*ACIG Home*ACIG Journal*ACIG Books*ACIG Forum *

 

Articles 
ACIG Special Reports
ACIG Database
ACIG Books, Articles & Media
Former USSR-Russia Database
Middle East Database
Arabian Peninsula & Persian Gulf Database
Indian-Subcontinent Database
Indochina Database
Korean War Database
Far-East Database
LCIG & NCIG Section



Arabian Peninsula & Persian Gulf Database

Exhumating the Dead Iraqi Air Force
By Tom Cooper
Sep 25, 2003, 19:03

Email this article
 Printer friendly page





On 6 July 2003, the US troops deployed to Iraq found a large number (between 30 and 40) of Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) aircraft, dug in into the sand near the Tahmmouz AB (better known in the West as "al-Taqaddum"), some 250km west of Baghdad.

Few days later the following series of photographs was supplied to ACIG.org from our contributors currently in Iraq. As the photographs were meanwhile released for publishing by the US DoD, and few were already posted on the internet, we feel free to follow the pattern now as well, albeit with the difference that we are the first so far to publish the whole series.

All the captions in this report are from the official US DoD release (and posted under photographs released so far). The aircraft in question was a MiG-25RBT (note the RWR-blister on the side of the intakes), serialled 25108. For more details about the MiG-25's career with the Iraqi Air Force, see further bellow the following photos.




A U.S. military search team discovers a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad. (all photographs: USAF)




A U.S. military search team calls in heavy equipment after discovering a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.






A U.S. military search team begins digging after discovering a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


A U.S. military search team examines a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, that lay buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


The nose of a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, emerges from beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


U.S. forces use heavy equipment to pull a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, from beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


A U.S. military truck pulls a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, from the site where it lay buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


A U.S. military search team studies a Cold War-era MiG-25R Foxbat B, the fastest combat aircraft today, that was buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25s and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum air field west of Baghdad.


Another example unearthed by US troops from the sand of Tahmmouz AB (better known as "al-Taqaddum" in the West) was also a MiG-25RB, this time serialled 25105. (US Army via Aviation News)





Short History of MiG-25 in service with the Iraqi Air Force, since 1980


Iraq ordered MiG-25 (ASCC-code "Foxbat") from the USSR in 1979, in a large acquizition package including some 240 aircraft and helicopters. The Soviets conditioned the delivery of Foxbats on stationing up to 18.000 of their "advisors" in Iraq (at the time the whole IrAF was only 24.000 strong), and the 24 MiG-25s that were to be deployed in Iraq had also to be defended and escorted by a squadron each of Soviet-flown MiG-21MFs and MiG-23MLs.

This whole Soviet "delegation" started arriving in Iraq in late spring 1980, and had all of its MiG-25s, MiG-21s, and MiG-23s initially based at the newly built Shoibiyah AB, some 40km south-west from Basrah, in southern Iraq.

When Iraq invaded Iran, on 22 September 1980, the Soviet contingent was only slightly decreased, although Moscow officially declared neutrality in this war - while simultaneously trying to establish better relations with Tehran. The result was that the Soviets "advisors" at Shoibiyah AB were to become directly involved in the war against Iran on the Iraqi side - and this right from the start of the fighting. Already on the afternoon of 22 September, only two hours after the first wave of Iraqi air strikes against Iran, the IRIAF flew first attacks against Shoibiyah AB, hitting it very hard by a four-ship of F-4E Phantom IIs, that caused considerable damage. On the following day another strike was flown, damaging the airfield sufficiently to force the whole Soviet contingent to be evacuated to H-3/al-Wallid AB, in western Iraq.

For the rest of 1980 "Iraqi" MiG-25s did not participate in the war: actually, by the end of the year only four were put under the Iraqi control, while all the others remained in Soviet hands. This was to change only painfully slow though 1981 and 1982: not before the summer 1982 were Iraqi Foxbats to start flying more intensive combat sorties. Their initial operations, however, ended with a swift loss of four examples to the Iranian F-14s, in September, November, and December of the same year. Another MiG-25PD(export) is known to have been shot down by F-14s and F-5s, in 1983, while another - flown by the Iraqi top "ace" of the Iraq-Iran War, Lt.Col. Mohammad "Sky Falcon" Rayyan - was shot down by gunfire from an IRIAF F-5E while underway at Mach 1 and 29.000ft, in July 1986.

