Role and Effect of Special Operations Forces in Theater
Ballistic Missile Counterforce Operations during Operation
By Thomas B. Hunter
The use of theater ballistic missiles (TBM) in warfare
first surfaced during World War Two. Germany's use
of the V-2 rockets, while of little military value,
caused significant strategic concerns on the part
of the Allies. This was primarily due to the fact
that the use of such weapons directly against major
population centers resulted in civilian casualties
and a steady drain in morale. Due to a comparatively
low level of technology, locating and destroying these
missiles and their launchers proved to be largely
unsuccessful. Only advances of coventional armed forces
across enemy held territory, which precluded the use
of viable launch sites, eventually brought a halt
to the attacks.
Radical advances in technology since 1945 would lead
an observer in 1999 to conclude that, if confronted
with a similar threat, modern nations such as the
United States should be well-equipped to deal with
such a dated threat. Prominent civilian research institutes
have concluded that counterforce operations against
the mobile launchers themselves might significantly
reduce the overall threat from theater ballistic missiles.
This is true both of prelaunch and postlaunch attacks
which have been deemed to be synergistic, enhancing
the overall effectiveness of such tactics.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam Hussein
launched TBMs against a variety of targets. As in
World War Two, TBMs rapidly became a strategic concern
for military planners. As such, the Coalition launched
a comprehensive and focused effort to locate and destroy
the missiles and their launchers, known as counterforce
operations. Initially considered to be a virtually
insignificant element in the campaign, mobile Scud
launchers soon proved to be more numerous than expected,
and much more difficult to eliminate. A joint force
of conventional military strike aircraft and Special
Operations Forces (SOF) was quickly assembled and
assigned this mission.
An examination of counterforce actions during Operation
Desert Storm provides ample evidence that Special
Operations Forces, working in conjunction with Special
Operations Aviation and conventional airpower, may
provide the most effective tool in combating this
Iraq’s Scud Missile Program
A complete accounting of Iraq’s ballistic missile
program has proven a difficult task for a variety
of reasons. First and foremost, Iraq’s well-documented
unwillingness to comply with United Nations monitors
following Desert Storm revealed an aggressive, coordinated
campaign by Baghdad to hide requested materials. Additionally,
the initial batches of information provided by Iraq
were described as "confusing, misleading or inaccurate."
Iraq’s theater ballistic missile program was initially
centered on the Russian 8K14 missile, known in NATO
parlance as the SS-1c Scud B. The Scud-series guided
missiles are single stage, short-range ballistic missiles
that use storable liquid propellants. The Soviets
introduced the Scud B on the Joseph Stalin (JS-3)
heavy tank chassis in 1961. Four years later, the
JS-3 was replaced by the MAZ-543 (8 x 8) wheeled chassis.
This transition gave the Scud missile system much
greater mobility and also reduced the number of support
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had long been a proponent of
the use of theater ballistic missiles as a core element
of his military strategy. Iraq began to receive its
first shipments of the Scud-B in 1974. During the
Iran-Iraq War (1980 -1988), Iraq fired an estimated
350 ballistic missiles against major population centers
in Iran. This experience contributed greatly to the
expertise of mobile launch teams. It was reported
By 1982, the Iraqi armed forces had two divisions
responsible for launching Soviet-designed Scud missiles.
At that time, each division possessed 150 mobile Scud
missile launchers, some purchased from the USSR and
others manufactured in Iraq, for a total of 300 mobile
Scud missile launchers. In addition to the soviet-designed
Scud missiles, other parts of this division possessed
a smaller soviet-designed missile resembling a Scud,
but much more accurate. This missile, name unknown,
had the same range and warhead as the Scud and it
was also a mobile missile.
At that time, however, Iraq did not possess the ability
to deliver chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons
with their Scud missiles, however experimental work
was ongoing on "non-conventional" warheads.
The warheads under development included a so-called
"small", "medium", and "large"
warhead, so named because of the weight of the warhead.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Iraqi scientists were
directed to reverse-engineer the Russian missiles
in a short-term effort to increase range and payload.
The long-term goal was to develop an entirely indigenous
missile system. And while this latter goal was ultimately
unsuccessful, the expertise gained from the reverse-engineering
process enabled the Iraqis to modify the Scud-B. These
technical gains were enhanced though the acquisition
of advanced production machinery as well as components
from missile systems from overseas suppliers. Specifically,
Iraq gained expertise in missile propulsion systems,
propellants, guidance and control and airframe production
The results of this process manifested themselves
in two new hybrid missiles, the Al Hussein and the
Al Abbas. The Al Hussein, while basically the same
dimensions as the Scud-B, had an extended range of
600-650km. The effect of this was to bring most of
Israel and all of Syria into striking range.
The second Scud modification, designated the al-Abbas,
was tested in April 1988. It had an enhanced range
of 900 km, putting all of Iran, as well as the Strait
of Hormuz, within reach. With a diameter of 0.88 meters
the al-Abbas was some 14.50 meters in length -- some
three meters longer than the Scud-B (length: 11.50
meters; diameter: 0.88 meters). However, it was not
clear that the al-Abbas was stockpiled in any large
numbers or even achieved operational status. Apparently,
this missile had been test-fired only once. According
to one a detailed report, these modifications were
achieved by cannibalizing propellant and oxidizer
tanks from other Scuds, lengthening the size of the
tanks, and increasing the amount of fuel. Additionally,
the Iraqis reduced the regular Scud payload from 1,000
kg to 140-180 kg.
In December 1990, Iraq test-fired a number of the
newly modified missiles. Unbeknownst to Hussein, this
test program gave the U.S. Space Command a unique
and invaluable opportunity to verify the specific
infrared signals emitted by the Scuds, as well as
to test their early warning satellites and related
It should also be noted that beginning in 1985, Iraq
embarked on a cooperative effort to produce a new
missile system known as the BADR 2000. This two-stage
missile was to have a range of 1,000km. To this end,
Hussein ordered the construction of sophisticated
production facilities and imported high- technology
production equipment for the fabrication of the first
solid-propellant stage of this system. Postwar inspections
by United Nations inspectors indicated that no complete
missiles were produced.
In late January 1991, an unidentified Iraqi officer
reported that the first priority of the Iraqi government
was to determine the distance at which the Scud missiles
were in relation to their targets when they were destroyed
by Patriot missiles. The purpose of gathering this
information was, according to the officer, to facilitate
the employment of chemical warheads on the missiles.
Iraqi efforts to technologically master the fusing
mechanisms that would enable the detonation of the
warhead at altitude had apparently failed.
While an Iraqi engineer looks on,
an UNSCOM team member from Germany inspects one of
Iraq's mobile missile transporter-erector-launchers
(TEL), probably at Taji camp, just prior to destruction.
This Soviet-produced MAZ-543 TEL was modified in Iraq--by
extending the length of the launch rail--to be able
to fire Al-Husseins, which are longer than the standard
Iraqi activities at Scud related sites were closely
watched. From facilities such as the Taji Tactical
SSM Storage site, regular shipments of Scud-related
equipment were observed. Intelligence analysts were
able to determine that a number of other facilites,
previous thought to be serving simply as ammunition
depots, were indeed integrated into the Iraqi Scud
U.S. intelligence reports indicated that Hussein
had, at most, 50 TELs. This figure was revised down
to eighteen just prior to the war. Israeli intelligence
had previously reported to the U.S. that the number
was much higher, possibly as high as 500. However,
this information was not accepted and the lower American
estimate of 18 was adopted as the official count for
Coalition planners. Eventually, however, intelligence
estimates would place the number at as many as 15
battalions with 15 launchers each, for a total of
By August 1990, Hussein had finalized the construction
of 5 fixed sites with at least 28 launchers in western
Iraq. It was widely suspected that Iraq would attempt
to strike Israel with theater ballistic missiles in
an effort to draw that nation into the war. Such a
reaction would likely ignite a war between Israel
and Jordan, cause serious friction in the fragile
multinational Coalition, and, at worst, possibly ignite
another Arab-Israeli conflict.
In December 1990, an Iraqi Republican Guard soldier
reported that 60 Scud missiles had been positioned
along the Mutlaah Ridge northwest of Kuwait City.
The missiles were reportedly well camouflaged and
protected by Iraqi security forces, Republican Guard
troops, anti-aircraft guns, and tanks.
In an effort to reduce the possibility of Israeli
military action against Iraq in response to missile
strikes, a secure telephone link between the U.S.
Department of Defense (DoD) and the Israeli Ministry
of Defense (MoD) was installed and activated. This
vital link not only enabled frequent and unfettered
contact between the two nations, but also enhanced
Scud early warning capabilities.
On 17 January, seven Scuds struck throughout Tel
Aviv and Haifa. Over 1,500 structures were destroyed
and 47 people were injured. Hours later, Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Shamir spoke to President Bush via
telephone and expressed his concern over the attack.
