Vital Peripheries: Central America & the Caribbean 7-8 July, 1987


*Author’s Note: I forgot to add this post in the Pre-War section over the summer. Better late than never*

Central America and the Caribbean was a potential tempest in a teapot for the United States with Nicaragua and Cuba, two firm Soviet allies, situated squarely in the geographic backyard of the US. Fidel Castro was still running Cuba despite decades of US efforts to remove him from power, while in Nicaragua, leftist strongman Daniel Ortega ran the nation. It was believed in Washington that both of these men would take their marching orders directly from Moscow if war broke out. If left unchecked, Castro and Ortega could cause major damage to United States at a critical time.

Cuba’s close proximity to US shores called for an increased military presence in and around Florida to deter Castro from possibly launching military action against the US. Guantanamo Bay was another prickly issue for the US to contend with. As tensions rose, the Pentagon wrestled with what to do with the base. There were three realistic choices available to select from; Reinforce Gitmo with additional US Marines and aircraft, evacuate dependents and non-essential personnel from the base, or undertake a mass evacuation of everyone, civilian and military. The Cubans, for their part, were behaving very cordially with regards to the US base on their soil. Cuban MiGs and other aircraft gave Gitmo a wide berth. Regular troops stationed in close proximity to the base were replaced by the local militia. In the Caribbean, Cuban naval vessels were not straying far from home waters.

The behavior by the Cuban military was curious, to say the least. Some voices in the Reagan administration wondered if the low activity was part of a ruse. A much smaller group of advisers and aides suspected the drop in activity was due to a rift between Havana and Moscow. Publicly, Fidel Castro had welcomed the coming of Romanov to power. The General Secretary had a history of making anti-Castro remarks when he had been a member of the Politburo. The US State Department was making preparations to reach out quietly to Havana and attempt to decipher where the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union stood at the moment.

Until that was clarified, precautionary steps had to be taken. On 7 July, the evacuation of non-essential personnel from Gitmo began. The Florida Air National Guard began dispersing fighters to a number of locations around South Florida. The US Navy could not afford to spare an aircraft carrier to station in the Caribbean at the moment, though it did part with a handful of reserve frigates and destroyers which were originally expected to head north to take part in convoy duty.

Nicaragua was another matter altogether. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinistas would blindly follow Moscow to hell and beyond. He could cause trouble in a variety of ways if he chose to and Washington was fully aware of this. The fattest target for Nicaragua in Central America was the Panama Canal. Disabling it would severely delay the transfer of US Navy ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Instead of transiting the canal, they would be forced to take the long trip south around Cape Horn and up the eastern coast of South America. The methods available to disable the Panama Canal were varied. A bomb exploding at one of the locks would put the canal out of commission indefinitely. A Sandinista attack on the canal could cause equal amounts of damage. Just as effective would be scuttling a merchant ship or other vessel of a similar size somewhere in the waterway.

To prevent either from happening, security at the canal was redoubled. US Southern Command doubled the number of troops it currently had guarding the canal and a number of Panamanian workers were sent home for the duration of the crisis. These men and women were soon replaced by US Navy civilian workers from the United States. Ships belonging to Eastern Bloc and Soviet allied nations were denied permission to transit for the time being. On 7 July, less than 48 hours before war broke out, the US military officially took control of the Panama Canal Zone and would maintain that control until the end of fighting in Europe.





The Central Front Chessboard: 8 July, 1987


General Galvin had decided to remain at NATO headquarters in Brussels for the time being instead of moving to his wartime headquarters. It was SACEUR’s prerogative where he chose to direct the defense of Western Europe. For the moment, Galvin preferred his office and the command room in Brussels to a command post nestled deep in the Belgian woods that was still in the process of standing up. His operations staff was not thrilled with his choice, but with rank came privilege. SACEUR would remain in Brussels unless the situation called for a change.

