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

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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.

 

USAFE Stands Up 6 July, 1987 (Part 2)

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Even though REFORGER assumed a major priority in the US reinforcement of Western Europe, the first priority was airpower. The trickle of warplanes leaving the United States for Europe on 6 July would shortly transform into a nearly constant stream as more active duty and eventually Air National Guard and reserve squadrons tagged for Europe came online. Combatant command and wing commanders in the US were not the only ones grappling with deployment and redeployment issues. Some of their counterparts in Europe were contending with similar problems, especially US commanders in the United Kingdom.

The 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at RAF Alconbury was in the midst of changing missions when Romanov’s coup was launched. The wing was transitioning from RF-4C Phantoms and their reconnaissance mission to A-10A Thunderbolt IIs. The wing was scheduled to be designated the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing in August of 1987. In June, the wing’s RF-4Cs departed England, leaving a hole in USAFE’s reconnaissance capabilities on the eve of battle. Air Guard squadrons flying the RF-4C would eventually fill the void. However, the pinch was felt during the first week of hostilities when combat losses and limited availability caused some disruption in tactical reconnaissance.

The 81st TFWs problems was strikingly different. The 81st was a combat wing made up of four A-10 squadrons based at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge. It was regarded as a super-wing that’s primary wartime role was to provide close air support for NATO ground forces trying to halt a Soviet advance into West Germany. Detachments of the wing’s aircraft were often rotated to forward operating locations in Germany as a hedge against a surprise Soviet invasion. Under current war plans, the 81st would fight from West Germany while Bentwaters hosted newly arrived fighter wings from the US.

Fortunately for USAFE, the 81st was well versed in its wartime mission and practiced for it regularly. The forward operating locations at Sembach, Leipheim, Alhorn and Norvenich Air Bases were fully stocked with ordnance, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts. Pilots and maintainers had spent so much time at one or more of these sites in the past that they were intimately familiar with them. So when the 81st’s commander Colonel Bill Studer received his orders from 3rd Air Force, the wing was ready to go. Within three hours the first C-130 carrying maintainers and other wing staff had arrived at Sembach.

CINC-USAFE was not entirely satisfied with the speed of the deployments and redeployments. General Bill Kirk, USAF was a realist by nature, and a perfectionist by trade. The former F-4 driver understood that the clock was running against him and NATO. War was coming and it would likely arrive before his command was completely reinforced and ready for action.  He was pushing his wing and base commanders to prepare their units for war as fervently as he was pushing Tactical Air Command and the Pentagon to send him as many aircraft and pilots as fast as possible. “I have enough gas, ammo, and spare parts to get through ten days of intensive air ops,” he confided to his TAC counterpart General Bob Russ. “For now just send me as many aircraft and pilots as you can before the balloon goes up!”