The U-2 in Desert Storm Chapter 5 Desert Shield



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

Chapter 5 Desert Shield

The first two U-2s landed at King Fahad Air Base, Taif, on 17 August 1990, only two days after Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd and the first contingent of OL-CH arrived. Two days after receiving the aircraft, OL-CH launched its first two OLYMPIC FLARE sorties on 19 August 1990. Captain Lamb flew the first successful operational U-2 sortie, a SENIOR SPAN mission in aircraft 1070. The SYERS mission, however, was unable to establish a data link with SENIOR BLADE. Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd's flight on 21 August in aircraft 1076 was the first successful SYERS mission. All missions during Desert Shield followed basic PARPRO rules. The initial tracks were in the neutral zone between Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, 15-20 miles south of the Iraqi border. From there SYERS could survey most of southern Iraq and SENIOR SPEAR/RUBY sensors covered most of Iraq, including Baghdad. A few days later the tracks expanded along the Saudi-Iraqi border, the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, and the Saudi-Yemeni border.1

On 23 August the first two TR-ls from the 17th Reconnaissance Wing, RAF Alconbury, Great Britain, arrived at Taif*. The TR-ls carried Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System-II (ASARS-II) sensors. ASARS gathered imagery data and relayed it directly to the Army's Tactical Radar Correlator (TRAC) van that deployed to Riyadh in the same compound as the SENIOR BLADE. Intelligence officers in the van could use this information to direct airborne strike aircraft to targets. Captain Sanders completed the first operational ASARS sortie on 29 August. By the end of that month OL-CH had flown eleven SYERS, seven Span, and three ASARS missions for a total of 168.9 hours.**2 *This gave the unit 4 aircraft and 10 pilots. **The limiting factor in the U-2/TR-1 inventory was and is the sensors. As the aircraft inventory increased at Taif, maintainers often switched sensors between U-2s and Tr-1. The aircraft were not limited to carrying only one sensor. The SENIOR SPAN system, however, is not interchangeable, so aircraft 1070 fleww all the SENIOR SPAN missions until Lockheed finished converting another airframe to accommodate the SENIR SPAN configuration. For a complete breakdown of all Desert Shield sorties, see Appendix 1.

Amid the confusion of the OL-CH bed-down and the first operational sorties, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing's F-llls arrived at Taif on 22 August. As the ranking American officer, Colonel Thomas J. Lennon, 48TFW Commander, became host unit commander and OL-CH became the tenant. Members of OL-CH perceived that the F-lll community considered the U-2 organization as "second-class citizens," since the U-2 did not carry bombs. Relations between the two units quickly deteriorated. Colonel Lennon ordered OL-CH enlisted people out of the Al Gaim compound to make room for 48FTW people. OL-CH enlisted people reluctantly moved to the King Fahad Sports Complex. Then, after Lieutenant Colonel Lafferty had found two refueling trucks to replace the "safety nightmares" the OL-CH was using, Colonel Lennon insisted the trucks should go to the 48FTW. Only General Caruana's intervention prevented OL-CH from losing the trucks. This characterized relations between the two units until family health problems forced the OL-CH commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd, to return to the United States. Lieutenant Colonel Steve Peterson, his replacement, came to Taif with orders to "fix" the relations between the two units. Relations between the commanders gradually improved, but animosity between the "troops" continued to create irritations until the "air war" began on 16 January 1991. 3

The operations tempo for OL-CH, meanwhile, increased to 51 sorties and 432.4 hours in September 1990. By 30 September, the unit, now designated the 1704th Reconnaissance Squadron (provisional), scheduled a SYERS sortie every day, an ASARS mission every night, and a SENIOR SPAN flight every other day. In October a SYERS-equipped U-2, aircraft 1098, deployed from Detachment 2 at Osan AB, Korea, to Taif. With the additional aircraft the squadron flew 62 sorties, including 29 SYERS, 27 ASARS, and 6 SPAN in that month. The operations tempo increased to 78 sorties in both November and December. By 16 January 1991, the 1704RS(P) had flown 284 sorties and 2726.2 hours in support of Desert Shield.4

As stated previously, pilots flew Desert Shield missions under PARPRO rules. The rules, however, gradually changed to meet theater conditions. Since USAF E-3 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft were aloft and in contact with the U-2 during flights, VFR conditions and periodic radio checks were eliminated. Another PARPRO rule, "assume all aircraft in the area are friendly and do not deviate from flight track," caused some anxious moments. The first incident occurred on 14 September. Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd was flying parallel to the Saudi-Iraqi border, 15 miles from the border. Two Iraqi fighters flew along the border, 5,000 lower than the U-2. The AWACS warned Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd of the approaching fighters, but PARPRO rules dictated that he continue along his scheduled flight path. Eventually, the fighters veered north and the U-2 completed its mission. Later, CENTAF provided an airborne MIGCAP to protect the U-2 from possible attack. More than 20 other incidents, ranging from fighters to radio contact to radar indications, kept the U-2 pilots from becoming lackadaisical during Desert Shield.5

