US Air Force assets on the ground in Saudi Arabia on the morning of 10 July were as follows: 2 squadrons of F-15A Eagles from the 49th TFW, 1 squadron of F-16C Falcons and a detachment of A-10 Warthogs were staked out at Dhahran Air Base. A detachment of 4 E-3A Sentries, and a growing force of KC-135 tankers was based at Riyadh. Supporting this very capable expeditionary force of combat aircraft in the role of air defense was the Royal Saudi Air Force. The RSAF was comprised of top flight warplanes in 1987 including the F-15 Eagle and the Panavia Tornado. The unknown factor was the training and quality of the Saudi pilots and how well they would hold up once committed to war.
Facing them was a force of Soviet warplanes in South Yemen that had taken moderate combat losses over the previous 24 hours. The centerpiece of the force was a broken regiment of Floggers, both the MiG-23 and -27 variants. This regiment had received its baptism of fire defending Soviet bases in South Yemen from US carrier aircraft. MiG-25 Foxbats, and other Soviet fighters had aided in the defensive effort and also sustained losses as a result.
Planning and preparation for the air attacks against the Dhahran port was limited given that time was not an element working in favor of the Soviets. Mission planning and intelligence sections were forced to rely on dated satellite photos, and information. Another element which factored into planning was the number of aircraft available. Some MiGs had to be held back to defend Soviet bases in South Yemen should the roving US carrier begin another cycle of air strikes. Complicating matters even more so was the lack of AWACS and OECM to Soviet forces. The Soviet picture of the air situation in the region was dangerously incomplete, and the strikes launched would lack jamming support. The US and its Saudi allies had ample numbers of both and a crystal clear picture of the air situation across the entire Arabian Peninsula.
Operations began at 1000 local time and shortly afterward control of skies over the southern and central areas of Saudi Arabia was being contested. US F-15A Eagles flying CAPs were the first allied aircraft to enter action that morning, followed a short while later by their Saudi counterpart. Losses were inflicted on the attacking Soviet aircraft yet the path of the engagements continued moving north and northwest. More allied aircraft joined in the fray. Only ten out of thirty MiGs armed with air-to-ground ordnance reached the vicinity of Dhahran and these were immediately engaged by Saudi aircraft on CAP over the city, as well as Hawk SAM batteries around the city. Additional losses were inflicted and only a handful of bombs and air-to-ground missiles impacted on the port facilities, causing no amount of significant damage.
The Soviet Hail Mary was unsuccessful. Dhahran’s port facilities remained open and operational. By 1200 the ships of MPSron 2 were approaching the docks where an army of cranes, US Marines, and Saudi workers waited anxiously to begin unloading the equipment of the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade.
Iran remained unsure of what Soviet intentions were. To safeguard against the possibility of future air attacks against Tehran and other cities, the air defenses in the north and east were being bolstered. Fighter squadrons were moved from the south and west regions, closing the door to the prospect of Iran striking out at US naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf area. No further Soviet attacks developed on 10 July. Moscow was reluctant to undertake actions that would push Iran firmly into the US camp and accepted the situation as it was for the moment.
Iraq was alarmed by the previous day’s developments. Saddam Hussein was quite concerned that his country would be next on the Soviet’s list. Baghdad entertained negotiations with Soviet diplomats throughout most of the afternoon, however, it was clear to both sides that Iraq was not interested in choosing sides at this point. The Soviet ambassador to Iraq flew directly to Moscow following the last round of talks and reported in person to the Politburo. He made his report and awaited instructions from Romanov and his aides. By this point Moscow’s attention was fixed firmly on Europe and events there. The door was left open to possible moves down the road, but for the moment, after less than two days of conflict, Soviet efforts against the western littoral of the Persian Gulf were placed on hold.