Britain changes air tactics of Tornado fighters WAR IN THE GULF

January 24, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The Royal Air Force changed the attack tactics yesterday of its Tornado fighter-bomber, which has sustained the highest loss rate of the Persian Gulf air war.

The Tornado commanders have switched most of their low-level raids on Iraqi air bases with JP233 cratering devices to higher-altitude strikes dropping 1,000-pound bombs.

The move came after five of the Tornadoes were lost in the first five days of the war, representing more than 30 percent of allied plane losses although the Tornadoes make up only 4 percent of the allied air force.

The official explanation for the high loss rate -- one of the five lost Tornadoes crashed on takeoff -- is that the high-speed, low-level attacks were among the riskiest of air maneuvers in the war.

The JP233 deposits dozens of cratering bomblets and anti-personnel mines to hinder repair work on the targeted runways.

But to achieve the greatest impact, it has to be dropped from about 50 feet.

It is assumed that the four Tornadoes lost in action were either shot down by the heavy anti-aircraft artillery that their low-level sorties attract or simply hit the ground during their attacks.

Television pictures from an RAF base in the gulf yesterday showed Tornadoes being loaded with 1,000-pound bombs, which are dropped from higher altitude and penetrate deeper into the runway, causing more damage.

The downside is that they are not as accurate.

Sir Michael Armitage, air chief marshal and a former head of defense intelligence, when interviewed on the British Broadcasting Corp., said the 1,000-pound bombs would make "a bigger hole" than the JP233s and would give the Iraqi runway repair crews "something to think about."

Most of Iraq's radar, he said, appeared to have been destroyed, making high-level operations safer than low-level.

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