Furthermore, Shamir stated that Israel would not remain
out of the war much longer. Bush ordered the immediate
deployment of two advanced Patriot missile batteries
and also promised to destroy all remaining Scud launchers.
Five days later, however, a Scud struck the Tel Aviv
suburb of Ramat Gan. Ninety-six persons were injured,
and three died of heart attacks. This attack spurred
a call on the direct hotline from Amnon Shahak to
the National Military Command Center. Shahak demanded
immediate action to stop the Scuds and emphasized
that Israel was prepared to act independently against
Iraq. A larger response, in the form of an entire
battalion of T'zanhanim brigade commandos along with
a small special operations team were gathered at an
Israeli air base for an attack on Iraqi targets. This
airborne assault, escorted by F-15 fighters, was never
authorized to depart the airport, however, and the
mission was scrubbed.
Later that day, General Downing arrived at Ar Ar
and met with an Israeli intelligence operative who
had recently concluded a covert reconnaissance mission.
During the meeting, the Israeli announced that he
could provide the exact coordinates of four Scud launchers.
The decision was made to immediately deploy a special
operations team to locate the site.
Two MH-47E Chinook helicopters ferried the team,
along with a modified Land Rover, into western Iraq.
Within one hour of insertion, the team located and
identified the launchers reported by the Israeli agent.
An airstrike was called in, and all launchers were
reportedly destroyed. A hovering Black Hawk helicopter
videotaped the incident, and a copy of the tape was
later viewed by Shamir. After viewing the strike,
Shamir spoke to President Bush and conveyed his confidence
in the actions being taken to eliminate the Scud threat.
The Mobile Launcher Problem
The locations of fixed launch sites were well known
to Coalition planners. So, too, were such related
facilities as missile fabrication and construction
sites, fuel depots, and storage depots. It was against
these sites that the Allies focused the lion’s share
of their counter Scud efforts.
Strike planners, using the best available intelligence,
believed that the special fuels used to power the
Scud missiles were only able to be stored for approximately
four to six weeks, after which time they became unusable.
So, it was reasoned, if the fuel production facilities
could eliminate from the outset, the missiles themselves
would cease to be a viable weapon after that time.
Therefore, on the first day of offensive airstrikes,
virtually all fixed Scud launch pads were attacked
by Coalition warplanes. The following day, the Latifiyah
rocket-fuel plants and rocket motor production facilities
at Shahiyat were targeted with multiple strikes and
It was soon discovered that Iraq was using civilian
vehicle convoys to transport Scuds, and also to hide
their TELs. Using this method, it was not only possible
to conceal these weapons, but further hampered Coalition
intelligence attempts to determine the number of launchers
deployed as opposed to the number destroyed. This
action prompted the U.S. State Department to designate
all civilian convoys as legitimate military targets.
On the 18th, A-10s, F-15s, F-16s and an AC-130 gunship
were assigned specifically to seek out and destroy
all mobile Scud launchers. Almost immediately, pilots
began to report back that they had identified and
bombed Scud-bearing convoys. One report, carried by
the Washington Post, claimed that U.S. warplanes attacked
11 previously undetected mobile missile launchers
in Iraq, hitting at least six, including three loaded
with missiles pointed toward Saudi Arabia. Bomb damage
assessment videos could not, however, confirm that
the trucks carried the elusive Scuds.
In Israel, pressure for the Israeli government to
respond to the Scud attacks with force was growing
at a rapidly increasing rate. It was apparent to the
Israelis that the "needle in the haystack"
approach being executed by the Coalition was not sufficient.
Fear began to grow that not only might the Israelis
attack Iraq, but that such an attack might well escalate
the conflict into an Arab-Israeli war that could very
well shatter the fragile Coalition. Gen. Horner summed
up this estimation:
"Though Israeli pilots were along the best
in the world, they were less well-equipped than
we were to hunt mobile Scuds. Consequently, their
only real contribution to the war would have been
to boost the morals of their own people. Far more
important, however, the Coalition was a very fragile
thing. Any Israeli retaliation on an Arab state
– especially nuclear retaliation – no matter how
justified, would have at best weakened the Coalition.
At worst, it would have destroyed it."
In an effort to pacify the Israelis, General Horner
dispatched a high level delegation to Tel Aviv. It
was resolved that the United States would immediately
send several batteries of Patriot missiles to Israel.
This action appears to have assuaged the Israeli public
and lessened pressure on Tel Aviv to resort to military
Nonetheless, the Patriots were, at best, only a temporary
patch to a larger problem. Reports released after
the war by a wide variety of sources revealed that
the U.S.-made interceptors were largely ineffective
in their designed role. This was due, in part, to
the inherently defective Scud missile. Upon reentry,
the missiles were prone to structural failure. Thus,
when the missile reached its target, it was sometimes
arriving in several large pieces, rather than as a
whole. These multiple targets appeared to have confused
the Patriot radar, causing the intercepting missile
to target the largest piece, rather than the warhead
During the opening weeks of the Iraqi invasion, Hussein’s
army rounded up hundreds of foreign nationals and
herded them off to various locations in Iraq. Many
were relocated to strategically important facilities
to be used as "human shields" against Allied
air attacks. Others were simply placed in detention
facilities. At once, Downing and his JSOC planners
went to work to further develop contingency plans
that had begun virtually immediately after Iraqi armor
crossed the Kuwaiti border. It was obvious that scores
of Americans would quickly be held hostage, and might
Unbeknownst to anyone, even at the highest levels
of CENTCOM, a lone operative from the CIA’s elite
covert Special Activities Staff made repeated visits
into and out of the embassy, smuggling out top secret
documents and gathering vital intelligence, despite
the heavy Iraqi presence. Inside the embassy, Ambassador
W. Nathaniel Howell and a small contingent of embassy
staffers and CIA personnel remained behind. Yet, while
they had cleverly stockpiled supplies to sustain them
during their predicament, they could not hold out
Using existing blueprints and the latest intelligence
from all available sources, a mockup of the embassy
was constructed at a remote are of Eglin Air Force
Base. Here Delta commandos practiced assaulting the
facility and rescuing the hostages. The proximity
of Kuwait City to the Persian Gulf enhanced the likelihood
of success, due to the proximity of the American fleet.
To this end, three Delta operators were selected to
infiltrate Kuwait City and coordinate the rescue.
The details of the operation were based on the covert
infiltration of the trio into the city. They were
to be equipped with advanced electronic tracking devices
so that their movements could be monitored. Dressed
as American businessmen affiliated with an international
oil company, it was hoped that they would be rounded
up by Iraqi security patrols and taken to locations
housing other hostages. From there, the concealed
transponders would identify the location of the group
to senior commanders, and a raid or similar rescue
Pacific Wind never progressed beyond the advanced
planning stages however, as senior government and
military officials canceled the operation in fear
of a potential counterattack by Hussein should the
mission erupt into a full-scale firefight. In any
event, these hostages were released in December 1990,
and no operation was necessary. Interestingly, a postwar
analysis of the planned operation by Delta and 160th
SOAR personnel indicated that the operation most likely
would have succeeded.
This operation, while not directly related to the
Scud hunt that would follow, is included here to illustrate
the early involvement of JSOC in military planning
for operations in the gulf
The initial plan for a JSOC
presence in the Gulf was envisioned by General Stiner
as a three part package. All packages would be a blend
of Delta Force and Dev Group operators, 160th
SOAR and AFSOC helicopters and Army Rangers. The first
and largest, A Package, would be based in Saudi Arabia
and serve as JSOC’s rapid reaction force to respond
to any requested mission. B Package would be dispatched
to Europe to respond immediately to any terrorist
activities there. Finally, C Package would remain
behind at Ft., Bragg, tasked with responding to any
necessary developments in areas not covered by the
first two, virtually all of Asia, Latin America and
This plan was not approved due a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the political friction caused
by having Stiner and another four-star general in
any theater of operations was considered an impossible
arrangement. Second, it was opined that Delta was
better off remaining at Ft. Bragg where they could
continue to train at their advanced counterterrorist
facilities, rather than simply being flown to a remote
desert with no foreseeable mission on the horizon.
Rather than simply give up in the face of such strong
arguments, however, Generals Stiner and Downing flew
to CENTCOM headquarters to propose the arrangement
to Schwartzkopf. At the meeting that ensued, Stiner
proposed a variety of options, including the deployment
of Army Special Forces A-Teams into Kuwait to organize
an covert resistance movement. Downing also outlined
a plan to rescue any hostages at the U.S. embassy
in Kuwait City. Finally, the duo put forth the idea
of deep penetration missions behind enemy lines to
monitor Iraqi force movements in the remote deserts.
All suggestions were rejected.
It became clear that Schwartzkopf did not view SOF
as a viable tool in the wider scope of Coalition military
operations against Iraq. Rather, he viewed them as
support elements of his own conventional battle plan.
Nonetheless, he did permit the use of U.S. Special
Forces as liaison officers with several Arab nations.
