Air Operations

Air Operations during Operation Granby

Picture: The four RAF types that took part in the air fighting over Iraq and Kuwait in a farewell formation.

Air Operations during Operation Granby - An overview

Tornado F3s were the first RAF aircraft to arrive in theatre and were flying operational sorties within 2 hours of their arrival Dhahran.

Over 6,000 sorties were flown in theatre by the RAF between the outbreak of hostilities on 16 January and the cessation on 28 February, of which offensive sorties by Tornado GR1 and Jaguar aircraft totalled over 2,000.

RAF Tornado GR1 aircraft were involved in the first wave of attacks on Iraqi airfields using the JP233 airfield denial weapon, 1,000 bombs and the ALARM anti-radiation missile. In the first 24 hours of offensive operations RAF aircraft flew a total of 101 sorties, an intensity of activity which was sustained throughout the early period of the conflict.

The RAF delivered over 3,000 tonnes of ordnance. This total comprised over 100 JP233 airfield denial weapons, some 6,000 1,000lb bombs (of which over 1,000 were laser guided), over 100 anti-radar missiles and nearly 700 air-to-ground rockets. No air-to-air missiles were fired.

The Support Helicopter force was also heavily involved, and close to 900 sorties were flown during hostilities.

During hostilities, the Tanker Force offloaded some 13,000 tonnes of fuel, about three quarters of which was received by RAF aircraft, and one quarter by other Allied aircraft.

The Air Transport Force (ATF) flew around 13 million miles in support of Operation Granby and moved some 50,000 tonnes of freight. The movement of freight peaked at some 600 tonnes per day, which is more than six times the RAF's normal world-wide peacetime average.

No significant reliability problems were experienced with RAF equipment deployed to the Gulf. Equipment performed up to (and in most cases beyond) expectations and serviceability was maintained at a consistently high level. This was particularly satisfying given the harsh operating conditions and reflects the considerable efforts of ground crews and support personnel and the timely introduction of suitable modifications.


Air Defence

Flying at more than twice their normal peacetime rate, the Tornado F3s flew in formations of 2 or more aircraft on combat air patrols often lasting for several hours. These missions were flown 'round the clock' in company with the Saudis and the USAF and were supported by AWACS and tanker aircraft. The Tornado F3 force flew more than 2,500 operational combat air patrol sorties during the conflict, of which nearly 800 were flown during the period of hostilities.

Offensive Counter Air/Air Interdiction (OCA/AI)

Some 1,500 Tornado GR1 operational sorties were flown of which about half were flown against OCA targets and half against SI targets in 3 phases:

An initial night low-level OCA phase lasting approximately 1 week with JP233 and 1,000lb lofted bombs.
A 2-3 week period of night day medium level AI, with some OCA operations employing ballistic freefall 1,000lb bombs.
In the final 3 weeks a concentrated day/night medium level OCA/AI campaign delivering exclusively 1,000lb Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) designated by Buccaneer/Pavespike (day only) or Tornado/TIALD (day/night).

Thanks to their night and all-weather penetration capability - and their unique JP233 airfield denial weapons - the Tornado GR1s were ideally suited to offensive counter attacks against iraqi airfields and were used intensively for that purpose in the early days. Initially, the RAF were tasked to harass enemy airfield operations rather than attempt to close a selected few and in those early days the GR1s carried out low level attacks with HP233 to crater runways or taxiways. These attacks were carried out in the face of exceptionally strong anti-aircraft artillery and missile fire from the Iraqis.

However, within four days of the start of the war, the Allied counter-air campaign had driven the Iraqi Air Force into hiding, effectively destroyed Iraq's integrated air defence system and freed the middle and upper air for Allied use. The defeat of Iraqi air power - in which the Tornados had played a key part - allowed the majority of subsequent Tornado GR1 sorties to be flown in daylight and above the reach of Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery. Initially, the medium-level Tornado GR1 sorties used free-fall bombs to attack large area-type targets such as fuel storage dumps and airfields. The deployment of Buccaneers with laser designator pods enabled Tornados to attack point targets such as bridges, airfield facilities and HAS, using laser-guided bombs.

The success of these LGB missions resulted in additional Buccaneer laser designators being made available, to allow the Tornado GR1s to concentrate exclusively on precision attacks during the last few weeks of the war. This process was further strengthened by the arrival in the theatre of Tornados equipped with Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designators (TIALD), a new system offering important advantages. The Pavespike laser designator used by the Buccaneers is a stand-alone, manually-controlled system which can be used in daylight only. In contrast, the Tornado's TIALD pods are fully integrated into the aircraft's navigation and bombing and can be used at night. By the end of the fourth week of the war, some 60% of Tornado sorties were using Paveway laser-guided bombs.

A total of 6 Tornado GR1s were lost in action 5 of which were involved in loft-medium level attacks with 1,000lb bombs, and one tasked on a low level JP233 mission, which was lost some time after the attack. Initial investigation suggests that 4 could have been lost to Iraqi air defence. Of the 12 aircrew involved, 5 were killed, and 7 were taken prisoners of war and released subsequently.

