On January 16, 1991, after months of training in a mission they were not fully informed about, the United States Air Force’s 596th Bomb Squadron’s mysterious mission suddenly become a reality.
Because of Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait, over 57 airmen hopped aboard seven B-52 Stratofortresses carrying a highly secretive new American weapon, and do the longest aerial sortie that day.
After 15 grueling hours of intense conditions in the Atlantic and the Middle East, they still have to deploy the new weapon and make sure that they hit all their targets.
A New Weapon
Top Pentagon officials instructed Air Force developers to create a better weapon, upgrading it to surgical precision.
The new AGM- 86C version is equipped with a 1,000-pound conventional blast fragmentation warhead with twice the punch. This new missile was also one of the first to be installed with a Global Positioning System satellite receiver, offering unprecedented accuracy. Thus, the weapon has to be kept secret.
Force to be Reckoned With
When the Iraqi forces rolled into Kuwait on August 2, 1990, they were the strongest military power across the Persian Gulf with no less than 5,500 main battle tanks, 3,700 field artillery guns, and 10,000 armored vehicles. They also had access to 160 helicopters and 50 combat divisions with seven corps.
In contrast, the USAF had up to 600 modern combat aircraft, including French Mirage F-1, Soviet MiG-29s, and Su-24s piloted by seasoned crews.
Top Secret Mission
Lt. Colonel Jay Beard from the 596th Bomb Squadron received orders for a top-secret mission that involves their precious and most confidential weapons.
This new weapon system provided the US to make strong political statements instead of dealing with a crippling blow that could hurt innocent civilians. A select group f 15 aircrews from the 796th Bomb Squadron were introduced to the Secret Squirrels and taught how to use and deploy the new weapon.
The mission was to be orchestrated by a seven-aircraft long-range B-52G Stratofortress cruise missile strike against Iraqi targets.
Upon entering the Saudi airspace, the crew armed the missiles and started their run to the launch point. Firing the operative cruise missiles only took about ten minutes aimed at eight targets, including power plants in Mosul and a telephone exchange in Basra.
Fifteen hours after the initial take-off the bombers turned west for their next refueling which the crew managed to do despite the bad weather and low visibility.
A Year of Silence
The mission was considered a success since all the aircraft and crew members returned home safely. In approximately 35 hours and 24 minutes, the fleet of B-52s covered 14,000 miles all the way to the Middle East and back, doing the longest combat sortie in aviation history.
It was also the only mission launched directly from the Continental United States. Still, this highly secretive mission remained classified for a whole year. It was only until the raid’s first anniversary that the aircrews were finally given air achievement and medals for their efforts. Ultimately, the mission achieved 85 to 91 percent of its objectives, surpassing expectations.