the F-14s repeat this maneuver, still tracking the Libyans. 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 nmi (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 nmi (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 nmi (11 km) range the Tomcats split and the Floggers followed the wingman while the lead Tomcat circled to get a tail angle on them. The wingman engaged with a Sparrow and downed one of the Libyan aircraft. One of the US pilots broadcast "Good kill! Good kill!" The lead Tomcat closed on the final Flogger from the rear quadrant and at 1.5 nmi (2.8 km) the pilot fired a Sidewinder, which hit its target. One crewman broadcast "Good kill!" and "Let's get out of here." The Libyan pilots were seen to successfully eject and parachute into the sea, but the Libyan Air Force was unable to recover them. The Tomcats then proceeded north to return to the carrier.

No one is sure to why the two MiGs operated in this manner and provoked an engagement, and the Libyans did not launch a successful rescue operation to recover the pilots.


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Posted by butch71 on
After listening to the video the tomcats did the right thing by shooting down the two Migs and if they had not done it they would have beeen the losers instead of the Libyans.
Posted by Hangman on
I was stationed in RAF Lakenheath at the time of this incident. So, of course I never heard the full com or analysis of the meeting. Thanks for the update. They (Libyan's) were probably still smarting from the 1986 raid ( which I was in Lakenheath at the time) and maybe was trying to regain some face with the rest of the world. A bunch of people I'm never goanna figure out.
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