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US Pilots Lock in Iraqis on Radar But ‘They Don’t Want to Play’

August 16, 1990

SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ In what one called ″a little cat and mouse,″ U.S. airmen said Thursday that American pilots have locked in their weapons radar on Iraqi planes, which have quickly turned and fled.

″They don’t want to play with us,″ one crew chief said. ″If I were in a Mirage and an F-15 locked onto me, I’d get out of there fast, too.″

When an American jet’s weapons systems radar locks onto another plane, it means the U.S. jet has found its target and communicated that to its missile.

The Iraqi pilot knows it, too, because his plane carries a warning system something like the ″fuzzbuster″ radar used by some automobile drivers in America to warn them that they’re under the scrutiny of police radar.

Although the U.S. airmen declined to go into detail, there was no indication that any of the encounters involved Iraqi planes attempting to intrude into Saudi Arabian air space. The airmen suggested that the encounters occurred during missions near the border with Kuwait.

Col. John McBroom, commander of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, refused to confirm the pilots’ reports and said he had instructed his airmen not to discuss any contact with Iraqi jets.

″I’m not going to get into our encounters,″ he said.

But McBroom did say he considered U.S. air power here far superior to Iraq’s.

″We’re not over here to go to war,″ McBroom said, ″but we will finish one quickly in the air.″

Another officer in the unit and several crew chiefs said there have been several instances in which weapons systems aboard U.S. F-15s locked onto the Iraqis’ French-made Mirage jets.

″One of my pilots told me they turn and run as soon as the radar locks on,″ one crew chief said.

″There’s been a little cat and mouse but when the weapons lock on, they’re gone,″ said another.

Asked again about the encounters, McBroom said: ″All I’ll do is remind you our radar can lock on at a pretty good range. Beyond that you’ll have to ask the Iraqis.″

He seemed to be suggesting that the episodes involved Iraqi planes flying well within Kuwaiti airspace.

In Washington, Pete Williams, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said he had asked military officials about the report but had received no information that would enable him to confirm or deny the accuracy of the crew chiefs’ remarks.

McBroom said the fighter unit felt somewhat vulnerable on the ground when it arrived last week. But now it has received powerful ground protection from other U.S. forces, including Patriot ground-to-air missile systems.

The unit has set up camp at a Saudi air base. It uses spare Saudi hangars, maintenance garages and other facilities.

Ground rules for the a pool of U.S. reporters flown here by the Pentagon prohibit disclosure of the base’s location, the number of planes and other weapons systems or the names of non-command officers.

The men are living in Saudi barracks and schools. But a tent city is under construction on the base, as is a portable hospital.

Heat is a big problem. The hospital is treating about 15 cases of heat stress a day, Air Force officials said.

Interviews with the airmen were conducted between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time, when temperatures already were approaching triple digits and the sun was scorching.

One Air Force sergeant was taken to the hospital during the pool’s visit for a minor case of heat stress. He had been swinging a sledge hammer for several hours helping to set up the tents.

McBroom said the Saudi base facilities are the best he has ever seen.

″The Saudis build everything big and everything right,″ he said.

McBroom and his crew chiefs and maintenance personnel said they have had very few equipment problems associated with the heat. Most of the planes are being kept outdoors in the heat because electronic systems sometimes have temporary troubles when going from a cool to hot environment, McBroom said.

The Air Force has extensive stocks of missiles for the jets, and crews were seen unloading boxes of 20mm shells for their on-board guns as well.

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