He also approved the use of Navy SEALs in mineclearing
missions and Air Force Pave Lows in the Combat Search
and Rescue role.
Schwartzkopf’s distrust of special operations forces
in a combat environment was derived from a series
of experiences. During his tours in Vietnam, Schwartzkopf
noted numerous occasions on which U.S. Army Special
Forces A-Team camps had required the assistance of
conventional military forces to prevent their being
overrun. In his memoirs, Schwartzkopf noted the failure
of SEAL Team SIX operators to conduct a reconnaissance
mission of Point Salinas airport prior to a U.S. Army
Ranger assault. This operation, which resulted in
the deaths of four SEALs following a hazardous nighttime
helicopter insertion, forced the postponement of the
invasion by two hours. Later in the battle, he noted
a series of other hardships encountered by special
In a somewhat ironic twist, Schwartzkopf would be
working closely with Sir Peter de la Billiere, commander
of Great Britain’s forces in the Gulf. The irony came
in de la Billiere’s background. Along with being his
country’s most highly decorated soldier, he was also
a former member and commanding officer of 22 Special
Air Service. That de la Billiere was a master of unconventional
warfare did not seem to detract from this relationship.
In Schwartzkopf’s autobiography, he described the
British commander in glowing terms:
"Just after Thanksgiving, I approached the British,
presenting our battle plan to Lieutenant General Sir
Peter de la Billiere, their commander in the gulf.
A legendary soldier and adventurer, Sir Peter was
former chief of Special Air Service and the most decorated
officer in the British armed services. It was no coincidence
that I’d gone to him first: Great Britain had been
our closest ally in the crisis¼
I trusted his brains and judgement so much that I
asked his advice on even the most sensitive military
It has been surmised that is it this relationship
that opened the window of opportunity for SOF operations
in the gulf.
Coalition aircraft in counter-Scud operations flew
a total of 2,493 sorties. An overview of Coalition
aerial efforts to destroy Iraq’s ballistic missile
capability provides a vital background for the analysis
of SOF activities on the ground and is provided here
for that purpose.
By mid August 1990, CENTAF had established the Tactical
Air Control Center (TACC) at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It was from this location that the staff would generate
the Air Tasking Order (ATO) that determined such items
as routes, targets, and weapons load configurations
for all scheduled missions, both by CENTAF and the
Royal Saudi Air Forces (RSAF).
While fixed missile sites were a primary focus of
Coalition warplanning, mobile launchers garnered very
little attention. Given their elusive nature and the
resources that would be required to hunt them down,
it was decided only the fixed sites would be targeted.
The only concession to the elimination of mobile launchers
was the retention of F-15E Strike Eagles on alert
at their base. These aircraft would, in theory, be
available to launch and attack any mobile launcher
reported by air reconnaissance.
On the first day of the air campaign, 22 F-15E Strike
Eagles attacked the fixed launch sites near Al Qaim
while five other F-15E’s bombed fixed sites around
the H-2 airfield near the Iraqi-Jordanian border.
Post strike bomb damage assessment (BDA) was unavailable
due to poor weather.
On 18 January, however, Iraq launched eight Scuds
at Israel from mobile launchers in the western desert.
Reaction from the Israeli government was, as previously
mentioned, severe enough to warrant a rethinking of
the use of Coalition airpower. The first action was
to assign a squadron of USAF A-10A Thunderbolts to
patrol the western area. The results appeared to be
immediately successful, with A-10 pilots claiming
to have destroyed two launchers and damaged three
more within hours. On the evening of 18/19 January,
the F-15E’s were also sent back to again attack the
fixed sites around Al Qaim and the H-2 airfield.
The standard plan for hunting Scuds for Coalition
aircraft was a complex patchwork of numerous assets.
If a Scud was launched from its TEL, the missile would
be detected by airborne assets, such as patrolling
F-15E’s, E-8A JSTARS, or space-based assets. JSTARS
and F-15E’s would then coordinate to hunt down the
TEL before if could escape the launch area. Launch
warnings were simultaneously sent to CENTCOM. If no
strike aircraft were in the area, CENTCOM would then
direct in the closest available assets via AWACS.
One F-15E pilot described the difficulty in responding
to Scud launches:
"Then you see that it is going straight up.
So AWACS is yelling and hollering for us to get on
it and we’re heading for the coordinates as fast as
we could go. It was about twenty-five miles away from
us but when we got there, we went up and down the
road and all I could find in the targeting pod was
a hot spot on the ground. It was no longer than five
minutes after the launch when we found the hot spot.
Those guys were fast. They were just like cockroaches
that disappear when the kitchen light goes on."
Other factors highlighted the ineffectiveness of
airpower alone against the mobile Scuds. Poor weather
often precluded any ability for aircraft to view anything
on the ground. Furthermore, the Iraqis had learned
to park the launcher in locations to make them invisible
to Coalition aerial reconnaissance.
Sir Peter de Billiere illustrated the problem:
"We had quickly found out that the Coalition
air forces could not deal with the mobile Scuds as
easily as they had supposed: bad weather was one factor
in the enemy’s favour, but it also became apparent
that the Iraqis were most skillful at concealing launchers.
To a pilot flying at ten thousand feet, a missile
in its horizontal, travelling attitude looked just
like an oil tanker and, if it was parked under a motorway
bridge, a favourite hiding place, it could not be
seen at all by satellites or surveillance aircraft,
yet it could be run out, set up and launched in only
twenty minutes. Then, even if surveillance satellites
pin-pointed its position from the heat of a launch,
its erector-trailer would have disappeared again by
the time an aircraft could be directed to the spot."
The SAS was the first special operations element
to operate directly against the mobile Scud threat.
In time, Schwartzkopf relented, and the SAS was permitted
to cross the border to hunt for the elusive Scuds.
Interestingly, and an indication of the high level
of secrecy involved, not even Gen. Horner was briefed
of their pending operations. His first notification
of the active involvement of the SAS came when an
officer from the Regiment appeared unannounced at
Tactical Air Control Command (TACC) and began to coordinate
plans for subsequent Scud hunting missions.
In an effort to focus Coalition efforts to find and
destroy the mobile launchers, two distinct areas of
operation had been devised. The first of these, known
as "Scud Alley", was located south of the
main highway connecting Baghdad with Amman, Jordan.
The second, known as "Scud Boulevard" was
located north of the highway. It was decided that
the SAS would patrol Scud Alley, while American JSOTF
teams would operate in the north.
22 Special Air Service (SAS)
The British 22 Special Air Service (SAS) is perhaps
the best known special operations group in existence
today. SAS proficiency in firearms, already very high,
is refined for close quarters battle in the "Killing
House." The basic CQB course is six weeks, during
which troopers may fire in excess of 2,000 rounds.
This skill is further enhanced during a squadron's
SP duty. Adding an element of realism to the training
is the use of live personnel as hostages during room
clearing operations.. SAS counterterrorist and hostage
rescue training is further facilitated by the inclusion
of high-ranking members of the UK government, many
of who (including the Prime Minister) take part in
actual training exercises.
There are a number of organizations worldwide who
also use the SAS name, such as the New Zealand SAS
and the Australian SAS. There is some debate as to
when Britain’s other legendary special operations
group, the Special Boat Service (SBS) would be used
in the counterterrorist role. This issue is still
a matter of speculation, however some experts speculate
that the SBS would not be deployed unless a large-scale
terrorist incident occurred which tapped the SAS beyond
their personnel levels. SAS and SBS are known to have
deployed together on a bomb scare involving the ocean
liner Queen Elizabeth II. In any case, maritime operations
are not a skill that the SAS has forgone. Each squadron
maintains its own Boat Troop, which devotes its time
specifically to maritime operations.
The SAS cross-trains with the United States’ Delta
Force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), France’s
GIGN, Germany’s GSG-9, Spain’s GEO, the Royal Dutch
Marines, and the SAS groups from Australia and New
Zealand, to name a few. In return, these organizations
have allowed British SAS members to train along side
their own units in a reciprocal swap of information.
These exchange programs have had the effect of raising
counterterrorist skills worldwide to higher and higher
levels. For as good as the SAS is, they have always
been the first to state that they still have skills
they can improve on and as a result are always on
the lookout for a better way to do things. It has
also been documented that at least one or two SAS
personnel have been present at every major counterterrorist
operation involving a friendly country since the unit’s
establishment of the CRW. Their presence has oftentimes
been in an official advisory role, but ex-SAS members
have revealed that the group has often sent men to
the scene of an incident, just to learn as much as
they can about the success or failure of an operation.
There are four squadrons in the SAS, known as Sabre
Squadrons. These are designated by letters as follows:
A, B, D and G. Each squadron, in turn, is made up
of Troops, which are each specialized in one method
of insertion. The four Troops are Boat, Mobility,
Air (Freefall), and Mountain. All soldiers are rotated
through different troops during their (minimum) three-year
service with the Regiment. This ensures that each
man has at least two troop skills in addition to his
standard patrol skills. This process ensures that
each four-man patrol contains a diverse but comprehensive
cross-section of necessary experience.
