Shades of Osirak – Operation Opera
June 7th, 1981 eight fully loaded F-16 fighter bombers successfully penetrated Iraqi airspace & delivered a knockout blow to Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor which was scheduled to come online shortly thereafter, obliterating it utterly. Operation Opera as it was known was meticulously planned for months, its success so astounding in every way it drew both harsh criticism but silent admiration for the tiny country of Israel the world over.
All this was made possible through a fateful turn of events. The fighters, the first of their kind for the IAF recently delivered from the USA - had originally been destined for the Shah of Iran who had placed the order. The Islamic revolution in 1979 changed all that, they were offered to Israel for purchase instead..
Margin of Error
In order to make the flight, the then IAF 1st generation F16s required some modifications. Their takeoff weight for the mission was so great they stood the chance of perhaps not even being able to liftoff at all. In order to complete the mission the fighter bombers would be flying beyond their allocated bingo fuel allotment, perilously close to the point of being unable to return to base with zero room for error.
So tight in fact was the fuel allotment that IAF ground crews set a dangerous precedent for aviation missions, they moved fuel trucks onto the runways and topped off the F16 tanks with their engines running, mere moments before their pilots hit the afterburners to lift the heavy birds into the sky for their fateful mission.
Now JPOST is reporting in an exclusive that IAF pilots and their ground crews are training for rapid turnaround refueling & topping off tanks on runways once again..
In preparation for long-range missions and possible conflict with Iran, the Israel Air Force has expanded its training programs to include rapid refueling operations on runways.
It’s a dangerous practice since the aircraft’s engines are running while the fuel nozzle is still connected to the jets. The training is for both pilots and ground crews and it is being done to enable the aircraft to carry as much fuel as possible for long-range missions.
Fuel nozzles are traditionally disconnected from fighter aircraft while they are still parked in hangers and before they are rolled out to the runway, where they usually wait for several minutes before takeoff and while burning fuel. The new protocol includes keeping fuel trucks on the runway, having ground personnel reattach the nozzle and fuel the aircraft to the maximum fullness, disconnecting seconds before takeoff.
“We understand that many of our threats and challenges require us to develop a long-range capability,” one senior IAF officer explained. “Part of our preparation includes knowing how to fuel our aircraft so they can have as much fuel as possible.” [...]
The IAF & ground crews already train for danger in routine fighter operations. Israel, unlike say the USA has more limited amounts of fighter aircraft that are tasked with multiple missions in combat operations. IAF fighters in war time are often tasked with rapid refueling & re-armament. Hitting targets, landing, being re-supplied and taxiing straight off the runway for new missions with little to no downtime to make up for lack of numbers & fighters in reserve. All this goes on in the heat off battle, much like an aircraft carrier might operate but on land.
Beyond the dangerous requirements of keeping any raid tasked fighters over supplied with fuel on the runways, Israel in any long range strike will need to be vigilant on four fronts with an eye toward escalation. Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria & Iran could stretch the IAF thin if hostilities flare.. Especially with so many aircraft tasked with a long range mission far from home. Pilots & ground crews are training for extraordinary circumstances, these are no doubt extraordinary times.
After the 1st Gulf War, in honor of the extraordinary achievements of Operation Opera, Dick Cheney presented Major General David Ivry (commander IAF) a satellite photograph of the destroyed Osirak reactor signed – “For General David Ivri, with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm.”
If Israel should need to act again, one wonders.. What exactly would Obama present Israel? His lack of foresight thus far fails to impress.
LINK: Dalem Amos blogs about Popular Mechanics, and Israel’s long range drone Eitan (Heron TP). A critical new piece of the long range puzzle.