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...hadn't stopped with Kuwait?
Project 19 might have worked.
No one knows how close Iraq came to invading Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They wanted their money, and Saddam wanted revenge. In a world where the USSR ran a lend-lease program with the Iraqis, Saddam felt emboldened.
He'd convince the world that he was just bringing their 19th province back into the fold.
With an oil war going on, the Soviets threw their hats into the ring behind Iraq. If they'd had all the latest in equipment, the 100 hours war wouldn't be so easily fought.
It could have changed history.
Would the Americans ultimately decide that this was a problem for the Arab nations to work out amongst themselves?
Would the stakes change?
How would Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm have turned out?
You'll love this alternate history novel. It's well-researched and will make you ask what might have been.
Get it now!
Book: Project 19 – October 12th, 2021
Book Two: Desert Shield – November 9th, 2021
Book Three: Desert Storm – December 14th, 2021
Release date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Front Line Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 384
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Highway of Death
8 August 1990
495th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Major William “Gunslinger” Kidd looked at the briefing material and shook his head. This was going to be a tough mission. The Saudi Air Force along with several American F-14 Tomcats had already lost a handful of aircraft attacking the Republican Guard division. No matter what anyone thought, this mission wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
“Major Kidd,” the briefer from the operations center said, breaking into his thoughts. “Your flight will be responsible for hitting the bridge near Al Petra. It’s right before the village of Thadij, here.” He pointed to a spot on the map. “It crosses a large wadi that the 7th Division needs to cross. It’s imperative your flight take out the bridge and then go after as many of the armor formation as you can.”
Gunslinger replied, “If our primary objective is the bridge, then I’d like two of our planes equipped with a Paveway GBU-10. A five-hundred-pounder may not be enough to take it out depending on how well it was constructed.”
The briefer nodded and wrote something down on his notepad. “Agreed, I’ll make the change. Do you want one on your aircraft?”
Gunslinger looked at his fellow pilots and could tell from their eager expressions that each of them wanted to be the pilot to carry one of the Paveways. “Nah, put one on Joker’s aircraft and one on Ricin’s. We’ll let the kids have fun with this one.”
His joke elicited a few laughs from the other pilots and some nods of appreciation. It wasn’t every day you got to drop a laser-guided bomb on a bridge. These were state-of-the-art bombs just now being introduced into the inventory.
“What kind of AA support will this Iraqi division have that we should be aware of?” asked Gunslinger. He already knew the answer; he just wanted his junior officers to hear it a second time. While he’d flown in Operation El Dorado Canyon, the air raid against Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya, these young pups hadn’t.
A captain from the 1N or intelligence shop stood up and made his way to the briefing lectern. “My name is Captain Wolf. Based on both aerial surveillance and post-mission briefings from the other squadrons, the Iraqi Army has been equipped with a wide variety of air-defense weapons, which now appear to have been provided nearly a year ago by the Soviet Union following a massive foreign military sale agreement.”
“Whoa, did you just say the Soviet Union provided them with a slew of mobile SAM and AA trucks?” repeated Gunslinger, adding important details that he wanted his men to know.
Captain Wolf took a breath in before he sighed. “That’s how it appears. We’re hoping to have better intelligence on this in the near future. Regardless, the 7th Adnan Division has a mixture of ZSU-23-4 Shilkas, which are 23mm quad-gun mounted tracked vehicles. These weapons have seen wide use in the Arab-Israeli wars, so we’re pretty familiar with how they work. The number one thing I can tell you about them is don’t get too close. This division successfully shot down two F-15s and more than a handful of Saudi aircraft already.
“The division is also traveling with some mobile SAM launchers. Your flight is going to have to be extremely careful in how you attack them. You’ll have a flight of Wild Weasels flying in ahead of you to take out any of the radars that try to track you, and you’ll have some Spark-Varks out there to jam the enemy radars that survive the Weasels. We don’t anticipate significant enemy fighter activity, but we’ll have some F-15Cs providing fighter cover to keep you from getting bounced if some do show up.”
Captain Wolf paused for a moment before adding, “Don’t take these systems lightly, OK? We made some tactical errors at the start of the war. We falsely assumed our electronic systems could defeat them. That was a mistake on our part. Consequently, we’ve lost more than two dozen aircraft since the start of this campaign. Our SEAD missions are starting to work, but they take time. So keep your heads on a swivel and stay frosty out there.
“With that, I’ll hand the rest of the mission over to you, Major Kidd,” Captain Wolf said before returning to his seat.