The heavy flying schedule affected everyone in the 1704RS(P), especially the mission planners. They kept a hectic pace drawing tracks, coordinating routes with both the Strategic Reconnaissance Center at Offutt AFB and the Pentagon's Joint Reconnaissance Center, and planning missions. During Desert Shield, JRC would notify SRC of the requirement. SRC then called the planners at Taif, gave them the coordinates that formed a box within which the mission was to fly, and ask the planners to devise the best track. Working with an intelligence planner, the mission planner created a flight track within the box that allowed the sensors to operate at optimum angles. He then relayed the proposed track to SRC, who coordinated the track with JRC. After both JRC and SRC approved the track, SRC would notify the 1704RS(P) to fly the mission. Lieutenant Colonel Lafferty at Riyadh worked with SRC, the 1704RS(P), and CENTAF to speed up the process and make it flow smoothly. 6

Major Les Mathews, a 1704RS(P) mission planner during Desert Shield, recounted that tracks for the electronic sensors were not as critical as with camera missions***. Another planner checked the track for accuracy before releasing it to SRC. Initially tracks changed often, and each change meant redoing the track. Later the tracks became more standard and required fewer changes. As time drew near for the air war, however, the number of track and schedule changes greatly increased. In December, for example, CENTCOM added an extra sortie, with only four hours notice. Also, on 20 December CENTCOM identified a need for U-2 optical imagery and the 1704RS(P) started flying Intelligence Reconnaissance Imagery System III (IRIS III) camera missions and the 9th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron deployed to set up the mobile intelligence processing element (MIPE) at Riyadh****. Soon, planners and pilots would have to learn new procedures to accommodate the many changes and dynamic taskings coming from CENTCOM.7 ***For maximum clarity, camera missions required optimum light, contrast, and camera angles. ****See chapter 3 for details on the MIPE and imagery processing.

Meanwhile, military maintainers and civilian contractor advisors worked around the clock to provide the mission-ready aircraft and the sensors to meet the demanding flying schedule. For the first 100 sorties of Desert Shield U-2/TR-l's mission capable rate was 98.7 percent. The Air Force-wide average was 83.2 percent for U-2s and 66 percent for TR-ls. Only one aircraft returned early because of airframe problems. In the warlike environment of Desert Shield, the civilians work the same 12-hour shifts, lived in the similar facilities, and faced the same hardships as their military counterparts. Both Lieutenant Colonels Lloyd and Peterson praised the contributions of the civilians as vital to the operation's success.8

A problem with tail-wheel tires illustrated the close relationship between the civilian contractors and the U-2 military maintainers. In the 1970s more durable polyurethane tires replaced the original rubber tires on the U-2. The polyurethane worked well until 1990 when the tread started separating from the tire carcass. At Taif, where the aircraft sometimes had to taxi for a long distance, the U-2 would arrive at the end of the runway, ready for takeoff with a separated rear-wheel tire. Working together, the civilian and military maintainers developed a technique for changing the tire with the aircraft engines running. This prevented any late takeoffs for tire problems. Although the tire manufacturer denied any change in the manufacturing process, he eventually discovered the problem. Environmental concerns had caused his workers to replace the aerosol cans of 5% silicon, used as a separating agent in the tire molds, with a 100% silicon solution applied with a cloth. The higher concentration of silicon prevented the polyurethane from adhering properly. Switching from silicon to teflon as a parting agent solved the problem.9

The 17th Reconnaissance Wing at RAF Alconbury also contributed immeasurably to maintaining the U-2s in Desert Shield/Storm. First, since the U-2 and TR-1 were virtually the same aircraft and parts were interchangeable, the wing served as a parts' depot for operations at Taif. With a unique aircraft and such a limited inventory, parts were not available through normal supply channels. Without the 17RW, either the 9SRW or Detachment 8 at Robins AFB, Georgia would have had to ship U-2 parts to Taif, a much slower process. Also, 9th Wing leaders quickly realized that lack of space, limited personnel, and an exceptionally high ops tempo would preclude the 1704RS(P) from doing phase inspections at Taif. The U-2 requires a phase inspection every 200 hours under training conditions with short flights and many "touch-and-go" landings, such as operations at Beale. During contingencies, however, with long flight times and only one takeoff and landing per flight, the phase inspection interval can increase to 400 hours. The 17RW agreed to do the phase inspections for 1704RS(P) aircraft at RAF Alconbury. Rotating U-2s back to Beale for phase inspections would have taken longer, leaving fewer aircraft available for operational sorties, and used up about 50 hours in flight time, reducing operational hours available between phase inspections. Doing phase inspections at Alconbury was the best solution available and began in October 1990. 10

