Missile Cover

This incident was the only that I know of in which the Towers ever came close to launching  it's missiles at a 'hostile' aircraft.  That the launch was cancelled, in the 'nick' of time, is a tribute to the guys in the CIC and their professionalism in the heat of battle.  At the time, I didn't immediately appreciate that they had prevented what would have been perhaps a necessary, yet a tragic mistake.

One night in 1972 we were on Operation Linebacker off the coast of  Haiphong, North Vietnam.  As we had done on many occasions, we were in the process of engaging targets on shore, while dodging enemy fire from various shore batteries.  As usual I was manning missile fire control radar console #3.  Suddenly, both #2 & #3 radars were assigned a target, both of which almost immediately "locked on".  Needless to say, at this point the adrenaline was running pretty high.  A low-flying  'unknown' had been detected by the Tower's search radars, and this target was traveling directly from land, at high speed, toward the Towers.  This target was 'unknown' in that it had no 'IFF' (Identification Friend or Foe) signal.

It was determined that Radar #3 had the most solid 'track', and given the speed that the 'unknown' was closing in on the Towers, the missile launcher was loaded with 'live' missiles, then almost immediately assigned to Radar #3.  This resulted in the target then being 'illuminated' by the missile radar system, in preparation for the subsequent launch.  It is at this moment that the intensity of concentration is at it's highest in the Missile Radar Room, and remains such until the time of intercept.  It was our jobs to ensure that we maintained a 'solid' track regardless of what the target might attempt; evasive maneuvers, jamming, electronic countermeasures, perhaps even the launch of an anti-ship or radar-seeking missile.  So naturally we were all concentrating on this 'blip' on the console, waiting for the sound of launch as our missiles "left the rails" of the launcher. 

It was at this moment, without any warning, the 'blip' disappeared from both consoles!!  What had gone wrong?  "We don't have a moment to lose, the targets closing in on us, we have to get back on 'track'!"  (Almost in unison we all shouted:  "what the hell…..")  As we glanced at the indicators on the console, we realized then that both missile radars had been assigned back to their 'home' positions (pointing directly aft) by CIC, and were no longer assigned to the target. We then got word that the 'bogy', as soon as it was 'illuminated' (which I understand causes all kind of "bells and whistles" to go off in the cockpit), had realized that someone had a missile-lock on him and had turned on his IFF.

Somewhere out there is an F4 pilot and navigator / bombardier that probably doesn't know to this day how close they came to being probable casualties of "friendly fire".   To those guys in the Towers CIC (Combat Information Center), who reacted to the IFF immediately although we were all "locked and loaded" for the kill, those 2 guys owe you one!  Again, the training and professionalism of the Towers crew resulted in a successful mission!

The below was added 1/31/2001 by way of receipt from Bob Chadwell:

My GQ station for these Linebacker strikes was on the signal bridge and I was connected with the other officers in Weapons, it seems it was called the "1JC" circuit. As you may recall, there had been some MIG activity in the area for several weeks and in fact one ship had actually been attacked. So we were all a little more nervous than usual. As I recall the two bogeys were first detected about 50 miles out over land and were tracked inbound toward us. When folks realized they weren't squawking, the Captain radioed the area air commander (I believe it was called PIRAZ) requesting permission to engage the bogeys.

It was a clear night and I moved a vantage point where I could see the missile radars. You could tell they had acquired by the way they scanned. When those white missiles came up on the rail, I thought "Holy Shit, I hope they work this time." I could hear the talk in CIC as they reported the bogey's range as it decreased. I could also see the missile launcher as it moved in those small jerky increments in response to tracking commands.

When I heard we had received permission to fire, I began to pray (much like the chaplain who blessed the bullets once time), "let these things work." The Captain gave permission to fire at some range around 10-12 miles out which as I recall was inside the maximum range for the Standard Arm. It seemed like the order to "Hold fire" came a second before the USAF bogeys reached the predetermined firing range. I know I must have shouted for joy.

A few seconds later those F4s passed just to starboard. I could hear them, but not see them. I wonder if their shorts needed a wash that night.


Robert G. Chadwell
McKay Chadwell, PLLC
Direct: 206-233-2804
Fax: 206-233-2809
rgc@mckay-chadwell.com
 

 

 

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