Walking up to the lectern, Gunslinger announced, “Listen up, pups.” He liked to refer to the pilots in his flight as pups—mostly because they were all junior captains, fresh from training, and had little experience. “The Wild Weasels are going to attract those AA guns and SAMs for us. They’ll do their best to take ’em out prior to our arrival, but that doesn’t mean a few won’t play possum on us. Likewise, the Spark-Varks are going to do their best to jam the hell out of their radars and communication systems. Again, that’s only going to slow them down, not stop them. When we go in, expect the enemy to be ready and gunning for us. This is going to be a hot-and-heavy fight we’re flying into,” he explained.
He then brought up the map of the target area. “Joker, you’re going to hang back at a higher altitude and go for the bridge with your laser-guided bomb. Ricin, you’re the alternate in case Joker gets shot down or misses. If he scores a hit and the bridge is taken out, then use the Paveway on whatever target you choose. Just make sure it’s worthy of two thousand pounds of pain.”
The two pilots nodded.
“Chicken and I are going to swoop in fast, roughly five hundred feet above the deck from the east, so the opposite direction from the rest of our support aircraft.” Gunslinger then looked specifically at Chicken, who’d be flying as his wingman for this mission. “Chicken, once we go in, we need to time the release of our first two sticks of Mk 82s. Remember, we’re carrying six sticks of six five-hundred-pound bombs. We’re likely going to make three attack runs across the division, so we’ll evaluate where we want to place our sticks across the areas where we’ll cause the most damage.”
Gunslinger surveyed his three pilots. “Just remember, our mission is to cause as much damage and destruction to this armored column as we can. Fifty or so kilometers to the southwest is the Saudi 45th Armored Brigade. They’ve been fighting a tactical retreat against this division since the start of the war. We need to buy these guys as much time as we can.”
Joker asked, “Gunslinger, once we’ve taken the bridge out, do you want us to just pick our own targets to go after?”
Gunslinger thought about that for a moment. He knew it’d be better if they could link up and hit the enemy together. Then again, it was going to be pretty chaotic once they started their attack runs. “Let’s do this. Once Chicken and I finish our first attack run and you guys nail that bridge, we’ll see where everyone is and what the situation on the ground looks like. If it’s too hot, we may need to just make this a high-altitude bombing run. Ideally, we want to get as low as we can to place our ordnance on target. High-altitude bombing just isn’t as accurate unless we have the entire squadron or even wing participate in it.”
“Sounds good to us, hoss,” said one of the pilots carrying the new laser-guided bombs. They were excited and ginned up. This was their first combat mission. They were the first guys from their squadron and wing to get to use the new laser-guided bombs.
After ninety minutes of flight time, their flight of four F-111 Aardvarks was nearing the target zone. The surrounding air was abuzz with activity. Listening to the coms, Gunslinger heard the air battle managers in the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System or JSTARS aircraft; they were a hundred miles away, directing the Weasels towards the location of the enemy SAMs and AA trucks.
The high-powered airborne ground surveillance equipment was critical in helping the aircraft identify the locations of the Iraqi ground formations. Using some deductive reasoning, and based on the formations, the battle managers on the aircraft would vector in the aircraft to a specific target’s most likely locations.
Not too far from the E-8 JSTARS aircraft was the E-3 Sentry AWACS, or Airborne Early Warning and Control System, plane. They were responsible for watching the skies around the area to make sure no enemy fighters vectored into the area. If the Iraqis sent some MiGs in their direction, then they’d direct the F-15Cs to go in and deal with them.
“Karma Four-One, Eagle Six. We show clear skies. Handing you off to Hawk Two. Good luck, over.”
“Karma Four-One, good copy. Eagle Six, out.”
Moments later, Gunslinger’s radio squawked again. “Karma Four-One, Hawk Two. Wild Weasels are finishing up their attack run of known SAM sites now. Karma Four-Three is cleared to engage the bridge. Once the bridge is destroyed, we want Karma Four-One and Four-Two vectored to sector six. You’re cleared to engage them as you see fit. Karma Four-Three and Four-Four will engage sector two as they see fit. Once you’ve expended your ordnance, you are cleared to RTB. How copy?” asked the battle manager.
Depressing the talk button, Gunslinger replied, “Hawk Two, Karma Four-One. That’s a good copy.” He then switched to his flight’s channel. “Karma Four-Three and Four-Four, you are cleared to engage the bridge. Get it done ASAP. Then you’re to move to sector two and make your attack runs. Don’t dawdle, get your runs in and hit ’em hard and fast. We’ll link back up at rally point Zulu and head home together. Out.”
