By Tommy H. Thomason

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Operation Eldorado Canyon

 In case you’re wondering why I reviewing a book with a USAF F-111 profile on the cover in a Naval Aviation blog:

  1. I’ve spent almost three decades, with limited success, trying to establish that its USN counterpart, the F-111B was not a failure so anything about the program is of interest to me. I am pleased in that regard that while the author’s summary of the Navy variant’s failure to enter service is brief, it is respectful.

2. The content includes a description of the participation of carrier-based US Navy aircraft, which played a significant role in Operation Eldorado Canyon as well as involvement in events leading up to it (e.g., Operation Prairie Fire) and a subsequent encounter with Libyan fighters.

This is an authoritative and detailed account of a major bombing mission, well-written and impressively illustrated (many, most large, and almost all in color), printed on high quality paper with a soft cover and “perfect binding”. The author was not only a F-111 Weapon System Officer, but he was also involved in the mission planning and personally knows many of the pilots and fellow WSOs who flew it.

One result of the author’s experience is the detailed description of the F-111’s mission capability at that time: the aircraft itself, the weapon system, and armament options. Jim provides a particularly lucid description of the weapons, tactics, radar/FLIR navigation, and laser targeting required for a precision strike at a predetermined moment (literally) with minimal collateral damage.

Context provided for the need for the bombing raid begins with the independence of the American colonies, segueing smoothly into a year-by-year account of the early 1980s as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi became more and more involved in sponsoring international terrorism. As tensions heightened, the narrative rapidly increases in detail until during the raid itself, it is minute to minute.

The planning process, including the mission constraints, the rationale for decisions made, selection of targets, is particularly well described, although if anything, Jim sugarcoats the refusal of the French and Spanish leadership’s refusal to allow the F-111s to fly over their countries, significantly increasing the distance and degree of difficulty involved. As Jim succinctly describes it, “(The) 5,000-mile (9,012km) round trip was like taking off from Washington DC at dusk and flying high level to Las Vegas, then letting down to low level to bomb Los Angeles in the middle of the night with lots of angry people trying you shoot you down once you cross the mountains into the Los Angeles basin. After that, you fly back to Las Vegas, arriving nearly out of fuel and needing to find your tanker in the pitch-black darkness.” “Oh, and you’re doing all this in a space about the size of a sports car interior, strapped into your seat the whole time: about 13 to 14 hours.”

Execution of the resulting strike plan requiring a large number of USAF and USN assets is described in detail and clearly delineated in a series of color maps, both large scale (depicting the entire route of the bombers and tankers to and from England) and small (the detail of each ingress to and egress from each target). The order of battle of all the participants, including the supporting cast, is remarkably complete, the result of Jim’s years of research.

Like all plans, particularly one involving as many moving parts as this one, there were successes and failures relative to the desired outcome, including collateral damage and the loss of one of the strike F-111s. Jim pulls no punches in that regard and provides a particularly cogent Lessons Learned conclusion.

Note that in my opinion, the above does not begin to do Jim’s book justice. It is not only an excellent description of a seminal event in America’s history, but also an excellent read.


NF said...

Hello Tommy,
My friend wants to build an F/A-18A from VFA-132 with my CTA decals, but there is a problem. What paint scheme was used? Early type, as I indicated in the decal, or late type?
Thank you, Oleg.

Kay said...

I appreciate you providing so much history on the aircraft F-111B; it was very helpful. Knowing the aircraft systems is more advantageous.