Ninth Strategic Reconnaissance Wing KC-135Qs were also critical to the U-2s success during the Gulf War. Although General H. T. Johnson, Military Airlift Command Commander, activated the civil reserve air fleet for the first time in history to provide additional airlift, airlift was still very limited. The 9th Wing deployed 20 tankers to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and several others to supplement the tanker task force in Europe and the Pacific. Wing maintainers continued to do KC-135 phase inspections at Beale. In August 1990, shortly after Desert Shield began, Detachment 8 suggested using SAC organic airlift to support the U-2 operations because the "spares and support equipment for both ground and airborne systems [were] largely prototype and one-of-a-kind with very few or no spares." 11 Headquarters SAC agreed and scheduled weekly tanker flights from RAF Mildenhall, Great Britain to Taif. USCENTCOM also initiated "Desert Express," a nonstop C-141 flight from Charleston AFB, South Carolina to Saudi Arabia to carry high priority cargo. The 9SRW used these alternate carriers when feasible, but the KC-135Q tankers rotating between Beale and Saudi Arabia, through RAF Mildenhall, carried almost all parts, equipment, and people between Beale, Alconbury, and Taif. A KC-135Q even carried a spare U-2 engine to Taif, a feat few people believed possible. Tankers also shifted sensors from Korea, Panama, England, Cyprus, and the United States to Saudi Arabia. Colonel Morton acknowledged the operation at Taif greatly benefited from having the tankers. "I am sure the airlift community still doesn't appreciate how we solved many of our own problems by using the tankers." 12

Although the 1704RS(P) had more aircraft than normal for a detachment and the operations tempo was higher, in many ways it was "business as usual" during Desert Shield. But a significant change was beginning. Pilots were learning to coordinate with AWACS. PARPRO rules were adapting to new conditions. Mission planners and maintainers were responding faster than ever before to dynamic taskings from theater commanders. But the changes were only just beginning. Desert Storm would dramatically change the way theater commanders viewed the U-2 and the way the U-2 community viewed itself.  

Notes for Chapter 5

l.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Lloyd; William T. Y'Blood, (S/NF/WIN/OADR) The Eagle and the Scorpion: The USAF and the Desert Shield First-Phase Deployment, 7 August-8 November 1990 - (UJ (Washington: Center for Air Force History, 1992), 38; rpt (S/NF/LD/OADR), USCENTCOM, "Review of 1990 with the 1704th Reconnaissance Squadron Provisional," 2-3, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

2.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Lloyd; msg (S/OADR), C3CS to CSA, et al, "Airborne Reconnaissance Support (U)," 161955Z Aug 90; rpt (S/NF/LD/OADR), "Review of 1990 with the 1704th Reconnaissance Squadron Provisional," 1-4, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

3.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Lloyd; intvw (S/NF), Dr C. F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Lt Col S. M. Peterson, 27 Jan 94, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

4.Hist (S/NF/LD/OADR), USCENTCOM, "History of the 1704th Reconnaissance Squadron Provisional, 27 January-28 February 1991 (U), n 7; msg (S/OADR), CJCS to CSAF, "Deployment Order (U)," 211930Z Sep 90; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to 15AF/DO, et al, "Request for U-2 SYERS Support (U)," 231400Z Sep 90; msg (S/OADR), Det 2, 9SRW/CC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Deployment Issues (U)," 270715Z Sep 90; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to 9SRW OL-CH Deployed/CC/DO, "Daily U-2R SYERS Missions in SWA (S)," 272030Z Sep 90, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070 .