It was 2300 local time. The general was seated at his office desk looking over the latest situation reports from his commanders in the field, and intelligence reports from various agencies and commands. He’d slept from 1500 until 2030 and was now wide awake. The opportunities for long, uninterrupted sleeps would be few and far between from this moment forward. SACEUR fully expected the balloon to go up sometime before dawn.

To the east, hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides of the Inner-German Border were making their final preparations for war. In East Germany, Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions were, or shortly would be, at their lines of departure. At airfields across Western Europe, fighter aircraft sat on alert, waiting for the scramble order to come. The pilots inside of the cockpits understood that the next time they heard the klaxon it would be the real thing.  On autobahns all over West Germany, convoys of men and materials were moving east towards the frontier as reinforcements poured into the Federal Republic from the US, Great Britain, Holland, and Belgium. Five or six more days of peace would’ve worked wonders for NATO readiness, SACEUR knew all too well. As it stood, his command was as ready as it could be.

NATO’s defense of West Germany was anchored by a pair of powerful army groups. NORTHAG, the Northern Army Group, was one of them. The formation was comprised of four corps: I Dutch Corps, I West German Corps, I British, and I Belgian Corps. NORTHAG’s coverage area spanned from Hamburg in the north to Kassel. Its corps were equipped mainly with armor and mechanized infantry divisions. The area they defended was likely to be the main avenue of a Soviet/Warsaw Pact advance west. The North German Plain was ideal tank country and favored a mechanized attacker considerably. NORTHAG was a powerful entity, but if its corps elements did not react with speed and decisiveness, it might not be able to mass its combat power in time to prevent a breakthrough.

As fate, and post-World War II politics would have it, NATO’s most powerful army group was not situated along the Soviet’s most likely axis of advance. CENTAG, the central army group, guarded the border from south of Kassel to the Austrian border. It’s four corps were tank heavy, maneuver based units consisting of the V and VII US Corps, and the II and III West German Corps. CENTAG was SACEUR’s mailed fist. He hoped to smash elements of it into the flank of a Soviet blitz across the North German Plain if the situation presented itself. The Soviet formations facing CENTAG were powerful in their own right, yet he expected the US and West German corps to halt them in a relatively short period of time. The reasons for his confident expectation were the quality of CENTAG forces, and the extremely defense-oriented terrain in its area. The terrain in most of CENTAG’s sectors was made up of tree-lined hills, and valleys that would challenge the advance of an attacking force. US and West German tankers were extremely familiar with the terrain they’d fight on. Defensive positions had been staked out and established long ago. Artillery observers knew every inch of the ground they would plot their fires on intimately, as did forward air controllers. The Soviets would be made to pay a heavy price for every kilometer they advanced from Kassel on south. The ultimate objective of the Soviet 8th Guards Tank Army and its follow-on forces was Frankfurt. SACEUR fully expected them to be stopped cold long before they came anywhere near the city.

On the air side of things, SACEUR was comfortable with the level of readiness. The 2nd and 4th ATAFs (Allied Tactical Air Force) were ready to go. Both formations were broadswords that would be used to defend the skies of Western Europe, and then take the war directly to the enemy. His air commander was an experienced, creative career fighter pilot who had some surprises up his sleeve for when things kicked off. NATO air forces had a qualitative edge over their Warsaw Pact counterparts. Most aircraft types, and weapon systems were technologically superior. NATO pilots were better trained than the MiG pilots they’d soon face, or so the belief went.

That wasn’t to say that NATO’s air commanders were taking the Soviet threat lightly. The skies over Eastern Europe were defended by a dense integrated-air-defense system. SAMs were going to be a formidable threat. The world had seen the amount of damage that Soviet SAMs could inflict on Western air forces during the Vietnam conflict, and 1973 Yom Kippur War. Since then a new generation of Soviet missiles had arrived and they were even more capable. In response, NATO air forces had spent tens of millions of dollars developing anti-radiation missiles, and a new generation of ECM measures to counter the threat.