Gunslinger then looked at the map of the sectors his flight was being told to engage. He saw exactly what the battle manager was looking to do. It was a wide-open desert area along the two major highways heading towards Jeddah and Medina. They were going to plaster the motorized division in the open areas. If they played their cards right, this could turn into a turkey shoot. Collectively, his single flight of four aircraft was going to drop one hundred and twenty five-hundred-pound bombs across these guys. That was a lot of bombs for a single mission.
With that in mind, he flipped back to channel three.
“Hawk Two, Karma Four-One. I’ve directed my guys to engage the bridge with their Paveways. Both myself and Four-Two are carrying six sticks of five-hundred-pounders. Our intent is to make three runs, releasing two sticks on each run. How copy?”
There was a moment of silence. Presumably, the battle managers were conferring with each other.
“Karma Four-Two, that’s a negative. We have hostile aircraft inbound, so new orders. We need you to position yourself for a long single run, deploying your sticks along the way. Same with Karma Four-Three and Four-Four once the bridge is out. Eagle Six is showing some hostile aircraft being scrambled out of Riyadh. We want to get you guys in and out before they get in range of you. How copy?”
Damn, hostile aircraft already. Thank God we’ve got some F-15s out here with us. We aren’t exactly equipped to take on enemy aircraft.
“That’s a good copy. Thanks for the heads-up. We’re going to angle in for our attacks now. Out.”
Switching back to his flight’s channel, Gunslinger said, “Heads up, pups. We got inbound hostile aircraft heading towards us. Our Eagle pilots are moving to engage them as we speak. This means we need to drop our loads and get out of Dodge. Four-Three and Four-Four, I want you both to hit that bridge with your Paveway. We don’t have time to make sure the first one hits and goes off. Once you’ve got confirmation it’s down, you need to hit your sector. Because we’re short on time, you need to make a single bomb run. We can’t stick around to hit them twice. You guys got this. You’ve trained for this in the past, now it’s time to put that training to work. How copy?”
“That’s a good copy, Gunslinger. We’ll get that bridge taken down.”
Gunslinger smiled at the confidence of his pilots. He’d been training them hard since they’d arrived in his unit. It was good to see that level of training starting to kick in.
“Chicken, it’s just you and me. Let’s get positioned to make our run. I want us to line up along the southwestern side of sector six at an altitude of two thousand feet at four hundred and fifty miles per hour. When it comes to releasing our sticks, we’re going to release them one at a time. You need to pay attention to when each stick has been released. Then and only then do you start the process of releasing the next one. By slowing ourselves down to four hundred and fifty miles per hour, we should be able to release our entire loads across three-quarters of the sector. Once we’re dry on bombs, we’re going to bank to our right as we look to gain altitude and put some distance between us and them. You got all this, Chicken?”
Chicken took a second before replying, “Got it, Gunslinger. I’ll follow your lead.”
Good, he sounds confident and ready for action, Gunslinger thought. In the distance, he saw two bright flashes of light on the ground. He knew the bridge had likely been taken out. His other two pilots would be circling back around to get in position for their own attack runs.
Within a minute after the bridge went up in smoke, his copilot and bombardier pointed to a new set of warning lights that had just turned on. They were less than twenty kilometers from starting their bombing run when their Radar Homing and Warning System or RHAW came to life. At least one SAM or radar-guided AA truck had turned on its search radar. They likely knew something was about to happen given that the bridge they needed to secure had just blown up.
“Looks like things are about to get interesting,” said Captain Bud “Jugs” Barrell. He was an avid beer drinker noted for drinking large qualities and not being affected. He would be the electronic warfare officer on this mission.
“Just stay on the jamming and get those sticks ready to go. We’re only going to get one pass at this,” Gunslinger replied.
Jugs nodded and started the process of getting their bombs ready to drop. At their current speeds, they’d start delivering the pain in less than three minutes.
Gunslinger glanced to his left and saw Chicken. He was slightly behind him and about a hundred meters back. Although they didn’t have any lights on their planes, he could still make out the soft glow of Chicken’s cockpit lights against the darkness. Returning his gaze to the front, he could see the new day was starting to creep ever closer. It would be dawn in another five minutes. All the more reason to get this run completed before the sun made it easier to spot them.
“One minute out,” Jugs called out just in time for them both to see the remnants of the night sky in front of them erupt in a spectacular display of red and green tracer fire.
“Whoa! That’s a lot of ground fire,” Jugs exclaimed as they continued to fly towards it.
“No joke. This is going to get crazy. I’m going to bring us up to three thousand feet and increase our speed to five-five-zero.”
He then sent a quick message to Chicken, letting him know of the change.
“Thirty seconds,” said Jugs. The volume of ground fire only seemed to increase as they got closer.
“Hang on, we’re almost over the target,” Gunslinger announced excitedly.