An early IrAF MiG-25RB: Iraqi - actually Soviet-controlled - recce-Foxbats started flying operational sorties against Iran in the spring of 1981. Not many details about their early operations are known. The example here, serialled "125", shows the original serials carried by the variant after it entered service with the 84th Fighter-Reconaissance Squadron IrAF, in 1980. (all artworks by Tom Cooper, copyright 2003, all rights reserved)


While more MiG-25RBs were confirmed shot down in 1987 and 1988, no additional MiG-25PD(export) or MiG-25PDS are known to have been lost by the end of the war. On the positive side, through 1982, 1983, and 1984, they could report the downing of several Iranian aircraft, as well as several attacks against international airliners underway over northern Iran (during one of which the Iraqi MiG-25PD(exort)s shot down the Grumman Gulfstream carrying the Algerian foreign minister). Confirmed kills included at least one Iranian F-4D, one F-5E and an (E)C-130E Khofaash ELINT/SIGINT platform. All known kills were scored with R-40RD/TD missiles (ASCC-code AA-6 Acrid).

Initially, the Iraqis have got MiG-25RBs and MiG-25Ps, but almost immediately upon delivery all MiG-25Ps were modified to a variant designated MiG-25PDS even if still equipped with Smerch 1B radar. Also, from 1985 onwards all MiG-25RBs were upgraded to MiG-25RBT standard, or new aircraft of corresponding version were delivered from the USSR in order to replace losses. Namely, from this time the Iranians started finding the huge 5.000litre drop tanks the Iraqi Foxbats would jettison when pursued by IRIAF interceptors. Such drop tanks were used only by newly-built MiG-25RBTs and MiG-25PDS, for example.

MiG-25PDS interceptors were the most numerous version supplied to Iraq. During the 1980s and early 1990s they were in service with the No. 96 Fighter-Squadron (the A-Flight of which was manned by Iraqis, while the B-Flight was manned by Soviets and East Germans). This unit was considered the elité of the Iraqi Air Force, and not without any reason: its pilots and officers were the best Iraq ever had.


Aside from MiG-25RBs, and MiG-25PDS', in 1986 the Soviets for the first time deployed also their MiG-25BMs to Iraq. Not much is known about the first such "test expedition", but that it was brought to a sudden end when one of the aircraft was shot down by an Iranian F-14. The same happened during the next such test, undertaken in November 1987, with the difference that that time the MiG was "only" damaged, which caused it to crash-land in Iraq. The MiG-25BMs were deployed to Iraq one final time in May and June 1988, in order to test Kh-58U and even Kh-31P anti-radar-missiles.

In 1986, 1987, and 1988 the Soviets also deployed several MiG-25BMs to Iraq for testing purposes. Between others, these also used the Kh-58U and Kh-25MP anti-radar-missiles in combat. At least two were lost in clashes with Iranian F-14A Tomcats - to a considerable disgrace and disappointment of the Soviets.


After the war with Iran, Iraqi MiG-25s remained in service, and were to see limited action during the II Persian Gulf War, in 1991. On the first night of the war they flew only one mission, shooting down an USN F/A-18C. Reports about two other MiG-25s causing some "hard manoeuvring" by any US formations in that night are wrong, then the next mission of IrAF MiG-25PDS' was launched only in the late afternoon of 17 January: out of two Foxbats scrambled to intercept a USAF formation one hit a mine at a taxiway at Tahmmouz AB, while the other managed to start only for the pilot to find himself with a completely jammed radar and radio communications, which forced him to abort early.

Subsequently, the Iraqi Foxbats attempted several additional times to engage US fighters, with variable success. Two were shot down in air combats with USAF F-15Cs - albeit only after a considerable number of Sidewinders and Sparrows fired at them missed. In exchange, they claimed one USAF F-15 as (at least) damaged, during an engagement on 30 January 1991.

At least from 1986, but probably already from 1985, the IrAF started receiving MiG-25RBTs, recognizible by the capability to carry the huge 5.000litre drop tanks, as seen on the "25125", shown here. Also, the surviving MiG-25RBs were upgraded to this standard, although they never became capable of carrying these tanks, which - during the 1990s - enabled the Iraqi recce-Foxbats to fly some particularly spectacular sorties into the Jordanian and Saudi airspace. Since 1983 or 1984, all Iraqi MiG-25RB/RBTs were operated by the No.84 FRS.


Iraqi MiG-25s remained operational and dangerous after this war as well: in 1993 they several times threatened US aircraft flying over southern Iraq unless one was shot down by USAF F-16s. During the rest of the 1990s, the Iraqis used them much more carefully, and tried to avoid direct confrontations with US or British aircraft, patrolling the no-fly zones. On two occassions in 1999 the USN Tomcats and USAF F-15s engaged Iraqi MiG-25s, firing AIM-54s and AIM-120s from maximal ranges, but missing every time. Iraqi Foxbats were always flown by the best IrAF pilots, and these learned to deploy and use their fighters in combat properly as well as how to evade attacks even by most modern air-to-air missiles already during the war with Iran. Nevertheless, at least three IrAF MiG-25s were lost in different accidents since 1991 alone.

