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Iraqi Super-Bases
By Tom Cooper (photos by M. Rosenkrantz & G. Mader)
Sep 26, 2003, 03:01

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During the flight over Iraq on the north-south axis aboard the Czech AF Tu-154, we were lucky enough of enjoying a very good sight, out to at least 100km: the air was relatively clear, with low humidity and no other particular disturbances. This enabled Martin and Georg to take unique photograhs of some of the most impressive Iraqi airfields, built in the 1970s and 1980s mainly by the British and Yugoslavs.

al-Gayyar AB (Mawsil or "Mosul")

Mawsil's al-Gayyar AB was established already by the RAF in the 1930s, and used as a main air base of the Iraqi Air Force into the 1990s, when at least a squadron of MiG-21s was stationed there.

The only runway is 15/33, 2647x45m/8648x148ft, made of concrete.

Position of the airfield:
- 361821.30N
- 0430850.10E
Elevation: 226m/740ft

Al-Gayyar AB is now in use by the USAF: from the level of 37.000ft we were able to clearly make out a USAF C-130 rolling down the runway for take-off, as well as rows of tactical fighters painted grey (either A-10s or F-16s) parked on the apron. These can be made out on the photograph above as well!

Qayyarah West AB

Qayyarah West AB was built in the late 1970s and became an immensely important airfield during the 1980s and the war with Iran, when it was the main hub for Iraqi Mirage F.1EQ-operations, and also the first airfield to base MiG-23MLs. Later during the war the MiG-25s were operated from this air base as well.

The secondary "Sector-Operations Center" (SOC) of the Northern Command IrAF was based here until March 2003.

Qayyarah West has two runways:
- 15/33, 3500x61m/11483x200ft long, made of concrete
- 16/34, 3680x28m/12075x91ft long (the closer one on the photograph above), made partially of concrete, and part of asphalt

Position of the airfield:
Elevation: 251m/825ft

Current status is unknown: we have shot these photographs from a distance of at least 30km and it is unclear what is going on there.

al-Fatah AB

Very little is known about this air base, except that it was built along the general shema of the "Super-Base" project (for more details, see further bellow).

The single concrete runway of this airfield is 3006x45m/9863x148ft long, and the position of al-Fatah is:
- 350804.90N
- 0434335.30.


K-2 is an old Iraqi air base about which not much is known, however: established near the pumping station on the oil-pipeline into Turkey sometimes in the 1930s, it became known as a Mirage F.1EQ base in the 1980s.

The runway is 12/30, 3008x45m/9870x148ft long, made of asphalt.

Position of the airfield:
- 345504.78N
- 0432330.07E
Elevation: 130m/426ft

Current status is unknown.

Samarah East AB

Samarah East AB is the first airfield we have seen built outright in the project "Super-Base". The airfield is positioned at 340956.27/0441551.66E, and has a single runway, constructed partially of concrete and partially of asphalt, with a lenght of 3000x45m/9843x148ft.

The Project "Super-Base" was launched by Iraq in 1975, in response to the experiences from Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973. Originally, 13 airfields were re-built by British contractors, and on all of them also a number of hardened aircraft shelters was built. Subsequently companies from Yugoslavia - previously engaged in building bridges in Iraq - became involved. Due to their specific construction of these airfields - which included taxi-ways leading right out of hardened aircraft-shelters and laid diagonally to the runways - they became known as "Trapezoids" or "Yugos".

In addition to 13 re-built airfields during the mid-1980s the Yugoslavs have built also five entirely new facilities, code-named 202A (H-1 New AB), 202B, 202C, 202D, and 202E (Tallil AB). The code-names for Samarah East, Balad, and al-Bakr remain unclear, but known is that each of these "super bases" covered an area of 21.5 square miles (40 square kilometers), and had one or two concrete runways, usually at least 2.800m long and 45m wide.

The facilities on the super-bases were divided into two categories: "surface" and "underground". The "surface" facilities were actually the "softest", and included maintenance hangars of metal construction, and HAS of concrete construction. In total, the Yugoslavs have built no less but 200 HAS on different airfields in Iraq during the 1980s. The protection of each HAS consisted of one meter thick concrete shells, reinforced by 30cm thick steel plates. There was only one entrance and this was covered by sliding doors, made of 50cm thick steel armoured plate and concrete. The HAS' were usually built in small groups - seldom more than five, with each group sharing the same water and power supply, besides having own backup gasoline-powered electrical generator, and each HAS being equipped with a semi-automatic aircraft-refuelling system.

In addition to "surface" HAS, the Yugoslavs have also built 24 "semi-surface" HAS at H-1 New, and 12 at H-3 South West, positioned near the end of the runways, with enterance and exit on each side.

The third kind of structures on "Super-Bases" were underground facilities that could shelter between four and ten aircraft on average. In order to build these the Yugoslavs used equipment and construction techniques identical to that use in underground oil-storage depots, additionally conealing the extension and the true purpose of the whole project. The underground facilities were all hardened to withstand a direct hit by a tactical nuclear bomb, burried up to 50 meters bellow the ground and consisted of the main aircraft "hangar" (consisting of two floors in several cases, connected by 40ts hydraulic lifts), connected with operations, maintenance, and logistical facilities via a net of underground corridors.