Battlefield Air Interdiction/Close Air Support (BAI/CAS)

While the Tornados flew mostly at night, the Jaguar GR1As flew by day. Tasked with attacking a variety of targets - interdiction targets, supply dumps, surface-to-air missile sites, artillery, Silkworm missiles - the Jaguars distinguished themselves, particularly in the maritime arena. Using the Canadian CRV-7 weapon - a high-velocity rocket with a very flat and thus accurate trajectory - the Jaguars proved extremely effective in attacks against Iraqi naval targets, destroying patrol boats and landing craft. Over 600 Jaguar sorties were launched during the conflict, remarkably without any loss.

Tactical Reconnaissance

The Tornado GR1A reconnaissance variant with its Vinten Linescan integrated system was deployed immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities. It is the first reconnaissance aircraft in the world to be equipped with video recording of sensors and provides a day/night recce capability. Some 140 Tornado GR1A operational sorties were flown on Tac Recce missions. The GR1As operated mainly in pairs at night and at low level and for extended periods over enemy territory against a variety of targets, including Scud mobile missile launchers, enemy defences and positions, supply routes and bridges for damage assessment after LGB raids. Good imagery of the majority of targets was obtained and no losses were incurred. The GR1As proved especially useful for short-notice tasks, and their results drew particular praise from the Americans. The Jaguar also flew some medium level reconnaissance sorties.

Nimrod MR Operations

The Nimrod MR2s operating out of Seeb in Oman rapidly established a reputation for the excellence of their surveillance capabilities. Exploiting their experience from regular deployments to the Gulf in support of the RN's Armilla Patrol, the Nimrods proved to be key assets in maintaining the UN economic embargo of Iraq and Kuwait.

Initially operating over the Persian Gulf, their tasking was soon extended to the Gulf of Oman, where the bulk of intervention operations took place.

In the period up to hostilities the Nimrods maintained a complete surface plot of all merchant shipping in the refion and challenged a total of 6,552 ships. They were also instrumental in initiating numerous ship search operations and developing procedures for Combat SAR.

During hostilities 2 Nimrod sorties were flown each day in direct support of the USS Midway group in the northern Persian Gulf. Their primary task was to locate and identify Iraqi Navy surface units and aircraft (Super Frelon) using their Searchwater radar, Yellowgate ESM and IRDS. They met with considerable success making many of the initial detections and subsequently directing attack aircraft and in particular RN Lynx, onto their targets.

Additionally, the Nimrod playued an important role as an Airborne Command Centre, acting as Scene of Search Commander as part of the SAR organisation. An aircraft and crew were held at 90 minutes readiness for 24 hours a day during the conflict and Nimrods participated in 2 SAR operations.

SH Operations

A total of 17 Chinooks and 19 Pumas were deployed from RAF Odiham and RAF Gutersloh on Operation Granby, initially for CASEVAC operations, but they were soon involvred in providig extensive logistic support to the UK Division. The Chinook flew sone 5000 sortied and 1,350 hours carrying over 1 million kgs of freight and 8,000+ troops. The Puma flew some 1,200 sorties and 2,200 hours carrying over 68,000 kgs of freight and 4,000+ troops. The Puma also carried a total of 161 casualties. Both aircraft types generally coped very well with the extremely harsh conditions.


Initially JP233 was used with the aim of harassing enemy air operations rather than closing Iraqi airfields completely. Lack of Iraqi air effort suggests this tactic was successful.

1,000lb Bomb / LGB
The 1,000lb 'dumb' bomb was used as a general purpose weapon against a variety of targets, including airfields. Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) in the shape of Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) designated by Buccaneers using Pavespike pods proved to be 'force multipliers' with highly accurate weapon deliveries by day and night against hardened targets, principally Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) and bridges.

TIALD - equipped Tornados extended this LGB capability into night operations. Ordered in June 1988 TIALD was due to enter service with the RAF during 1992. However, procurement was accelerated for the Gulf. Having previously flown beneath a Buccaneer, TIALD took to the air for the first time under a Tornado GR1 on 18 January 1991 at the Strike/Attack Operational Evaluation Unit at Boscombe Down. GEC/Ferranti personnel were meanwhile working 19 to 20 hours a day to complete the software. Following a short working up period, crews were deployed to the Gulf.

The first 4 TIALD capable aircraft arrived at Tabuk on 6 February and were in service 4 days later.

This was the first use in action of the BAe ALARM air launched anti-radiation missile. Introduction into service was accelerated just before the war began and the system performed well, particularly well, particularly given its rapid introduction to service.

CRV-7 Rockets
A number of Canadian CRV-7 rockets were procured for the Jaguar and wre fired successfully against a variety of targets including shipping, vehicles, armour and missile sites.

30mm Cannon
The Aden 30mm cannon was used to supplement the CRV-7.

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