Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The Class Six Option

by Lee Downer

A short story about turning the bosses intent into combat action

Eight F-111s and 8 F-15s launched into the black Turkish night just before midnight 17 Jan 1991. The mission was to destroy 4 Early Warning Radar sites in Northern Iraq, just across the border with Turkey. As this force crossed the border, Joint Task Force Proven Force (PF) entered the Desert Storm that started 20 hours earlier. However, the flight plan to execute this successful raid began some five months earlier, taking a number of diversions and holding patterns in the process.

Not long after the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, and the massive deployments of Desert Shield began, the idea of using US bases in Turkey to support eventual combat operations was born. The first glimmer of the idea didn’t come from the planners in the Pentagon, or the collective wisdom of the generals in charge of combatant commands. It came from grass roots thinking in the squadron “snack bar” from bright young airmen eager to find ways to help their colleagues gathering for combat in the Gulf. The first thoughts were fairly modest. If war began, forces not deployed or committed to the USCENTCOM area of responsibility, based in Europe, could support the war with Electronic Combat Operations launched from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Wild Weasels, Airborne Electronic Jammer and Communications Jammer aircraft could support long missions flown from Gulf bases or Saudi Arabia where the capability of suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) aircraft based with the attackers would have significant distances to overcome. The architects of this vision were majors and LtCs assigned to Wild Weasel squadrons in the 52nd Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany.

The “happy hour” strategists put their ideas in a briefing to their commander, Col Rudi Peksens (USAFA 66), who immediately recognized the potential. In the ensuing weeks, the build up in the south became larger and the predictions of enemy capabilities grew more ominous. US Air Forces in Europe leadership was searching for a way to contribute beyond the logistics bridge and forward bomber staging that were already in progress. The ball really got rolling when the 66th Air Division Commander, BG Glenn Profitt, informally discussed the idea with General Jim McCarthy, USEUCOM deputy commander who quickly took the initiative in several concurrent directions—to CENTCOM, to the JCS and to the AF component command, USAFE. Gen Oaks (USAFA 59), USAFE Commander, put several planning efforts into motion to appoint leadership for the effort and put more detail into the plan. Early in the planning process, USEUCOM added a Special Operations Task Force to conduct a variety of missions from Turkey to include Combat Search and Rescue in the northern half of Iraq. Later, as war became more certain, USAEUR added a Patriot missile unit to protect Incirlik from ballistic missile attack. Proven Force became truly Joint. Maj Gen Jim Jamerson (USAFA 63), USAFE DO, was appointed to lead the Joint Task Force, and I was tapped to become the Air Force Forces Commander and Commander of the Provisional Composite Wing that would assemble at Incirlik AB. We formed a small planning cell to work details, but nothing overt could be done until the JCS blessed and got the requisite approvals for the plan. Big hurdles existed in establishing effective command relationships between USCENTCOM and USEUCOM and getting access to forces not already tasked or requested to support Gen Schwartzkopf’s effort in the Persian Gulf.

By November 1990, these details were worked out, but the next step was to convince the Turkish government to allow us to conduct offensive combat operations from their sovereign nation. While we were given approval to plan an operation in late December, the final approval to deploy forces in excess of the existing status of forces agreement (SOFA) did not come until two days prior to the execution of Desert Storm. USAFE had already positioned the maximum aircraft allowed under that agreement—one squadron of F16s, one F-111E squadron, a flight of F15s, and a few Tankers. JTF Proven Force would support Desert Storm by attacking targets in the northern one quarter of Iraq, north of 35 degree latitude. The objective was to destroy selected high value military targets, pin down defenses, and deny the Iraqis from creating a northern “sanctuary” from the attacks originating from the Gulf bases.

On 15 January, Secretary of State, James Baker, enroute to Ankara to work last minute details, diverted for an overnight stay at Incirlik due to weather. During a morning jog with Col Steve Lorenz, 39th Wing Commander, SecState informally advised him to expect and prepare for Turkish approval. Up to this point we could not do anything overt that might show our intentions. As a result, Gen Jamerson was not allowed to deploy into Turkey with his headquarters, but in early January, I was given a cover job with JUSMMAT, a security assistance command in Turkey, which got me into the country to discuss operational details with the Turkish Air Force. After Secretary Baker’s visit, we started bringing the covertly constructed tents from inside the base hangers to the muddy field where a small city, dubbed Tornado Town, was created. We needed to get a head start on the task since 5000 people would descend on the base in a very short period of time. Housing, feeding, workspace, aircraft parking were hurdles that needed to be overcome, and provide the subject matter for another story filled with stories of hard work, innovative solutions and great hands-on leadership by our young officers and NCOs.