Since the year 2000, Iraqi MiG-25s were reported flying recce sorties over Jordan, and even penetrating the Saudi airspace: the Jordanian F-16As proved unable to intercept any, while in early 2003 even the USAF F-15s came too late to catch the Foxbat that flew 60km deep over Saudi Arabia. In December 2002, finally, an Iraqi MiG-25PDS shot down a USAF RQ-1B Predator armed recce drone (using a single R-40RD missile!) in a sharp engagement in which both sides opened fire.

To a great surprise of all informed observers, however, the IrAF was not to participate in the III Persian Gulf War at all: instead, all of its aircraft were hidden, or - as the report above showed - even burried intact.

The former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussayin, ordered this in attempt to save the IrAF from fighting a war the flow of which it could by no means even influence. The Iraqis knew, namely, that they could not defend against an US invasion, and were instead preparing for fighting a guerrilla war already since 2001. Consequently, the IrAF aircraft were to be either burried or dissassembled and concealed in order to make them useless to the enemy. This decision was brought despite the fact that the IrAF wanted to fight the war and trained intensively: certainly, the IrAF crews were training the disassembly of their aircraft into main sections already since the late 1990s.

"Exploded" view of the MiG-25PDS serialled "25201", as found by Australian SAS at Qadissiyah AB (better known in the West as "al-Assad"): the serial of this aircraft identifies it as the first PDS re-serialled according to the new serialling system with five digits, introduced only in 1987. It is possible, but not sure, that this was also the first Iraqi PDS. (Australian MoD)







Fate of IrAF Tu-22s


Meanwhile, also the fate of the Iraqi Tu-22s was established. It was known that as of January 1991 the IrAF still had at least five examples "in service", one of which was a Tu-22U training aircraft.

All five were destroyed by USAF F-117As during the first night of the operation "Desert Storm", while still inside their blast pents on al-Taqaddum AB, near Habbaniyah, some 250km west of Baghdad.

Two can be made out on the following photograph released by the RAF, probably as seen in the early 2003:
On this reconnaissance photograph released by the RAF early in 2004, the wreckage of two IrAF Tu-22Bs can be made out still inside their blast pents at al-Taqaddum AB, where they were destroyed by USAF F-117As, during one of the first attacks against Iraq, in the night of 17 January 1991. To the left also the wreckage of the Adnan-1 AEW aircraft #3 can be made out, recognizible because of its obvious camouflage. Only one of Iraqi Adnans was camouflaged, and that was the #3: it was painted in two shades of grey. The aircraft is recognizible as such also because of the remnants of its radome, which lie on the ground, between the left side of the rear fuselage and the remnants of the left wing. (RAF via AFM)


The sole Tu-22U was subsequently photographed by US Army troops after al-Taqaddum was captured, in April 2003:

One of the several IrAF Tu-22Bs destroyed at al-Taqqadum was this U - the training three-seater. The actual camouflage colours of these aircraft can be well made out on this photograph: it is obvious that they were not camouflaged in sand and brown, as usually stated, but in dark grey and dark olive green. (Aviation News)


The left rear side of the same Tu-22U as above: note the details of the camouflage pattern: sadly, no serial can be made out (these were usually applied on the fuselage, right in front of the wings). (Aviation News)






© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

Top of Page

Latest Arabian Peninsula & Persian Gulf Database
US-Related News from Iraq
Future Development of GCC Air Forces; Part 2
Future Development of GCC Air Forces; Part 1
Hard Target: Rolling-Back Iranian Nuclear Programmes
Shahab 3: an Advanced IRBM
22 September 2004: Parade in Tehran
Baghdad Impressions
With the 7th Field Hospital in Basrah, Part 2
With the 7th Field Hospital in Basrah, Part 1
Iraqi Super-Bases
Exhumating the Dead Iraqi Air Force
Second Death of IrAF
22 September 2003: Iranian Military Parade
IRIAF Since 1988
US Air-to-Air Victories during the Operation Desert Storm
Kuwaiti Air-to-Air Victories in 1990
Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait; 1990
Persian 'Cats
Iraqi Air-to-Air Victories since 1967
Iranian Air-to-Air Victories, 1982-Today
Iranian Air-to-Air Victories 1976-1981
Tanker War, 1980-1988
Iraqi Air Force since 1948, Part 2
Iraqi Air Force Since 1948, Part 1
Fire in the Hills: Iranian and Iraqi Battles of Autumn 1982
I Persian Gulf War: Iraqi Invasion of Iran, September 1980
I Persian Gulf War, 1980-1988
Kuwait "Emergency", 1961
Oman (and Dhofar) 1952-1979
South Arabia and Yemen, 1945-1995