3rd Squadron, Iraqi Air Force
Major Vitaly Popkov kept his MiG-29 low to the ground, flying just fifty feet above the desert. The plane was flying at twelve hundred miles per hour, living up to its unofficial nickname of “Strizh,” Russian for “Swift.” While the others in his squadron were mixing it up with the American F-15s, he opted to see if he could nail the large, lumbering American AWACS plane and that other radar-emitting aircraft. If he could catch one or two of these bombers along the way, he’d count that as a bonus.
Flying past the 7th Motorized Division, Popkov saw the sky around the division lighting up with ground fire. He knew the American bombers must be making their attack runs. If he was lucky, he might catch one or more of them on their way out of the area.
Soon, the ground began to ripple with a long line of explosions tearing through the division. A division his squadron of pilots was supposed to be providing cover for to prevent a situation like this from happening.
Once they’d received the alert of American aircraft heading towards the division, their squadron had been ordered to get airborne and see what they could do to protect them. Unfortunately, the Iraqi ground crews were not nearly as good as their Soviet counterparts at getting an aircraft spun up for a quick mission.
By the time they were in the air, the first wave of American aircraft had already hit the division. They knew a second wave of low-level bombers was inbound and a handful of American F-15s were loitering high above to provide air cover. They should have been airborne thirty minutes ago. Had they had a Soviet ground crew, they would have been. Popkov was still fuming at the ineptitude of the ground crew servicing their aircraft and how long it had taken them to get airborne. I hate having to work with these Iraqis, he lamented.
Seeing more explosions continuing to ripple through the vehicles to his left, Popkov had an idea. He was still flying roughly fifty meters above the ground when he reached for his radar control button and flicked it on. In seconds, his screen showed him a flight of two aircraft less than fifteen kilometers from his position. Thirty kilometers away, he saw another two. Given their speed and heading, Popkov judged these to be additional strike fighters. Another ninety kilometers away, he could see his primary targets: the US AWACS planes.
Knowing he had to act quickly, Popkov flicked on the seeker head of his R-73 missiles and waited until he had a solid lock on the two strike planes. They were splitting up now that they knew they were in trouble.
Squirm all you want; you can’t escape the Mayak, he thought as he pickled off the first heat-seeking missile.
He then turned towards the other attacker trying to flee the scene of the crime and locked it up with his second R-73. The target had gone to full afterburner, doing its best to outrun the fighter now on its tail. Popkov was not to be deterred. He accelerated his own aircraft to keep the target in range. His missile was just at the outer edge of its range, and he wanted to make sure he scored a hit.
Before the bomber could get outside his range, Popkov turned the seeker head on to let the missile acquire the target. It took only moments for the missile to lock on to the afterburners of the aircraft. Popkov smiled a wicked smile as he depressed the pickle button one more time. The missile leapt from its underwing pylon and shot off after the bomber. In seconds, the solid-fuel rocket engine reached its maximum speed of Mach 2.5, eating away at the distance to the fleeing raider.
Popkov watched as the target spat out flares and attempted to turn away from the missile. Watching the bomber’s futile attempts to evade the missile, he assumed the pilot must be new and inexperienced. No veteran pilot would release flares while leaving his afterburner on. He’d turn the greatest heat source off first, then release the flares and bank away, leading the missile to believe the flares were the tailpipe of the aircraft. Instead, this pilot had not only kept his afterburner on, he’d compounded his mistake by turning away from the flares, allowing the seeker head to know which was the plane and which was not.
Three seconds later, Popkov was rewarded with a flash of light near the rear of the bomber. Moments later, he saw a streak of flame come from the side of it. Then the pilots ejected, only to see their aircraft explode into a fireball moments later.
Smiling, Popkov angled towards the two prize targets he was really after. At this point, there was no reason to leave his search radar off. The Americans knew he was here, and so did the F-15s. Glancing at his radar, he saw that the American fighters were still in a fight against the other members of his squadron. They were nearly 140 kilometers away. Too far to intercede and deny him his aerial victory.
Turning his aircraft towards the American AWACS, he accelerated to get in range of his R-27 missiles. Compared to the R-73s, this missile, which NATO called Alamo, had a greater range and a larger warhead, and it traveled at speeds up to Mach 4.5. It was not an easy missile to outrun or evade. He glanced at his airspeed—he was still traveling close to twelve hundred kilometers per hour. Slow down, you’re wasting fuel, he chided himself. He wasn’t too far from the big lumbering radar plane. In under a minute, he’d be able to fire off one of his R-27 missiles.
