• Chapter 37: Cruise Control

    February 1, 2016
  • Operation Secret Squirrel

    Cruise missiles played a major part in the opening strikes of Desert Storm. The vast majority of these were BGM-109 Tomahawks launched from U.S. Navy vessels, but 35 were experimental air-launched cruise missiles launched by B-52Gs on a top-secret, ultra long-range mission.

    The actual classified name of the operation was Secret Surprise, but bomber crews from the 596th Bombardment Squadron at Barksdale AFB had nicknamed it Secret Squirrel. The mission was kept under tight secrecy, nobody involved could discuss it unless the other person was read-into the operation, and even then only under certain controlled circumstances.

    The idea was straight forward, seven B-52Gs would fly a 35 hour, 14,000 mile nonstop route from their bases in the U.S. to the Middle East and back. During this flight they would deliver an experimental conventional (instead of nuclear) armed variant known as the AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile, or CALCM for short.

    The CALCMs used GPS for pinpoint accuracy, something that the Tomahawk, and pretty much any other munitions of the time period lacked. This was a major innovation that changed the nature of air-to-ground weaponry. Today GPS is a primary form of guidance for all types of bombs and standoff weapons and allows our air forces to strike targets even when they are totally obscured by clouds or smoke.

    The idea was for these highly precise missiles to strike eight strategic targets deep in Iraqi territory, most of which were related to command and control and air defenses. This would help blind Saddam’s commanders as to the armada of aircraft about to strike targets all over their country.

    This 35 hour round-robin combat mission would be the longest ever recorded at the time and was a precursor to the global strike missions that were subsequently a part of every major conflict that followed. These types of missions are trained for on a regular basis today by B-2 and B-52 crews.

    Secret Squirrel was also the emergence of the B-52 as a precision conventional strike weapon, a mission set it is fully adapted to today and one that the USAF continues to invest in heavily.

  • Constant Bombing

    Today there were at least five Tomahawk cruise missiles that struck targets in Baghdad. Two of the missiles smashed into residential neighborhoods. It is believed that the missiles were either deflected by anti-aircraft fire or their terminal guidance was confused by the "new look" of the Baghdad skyline caused by weeks of bombing. In addition to the Tomahawk attacks, at least twenty five hundred more sorties were flown. A large number of these sorties supported the Army's move westward.

    The air campaign had now shifted to the destruction of the Iraqi Army in and around Kuwait. AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-18s, F-16s, and B-52s were pounding Iraqi positions day and night. In a letter I wrote dated today at 2:45 PM, I briefly mentioned the constant bombing. "We're up north about ten miles from the border. We've been here a couple of days now." Although I don't specifically mention Khafji, the town is roughly ten miles from the border. "B-52s are bombing the border area of Kuwait and MLRSs are firing missiles. You should see it at night. It looks pretty neat. It was very cold a couple of nights ago but today it's not bad." The two letters I wrote took me 2 days to finish. I'll share the remainder of the letters in tomorrow's post.

    B-52s swept over Kuwait in the first hours of February. They bombed an area known as the "national forest." As they headed for home, A-10s darted over the sea. They found Iraqi vehicles fleeing ground zero. One of the A-10 pilots said that flying over the area was like "turning on the lights in a cockroach infested apartment." The Warthogs dove in and destroyed twenty more tanks, APCs, twenty wheeled vehicles, and three rocket launchers.

    On the 30th I mentioned reports of an imminent attack in our zone. Later that evening the order was given to go into MOPP 3 gear. Seventy four tanks were spotted moving south toward our position, but the attack never happened. It was today that I learned that the B-52s bombed a thirteen mile long convoy. That's a lot of hardware. Those B-52s may have saved lives by striking the enemy before he could reach us.

  • Go West, Young Soldiers

    In preparation for the massive shift of forces to the west, the U.S. Army bolstered the thin screen line along the Iraqi border, from the Wadi Al Batin all the way to Rafha. Advance units of the 1st Cavalry dug in along the wadi. Saudi border police and U.S. Special Forces units were withdrawn from the Iraqi border. In their place, a stronger screen was materializing as lead elements of the 1st Infantry Division (1-4 Cavalry) screened just west of the wadi. Scouts from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment dug in to the left of the Big Red One. And finally, units of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division extended the line west to the town of Rafha.

    1st Infantry Division's cavalry troopers began systematic destruction of the enemy's westernmost border outposts. At 0630, 1-4 Cavalry captured an Iraqi patrol. The next day, 1st Infantry Division scout helicopters destroyed an Iraqi engineer vehicle, a radar tower and two buildings just north of the berm.

    Under strict radio silence, the entire 24th Mechanized Infantry Division joined in the shift to the west. Captain Robert Roth, commander of A Company, 4th Battalion of the 64th Armored Regiment, loaded his tanks onto Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET - pictured here). The men of the Victory Division were moving closer to "harm's way." They wanted to be prepared for any occurrences, so the tank crew members rode inside their tanks atop the transporters. Buttoned up inside their tanks, A company traveled west with the rest of the battalion for fifteen hours to their final Assembly Area, Alpha-Alpha Tusker. In just ten days, the entire division would be at its tactical assembly area.

    "Achieving our goals will require sacrifice and time,
    but we will prevail. Make no mistake about that."
    President George H.W. Bush
    February 1, 1991
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