On 10 January 1991, one half of B Squadron was formally
notified that they would be departing for Saudi Arabia
no later than 13 January. On that day 30 men were
then transported to Brize Norton airfield for the
seven-hour flight to Saudi via a Royal Air Force VC10.
After landing in Riyadh, teams were ushered quickly
off their aircraft into covered transport vehicles.
Form here, they were driven to a remote section of
the base, far from the prying eyes of conventional
military units on the base. This process, known as
"isolation", is a common practice for SOF
teams preparing to participate in any real world mission.
Isolation periods can last anywhere from a few hours
to a few weeks, depending on the type and urgency
of the team’s upcoming operation.
Home for the approximately forty SAS troopers was
a disused hangar, approximately 300 feet long and
150 feet wide. The hangar served not only as housing
for the soldiers, but also as a warehouse for virtually
all their equipment, including Land Rovers, outboard
engines, laser target designators, food, ammunition,
and explosives. By the height of hostilities, over
half of the entire Regiment deployed to the Gulf.
This included not only 22 SAS, but selected personnel
from 21 and 23 SAS, the Territorial Army units – the
largest Regimental deployment since World War Two.
All SAS teams were equipped with handheld laser target
designators, for use in the illumination of select
Iraqi ground targets for attack by Coalition warplanes.
It should be noted that SAS personnel were required
to take anti-nerve agent pills, however in some cases
it appears that this procedure was not strictly adhered
From the outset, SAS teams were ordered not to simply
attack all targets of opportunity. Given the fragility
of the Coalition, political factors were emphasized.
One SAS trooper described the problem this way:
"We guessed the parameters of out operations
would be loose, but that wouldn’t mean we could just
go around blowing up power lines or whatever else
we saw. We’re strategic troops, so what we do behind
enemy lines can have serious implications. If we saw
a petroleum line, for example, and blew it up¼
we might just be bringing Jordan into the war: it
could be a pipeline from Baghdad to Jordan which the
allies had agreed not to destroy so that Jordan still
got its oil. So if we saw an opportunity target like
that we’d have to get permission to deal with it.
That way we could cause the maximum amount of damage
to the Iraqi war machine, but not damage any political
or strategic considerations."
By the end of the war, non-Scud related operations
would include "snatching" Iraqi officers
for interrogation, contaminating enemy fuel supplies,
and destroying bridges.
On 20 January, SAS troopers crossed the Iraqi border
for the first time. Operational details, such as transportation,
were largely at the discretion of the team leader.
Methods of insertion available revolved around three
primary means: crossing the border on foot, by vehicle,
or by helicopter. It appears that HALO insertion was
a consideration, but its actual employment has not
been confirmed. This is most likely due to the relative
easy by which a large transport aircraft such as a
C-130 Hercules could be spotted by Iraqi radar, however
degraded the systems. Such detection would not only
identify the aircraft for antiaircraft missiles and
guns, but could also give away the general location
of any team attempting to insert.
Bravo One Zero
Bravo One Zero, a 30-man contingent from "A"
Squadron was typical of SAS patrol activities against
the mobile launchers and is one of two such patrols
described here in detail for this reason.
This patrol was made up of six 110 Land Rovers, one
UniMog support vehicle, and two motorcycles. Order
of the patrol was three 110s, the UniMog, then three
more 100s along with the two motorcycles. Whenever
possible, the vehicles followed in the tracks of the
one before it, to confuse the enemy as to actual number
of vehicles involved.
The type of weaponry carried by the SAS team varied
widely. Personal weapons included M-16 rifles with
M-203 grenade launchers, sniper rifles, grenades,
and an assortment of high explosives. Mounted weapons
included Milan and TOW anti-tank missiles, Mk 19 grenade
launchers, 7.62mm general purpose machine guns, and
.50 caliber heavy machine guns.
To minimize the possibility of contact with the Iraqis,
the convoy traveled primarily at night. During the
day (predawn to post-sunset), the vehicles were gathered
and hidden beneath camouflage netting. All time during
which the team was not traveling was used for rest,
maintenance, and planning.
A series of unexpected problems confronted the team
immediately following their departure. The first of
these was extreme cold temperatures after dark. Expecting
cool, but not frigid, temperatures, the convoy did
not carry with it cold-weather gear. This caused severe
fatigue to all members due to the fact that none of
the vehicles were covered, and therefore could not
benefit from cab heaters.
The second problem was temporary, but delayed the
entry of the convoy into Iraqi territory. Iraqi engineers
had erected a large berm along the border, which was
large enough to prevent any vehicle from crossing
it. "A" Squadron reconnaissance teams were
sent to examine a 50km stretch of the berm to find
a suitable crossing point, however none was found.
This forced the relocation of Bravo One Zero to another
entry point much farther to the northeast.
The problems did not end with the crossing of the
border, however. On the second night of the patrol,
one Land Rover was lost following a collision with
the UniMog and had to be buried before the convoy
could proceed. The four SAS troopers in the disabled
Land Rover were transferred to the UniMog, and the
patrol was able to continue.
In one instance, three personnel approached the teams
hide. As one lifted up the netting over one of the
team’s Land Rovers, he was shot and killed at close
range, followed almost immediately by a second. The
third of the men was taken prisoner. Following the
extraction of the prisoner by helicopter, the Iraqi
vehicle was destroyed with explosives.
Code-named "Victor Two" this facility was
suspected of directing a substantial portion of Scud
missile attacks from the Western region. A 30-man
SAS patrol in the area began to receive detailed information
on the location, design, and manpower of the site
from encrypted radio transmissions sent by commanders.
So detailed was the information, that it accurately
described not only the above-ground structure, but
also the structural specifications on the underground
architecture. Two SAS personnel decrypted this information,
in standard SAS practice.
These reports also estimated that the enemy garrison
numbered approximately 30 Iraqis, in fact the number
was nearly ten times that. For some reason, the fact
that Coalition aircraft had bombed the site was not
conveyed to the team. Teams of Iraqi repair personnel
had been deployed in response, thus accounting for
the unexpectedly high numbers of enemy present.
It is perhaps most important to note that the bombing,
however, did not cause sufficient or specific enough
damage to render the site inoperable. This determination
was made only through the closer inspection by the
reconnaissance elements of the team immediately prior
to the assault. It is likely, however speculative,
to propose that aerial reconnaissance platforms then
in place may have led Coalition planners to assume
the site was heavily damaged and therefore inoperable.
In fact, the primary transmission mast at the facility
was still standing at the time the SAS team arrived
and thus the facility was still capable of continued
In the assault that followed, which included hand
to hand combat, the site was functionally destroyed
and the team was able to withdraw under fire. Surprisingly,
no SAS troopers were killed or injured in the attack.
Bravo One Zero returned to base six weeks after their
departure as scheduled.
Bravo Two Zero
In 1993, a former SAS trooper released a best-selling
non-fiction book detailing the experiences of his
eight-man patrol during Operation Desert Storm. The
book, which went on to become an international best
seller, provided previously unrevealed details of
special operations missions against the Scuds. An
analysis of the actions of this patrol is summarized,
as they, too, were typical of the circumstances and
factors faced by both SAS and Delta teams operating
against the Scuds.
British military intelligence personnel briefed the
SAS team on the specifics of identifying an Iraqi
Scud Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) convoy:
"You can expect the TEL to be accompanied by
a command vehicle, like a Land Cruiser, with the company
commander and/or the surveyor aboard. In the TEL itself
will be the crew, two in the front, and the other
operators in the back. The command post within the
TEL is in the center of the vehicle, entry being via
a door on the left-hand side. There may be infantry
in support, but we don’t know how many – nor whether
there might be several TELs operating together or
in a convoy."
It became clear in meeting such as these that intelligence
on Hussein’s Scuds was poor, and that the teams arrayed
against them would be very much learning as they went.
Further complicating the scenario of eliminating the
missiles and their launchers was the question of how
best to destroy them.
Allied intelligence agencies were aware that the
missile warheads could contain chemical or biological
agents. Thus, to directly attack the missiles on the
ground could prove lethal for the special forces team.
The Coalition was aware that Iraq maintained a significant
Direction Finding capability. A system of listening
posts scattered throughout Iraq. This fact precluded
the use of standard radio frequencies, lest the team
give away its position and found itself the focus
of alerted enemy patrols in the area. In the case
of Bravo Two Zero, the decision was made not to use
radios to call in airstrikes, unless a target of great
significance presented itself.
Bravo Two Zero’s primary mission was the elimination
of a vital landline. The bombing campaign had destroyed
much of Iraq’s aboveground communications capability.
It was assumed that the majority of Hussein’s message
traffic was being carried through fiber-optic cables
that crisscrossed the country. Most importantly, it
was calculated that mobile Scud launchers were being
directed through these very lines. It was estimated
that due to a lack of secondary communications capabilities,
and an increasing deprivation of skilled technicians
to repair them, that the physical disablement of the
lines would critically hamper Hussein’s ability to
employ the TELs.