SACEUR chewed on all the positive changes that had come to NATO since the early 1980s. The Reagan administration’s military buildup had benefitted US and allied forces in Europe tremendously. The new class of weapons systems were fielded in Western Europe in large numbers including the M-1 Abrams battle tank, M-2 Bradley IFV, Apache attack helicopter, F-15 Eagle and F-16. Britain, West Germany, and other NATO countries had introduced their own modernization programs and were making progress.

In a matter of hours, the alliance would begin to find out if its investments had been worthwhile or not.


Search for the Stealth: 8 July, 1987 Part II


Sergeant Richard Lawson walked into the pub shortly after 1400. The short, stocky NCO stopped  and spoke to the bartender for a brief moment, and then exchanged greetings with a few of the older gentlemen at the bar. Prokofiev got the idea that they knew Lawson personally and were pumping him for news. On the other hand, perhaps they were homosexuals with entirely different motives. When Lawson leaned over to shake one of their hands, Prokofiev noticed the small manila folder in his free hand and winced. Amateurish move. But Lawson was not a professional and that had to be considered, a voice inside his head reasoned. This meeting was not a good idea, Prokofiev knew, but it was absolutely necessary. The risk was worthwhile, he hoped.

Lawson finished chatting with the bar flies and made his way to the booth in the rear of the pub where Prokofiev was sitting. The Russian stood up and embraced the Englishman in a tight hug and the small folder slipped surreptitiously from Lawson’s hand into Prokofiev’s suit jacket. They sat back down and made small talk as a waitress approached, took Lawson’s order and then came back with a pint.

“I only have a short time,” the NCO informed Prokofiev between sips. “The base is going to be sealed off later this afternoon. Only reason I was able to get out was because my senior owed me a favor. He snuck his wife’s sister on base last week and had a go at her.” Lawson smiled thinly.

“I do not feel comfortable in here,” Prokofiev revealed in a low voice.

“Don’t worry. For the next twenty minutes or so this is the safest pub in England,” Lawson assured him. Then it was time to get down to business.

“What do you have for me?”

Lawson leaned forward and lowered his tone. “The Yanks flew more planes in yesterday before dawn. They came in while it was dark and were taken to a secure part of the base under heavy guard. Nobody outside of the tower people, ground crew, or security personnel got a look and they’re not saying anything.”

“Go on.”

“Last night, a pal of mine on security told me the plane type is the new Yank stealth fighter. The one that can’t be seen on radar. He got me into one of the hangars to see it for just a minute and I snapped off a couple of photos. Told him they were for the London Times.” He smiled again.

Prokofiev felt his excitement rising. “Tell me about the plane.”

“At first glance, it doesn’t look airworthy. Strange looking bird. Almost demonic. Damn thing was built like I am. Boxy. Twin tail, painted all black.”

“How many planes are there?”

“Not sure but at least ten. Maybe fifteen.”

“ What are people saying about the planes?”

Lawson shook his head. “Not a thing since few people even know they’re here. I got lucky. But that’s it, mate. From here on in I don’t know you. If I get caught talking to you after this afternoon they’ll shoot my ass.”

Prokofiev nodded. He understood what Lawson was telling him and fully expected it to come to this. The man valued his neck.

“You will not hear from me again,” he promised him.  “I wish you luck.”

“I wish the same for you,” Lawson reached over and patted his shoulder. “Honestly. After seeing that plane I’m more convinced than ever that you blokes aren’t going to win if the shooting starts. Tell that to your superiors if there is time.”

“There isn’t,” Prokofiev predicted. In his mind he was working out a plan to get this information to someone who could make use of it. He wasn’t an air marshal but knew these planes tip the balance in NATO’s favor. The mere thought of American stealth jets flying over his home sent a shudder up his spine.

He rose from his seat, shook Lawson’s hand and left the pub. He climbed into his rental car in the crowded lot across the street. Lawson paid for his pint and walked out, stopping briefly to check the time. As he was about to cross the roadway, a Jaguar with two men inside came tearing out from a alleyway, almost clipping him as it sped west.