The decision to allow us to deploy additional forces came on 16 January, one day prior to the h-hour for Desert Storm. However, border crossing authority was still not granted by the Turks. This critical decision point would not be approved until after Desert Storm was initiated from CENTCOM. Turkey did not want to give the appearance that the war was initiated from their country. During the morning, while we watched those first waves of CENTAF airpower on CNN, the Turkish government granted us border crossing approval. Throughout the day, USAFE sent over 100 combat aircraft to Incirlik, mixed with a steady stream of airlift. Organized bedlam ensued. In retrospect, the arrival, beddown and immediate preparations for combat operations were amazingly smooth. I attribute this to the tough evaluation standards that were enforced by NATO through the Cold War tactical evaluation program (TACEVAL) and Red Flag. Our support people knew how to react, defend themselves and operate in wartime conditions. Our aircrews knew how to organize, plan and execute complex packages of different types of aircraft in a high threat environment. No spin up training, refresher courses or mission rehearsals were necessary. Units from other commands were quick to catch on, so elements of ten squadrons from different bases hit the ground running.

schmoosing_exp.png During the joint planning, the command relationships were established. PF would be under the tactical control of CENTAF, through Gen Chuck Horner’s Command Center (the Black Hole) in Riyadh. JTF Proven Force was provided with an approved target list, integrated with the air campaign of Desert Storm. Because of the late entry of PF, deconfliction between CENTCOM and EUCOM was geographic, with a few “blackout times” to allow special attacks, with cruise missiles and F117s, in the northern Iraq. Execution would be communicated via WWMCS, a cumbersome Top Secret, Cold War C2 system. The essence of the C2 concept of operation was that PF would plan missions to attack the issued target list and forward an ATO to the “black hole” in Riyadh. The PF ATO would then be an attachment to the CENTCOM ATO. After the 3 day air campaign to start the war, fine tuning would adjust the priorities and targets to meet emerging threats and evolving commander’s guidance.

All resources to prosecute the PF ATO would have to be provided by USAFE and EUCOM. Supporting and protecting B52s from Moron AB in Spain and RAF Fairford became priority missions for PF. In addition, PF was tasked to protect the NATO AWACS that operated over Turkish airspace 24/7 in accordance with air sovereignty of a NATO partner agreement. Once our concept of operations was developed, Gen Jamerson and I were invited to HQ USEUCOM to brief Gen Jim McCarthy. We covered the entire gamut of detail, answered his many questions and took a lot of notes from his insightful comments. He had a strong personal interest in this initiative and took great pride that USAFE was ready to demonstrate its capability. Other than the Libyan raid in 1987, this would be the first USAFE conventional operation since the Berlin Airlift and the first combat since WWII. When the briefing was complete, Gen McCarthy invited us to join him for lunch in a small dining room near his office. After the small talk, he related a story that ultimately had a direct impact on PF.

overview_exp.png During the 1970’s when the current President’s Defense Authorization Bill was signed into law, one of SAC’s wing commanders quickly seized the opportunity to establish a long desired, on-base package, in military parlance, Class Six, store on his installation. The Bill included a provision relaxing long standing restrictions against the sale of package liquor on bases that were in close proximity to a local community. The previous restrictions were levied to prevent on base sales from competing with off base commercial establishments, typically those close to the main gates of military bases and posts. The lack of an on base package shop was continually cited in Quality of Life surveys as something the base population wanted. In addition, the profits of the sales contributed substantially to the Moral Welfare and Recreational funds that the base needed to support the troops and their families.

Recognizing that this restriction would be lifted soon, the commander directed his staff to be ready to start the package shop on the first day that they were allowed to do so. His guidance was, “Do not wait to build an appropriate facility---that could come later. Configure and stock a store room, broom closet, or empty office to be able to conduct business on day one.” His people complied and on day one began selling Class Six items to an appreciative base population. When the provisions of this change got to the off base businesses, many, in all parts of the country, complained to their elected representatives, who quickly got the Defense Department to suspend the approval, pending congressional review-- except for locations that were already in operation. The base may have been the only one “grandfathered” to operate while the provision went into a lengthy review.

