This botched air strike on Lebanon changed Naval Aviation forever

A-7E Corsair II aircraft line the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS INDEPENDENCE (CV 62). The INDEPENDENCE is operating off the coast of Lebanon in support of the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut.

A-7E Corsair II aircraft line the bow of the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV 62) about the time of the air strike against Syrian gun emplacements in Lebanon. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

American air power going against targets in the Middle East didn’t start with Operation Enduring Freedom or even Desert Storm. The first significant strike was conducted in December of 1983 by carrier-based assets against Syrian anti-aircraft positions in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and it was in many respects a disaster, one that radically changed the way the U.S. Navy conducted strike warfare.

The Bekaa Valley strike was supposed to be in direct retaliation for the Beirut barracks bombing that killed 241 Marines on October 23, but the mission was delayed for months by lawmakers in Washington and the operational planners at the European Command in Germany. Finally Syrians firing SAMs at F-14 reconnaissance flights over Lebanon compelled decision-makers to action.

The strike planning process was cumbersome and not tactically agile.  Pentagon and EUCOM higher-ups made the call on strike composition, weapons loadouts, ingress and egress routes, and times on target. As a result, aviators who would ultimately fly the mission had little say in how it would be carried out.

The 28-plane strike package launched from two carriers – Kennedy and Independence (both decommissioned now) – on the morning of December 4, which proved to be the perfectly wrong time as the metrological conditions made it hard for the attack aircraft to see their targets (remember, these were the days before smart bombs, when pilots had to actually maneuver their airplanes toward the ground and pickle their bombs with a high level of skill). At the same time the weather and sun angle highlighted the American airplanes in the sky for Syrian anti-aircraft gunners. The strike package also flew toward their targets along the same route, which made it easy for gunners to train their weapons.

The Syrians managed to shoot down two A-7E Corsairs and an A-6E Intruder.  One of the A-7 pilots and the A-6 pilot were killed.  The other A-7 pilot – who also happened to be the Air Wing commander aboard the Independence – managed to get his jet over the Mediterranean before he ejected.  He was picked up by Lebanese fisherman and eventually returned to the Americans unharmed.

The A-6 bombardier/navigator, Lt. Robert Goodman, was captured by Syrian troops and taken as a hostage. The month-long stalemate between governments on his release was finally broken by Jesse Jackson, who took an interest in the young aviator because he was an African-American.

goodman_syriansoldier

Lt. Robert Goodman in the back of a car with a Syrian soldier after being shot down during an air strike against targets in Lebanon. (AP photo)

As a result of this fiasco the U.S. Navy established the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at the air station in Fallon, Nevada, basically taking a page from the Top Gun playbook a decade or so earlier when that school was created to fix the problem of fighters getting shot out of the skies over North Vietnam because of inferior tactics. The staff at NSAWC studied better ways of getting bombs on target while surviving intense SAM environments, and their research yielded more thorough mission planning processes (including streamlining strike coordination up and down the chain of command), off-axis attack profiles, and the improved use of jammers to better suppress the SAM threat.

Although times have changed in recent years with the advent of stealth technology and precision-guided munitions, many of the lessons learned from Bekaa Valley are still relevant today.

Now: Top secret files detail how drone strikes target terrorists — and how they go wrong >

TOP ARTICLES
This is how the Army Corps of Engineers is helping Puerto Rico

The Army Corps of Engineers is working to restore power to the island of Puerto Rico after four major hurricanes devastated these parts of the US.

This Marine is more operator than you'll ever be

One Marine isn't taking his life changing injury sitting down. In fact: he's running. Follow Marine Rob Jones as he runs 31 marathons in 31 days.

This is the agenda for Mattis' Indo-Asia-Pacific tour

Secretary of Defense Mattis is touring the Indo-Asia Pacific region to strengthen ties with ally countries and underscore our commitment to each of them.

This is the reason Russian and Western tactics are changing

Russia might be stepping up its War Games game, but the United States isn't having any issues keeping up. Even their Krasnodar can't get past us.

Here are the top conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy assassination

Ahead of the release of 3,100 documents pertaining to the Kennedy assassination, here the top assassination conspiracy theories people are talking about.

Air Force says no plan to recall retired pilots

The Air Force says it has no intentions of recalling retired pilots to address personnel shortages, though it appreciates the ability to do it if it wants to.

Here is how Burke-class destroyers will be able to zap incoming missiles

Burke-class destroyers, already packing a formidable punch, could add lasers, improving capabilities against UAVs, missiles, and even piloted aircraft.

11 'totally real' things you should send your boot to find

Sending the FNG out to find things isn't malicious. It may look like hazing — but you're teaching them a little bit more about the unit. Isn't that nice?

This is the new version of the pup tent

This is not your grandfather's pup tent. Litefighter has developed a complete shelter that troops can carry, weighing in just over four pounds.

This is why Saddam Hussein's fedayeen troops wore Darth Vader helmets

Wondering why Saddam's personal militia wore all-black suits and ski masks in the middle of the desert all year 'round? It was to match their helmets.