The U-2 in Desert Storm Chapter 6 Desert Storm



The Dragon Lady Meets the Challenge
The U-2 in Desert Storm

Chapter 6 Desert Storm

The buildup of coalition forces reached 243,000 by 1 November 1990. This was enough to safeguard Saudi Arabia from attack, but not to oust Iraq from Kuwait. On 8 November President Bush ordered another 200,000 U.S. troops to the region. When the U.N. Security Council met on 29 November it passed resolution 678 giving Iraq until 15 January 1991 to comply with all previous resolutions, including resolution 660 passed on 3 August 1990 demanding an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. If Iraq did not conform, coalition forces could use "all necessary means" to force compliance.1

Because of other worldwide commitments, the 1704RS(P) did not begin building-up immediately. Most additional people arrived on 15 and 16 January. At the end of December the unit still had only five aircraft (two SYERS U-2s, one SPAN U-2, and two ASARS TR-ls) and 153 people (13 fewer than on 31 August). By 16 January 1991, however, the squadron had nine aircraft and 231 people, including 24 pilots. Eventually the 1704RS would amass six U-2s, six TR-ls, 253 people, including 30 pilots, making Desert Storm the largest U-2 operation in history. The buildup also included the MIPE, additional reconnaissance staff to CENTCOM at Riyadh, and another SENIOR BLADE van with a U-2 pilot assigned to monitor missions.2

Although the additional aircraft and people had not yet arrived, during the last week of December the 1704th stepped up preparation for the air war. Exercises gave a preview of the U-2's changing role. An ASARS-equipped aircraft relayed near-real-time target-of-opportunity information to the theater air control center, which passed it on to an airborne battlefield command, control, and communication aircraft, which, in turn, fed that data to airborne F-llls from the 48FTW. The F-llls then struck the simulated target. The ASARS performed so well the squadron flew a similar test with SYERS a few days later. Within ten minutes of target acquisition by the SYERS, the theater air control center had approximate coordinates ready for the strike aircraft. This was a harbinger of tactical-oriented commanders' expectations for the U-2's role when the air war began. 3

Meanwhile, on 15 January, Lieutenant Colonel Peterson moved squadron personnel on base to protect them from possible terrorist attacks. Pilots had rooms in hardened aircraft shelters. This provided them a dark, quiet place to sleep. Unfortunately, shelter space was so limited four people had to share a room. Major David Wright, the squadron operations officer, tried to schedule everyone in a room to fly either day sorties or night sorties, but this was not always possible. Pilots often had to rely on Restoril, a prescribed sleeping medication, for crew rest. The only available accommodations for everyone else, including civilian contractors, were tents next to the flight line. Although spacious and air conditioned, the tents had no sound protection from nearby jets. Since most F-111 sorties were at night, day shift workers seldom got more than one or two hours of uninterrupted sleep.4

Also, as the 15 January deadline approached, General Schwarzkopf and most of the USCENTCOM headquarters staff moved from MacDill AFB, Florida to Riyadh. Since General Schwarzkopf took no one with airborne reconnaissance experience with him, Lieutenant Colonel Mark S. Spencer deployed from the Pentagon's Joint Reconnaissance Center to the CENTCOM/J-2 (Director of Intelligence) on 2 January. Lieutenant Colonel Spencer became part of a five- person Joint Reconnaissance Cell, which included overhead reconnaissance. He spent the first two weeks educating operations' taskers on the U-2's capabilities and limitations. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Colonel Spencer had no access to the "Black Hole," which planned the initial phase of the air war. When General Schwarzkopf released the plan about 12 hours before the allied attack began, there were no provisions for airborne reconnaissance. U.S. Navy Captain Agnew, who headed the Joint Reconnaissance Cell, alerted the Director of Intelligence and airborne reconnaissance was added at the last minute. 5

On 16 January 1991*, President Bush announced the beginning of the allied air offensive against Iraq two hours earlier. Cable News Network (CNN) reporters in Baghdad, against a backdrop of antiaircraft artillery and exploding bombs, had already alerted the world that Desert Storm had begun. The screen went blank moments later as an F-117 struck Iraq's communications center. CNN inadvertently proved to the world the effectiveness of stealth technology.

*It was the morning of 17 January in the Middle East.