“Fucking asshole!” Lawson flashed them a lewd gesture and then crossed the street to his own car.


The rental BMW was found five hours later on the side of the road ten miles west of RAF Alconbury. A local police unit came upon it, thinking the vehicle had broken down. Or an accident perhaps. As the policemen approached, they took out their flashlights to inspect the interior. To their surprise and shock, a man was in the car, slumped over the steering wheel. When they opened the door and leaned him back, the senior officer noticed a neat bullet wound in the back of his head. There was no manila folder to be found.


Search for the Stealth: 8 July, 1987 Part I


His diplomatic immunity was no longer valid, Sergei Prokofiev reminded himself. The British government had declared a large number of Soviet diplomats in the United Kingdom persona non grata. In effect, they were no longer welcomed here and the Brits officially kicked them out of the country. The move had been announced three days ago and a list of the affected personnel was given to the Soviet ambassador in London. They would leave the country in twenty four hours. Most of the names on the list were possible, or known KGB officers suspected to be working undercover in the UK. They operated under the guises of midlevel diplomats at the Soviet embassy or consulates around the country. Prokofiev had been one of the names on the list, though he was confident the Brits were not entirely sure that he was KGB.

Officially, the thirty-two year old was a cultural attache. He had the proper papers and diplomatic background for the role. In reality, Prokofiev was a KGB captain who ran a handful of operatives in the UK. All were relatively low level civilian employees in the MoD, as well as one RAF non-commissioned officer. Moscow Center had ordered him to remain behind. So, two hours after receiving the news about his being PNGed, Prokofiev slipped past the British surveillance teams monitoring the embassy and immediately went to ground. Following the departure of his comrades, where his absence was immediately noticed, he had played a cat and mouse game with MI-5 and -6 officers. Prokofiev was successful in evading them so far, thanks to preparations he made long beforehand. He had a British ID, spoke the language fluently with a slight cockney accent, could call upon any of three safehouses, and had one hundred thousand pounds at his disposal.

The rising tensions made his job almost impossible. Contact with his operatives was limited, and in some cases entirely cut off. Dead drop boxes remained empty and untouched. Prokofiev had depressingly little information to pass along to his superiors. To his surprise, he’d found them to be sympathetic to his plight. He was ordered to make contact with his RAF man and try to find out about the arrival of warplanes from the US at RAF Alconbury. Specifically, Moscow wanted information on a new type of aircraft that might already be in the UK. Prokofiev had gotten in touch with his operative and relayed the instructions.

Now, he was awaiting the man’s arrival at a pub in Huntingdon, a stone’s throw away from the US airbase at Alconbury. Following this meeting, Prokofiev was to make his way west across Britain to Wales where he would be met and escorted to Ireland. Looking around from the booth he sat in, the Russian was surprised to see the pub so crowded. A wide variety of young, middle-aged, and older patrons sat and drank. Conversations were low, there was no music playing, and the atmosphere was less than lively to say the least. Prokofiev was not surprised by the number of people here. In times of crisis people went where they were comfortable to escape. Brits and their pubs shared a storied history. Even at the height of the Nazi blitz, many pubs around England still did a smash up business. The Russian quietly hoped it would be the same in this conflict.

The man Prokofiev was here to meet was a thirty-three year old RAF NCO who conveniently was stationed at Alconbury. His name was Richard Lawson and he had been coopted two years ago. Lawson’s motivation for selling information to the Soviets was purely financial. He was divorced and had two children to support. Ideologically, he was neither pro-Communism, or anti-liberal democracy. Lawson had been reliable and some of his information proved to be quite good according to Moscow, so Prokofiev thought it would be useful to have one final meeting and see if the Brit could answer some of Center’s questions.