The initial airstrikes had dropped six primary bridges
crossing the Tigris River in central Baghdad. While
these attacks obviously hampered land crossings into
the capital, they also severed the communications
cables strung along the undersides of the structures
themselves. This meant that Hussein and his senior
leadership could not only no longer easily communicate
with his army in Kuwait, but also could not reach
the officers commanding the TELs in the field.
The area of operations assigned to Two Zero was a
150-mile stretch along a main supply route in northern
Iraq. The team was notified that resupply would be
delivered by helicopter in fourteen days.
Unlike Bravo One Zero, the method of transportation
for the patrol selected was on foot, rather than by
vehicle. This decision was made primarily due to concerns
over the ability of the team to conceal the vehicles
on the flat, featureless terrain. The eight men would
be flown in by a single RAF Chinook, which would also
provide resupply as requested by the team during its
The initial site selected by the team appeared secure
in the darkness of the evening, however a brief reconnaissance
in the early discovered that they were perilously
close to several Iraqi S60 (57mm) mobile anti-aircraft
gun emplacements. The decision was then made to contact
headquarters and request and exfiltration and relocation.
These efforts failed, however, and the patrol was
unable to notify headquarters of their situation.
The patrol encountered a civilian child, who, in
turn, ran away screaming in the direction of the S60
sites. Assuming it had been compromised, the team
departed their position and attempted to maneuver
away to an alternate location. During this action,
Iraqi elements closed on and engaged the patrol. A
series of running firefights ensued, during which
the team was separated.
Several search and rescue attempts were made, based
on weak transmissions made by the patrol as it attempted
to evade the Iraqis, however none were successful.
One member managed to travel on foot to Syria, where
he was eventually returned safely to Coalition officials.
Three of the patrol died (one from hypothermia, two
from injuries sustained by enemy fire) while four
were taken prisoner and interred for the remainder
of the war.
Officially designated 1st Special Forces
Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-Delta),
the U.S. Army’s Delta Force is one of two dedicated
counterterrorist units in the American military, and
one of four fielded by the United States. Delta is
organized into four squadrons; "A", "B",
"C" and "D". The first three are
operational/assault groups, while the latter serves
as Delta’s training cadre. Each squadron is made up
of approximately 75 operators and is commanded by
a lieutenant colonel. The squadron, in turn, is made
up of troops of fifteen to twenty men each, which
can be subdivided into four to six man teams. These
teams are organized along varied lines, but are most
commonly associated with a specific specialty, such
as SCUBA, HALO, or mountain climbing.
Delta also maintains support units that handle selection
and training, logistics, finance, and the unit’s medical
requirements. Within this grouping is a little known,
but vital technical unit which is responsible for
covert eavesdropping equipment for use in hostage
rescues and similar situations.
These skills are enhanced by the unit's participation
in an ongoing exchange and training programs with
foreign counterterrorist units, such as (as might
be expected) Britain's 22 SAS, France's GIGN, Germany's
GSG-9, and Australia's own Special Air Service Regiment.
Such close cooperation with other groups provides
innumerable benefits, including exchanges of new tactics
and equipment as well as enhancing relations that
might prove useful in later real-world operations.
There have been persistent rumors of an additional
squadron dedicated to aviation, made up of MH-6 and
AH-6 "Little Bird" helicopters. Regardless
of the validity of such claims, the vast majority
of helicopter based assets are provided by the 160th
SOAR. Other assets, such as the larger U.S. Air Force
MC-130 and C-141 Starlifters (for airborne operations
as well as transportation) are also available at nearby
Pope Air Force Base.
Delta is under the operational command of the Joint
Special Operations Command (JSOC). The Command is
responsible for studying joint special operations,
requirements and techniques, training and exercises,
and tactics. The Command also includes the Joint Special
Operations Task Forces, which are responsible for
direct action, strategic reconnaissance, and counterterrorism.
The National Command Authorities (NCA) usually direct
tasking for operations.
The National Command Authority (NCA) consisted of
two key figures: President George Bush and Secretary
of Defense Richard Cheney. Through communications
with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS),
Gen. Colin L. Powell, the unified command responsible
for Southwest Asia under Secretary Cheney was Central
Command (CENTCOM) commanded by Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf,
United States Commander in Chief Central (USCINCCENT).
Under General Schwartzkopf were four service components:
Army Central (ARCENT), Navy Central (NAVCENT), Central
Air Forces (CENTAF), and Marines Central (MARCENT),
and one sub-unified command - Special Operations Command
Central (SOCCENT) - commanded by Colonel Jesse L.
Johnson. Reporting directly to Colonel Johnson were
the Army Special Operations Task Force (ARSOTF), the
Naval Special Warfare Task Group (NSWTG), the 3rd
Special Forces Group (SFG) separate from ARSOTF, the
Kuwaiti Navy, a Kuwaiti Special Forces Battalion,
and AFSOCCENT commanded by Col. George A. Gray III,
commander of the 1st Special Operations
Delta operators carry out the majority of their training
at what was once known as the "Security Operations
Training Facility". The unit’s facility was operational
in 1987 and built an estimated cost of $75 million.
Since that time scores of improvements and additional
structures have been constructed. Among the features
of the new facility are numerous Ranges, which are
include but are not limited to pistol, shotgun, sniping,
and explosives. Other areas include a three-story
hostage rescue facility, Olympic-sized swimming pool,
gymnasium, tall swimming tank, mountain climbing wall,
and even a basketball court. All these combine to
provide the operators with what has been described
as "the ultimate counterterrorism training center".
Delta’s presence in Iraq occurred virtually from
the outset of hostilities. A small contingent of operators
was deployed from Ft. Bragg to supplement General
Norman Schwartzkopf’s close protection detail. These
bodyguards, wearing uniforms bereft of identifying
insignia, would never leave the general’s side, even
as he went to work inside CENTCOM’s secure headquarters
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
provides aviation support to Army special operations
forces. The Regiment consists of modified OH-6 light
observation helicopters, MH-60 utility helicopters
and MH-47 medium-lift helicopters. The capabilities
of the 160th SOAR have been evolving since the early
Shortly after the failed hostage rescue mission,
Desert One, in Iran, the Army formed a special aviation
unit. The unit drew on some of the best aviators in
the Army and immediately began an intensive training
program in low-level, night operations. The unit became
a battalion of its own on October 16, 1981. Designated
the 160th Aviation Battalion, the unit was popularly
known as Task Force 160 because of the constant attachment
and detachment of units to prepare for a wide variety
of missions. Its focus on night operations resulted
in the nickname, "The Night Stalkers."
On May 16, 1990 the unit was reorganized, designated
the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne),
and assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The Regiment currently consists of three battalions.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions are located at Fort Campbell,
Kentucky, while the 3rd Battalion is located at Hunter
Army Airfield, Georgia. The organizational structure
of the 160th SOAR allows the Regiment to quickly tailor
its unique assets to meet mission requirements of
special operations forces.
The 160th SOAR actively seeks and assigns the best-qualified
aviators and support soldiers available in the Army.
The unique mission of the unit requires that it work
closely with the Army Personnel Command in the recruitment
process. Once assigned, incoming officers and enlisted
soldiers go through Basic Mission Qualification. The
Officer Qualification Course lasts 14 weeks while
the Enlisted Qualification Course is three weeks in
duration. Two other qualification levels exist, Fully
Mission Qualified and Flight Lead. Associated progression
times are 12-18 months and 36-48 months respectively.
Following the invasion of Kuwait, initial plans called
for the deployment of sixteen MH-47s from the 2nd
Battalion. 2nd Battalion was only able to provide
twelve and this prevented them from providing any
aircraft in CONUS for other missions. Therefore, their
commitment was reduced to eight. 3rd Battalion was
tasked to provide four MH-47s and eight MH-60s, which
brought the total to sixteen MH-47 equivalents. After
finding out they were going to get MH-60s, SOCCENT
modified the requirement to four MH-47s and eight
MH-60s. TF 3/160 was comprised of Headquarters, two
MH-47s, and eight MH-60s from 3rd Battalion and two
MH-47s from 2nd Battalion. Deployment began on 3 September
1990 and the unit was based at King Khalid International
For the start of the air war, TF 3/160 had two missions.
First, they had to provide MH-47s to support the pre-H
hour attack of Iraqi air defense ground control intercept
sites. They provided fuel bladder aircraft to refuel
AH-64 attack helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division
(AASLT). The operation was successful. The second
mission was to forward deploy to Rafha and conduct
Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions into Iraq
to pick up downed allied pilots. TF 3/160 retained
the CSAR mission throughout the war, but moved from
Rafha back to KKMC when it was realized that the potential
for allied shootdowns was slight.