A former Soviet MiG-29 flight-instructor in Iraq, Lt.Col. Sergey Bezlyudny, later said in an interview about the Iraqi super bases:
I will admit that this air base literally overwhelmed me. I had never seen anything like it before, although while serving in the [Soviet] Uniton I had been in scores of garrisons. The equipment, shelters, and blast walls - everything was the last word in equipment and of outstanding quality. As far as I could see, it would have been virtually impossible to destroy this [hardened aircraft) shelter with tactical weapons, even very precise ones, and probably only by using nuclear weapons.

The total cost of building these five "Super-Bases" was $4.3 billion, and the project was completed in 1987.

(For more details see also "Iran-Iraq War in the Air, 1980-1988", by T. Cooper & F. Bishop, Schiffer 2003, ISBN: 07643-1669-9, p. 248 & 249)

al-Bakr AB (Balad SE AB)

Probably the most imposant airfield we have seen in Iraq was the al-Bakr AB, near Balad, also known as "Balad South-East AB".

Although originally established at an earlier date, in the frame of the Project "Super-Base" al-Bakr was developed into a huge facility. For most of the 1980s it operated at least a brigade with two squadrons of MiG-23 fighters.

al-Bakr AB has three runways. The auxiliary runway is 12/31, "only" 3000x93m/9843x306ft long, and made of asphalt. The two main runways are 12/30, 3510x43m/11.515x141ft long, partially of concrete, and partially of asphalt, and the 14/32, 3510x44m/11515x145ft long, built of concrete.

Position of the airfield:
Elevation: 50m/165ft

The al-Bakr AB is especially well-known for the large number of HAS built by the Yugoslavs in the mid-1980s. It has no less but four hardened areas - one each on the end of the main runways - with a total of over 30 HAS.

Muthenna AB (Baghdad-Muthenna AB)

Compared with Samarah East or al-Bakr, Muthenna AB is comparatively small. Nevertheless, it was a highly important airfield, with the HQs of the Central- or 1st Air Defence Sector IrAF. Besides, Muthenna was the main base of the No 31 Transport Squadron IrAF, equipped with different transport aircraft flown by several detachments, and the "Special VIP-Squadron" IrAAC, that flew two VIP-configured Westland Commandos, three SA.330 Puma, and several MBB Bo.105 helicopters. During the 1980s a detachment of two Mi-25s of the 4th Sqn IrAAC, used for armed escort of the VIPs, was frequently based at Muthenna as well, and in 1991 a detachment of the No. 5 Sqn IrAF, equipped with MiG-29s, was based here.

The lenght of the runway is 3.000m/9,843ft long.

Salman Pak or Shaykh Mazhar AB (Shaykha Mazar AB)

Very little is known about this facility, except that it was operational already in the early 1980s, and usually had at least a squadron of MiG-21s or MiG-23s, which were insturmental in the defence of Baghdad against Iranian air raids. Nevertheless, together with al-Jarrah AB (see bellow), Salman Pak was in the middle of an area full of military installations - including several ammunition depots (also two used for storage of chemical weapons at earlier times) - and during the 1990s it had a squadron of Shenyang F-7 and MiG-23 fighters.

The airfield has two runways, 11/29, 498x49m/1635x160ft long, made of asphalt, and 12/30, 3514x45m/11530x148ft long, made partially of concrete and partially of asphalt.

Position of the airfield:
Elevation: 26m/85ft

Ubaydah Bin al-Jarrah AB (al-Jarrah AB)

This impressive facility was built only some seven kilometers out of al-Kut and had no less but 36 HAS built by the Yugoslavs before 1985. In its best-times al-Jarrah AB - around 1987 - was a base for a full wing with three squadrons of Su-20/22s and a squadron of MiG-21s or MiG-23s for air defence. It was heavily hit by the RAF in 1991, but repaired subsequently and it remained a Su-22 base in the 1990s as well. On the photographs above it appears relatively undamaged despite additional hits during the 1990s and in 2003, and is now apparently in use by the US Military as "al-Kut" (note three aircraft of helicopters parked on the southern apron - seen in the right upper corner of the picture).

Al-Jarrah has two runways, 11/29, 3.556x45m/11.666x148ft long, made of asphalt, and 11/29, 3.101x45m/10.174x148ft long, made of concrete.

Position of the airfield:
Elevation: 21m/68 feet

Qalat Sikar AB

Very little is known about this facility, built by the Yugoslavs in the late 1980s, some 160km north of Basrah. During the war with Iran the airfield was a base for a squadron of MiG-23BN fighters, but what was going on subsequently remains unknown.

Currently, Qalat Sikar AB is in use by the units of the US Marine Corps, under reported names Camp Basilone and Camp Fenway.

The runway is some 3.000m/9.700ft long, and the airfield should have at least eight HAS.

© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

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