Meeting at this pub in the late afternoon was not as chancy as it might seem. It was known to some of the locals as place frequented by homosexuals from time to time. Two men sitting near each other in a cramped booth would not seem out of the ordinary. Had that not been the case, Prokofiev would still have pushed for the meeting here. Lawson had few opportunities to get off base and the Russian was growing eager to leave this country once and for all.

As he sat there sipping his bitter and waiting, Prokofiev wondered idly about the new type of aircraft that Center was looking for information on. Apparently, from what he was told, the Americans had a jet that could not be seen on radar. It was supposed to be only an experimental model, but some people in Moscow believed it was either on its way to Europe or here already. Moving it from the US to base in the UK instead of West Germany made sense. For one reason or another, Moscow suspected RAF Alconbury to be the base that the aircraft was likely at.

He was not a pilot, and knew very little about aerodynamics. For these reasons the concept of an aircraft that couldn’t be seen was very difficult for Prokofiev to visualize or accept. It did not take much imagination to understand why such an aircraft filled his superiors with concern. One invisible jet armed with a nuclear weapon could turn Moscow to dust in the blink of an eye, essentially decapitating the Soviet Union in one swift act.

If that aircraft was here, Prokofiev hoped Lawson could confirm it so the KGB officer could get on with leaving the UK before the fighting began. He had no inside information about when the war would start, however, Prokofiev did not think it would be much longer.

Vital Peripheries: Western Pacific 8 July, 1987


The Western Pacific was a region rife with potential flashpoints in early July, 1987. At the forefront of the minds of US defense planners was trying to discern what the Soviet strategy for the WestPac would be in a time of war. Immediately below this in terms of importance was the Korean situation. Overall, US Pacific Command had a substantial number of concerns on its plate. The main problem was the size and expanse of the Western Pacific region in comparison to the US forces in or near the region. In short, the United States could not be everywhere at any given time. A buildup of Soviet forces near the Philippines might draw away some US forces tagged for the defense of Japan, leaving a vulnerability that the Soviets could then exploit at their leisure.

The Soviets were certainly not making it easy to get a feel for their intentions. The majority of their air and naval forces in the Western Pacific were going about their regular activities. Routine patrols were conducted. The occasional Tu-95 took off from Cam Rahn Bay and flew lazily in the vicinity of the Philippines before US F-4s from Clark AB would escort them out of the area. The US and Soviet aircrews would wave to each other, and be cordial. Neither side behaved as if it expected to be shooting the other in the coming days. At sea, Soviet AGIs continued trailing US aircraft carrier groups in the region. Only in these cases, the Soviet’s apprehension was quite apparent and understandable. The trawler crews realized if hostilities began, they would likely become the first casualties at sea. The close distance they kept to US carriers and their escorts essentially guaranteed a short lifespan in wartime.

The Red Banner Pacific Fleet was nowhere near as brazen as their AGI comrades. Most of the fleet’s surface ships and attack submarines remained in Vladivostok, while its SSBNs sat tied up to their quays at Petropavlosk. Unlike the Red Banner Northern Fleet, Black Sea Squadron, and Baltic Fleet, Russia’s Pacific Fleet was not making an overt move. Whether this would mean an absence of Soviet military moves in the Pacific or not remained to be seen. The US Navy was not taking any chances. 7th Fleet only had one aircraft carrier in its area; Midway. Her battlegroup was steaming towards a station west of Japan for the time being. Ranger and her battlegroup was on its way west, however, it would be another week before they were available for operations. Until that time, one carrier group was not going to be enough to challenge the Pacific Fleet if it sortied, or to start working over military targets in Vladivostok and on the Kamchatka peninsula.

The Korean peninsula was the other major flashpoint that Pacific Command was concerned about. The North Koreans were an unpredictable bunch. It wouldn’t be beyond them to launch an invasion of South Korea if South’s most powerful ally was distracted. Since the possibility existed, US forces in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa could not be committed elsewhere. That in itself could prove to be enough to entice North Korea to move south. The South Korean armed forces had come a long way in the past decade. Their equipment was modern and their officer corps highly motivated. If push came to shove on the peninsula, the South Koreans would acquit themselves well. It is the United States tripwire in Korea, however, that deters the North Koreans from moving south.