Highlights of TF 3/160's combat experiences included
the successful pick up of a downed F-16 pilot forty
miles inside Iraq. Two MH-60s along with a security
team from the 2nd Battalion, 5th
Special Forces Group located and picked up the pilot.
Both aircraft returned safely to base, despite significant
enemy fire, including surface to air missiles. It
was the only successful night vision goggle rescue.
TF 3/160 conducted an emergency extraction of Special
Forces "A" Team that had been compromised.
The mission was conducted by a single aircraft, in
daylight, and in the middle of a firefight.
The 160th also participated directly in
the Scud hunt. The Regiment’s role in the aspect of
operations was primarily the infiltration and exfiltration
of Delta and SAS teams throughout the western desert.
Heavily armed MH-60 Black Hawks were capable of delivering
small teams along with a desert patrol vehicle deep
into Iraqi territory. The 160th also undertook what
would informally become known as "Thunder Runs".
These flights, involving MH-60 Black Hawks configured
for the Defensive Armed Penetrator (DAP) role, were
used in direct action missions against the Scud launchers,
command and control sites, and lines of communication.
On 26 February, AH-6 helicopters attacked a radio
relay compound with minigun and rocket fire. A Ranger
element was then inserted and quickly secured the
site. The 100-meter tower was then destroyed with
These operations were not without loss, however.
At approximately 0300 on 21 February, four pilots
and crew from the 160th SOAR and three Delta operators
were killed when an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed
into a sand dune during zero-visibility weather conditions
near the Ar Ar airfield. The ground team was reportedly
conducting counterforce operations when one of the
team was injured in a fall from a cliff and required
medevac, to which the 160th responded.
Air Force Special Operations Command also played
a significant role in the Great Scud Hunt. Units assigned
to AFSOCCENT included the 1st Special Operations
Wing from Hurlburt Field, Florida; the 71st
Special Operations Squadron of the 919th
Special Operations Group (SOG), Air Force Reserve,
from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; the 1720th
Special Tactics Group (STGP) also from Hurlburt Field,
Florida; the 3rd Battalion of the 160th
Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) from Hunter
Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia; and the U.S.
Navy’s Helicopter Combat Squadron (HCS) 4/5 from the
Combat Controllers, some of whom were assigned to
JSOTF patrols, are trained to establish communications,
command and control locations for both ground and
aircraft commanders. They are experts in establishing
navigation aids and in demolition work when obstacles
and unexploded ordnance in the landing zone need to
be neutralized. In the counter-Scud role played out
in Desert Storm, however, their skills in directing
Coalition aircraft onto suspected TELs and related
targets proved a valuable asset.
Elements of all Air Force Special Operations Command
units deployed to Desert Storm and performed a variety
of crucial missions, including infiltration, exfiltration
and resupply of Special Operations Forces teams on
direct action missions. Missions also included rescue
of downed crew members, psychological operations broadcasts,
dropping 15,000-pound bombs and supporting counter-terrorist
More than 50 Air Force Special Operations Forces
aircraft were deployed, including helicopters and
AC/EC/MC/HC-130s. These assets flew more than 830
missions to support CENTCOM. Crews recovered downed
crew members and provided valuable target identification
and human intelligence work. MH-53J Pave Low helicopters
also acted as pathfinders during the first hours of
the war. One AC-130 was lost during the war.
AC-130 gunships were also used in the Scud Hunt.
One AC-130H was engaged by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles
while on a Scud hunting mission. This incident resulted
in the assignment of AFSOC asset mission oversight
to the AFSOCCENT commander, rather than CENTAF.
Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF)
On 28 January, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General Colin Powell, personally ordered Schwartzkopf
to accept the application of a covert special operations
element to act directly against the growing Scud threat.
This package, formally known as the Joint Special
Operations Task Force, was initially comprised of
one squadron from Delta Force plus a small element
from the 1st Battalion, 160th
SOAR. One week later, a larger force of an additional
Delta squadron, a small Dev Group contingent, and
a reinforced Ranger company were deployed as well.
Led by Gen. Downing, JSOTF arrived at King Fahd International
Airport on 1 February. From here, the Delta commandos
flew on to Ar Ar, a small border town near the northern
border with Iraq. With the two Delta squadrons, Rangers,
and additional personnel, the JSOTF contingent at
Ar’Ar totaled nearly 800 personnel.
Ar’Ar also served as a significant forward base for
Coalition forces. The Arab task forces reported to
Prince Khalid through a Joint Forces Command in the
Saudi Ministry of Defense, and were divided into a
Joint Forces Command (North), a Joint Forces Command
(East), and a Joint Forward Forces Command Ar'Ar (the
command of the Arab defensive forces screening the
border area). The Ar'Ar command was subordinated to
the Joint Forces Command (North). It included two
Saudi National Guard battalions, a Saudi Army airborne
battalion, and a Pakistani armored brigade with about
5,500 men, over 100 tanks, and about 90 other additional
armored vehicles and artillery weapons.
Ar'Ar airfield was initially a civilian, not military,
airport. The facility was comprised of two terminals,
one for standard civilian traffic, and another for
the exclusive use of the local royal Saudi Prince.
The main JOC was first established in the lobby area
of the Prince's terminal.
However, after MG Downing directed all JSOC staff
to establish a forward presence at Ar'Ar, the force
expanded into the entire Princes terminal. Equipped
with modern facilities (such as Western-style toilets,
carpet, etc.), this area was soon filled with scores
of cubicles to house all necessary assets, including
J1, J2 intelligence (SCIF), J3, J6/JCU comms, the
Command SGM, and the main JOC area. Communications
were able to monitor all nets, including those used
for infiltration and exfiltration teams in the field,
etc. Elements from the reinforced Ranger company provided
airfield security, which was supplemented by fortified
fighting emplacements constructed in solid rock. A
civilian crane was required for this and the process
reportedly required two weeks of around-the-clock
Due to its close proximity to the border and the
secret nature of operations at Ar'Ar, conventional
Coalition forces were not widely aware of its new
purpose, nor of the assets that occupied it. On one
night, the NBD alert siren sounded, sending all personnel
to scramble for their gas masks and protective gear.
When a massive explosion rocked the base, it was thought
that a Scud might have impacted. In fact, a flight
of F-4 Phantoms in the "Wild Weasel" (anti-radar)
role had detected transmissions from one of the Ar'Ar
base radar. Believing the radar to have been activated
by the Iraqis, the planes fired on the radar, destroying
Gen. Downing met with Gen. Schwartzkopf to brief
him on his special operations team and their pending
deployment. Following this, Downing met with SAS Colonel
Andy Massey. During this meeting, Col. Massey informed
Downing of the lessons learned to date by his SAS
patrols operating in Iraq. Downing learned that the
SAS teams, based out of Al Jouf, had encountered unexpected
difficulties in their operations, primarily related
to weather conditions. Two of his men had frozen to
death, one after swimming across an icy river, the
other while hiding from an Iraqi patrol. Also, Bravo
Two Zero - an eight man patrol - was reported missing.
Freezing temperatures at night had also frozen fuel
lines in several of the Land Rovers, forcing SAS troopers
to light small fires beneath their vehicles to thaw
them out. While impossible to calculate, this sharing
of operational experience likely reduced the risks
to future JSOTF operations and possibly saved the
lives of at least some operators.
JSOTF teams were primarily comprised of between 20
and 40 Delta operators along with a single Combat
Controller from USAF Special Operations Command. The
inclusion of the Combat Controller was made specifically
to facilitate the communications between the team
and any strike aircraft that might be requested. It
was not long before the newly deployed JSOTF teams
would find themselves benefiting from the lesson learned
by the SAS just weeks earlier. The first JSOTF mission
against the Scuds took place on 7 February and involved
sixteen Delta commandos in two vehicles. The results
of this patrol have not been made public and remain
classified. Some idea of their actions, however, can
be gleaned from several reports.
In one instance, two F-15E’s, just beginning a Scud
patrol, were diverted to assist a special operations
patrol, call sign Papa One-One. After being given
the patrol’s radio frequency and authenticating, the
pilots were notified that the patrol had been compromised
and was being pursued by enemy vehicles. Traveling
in a Pinzgauer, the JSOTF team was engaged in a running
gun battle with at least seven Iraqi vehicles. Coordinating
with the Combat Controller, the F-15E’s dropped a
single bomb, destroying one enemy truck. Following
this initial attack, the entire convoy was wiped out
in seven strikes. Papa One-One reported one of the
destroyed vehicles to be a mobile Scud launcher.
Yet another encounter between JSOTF elements and
F-15E’s took place in the early morning hours of 13
February. While preparing to bomb a SA-3 site near
Al Qaim, AWACS diverted a flight of two Strike Eagles
to respond to a ‘troops in contact’ request for air
support. Three Iraqi helicopters had been observed
landing near an unspecified special forces element
in a ‘no drop’ zone. The helicopters were subsequently
engaged and two of three destroyed. In fact, the pilot
of a 160th SOAR helicopter that had been operating
in support of a JSOTF team had placed the radio request.