It took less than a second for his aircraft’s warning systems to alert him that one of the American fighters was attempting to lock on to him. The aircraft must’ve broken off its engagement to come after me. He recalled an old adage his father used to tell him: You’re swinging your fists after the fight is over. He chuckled to himself as he activated one of his two R-27 missiles.
Then his SPO-15 “Beryoza” radar warning receiver or RWR mounted on the top of his two rear horizontal stabilizers blared its own warning. The American fighter had just fired a missile at him. Looking at the distance between him and the fighter, he knew the missile was likely an AIM-7 Sparrow, since he was facing off against an F-15 and not a Navy F-14, which likely would have fired an AIM-54 Phoenix at much greater range. I’ve got just enough time to get my missile off before I have to worry about that Sparrow and deal with that fighter.
Turning on the first R-27, Popkov got a solid lock on the American AWACS plane. Once he had the lock, he didn’t wait around. He fired the missile and watched as it began its high-speed pursuit of what was essentially a Boeing 707 airliner. With his missile away, he turned to deal with the incoming threat. The little bastard was less than ten kilometers away from him and closing fast.
Popkov dove for the ground. He angled his aircraft into a zero-g dive, allowing gravity to help him build up his airspeed. The Sparrow was now less than five kilometers from him. Reaching for his chaff dispenser, he fired off one set. This ejected a small cloud of aluminum foil strips meant to obscure the Sparrow’s radar-homing seeker, tricking it into believing the fast-approaching wall of foil was in fact the target it was after.
As the chaff dispersed behind him, Popkov pulled back on the stick and angled his aircraft to the right before hitting his own afterburner. The force of the g’s being thrown at him pinned him to the seat and almost caused him to black out as his vision tunneled.
When his sight returned, an explosion occurred not too far from his aircraft. Checking his systems, he saw he hadn’t sustained any damage—at least none that was throwing up a warning light. He’d successfully evaded the missile.
Turning his aircraft towards the American plane that was still barreling towards him, he activated the seeker head on his R-73 missile and allowed it to get a lock. He released the missile to begin its pursuit of the American F-15. When the aircraft broke away to evade the missile barreling down on it, Popkov activated his remaining R-27. Once it had also locked on to the American, he let loose with that missile as well. The American now had to contend with both a heat-seeker and an active-radar-homing missile—two missiles that engaged a target in slightly different ways.
In the distance towards Taif, a flash of light lit up the remaining darkness. Popkov smiled as his R-27 connected with the American Boeing 707. The fiery wreck of the plane fell to the ground below as the aircraft broke apart. Then he looked for the other 707. The little bastard was going all out back to Medina. If he didn’t take care of this fighter on his tail now, he’d likely never catch up to the Boeing plane.
He refocused his attention on the F-15. The American was doing his best to evade the R-27 as he unloaded chaff behind him. Unlike the American bomber pilot, this guy appeared to know what he was doing. Even so, he was so busy paying attention to the missiles, he didn’t realize the MiG was closing in to get within gun range.
The R-27 bit on the chaff and exploded. The F-15 banked hard to the left as it climbed to gain some altitude and speed. The R-73 was hot on its tail. The missile continued to close the gap between them. The American deployed flares, trying to break the lock.
I’m almost there, Popkov said to himself. The R-73 detonated just behind the F-15. The shrapnel burst from the missile tore into the left side of the giant American fighter plane. The pilot tried to stabilize his aircraft. It looked like he’d already used his fire extinguisher on the left engine. He was now flying with just one engine while the other trailed smoke.
Flicking the safety off his guns, Popkov watched as his targeting reticle lined up. He depressed the button, letting a string of twenty 30mm rounds rip into the body of his prey. New flashes of flame erupted in the middle of the aircraft. Popkov turned away, knowing it was likely to explode. Fractions of a second later, that was exactly what it did. The plane exploded into hundreds of pieces as it began its journey to the ground.
The sun was finally starting to rise, making it easy for him to see. He didn’t spot any parachutes. The pilot likely hadn’t had enough time to eject. That kind of saddened Popkov. Just because they had fought an aerial battle didn’t mean he wanted to kill the pilot, just his aircraft. He supposed that was some long-lost trait he shared with the aerial knights of the past.
Checking his fuel gauge and then the distance to the remaining Boeing 707, he saw he had enough fuel to get there and take it out. He also saw a new set of American fighters heading towards the battlespace from Medina. While he had fuel, he was alone and down to a single remaining R-73. He might have fancied himself one of the best Russian fighter pilots, but he wasn’t stupid enough to believe he could take on six F-15s on his own.
“It looks like you live to fight another day,” he said softly to himself. He then turned his aircraft away from the American fighters and headed back to base. “Four kills is good enough for one day."
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