So, with war clouds moving in across the globe, the Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific, Admiral Ron Hays was confident in his command, and thankful that at least for the moment, his primary opponent did not appear to be eager about initiating a major action the moment the balloon went up. That could change. According to the last report from the Pentagon, the probability of war breaking out between the United States and Soviet Union in the next 24 hours was estimated to be at 92% as of 1200 Honolulu time.



Vital Peripheries: Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf 8 July, 1987


On 8 July, 1987 CENTCOM was in the best possible shape possible. A brigade of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division was on the ground at Cario West Air Base in Egypt. A detachment of E-3 Sentries, along with two fighter squadrons, one of F-15s and the other of F-16s, and accompanying tankers were at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The Maritime Prepositioning Ships carrying the equipment of a Marine Amphibious Brigade had left their anchorage at Diego Garcia and were steaming towards the Strait of Hormuz with the Constellation battlegroup taking up position to support its transit. Marines from the 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade based at Twentynine Palms in California were moving to Saudi Arabia by air to mate up with the equipment now at sea. A large contingent was on the ground already, and CENTCOM expected to have the brigade’s manpower entirely in Saudi by 11 July at the latest. It was a matter of available airlift assets and priorities. There simply were not enough transports and CRAF aircraft available at the moment to satisfy everyone’s needs. Europe was the priority, and CENTCOM simply had to deal with it.

The brigade from the 82nd was in Egypt as a compromise of sorts. AFSOUTH was loudly complaining about the lack of ground reinforcements available for his command. He wanted to take the entire 82nd and use it as a fire brigade of sorts wherever it might be needed in his command’s area of responsibility. General Crist, CINC-CENT came down hard on the idea, complaining quite correctly that the 82nd Airborne was tagged for his command’s use in wartime. Admiral Crowe personally settled the matter and ordered the 82nd to stage at Cairo West for the time being. If it was needed in the Med or Southern Europe it would go there. If it was needed in Saudi, the force would be sent there. Through negotiations with the Egyptians, a deal was reached where the Egyptian Air Force would handle airlifting the unit wherever it needed to go.

The rest of the division was still at Fort Bragg and would not move until the first brigade was committed. The entire 101st Airborne Division was operating under the same principle. Behind those two units, the 7th Light Infantry Division and an assortment of Marine units were on the deployment list. They were prepping now, yet it was anyone’s guess when they would actually be ready to deploy.

The US Air Force was preparing to move more of its elements tagged for CENTCOM to the Middle East. The remainder of the 49th TFW (F-15s) and 388th TFW (F-16s) were hurriedly packing, and A-10s from Myrtle Beach and F-111s from Mountain Home had received warning orders to move. With just another five days of peace, Crist would feel better.

Unfortunately, five days did not appear likely. Five hours of peace was a more realistic estimate. Throughout the day, the situation had been progressively moving from bad to worse on a number of fronts. Crist had not paid that much attention, but nevertheless heard rumblings. In his command’s theater things were quiet. The Soviet forces in Yemen were doing nothing outside of routine patrols. In the Arabian Sea, naval activity was minimal. Most significantly, the Northern Caucus Military District was not making any moves to suggest operations against Iran or Saudi Arabia were imminent. That, however, could change at a moment’s notice, Crist was aware.

As was the case for general officers around the world at that moment, he had more than enough to occupy his mind. Yet, unlike the majority of his American peers, General Crist was, for the moment, a man without a war on the horizon. Strangely enough, instead of providing comfort to him, the thought filled him with apprehension.