More often than not, however, it was the ability
of SOF teams to locate and identify suspected mobile
launchers and missiles for airstrikes that proved
the most value to the Coalition effort to end the
The types of aircraft available to Coalition SOF
for use in air strikes against suspected SCUD launchers
were widely varied. The primary U.S. airframes included
the F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt, F-15E
Strike Eagle, and AC-130 Spectre gunship.
One vital component of the air campaign was the new
Joint STARS (USAF-Grumman Joint Surveillance Target
Attack Radar System). Although still in development,
two Joint-STARS' test aircraft flew 54 combat sorties
and supported all mission taskings with a system availability
rate of more than 80 percent. One of the two aircraft
was in the air every day, tracking every vehicle that
moved on the ground. Joint-STARS identified and targeted
Scud missiles and launchers, convoys, trucks, tanks,
surface-to-air missile sites and artillery pieces
for coalition aircraft.
It is not clear to what extent the AC-130 was used,
however its specific tasking in the counter-SCUD role
has been documented. Historically, however, the Spectre
has proven itself an extremely effective platform
for destroying trucks, artillery, and lightly armored
personnel carriers. However, as the AC-130 is a large
propeller-driven aircraft with an inherently low airspeed
when compared to jet aircraft, the gunship was not
an ideal platform for TEL counterforce operations.
Initial coordination and communication between Coalition
aircraft and teams on the ground was notoriously poor.
The secret nature of the deployment of the SAS and
JSOTF meant that, in the early stages of the Scud
hunt, that the first notification to patrolling strike
aircraft of the presence of SOF teams operating beneath
them was the crackling message on the Guard frequency.
Initial communications problems for SAS teams were
caused primarily by a technological flaw. The British
teams were initially issued only high-frequency (HF)
radios rather than the more advanced SATCOM systems.
Following numerous complaints, personnel from JSOC
met with the SAS liaison element it was determined
that environmental conditions were causing unexpectedly
significant difficulty. Factors such as temperature
variations and flat terrain were adversely impacting
the travel of HF radio waves and how they skipped
to the ionosphere (or along the ground in ground wave
mode). These made even scheduled, routine reporting
difficult. Other inherent operational factors such
as complicated antenna configurations, added weight
and lack of a voice recognition capability also made
the HF system unfavorable.
These conditions, however, did not effect satellite
communications (SATCOM) equipment. Benefits of SATCOM
to deployed teams included light weight, excellent
reliability, data burst capability and much easier
secure communications. One drawback to SATCOM, however,
was that it could not be used while the patrol was
traveling. In order to transmit or receive, the team
had to remain in a stationary location, deploy the
antenna and align it with the satellite.
This obstacle was overcome by loaning SATCOM equipment
to the British forces at Al Jouf. Eventually, all
elements (special operations helicopters, JSTOF/SAS
teams, etc.) were using SATCOM equipment and were
given high priority channel access. Nonetheless, teams
equipped with SATCOM using KL-43's (data burst/field
sized) on narrowband channels reportedly experienced
difficulty both in transmission and reception.
Following one mission in which an F-15E pilot expressed
his concerns over potential "friendly fire"
casualties, the SAS dispatched two officers to Al
Kharj to discuss what improvements might be made.
SAS liaison officers were assigned to the Tactical
Air Control Center (TACC) in Riyadh. The benefits
of this relationship were immediate. Radio procedures
were established to better facilitate communications
between the SOF teams on the ground and strike aircraft.
SAS teams were also directed to radio their requests
directly to TACC so that airborne assets might be
better coordinated. The decision was also made to
inform Coalition pilots of SAS patrol areas.
These improvements not only enhanced Coalition reaction
time to suspected Scud launchers, but also increased
the survivability of SOF elements operating in the
desert. In one instance, an SAS team patrolling in
the area between H-2 and Al Muhammadi airfield believed
itself to have been compromised. They immediately
radioed back to TACC their request for extraction
and air support. Two 160th SOAR MH-60’s
were scrambled to retrieve the team and an AWACS controller
vectored in a two-ship flight of F-15E’s.
Scud patrols involving the F-15E Strike Eagle were
based on a singular methodology. In this, two F-15Es,
one equipped with a laser-targeting pod, the other
with twelve 500-pound bombs, would depart their airfield
just before dark. From here, they would transit to
a tanker flying over western Saudi Arabia, then fly
north to an area between H-2 airfield and Al Qaim.
Once there, the two fighter-bombers would fly a racetrack
pattern at medium altitude. Over the duration of the
flight, the second aircraft would drop one 500 pound
bomb at predetermined intervals varying between five
and thirty minutes.
The intent of this seemingly haphazard approach was
to deter any potential mobile Scud crew on the ground
from setting up and launching their missile. Of course,
an ancillary benefit was that any F-15 team, if they
spotted a TEL on the ground, could attack the vehicle
before it could launch its missile.
Upon arrival, radio contact between the Strike Eagles
and the SOF team was established and the pilot was
requested to investigate a suspicious vehicle. This
vehicle did not present a threat and passed the team
without incident. Fifteen minutes later, however,
the pilots were informed that an Iraqi mobile command
vehicle had arrived and might report the arrival of
the inbound rescue helicopter. The vehicle was attacked
and destroyed and the team was successfully extracted.
The close proximity of SOF elements to their quarry
was an inherently dangerous undertaking. As was witnessed
numerous times throughout the war, even highly accurate
laser guided munitions could fall off target for a
variety of reasons.
One such humorous exchange was recounted in Tom Clancy’s
Every Man A Tiger:
SAS: "I say, Eagle II, I have a Scud located
at the following coordinates," which he read.
Eagle II pilot: "Roger. Am one minute out, approaching
your position from the south."
SAS: "Understand you will be making your
run from south to north. The target is a small
wadi, running southwest by northeast. And I hear
you approaching the target."
Eagle II pilot: "Roger. We have the target and
have bombs away."
Soon the aircraft’s laser was pointed at what
appeared to be either a Scud or a truck filled
with fuel just south of the SAS man. Then a very
large bomb was headed through the air at near
supersonic speeds. Just prior to the impact, the
SAS officer came on the air and said: "understand
you are bombs away. I’m observing some activity
on the road just – "
At that moment, the bomb hit, the fireball of
the secondary explosion rolled over the SAS man,
and the loudest "JESUS CHRIST!" ever
transmitted on the airways interrupted what had
been a cool, professional conversation."
One joint British-U.S. team made up of twenty Special
Boat Service (SBS) troopers, three Special Forces
personnel, and a lone Combat Controller was handed
the mission of locating and disabling a buried fiber
optic cable. The cable, believed to be located just
southwest of Baghdad, was thought to have been a primary
Scud command and control communications line and was
thus considered an urgent target. Inserted by two
helicopters on the night of 23 January, the team dug
numerous holes and found several cables, both of which
were destroyed with 800 pounds of explosives. The
fiber optic cable, however, was never located during
the ninety-minute search. The team was extracted and
returned safely to Al Jouf.
The Future of SOF Counterforce Operations
While it is difficult to verify the veracity of Coalition
claims of SOF-related Scud kills, anecdotal evidence
indicates that at least three TELs with Scud missiles
were destroyed. In the unique case of Desert Storm,
however, the significance of the use of Special Operations
Forces by the Coalition was not in the actual results
achieved, but rather simply by their employment. It
is now widely accepted that the willingness of the
United States and Great Britain, specifically, to
dedicate their most highly trained personnel to the
task of hunting the Scuds was the largest single factor
in Israel’s decision to refrain from entering hostilities
with Iraq, and possibly shattering the Coalition.
Neither the SAS nor the elements of JSOTF were specifically
trained in operations against mobile launchers, however
that shortcoming changed following the war. Today,
the Department of Defense’s Joint Special Operations
Command (JSOC) has developed teams dedicated specifically
to countering weapons of mass destruction. Known as
Special Mission Units (SMUs), these teams are made
up of operatives from Delta Force, Dev Group, and
the Air Force’s Special Tactics Squadron One. Depending
on the mission, personnel and aircraft from the 75th
Ranger Regiment and 160th SOAR can be assigned
as required. These teams are specifically focused
to two areas, conterterrorism and counterproliferation.
Locating and destroying mobile missile launchers such
as those used by Iraq would fall under this latter
Tours with Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha
(SFOD-A/Special Mission Unit (SMU) Teams are generally
between four and six years for both junior and senior
positions. SFOD-A/SMU Team Sergeants tours are two
to four years, with an 18 month minimum. These comparatively
lengthy tour requirements demand a higher than usual
level of dedication from the individual soldier, and
also indicate that a significant level of advanced
training can be expected. Such advanced training can
only be speculated, as applicants to the program are
already expected to have mastered one or more special
Conventional military forces have turned increased
attention to the future TBM threat as well. In early
1999, the USAF conducted Exercise Northern Edge. Northern
Edge, Alaska's largest annual joint training exercise,
is conducted by Alaskan Command and featured the inclusion
of a mock-up of a Scud missile mobile launcher. According
to Lt. Col. Gail Ramsey, the officer responsible for
the inclusion of the TEL in the exercise, "The
growing mobile missile threat as encountered in Desert
Storm, is the basis for this training," said
Ramsay. "While not a high-value military target,
the Scud is a terrorist weapon that U.S. forces need
to counter." In Northern Edge, U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts
were able to locate, identify, and attack the launcher
on numerous attempts.