With the start of the air war, rules governing U-2 operations switched from PARPRO to emergency reconnaissance operations (ERO). Operational control switched from SAC to CENTAF. Lieutenant Colonel Lafferty had already talked with the Strategic Reconnaissance Center and had confirmed that he, as the theater commander's representative, had the authority to approve missions. He kept SRC informed of the reconnaissance operations, but approval authority rested in the theater. Lieutenant Colonel Spencer, working closely with Lafferty, made sure the U-2 taskings were in the air tasking order (ATO). Lafferty alerted the 1704RS of impending taskings to allow the mission planners enough time to prepare routes and flight plans. In anticipation of the coming war, mission planners had already drawn tracks for most target areas in Iraq.6

Switching from PARPRO to emergency reconnaissance operations with the onset of the air war also gave the U-2 authority to cross the border into Iraq. Coalition fighters flew MIGCAPs nearby to protect against Iraqi fighters. Also, the ATO alerted coalition pilots that the U-2 would be in the area and U-2 pilots stayed in contact with the airborne AWACS to avoid a "friendly fire" incident.7

Captain Mark C. McDonald was flying an ASARS mission when the Desert Storm began. He was scheduled for a 0140L** hours takeoff on 17 January. But when the squadron received notice that the air war would begin at 0300 hours***. On 17 January, his takeoff was delayed to 0245 hours. His track, still south of the Iraqi border, included airfields in western Iraq. McDonald recalled seeing fighter activity and bombs exploding****. His defensive systems showed two SA-2 activations and one detonated slightly above his altitude, approximately ten miles away. The mission planner had designed the track well keeping the aircraft ten miles outside the SA-2 range. Flying aircraft 1076 with a SYERS sensor onboard, Major B. L. Bachus took off at 0519 hours on 17 January. His was the first U-2 "border-crossing" mission into Iraq. Bachus described the experience as feeling "like a burglar who broke into a policeman's house without a gun and the policeman is expected home at any minute."8

**All times are local.
***Official start time is listed as 0239L.
****Coalition weapons hit the first Iraqi targets at 170239L Jan 91.

When the war began the operations tempo immediately jumped to five sorties a day. Although additional pilots had arrived, there was insufficient time to train them on local procedures, so the pilots who had been at Taif longest flew the initial missions. Lieutenant Colonel Peterson, himself, flew on 18 January. On the third day the newer pilots began flying operational sorties.9

During Desert Shield the U-2 looked for indications the Iraqi troops were moving, especially toward Saudi Arabia, and sought likely targets for future bombing operations. When the air war began the U-2 initially flew bomb damage assessment sorties, but almost immediately switched to searching for SCUD missile launching sites. Using primarily the ASARS on-tether, the U-2 patrolled suspected launch areas in Iraq passing near-real-time data to the TRAC van in Riyadh. When the interpreter in the TRAC van spotted a likely SCUD missile launcher, he called in an air strike on the position. Major Bachus, for example, while enroute to his planned target area, received a new tasking to examine a suspected fixed SCUD site in Qasr Amij E area of western Iraq. He found the launch site and fighters destroyed it later that day. Observers credited this technique with destroying 15 or 16 missile launchers during the first week of the war *****. A B-52 bombardier joined the crew in the TRAC van and helped assess targets. On one mission he used the ASARS information to redirect a flight of B-52s, within two-and-a-half hours of the original target, to a suspected ammunition storage area. Bomber crews reported seeing secondary explosions up to six thousand feet after the strike.10

*****Many SCUD and launcher "kills" were revised downward after the war.

In February when a second Senior Blade van (dubbed son-of- Blade) became available, it deployed to King Khalid Military City about 40 miles south of the Saudi-Iraqi border. Although the 1704RS had flown a few SCUD-hunting missions with the SYERS on- tether before, the deployment of son-of-Blade allowed the SYERS to cover all of southern Iraq while remaining on-tether. Major Wright, scheduled to return home, deployed to King Khalid Military City with the son-of-Blade instead. By this time U-2 tasking procedures allowed the airplane to be dynamically retasked during flight. Wright, as an experienced U-2 pilot, evaluated the danger to the aircraft to prevent unnecessary risks during these dynamic retaskings. If attacking aircraft spotted a suspicious target, the U-2 could leave its planned track, examine the target, relaying the data via the tether back to the son-of-Blade. Photo interpreters and an Army intelligence officer in the van would decide if the target warranted an immediate attack. If so, strike aircraft would hit the target. Later the U-2 would assess the damage. Major Wright related that a U-2, using this technique, detected a suspected chemical weapons' storage site. General Schwarzkopf, himself, received the information and ordered an air strike against the target. The U-2 returned the next day to confirm the target had been destroyed. Also, when General Schwarzkopf wanted the Persian Gulf surveyed to assess damage from the Iraqis dumping oil into the Gulf, a SYERS-equipped U-2 diverted from its scheduled track to overfly the damaged area.11