Vital Peripheries: Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf 5 July, 1987


*Author’s note: I jumped around the timeline again. I apologize. But this idea came up long after the project was underway and I wanted to backtrack a bit and fit it in. Again, apologies. – Mike*

In late June and early July of 1987, as tensions rose in Europe and elsewhere, the Persian Gulf region transformed into a bastion of virtual serenity. As the superpowers moved towards an imminent conflict, the Iran-Iraq war receded dramatically. Whether this was by design, or circumstance was not known at the time. It was safe to assume that both Baghdad and Tehran had independently recognized the deteriorating global situation for what it was and chose to shift their military and diplomatic focuses to other areas for the time being.

The lull in fighting did not bring celebratory reactions from either country’s neighbors. Instead, nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain looked warily to the north and east, nervously wondering where the next threat would originate from. In the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, King Fahd was already aware of how ripe a target his country might seem to Iraq, Iran, or even the Soviet Union. The vast oil fields of eastern Saudi Arabia translated to power and wealth for the kingdom. Whoever controlled those fields, held sway over immeasurable influence and power on the global stage. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia was incapable of defending the boundless resources located beneath its land. The Saudi military, though well-equipped with Western weapons, was small and not very effective. The King understood that the key to his kingdom’s survival was the United States. He was a staunch ally of the United States, a position born out of necessity as much as candor. Once, he had been quoted as saying that, “After Allah, we can count on the United States.”

For much of the late 70s and early 80s, the Saudis invested billions in upgrading its military infrastructure. This undertaking was not to benefit its own military forces as much as it was to increase the interoperability between Saudi installations and US forces. Airbases were rebuilt to US standards, and pre-positioned fuel and weapons depots were strategically placed throughout the country. King Fahd understood that the day could come when a large influx of US forces into Saudi Arabia might materialize. As June turned to July, it appeared that the day could be coming soon.

As REFORGER was getting underway on 5 July, a request was made by King Fahd at the most inopportune time. He placed a telephone call to President Reagan, and quite bluntly invited US forces to use his country as a base of operations if the situation required. It was a request for help, masked as an offer to help, and both leaders understood this. Following the conversation, Reagan spoke with his NSC about the issue. The Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense recommended that he take the Saudis up on their offer.

Two nightmare scenarios for the Pentagon centered around a Soviet/Iraqi move to capture the Saudi oilfields, and a Soviet invasion of Iran, to capture the Iranian oilfields and close the Strait of Hormuz. Since the US had only a token military force in the Persian Gulf currently, it would have to move additional forces in to counter a move against the oil fields. Saudi Arabia provided the perfect foundation for a buildup of forces in the region to counter Soviet designs on either the Arabian Peninsula or Iran.

A Soviet move against the oil fields was such a horrifying prospect, the US military had created a command specifically to deal with it just four years earlier. Central Command, formerly the Rapid Deployment Force, was tasked with preventing Soviet domination of the region. CENTCOM, as it is known, was comprised of combat and support units from each service that were able to deploy swiftly. Unfortunately, units that can deploy rapidly are generally always light infantry units, not equipped with the heavy weapons that would be needed to stop Soviet armor.

Annual CENTCOM exercises focused on countering a Soviet invasion of Iran. Lessons learned were then fed into already existing contingency plans. Saudi Arabia was the lynchpin for CENTCOM’s plans. It could build up and stage its forces directly from there in relative safety. In the event of a direct Soviet effort against the Saudi oil fields, CENTCOM’s forces would have the advantage of a pre-existing network of ready installations for its air and ground forces to fight from.

In Washington, it was a question of priorities. REFORGER was going to consume the lion’s share of airlift capability for some time, and the majority of USAF combat squadrons being readied would be heading to Europe. The Reagan administration wanted to assist the Saudis by moving a mid-sized force to the kingdom. But it was no going to be done at the expense of slowing down REFORGER. A middle ground needed to be found.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs got the ball rolling with a call to CENTCOM’s stateside headquarters at MacDill AFB outside of Tampa. He informed CENTCOM’s Commander-In-Chief General George Crist, USMC, of the Saudi request. He ordered Crist to put together a plan to reinforce the Saudis and be up in DC at 9 AM the following day to present it.