This new focus by the U.S. military indicates a more
aggressive and dedicated approach to the reactive,
ad hoc actions carried out during Desert Storm. And
while the verifiability of actual Scud kills remains
a matter of debate, there is little question that
the Coalition lessons learned from the experiences
of Special Operations Forces during Operation Desert
Storm provide an invaluable insight into the future
of counterforce operations against the growing threat
of theater ballistic missiles.
Destruction of Iraqi SCUDs after Desert
Iraqi Scud Launches During the Gulf War
Day Against Results
Israel Saudi Arabia
Jan. 18 7 0 Landed in Tel Aviv and Haifa, 7 injured.
Jan. 19 4 0 Landed in/near Tel Aviv
Jan. 20 0 2 Intercepted by Patriot missiles
Jan. 21 0 7 6 intercepted by Patriots, 1 impacted
Jan. 22 1 7 1 landed on apartment house in Israel,
3 dead and 96 injured. 7 others engaged by Patriots.
Jan. 23 1 4 All intercepted by Patriot missiles.
Jan. 25 8 2 Most of those launched at Israel intercepted
at low altitude, with 1 dead, 65 injured, widespread
damage; all Scuds aimed at Saudi Arabia were intercepted.
Jan. 26 4 1 All intercepted by Patriots.
Jan. 28 1 1 Scud aimed at Israel fell in Palestinian
village in West Bank. No damage reported in Saudi
Jan. 31 1 0 Scud aimed at Israel fell in West Bank.
Feb. 2 1 0 Intercepted by Patriot.
(Source: General Merrill McPeak, Chief of Staff,
U.S. Air Force, The Air Campaign Part of the Combined
Arms Operation [Washington, DC: Department of the
Air Force, 1991], briefing graphic 16. This original
information was altered to reflect the fact that recent
reviews of Patriot missile engagements indicated that
not all interceptions resulted in the destruction
of the missile.)
Scud Kill Claims
Date Location Claims Weapons System/Unit
18 Jan W Iraq 2 Scuds, 2 damaged, 1 probable A-10A
23 Jan W Iraq 4 mobile Scuds Airstrike / JSOTF
28 Jan N/A 3 Scuds, 4 support vehicles F-15E
29 Jan W Iraq 2 Scud convoys F-15E / SAS
31 Jan N/A 2 Scud vehicles F-15E
02/03 Feb W Iraq 1 Scud MH-60 / JSOTF
03 Feb W Iraq 2 TELs F-15E / SAS
03 Feb N/A 2 Scud vehicles Airstrike
05 Feb W Iraq 2 TELs Airstrike / SAS
10 Feb N/A 1 Scud N/A
11 Feb KTO 4 mobile Scuds N/A
14 Feb N/A 2 Scud vehicles F-15E
15 Feb N/A 3 Scuds N/A
17 Feb N/A 5 Scuds N/A
18 Feb W Iraq 2 TELs, 7 stored missiles F-16 / SAS
19 Feb W Iraq 1 TEL F-15E / SAS
23 Feb N/A 6 Scuds N/A
23 Feb W Iraq 1 Scud A-7E
26 Feb W Iraq 24 Scuds A-10A / F/A-18C
Note: A total of 51 mobile Scud launchers were reported
killed by USAF A-10A’s during the war. (Primary Source:
Ripley, Tim, Scud Hunting: Counter-force Operations
Against Theater Ballistic Missiles, Centre for
Defence and International Security Studies, Lancaster
University, 1998, pg. 23.)
Special Operations Forces operating in the Gulf employed
six primary vehicles, all of which were off-road capable.
Please note that, while the military versions of production
vehicles are commonly modified, those used by SOF
teams are usually much more tailored to the mission
at hand. As a result, it is impossible to describe
accurately and specifically each vehicle used by those
forces engaged in Operation Desert Storm. However,
due to their vitally important role in Scud counterforce
operations, a brief overview of each type follows:
Fast Attack/Light Strike/Desert Patrol Vehicle
– Produced by Chenowth, a premier off-road racing
company, the FAV is used primarily by the U.S. Navy
SEALs, however these have been tested for use by other
U.S. special operations forces. Weaponry includes
the MK-19 .20mm Gatling gun for the passenger side
gunner, The .50 caliber belt fed machine gun (facing
forward) and the M-60 machine gun (facing aft) for
the swivel seat gunner. Additionally, two Anti-Tank
weapons (AT-4) will be mounted on the roof for stand
off weapons capability. SEALs operate the DPV at night
wearing night vision devices mounted on their racing
helmets. Special sand tires allow the DPV to transit
the deep sand regions of the desert. Side compartments
are used to carry supplies and gear, as well as wounded
or downed airmen.
Land Rover - The SAS has relied on the Land
Rover for over 40 years. There are numerous variants
of this versatile vehicle, however all can host a
variety of weapons, such as the 7.62mm machinegun,
20mm cannon, .50 heavy machine gun, and Milan anti-tank
system. The specific weapons used are usually a function
of the mission, rather than an established criterion.
A camouflage netting roll is available which enables
the three man crew to quickly cover the vehicle should
the need arise. The special forces versions of the
Land Rover generally feature an armored undercarriage
(against landmines), sand channels, spare wheels,
and extra fuel tanks to increase range to an estimated
650km. For desert operations, the SAS prefers a pink
paint scheme – these vehicles are then known colloquially
as ‘Pink Panthers’.
Light Strike Vehicle - The Light Strike Vehicle
(LSV), built by the British firm Longline, was designed
for relatively short-range operations. Two individuals
usually operate the LSV, however up to twelve soldiers
can be carried in an emergency situation. Its open
frame construction, similar to the Chenowth fast Attack
Vehicle, reduces both heat signature and radar reflection,
making it more desirable than larger special operations
vehicles. The LSV has a weapons mounting platform
for all calibers up to 20mm. Milan and TOW anti-tank
systems have also been tested for use.
Pinzgauer - The Pinzgauer is a part-time
six wheel drive; normally "only" the rear
four wheels are driven and a dog-clutch can be used
to engage drive to the front wheels. The forward control
or cab-over design puts the driver in an excellent
position to see the track just before the vehicle
wheels meet it. This seating position does take a
bit of getting used to on sweeping bends and can be
alarming on steep descents. The configuration puts
the engine under the cab and more noise intrudes because
of this, especially as this vehicle has the air-cooled
petrol motor. Standard bodywork is a soft-top with
canvas tilt but the Swiss and other armies also use
hard-top ambulances, radio vehicles etc.
Humvee – The Hummer was configured at first
for the use of six different vehicle types: the Cargo-Troop
Carrier; the Armament Carrier; the TOW Missile Carrier;
the Ambulance Carrier; the Shelter Carrier, and the
Prime Mover. Based upon these six types, more than
twenty subtypes were developed, many which differed
from one another only in minor details. For example,
there were seven different subtypes of the Cargo/Troop
Carrier and eight different subtypes of the Armament
Carrier available at one time. In response to US military
needs, AM General has updated and added new models
to its production line while discontinuing others.
Depending on its mission and weather conditions the
US military Hummer can be open or closed-topped and
fitted with a removable roll bar. Due to the extreme
desert heat of Iraq, the four-door Hummer was sometimes
stripped of all its doors and of its rooftop, but
not of the roll bar.
UniMog - UniMog, which is an acronym for
Universalmotorgerat (translated, "General Motors
Equipment"), is an extremely rugged and reliable
truck. It is available in a number of configurations
offering a high degree of flexibility. The trucks
are in use worldwide and have earned the reputation
as being a reliable and capable truck to have in situations
requiring high mobility and reliability in what would
normally be considered inaccessible terrain. This
vehicle is produced by Mercedes Benz. The U1550L offers
a chassis that is the "specialist" for high
mobility off-road travel. It shares the options of
central tire inflation, and increased fording depth
with the rest of the 437 series. However, no other
UniMog offers the power to weight ratio's of the U1550.
Available in 128" and 145" wheelbases, both
rated GVW 16,500 Lbs. The range of optional engines;
136 HP, 155 HP, 214 HP and 240 HP means the unit can
be precisely tailored to the application. This model
is used by Militaries as a 3.0-4.0 ton transport,
by Fire Services in a variety of configurations, this
is also the "support truck" of choice for
cross country rallies; Paris-Dakar, Paris-Moscow etc.