On 27 February, during the ground war, Captain Dan Sanders flew a mission to pinpoint Iraqi troop movements west of Basra, Iraq. Informed that coalition and Iraqi forces were waging a fierce tank battle, Sanders deviated from his preplanned track, visually located the battle site, and positioned his airplane so the sensors could acquire the targets. Data from the sensors allowed friendly forces to withdraw and Apache and Cobra helicopters to strike the Iraqi tanks. Captain Sanders then noticed Iraqi reinforcements moving toward the area. He relayed that information to coalition forces and repositioned his aircraft so the sensors could acquire the new targets. With Sanders help, the coalition forces destroyed 3SO Iraqi vehicles, including 23 T-72 tanks.12

Despite the invaluable near-real-time information ASARS and SYERS were providing, in-theater commanders, especially Army commanders, wanted hard-copy products. Although the systems could provide hard copy, the process required about 20 minutes and interfered with near-real-time collection. The U-2 began flying camera sorties to satisfy this need, but until the MIPE arrived in theater film processing took several days. Before the aircraft had border-crossing authority, U-2s carried the H-camera and furnished spot imagery of targets inside Iraq. With border-crossing authority, the U-2 flew IRIS-III missions that covered half the AOR in one sortie, but with less clarity. Field commanders appreciated the additional coverage, but wanted greater resolution. Lieutenant Colonels Lafferty and Spencer, working with the 1704RS, decided to revise the H-camera's procedures. Instead of shooting photographs at an angle, as it was designed to do, the camera would shoot straight down from nadir. Technicians at Taif had to remount and adjust the cameras. Mission planners had to develop tracks, similar to the IRIS-III tracks, but with the lines less than three miles apart since the H-camera at nadir only covers a two-mile swath on each pass. The result was pictures beyond expectations. Again field commanders loved it, but wanted it to cover a larger area. Lieutenant Colonel Spencer recalled, "We turned around a system and made it do something it wasn't designed to do. In reality, because of the professionalism of our people, we were giving far more than what we should have been able to, but we were criticized for not living up to the expectations of people who knew little about the system."13

The daily taskings also reflected the dynamic nature of tactical reconnaissance. Targets changed constantly, Lieutenant Colonel Lafferty recounted that although he worked 16 hours a day, sometimes CENTAF or CENTCOM taskers would change the planned route after he had gone to bed. They would call Taif directly, perhaps at 2200 hours, and change a route that Lafferty had coordinated earlier. The mission planner would have to construct a new track to replace the one he had drawn earlier. Pilots could no longer do conventional mission planning a day in advance, since they often did not know where they were going until just before takeoff. Lieutenant Colonel Spencer, from the perspective of CENTCOM headquarters, explained that conditions and circumstances changed so quickly that what was true at 1000 hours might not be true at 2200 hours. Ground unit commanders, in planning for the ground war that began on 24 February, needed to know the exact position of the enemy before planning an attack. Major James C. Hundley, a U-2 mission planners, noted that despite the short notices and the frustration of redoing just-completed tracks, the mission planners completed the tracks for every tasking enabling the pilots to meet the mission requirements. 14

The increased demand for U-2 imagery caused the operations tempo to nearly double over night. From 1 through 16 January 1991, the 1704RS scheduled 44 sorties and flew 38. In the last 15 days of January, the squadron scheduled 85 sorties and flew 73. Total flying hours for January was 872.6. February's flying schedule set all-time records for deployed U-2 operations: 182 sorties flown, with 1386.7 total flying hours.15