5.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Lloyd; meg (S/OADR), SAC/INC to 9SRW/CC, et al, "U-2/TR-1 Threat Assessment (U)," 111500Z Oct 90; msg (S/LD/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to 1704RS(P)/CC, et al, "Alternate Entry/Exit Procedures for OLYMPIC FLARE (U)," 262130Z Oct 90; meg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/IN to USCENTAF/SCOF, et al, "MIJI Report 900- 007 (U)," 011440Z Nov 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/IN to USCENTAF/IN, et al, "Possible Fighter Reaction to Mission Aircraft (U)," 012045Z Nov 90; msg (S/OADR), 9SRW/INZ to 544CAS/CAOS, "U-2 Mission Debriefs (U)," 052210Z Nov 90; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to JRC, et al, "Track Report (U)," 081600Z Nov 90; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR to JRC, et al, "Track Report (U)," 142100Z Nov 90; msg (S/NF/LD/OADR), 1704PRS/IN to HQ SAC/SAC, et al, "Fighter Activations (S)," 140730Z Dec 90, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95- 1070.

6.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Lafferty; intvw (S/NF), Dr C.F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Maj Les Mathews, 9OSS/OSTC, 29 Sep 94, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

7.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Ma] Mathews; msgs (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to HQ SAC/LOX, et al, "SITREP 90-06 through 90-18 (U)," 22 Dec 90-13 Jan 91; rpt (S/NF/WIN/OADR), 9RTS, "1700th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron Provisional After Action Report (U)," 25 Mar 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

8.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Lloyd; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Lt Col Peterson; intvw (S/NF), Dr C.F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Mr Andy Stumpp, ADP, 13 Sep 94; intvw (S/NF), Dr C.F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Mr Bud Fortner, ADP, 13 Sep 94; intvw (S/NF), Dr C.F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Mr John Casuba, ADP, 13 Sep 94; intvw (S/NF), Dr C.F. Cross, 9RW/HO, with Mr Tom Hutty, ADP, 14 Sep 94; msg (S/OADR), 9SRW OL-CH Deployed/CC to HQ SAC/SBS, et al, "SITREP 90-03 (U)," 300836Z Sep 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to HQ SAC/LOX, et al, "SITREP 90-0S (U)," 161716Z Oct 90, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

9.Interview (S/NF), Cross with Carmody; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

10.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Morton; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Stumpp; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Fortner; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Casuba; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Hutty; msg (S/OADR), 9SRW OL-CH Deployed/CC to SRC/DORSU, et al, "BUSY RELAY-U2R/801092 (S)," 021140Z Oct 90; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/SBS to 9SRW OL-CH Deployed/CC, et al, "Aircraft Swapout (U)," 131953Z Sep 90; meg (S/OADR), 17RW/LG to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Aircraft Phases (S)," 281000Z Sep 90; msg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/DOR/LGX to 9SRW/CC, et al, "Aircraft Phases (U)," 281300Z Sep 90; msg (S/LD/OADR), HQ SAC/LGX/DOR to 17RW/CC, et al, "U-2, TR-1 Aircraft Management in Support of Desert Shield (S)," 041602Z Oct 90; msg (S/OADR), 9SRW OL-CH Deployed/CC to SRC/DORSU, et al, "BUSY RELAY-TR1/801086 (S)," 081531Z Oct 90; msg (S/OROR), 1704PRS/CC to SRC/DORSU, et al, "BUSY RELAY- TR/1801076 (S)," 141505Z Oct 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC to SRC/DORSU, et al, "BUSY RELAY-TR1/801070 (S)," 251116Z Oct 90; msg (S/OADR), 1704PRS/CC/LG to HQ SAC/DOR/LGXR, "U-2 Phase Time (U)," 011700Z Jan 91; msg (U), CINCSAC/CS to AIG 667/CC, et al, "Desert Shield Impact on Phase I/Phase II Inspections," 071700Z Jan 91, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

11.Msg (S/OADR), Det 8 2762LS/CC to HQ SAC/LRC, et al, "Logistics Support for SENIOR YEAR Operations (U)," 172203Z Aug 90, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.

12.Intvw (S/NF), Cross with Col Morton; intvw (S/NF), Cross with Maj Lundell; mag (S/OADR), 15AF/CAT/LRC to HQ SAC/SOS, et al, "Consolidated U-2 Requirements at OL-CH (U)," 181430Z Aug 90; msg (U), SECDEF/ASD:PA to AIG 671, "Desert Shield 13," 192157Z Aug 90; msg (S/NF/OADR), HQ SAC/LRC, et al, to 17RW/CC, et al, "Reconnaissance Aircraft Logistics Support in Saudi Arabia (S/NF)," 220800Z Aug 90; meg (S/OADR), HQ SAC/SBS to OAF/DO, et al, "In-theater Resupply (U)," 251100Z Aug 90; msg (U), HQ AAVS/LGS to AIG 8513/CC, et al, "High Priority Shipments to Desert Shield," 142300Z Nov 90, info used (U), per SAF/PAS security review 95-1070.



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