The point of the story was to ensure that PF had a planning option ready to execute for whatever force was available at the moment border crossing approval was issued. We already had options for entering the war at the same time as CENTCOM, soon after CENTCOM or at some time after the end of the initial 3 day air campaign. We had options for Air Defense of Turkey only, Defense Suppression only and Bomber support only, as well as full up participation as CENTCOM’s partner from day one. So I quickly had the planning team, led by Col Greg Bailey (USAFA 68), put together the “Class Six Option”, an immediate attack with only the available forces allowed by the US-Turkish SOFA agreement. The recommended course of action was a night attack with F111Es against the Early Warning Radars on the ridge 40 miles south of the border between Turkey and Iraq and F15Cs in support. This could be done with minimum air refueling assets, without the support of Wild Weasels, EF-111s, and without other supporting forces. The F15s would provide local air superiority during the raid, and only two KC135 Tankers would be needed. The on station NATO AWACS would provide surveillance of the border area, broadcasting warnings if Iraqi fighters rose to the occasion. This would be a relatively low risk mission to get PF into the fight as soon as the “checkered flag” fell.

After confirming that Desert Storm commenced, the Turkish government waited to gauge international reaction and assess their own national opinion before granting border crossing in the afternoon of January 17th. CENTCOM had added one additional restriction on PF—no missions in the North until the day 2 Air Tasking Order. Armed with these factors the aircrews began preparation, weapons were loaded and the tankers fueled. Our preparations were masked by the amazing amount of activity on the flight line as more than 100 aircraft began to arrive from European bases and staging points. The arriving aircraft were getting reconfigured for combat and the crews were mission planning.

Just after 10pm local time the Class Six Option mission launched, crossing the border minutes into the 2nd day of Desert Storm--to the total surprise of the Iraqi Air Force. After the targets were successfully struck, never again in use through the duration of the war, all aircraft and aircrews returned safely. The Iraqi’s were not the only surprised Air Force. The Turkish Air Force did not anticipate that we would attack so quickly after the order was given. They had not prepared the Ministry of Defense and other government agencies, especially the media organizations, for that possibility. Their expectation was that we would take time to build up and prepare before initiating operations. But Proven Force was now in full swing. As the F111s landed in the early morning, the next package mission, a day mission, led by 16 F16s aided by a host of supporting aircraft was preparing to launch shortly after daylight.

The Turkish government quickly rescinded the border crossing authority to catch up with events and reassess their decision. But the horse was already out of the barn. After discussions with our Embassy and consultation within the government, border crossing approval was reissued in time for the afternoon package on 18 Jan. During Desert Storm, PF flew over 5000 missions, destroying a wide variety of targets in northern and central Iraq. In addition, F15s from USAFE units downed 8 enemy aircraft during the war. PF suffered no combat loses and all personnel safely returned to home bases after the cease fire. While I’m not sure how long the debate would have gone on had we not launched that mission, it was clear that our rapid and skillful execution limited the options considerably. The Class Six option was a success in assuring that we were supporting CENTCOM as quickly as we were allowed.

Since we are always searching for teachable moments in our experiences, the one that stands out here is the need for an Air Component Commander, operating in our contemporary world, to have all the information needed to plan with agility, maintain situation awareness and execute missions, using all the resources at his disposal. Most of the “data” necessary for making decisions for Proven Force was available within the perimeter of Incirlik Air Base. Rough planning and course of action development could be done on the back of an envelope and the key participants could get in the same room to collaborate on the decision. That luxury is not typically available to our current commanders.

Today, with forces spread across many locations, capable of an incredible array of available weapons and effects, engaged with a multi dimensional adversary and an extremely difficult risk assessment matrix, Air Component Commanders and their staffs need decision tools, beyond, but not independent of, those developed to plan and task combat missions. At a minimum, the Commander requires continuous assessment of available resources, predictive assessment of risk, and agile applications to help the staff generate and evaluate meaningful courses of action. In addition, the commander’s staff should be free from non productive tasks, like manpower intensive maintenance of spreadsheets and development of PowerPoint briefing charts, in order to put brain power towards assessment and courses of action development. Finally, the AFFOR staff should be seamlessly meshed with the Air Planning and Tasking Staff to maximize the potential to adjust quickly to changes, mitigate risk and provide the Joint Commander with the full effect of Air Power through a full range of effects—kinetic, non-kinetic and cyber. When the 21st Century equivalent of the Class Six Option emerges, we need to be just as successful.

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