The recording breaking operations tempo put considerable pressure on the maintenance people, both military and civilian, to furnish mission-ready aircraft for so many flights. Fortunately, the U-2 flies better at higher ops tempos. Still, the environment with the dust and heat, the lack of hangar space that forced maintainers to leave airplanes on the ramp exposed to the elements, and round-the-clock operations in a wartime setting made the work especially difficult. Dust accumulated inside the fuselages and engines, but caused no problems. Except the tire problems, mentioned previously, and inertial navigational system overheating, the temperatures had little affect on the airplane. Occasionally, if a fully-fueled aircraft sat on the ramp in the sun too long, the fuel expanded and ran out through the overflow port. This was more a bother than a problem, a bucket to catch the overflow prevented fuel from running onto the ramp. On the other hand, heat could cause problems for pilots in their pressure suits. But physiological support division technicians developed procedures to provide extra cooling into the cockpit until the pilot was ready for takeoff. So the people and equipment performed well, despite the extreme conditions. 16

But, like other squadron members, the last minute changes and additions to the flying schedule affected the maintenance people. Since not all U-2s could carry all sensors, the aircraft were not completely interchangeable. Lockheed technical representatives were especially helpful in keeping the maintainers aware of which sensors each aircraft could carry. If a late night change in the ATO called for a change in sensors, maintainers often had to scramble to prepare another airplane or spend hours moving a sensor from one airplane to another. Despite the heat, dust, lack of hangar space, and last minute changes, the 1704RS(P) maintainers had a fully-mission-capable rate of 92 percent for February 1991. This compared with a 72.5 percent rate at Beale for the same month. 17

Another constant concern for Major Steve Lundell, the squadron's logistics officer, was JPTS. When Desert Storm began, the squadron had almost 450 thousand gallons of JPTS on hand, an estimated four-week supply, based on a sortie rate of five per day. When the operations tempo increased to seven sorties per day, the monthly JPTS requirement grew to approximately 600 thousand gallons. Although ships and C-130 "bladder birds" kept bringing in more fuel, by the middle of February the squadron had approximately a two-week supply. Major Lundell acknowledged that between resupply ships the total once dropped to less that 100 thousand gallons. Logistic staffs at Headquarters SAC and at the San Antonio Logistics Center worked to increase the supply. Extra fuel and decreased flying activity after the end of the war eased the shortage.18

Squadron activity peaked in the week before 24 February 1991, the scheduled onset of the ground war. The 1704RS(P) had 12 airframes and regularly flew seven sorties a day. Dynamic battlefield conditions made short-notice track and schedule changes almost routine. The 100-hour ground war, beginning at 240400L and ending at 280800L February, was quick and decisive. The U.S. Air Force and the 1704RS(P) had done their job well. 19

The U-2's performance and contributions during Desert Shield and Desert Storm were impressive. During the five months of Desert Shield, the U-2 flew 284 sorties and 2726.2 hours, averaging nearly 57 sorties and over 545 hours per month: an impressive performance. In the six weeks of Desert Storm, the U-2 flew 260 sorties and 2022.5 hours, averaging over 43 sorties and 337 hours Her week: a phenomenal achievement. Authorities estimated that the U-2 provided approximately 50 percent of all imagery intelligence and 30 percent of the total intelligence for the war: quite an accomplishment for the platform's first venture into tactical reconnaissance.20  

Chapter 6 Notes

l.Article (U), Washington Post, "Resolution Sets Jan. 15 Deadline For Withdrawal," 30 Nov 90; msg (U), AFNEWS/IIB to AIG 9333/PA, et al, "United Nations Resolutions," 152215Z Feb 91.

2.Hist (S/NF/LD/WIN/SAR/SY/OADR), SAC, "History of 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Jan-Jun 91 (U)," vol 5, 1 Nov 91, Exhibits II-65 & II-66, info used (S/NF/LD/OADR); intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Spencer; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Wright, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

3.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; meg (S/NF/OADR), USCINCCENT/CCJ2 to HQ SAC/DOR, et al, "U-2/TR-1 Wartime Requirements for SWA (U)," 200900Z Dec 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Manning and Equipment Issues (U)," 260000Z Dec 90; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Manning and Equipment Issues (U)," 281100Z Dec 90; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), 1704PRS/DO to 99SRS/CC, et al, "Pilot Rotations (U)," 310000Z Dec 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 90-16 (U)," 011145Z Jan 91; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 90-17 (U)," 062215Z Jan 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

4.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95- 1070.

5.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Spencer, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

6.Int w (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Spencer; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Mathews; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to USCINCCENT/CCJ2, et al, "SAC SWA Reconnaissance Tasking and Execution Procedures (U)," 142225Z Jan 91; meg (S/NF/OADR), 17ADP/DOR to 9SRW/CC, "Trip Report (U)," 141200Z Feb 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95- 1070.

7.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Wright, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

8.Intvw (S/OADR), SSg E.D. Wallwork, 1704RS/HO, with Maj B.L. Bachus, 1704RS, ca 19 Jan 91; intvw (S/OADR), SSg E.D. Wallwork, 1704RS/HO, with Capt M.C. McDonald, 1704RS, ca 19 Jan 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

9.Intvw (S/NF/OADR), SSg E.D. Wallwork, 1704RS/HO, with Lt Col S.M. Peterson, 1704RS/CC, ca 19 Jan 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

10.Intvw (S/OADR), SSg Wallwork with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, "Commander's Mission Summary Olympic Flare (U)," 191645Z Jan 91; memo (S), Col C.W. Hinkle, "Recommendation for the Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross," info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

ll.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Wright; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; meg (S/OADR), Det 8, 2762LS/ME to USCINCENT/CCJ2, et al, "Airlift Support for Additional U-2 SYERS/SENIOR BLADE (U)," 241900Z Jan 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

12.Memo (S), Col C.W. Hinkle, "Recommendation for the Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross," info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070

13.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Spencer; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 91-19 (sic) (U)," 102145Z Feb 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

14.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Spencer; (S/OADR), SSg E.L. Wallwork, 1704RS/HO, with Maj J.C. Hundley, 1704RS, ca 19 Jan 91; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 91-19 (U)," 272345Z Jan 91; meg (S/NF/OADR), 17ADP/DOR to 9SRW/CC, "Update (U)," 191100Z Feb 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

15.Hist (S/LD/WIN/SAR/OADR), CENTCOM, "History of the 1704 Reconnaissance Squadron, Provisional, 27 January-28 February 1991 (U)," info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

16.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Carmody; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Wright; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 91-20 (U)," 031731Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/LG to 17RW/CC, et al, "Material Deficiency Report (U)," 030935Z Feb 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

17.Hist (S/NF/WIN/LD/SAR), "History of 1704RS(P), 27 Jan-28 Feb 91-(U)," vol 1, 5, info used (S); hist (S/NF/WIN/LD/SAR/SY), SAC, "History of 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, January-June 1991 (U)," vol 1, 158, info used (U); meg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to 17RW/CC, et al, "U-2 Aircraft Swapout (U)," 042110Z Jan 91; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Aircraft Configuration Changes (U)," 050055Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR/LGX to USCINCCENT/CCJ2, et al, "Aircraft Configuration Changes (U)," 122200Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), JCS/J36/JRC to USCINCEUR/ECJ3, et al, "Additional Akrotiri Aircraft (U)," 142015Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), USCINCCENT/CCJ2/JRC to HQ SAC/DOR, et al, "Additional Aircraft for Desert Storm (U)," 152201Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR/LGX to OAF/DO, et al, "Busy Relay (U)," 161600Z Feb 91; meg (S/OADR), CJCS to CINCSAC, et al, "Deployment Order for Additional U-2/TR-1 Aircraft (U)," 161718Z Feb 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

18.Hist (S/NF/WIN/LD/SAR), "History of 1704RS(P), 19-21 Jan 91 (U)," vol 1, 4, info used (S); intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell; mag (S/OADR), 48FTW/RM to SA-ALC/SF, "Additional Requirement for JPTS (U)," 130500Z Feb 91; mag (S/OADR), HQ SAC/LGSF to SA ALC/SF, et al, "Additional JPTS Requirement (U)," 151503Z Feb 91; meg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP gl-22 (U)," 172100Z Feb 91; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 91-23 (U)," 241723Z Feb 94; msg (S/OADR), USCENTAF/LG to USTRANSCOM/CAT, et al, "Airlift of JPTS (U)," 020517Z Mar 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95- 1070.

l9.Msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "SITREP 91-23 (U)," 241723Z Feb 91; hist (S/NF/LD/WIN/SAR/OADR), CENTCOM, "History of the 1704 Reconnaissance Squadron, Provisional, 27 January-28 February 1991 (U)," 1; (U) Gulf War Air Power survey, vol v, "A Statistical Compendium and Chronology," 231, 240, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

20.Hist (S/NF/LD/WIN/SAR/OADR), CENTCOM, "History of the 1704 Reconnaissance Squadron, Provisional, 27 January-28 February 1991 (U)," 1-2, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.



The Dragon Lady Meets the Challenge
The U-2 in Desert Storm