Cairo West AB and H 3 AB - Part I
The H3 Main Air Base from Iraq, one of from three bases in the extreme West from Iraq. This base had been using by Soviet Union MiG 25 PD/RB during the 80’s and wer considered strategic for the Iraq High Command even far way from the battles zones during the War Iran-Iraq.
The Cairo West Air Base from Egypt and H 3 Air Base from Iraq had much in common despite those airfields belong at different countries, since both bases had operated in different times the MiG 25 Foxbat RB from Soviet Union. Another fact in common about those bases were that actively participated in conflicts and thus both were priority targets for the opponents, in the case of Cairo West would be the Israel Air Force and H 3 by Iran Air Force during the almost eight years of war between Iran and Iraq.
The importance to comment about the of Underground Shelter for aircrafts in Cairo West were not due only to the protection of aircraft would be based on this air base, but the importance of this would keep in secret the aircraft types that were inside those bunkers as well the number of units of those aircrafts in the base, since in underground shelters air reconnaissance or even by images taken from spy satellites in low orbits could not determine easily.
However to better analyze Cairo West would be interesting to analyze first other air base as H 3 in the far west of Iraq, belonging to it, that during the 80’ at least had been used by the Soviet Union primarily as a base for MiG 25RB/PD Foxbat.
In fact the operations of the MiG 25RB/PD from Soviet Union in Iraq were initiated around 1980 in Shoaibah Air Base in southern Iraq, near the Persian Gulf, however with the of the outbreak from Iran-Iraq War, this Air Base was the first target had been attacked by F 4E Phantom II from Iran almost two hours after the offensive initiated from Iraq in September 22, 1980.
Because of this attack and the damages had been suffered in Shoaibah Air Base , the Soviet Union shifted its contingent, comprising of : 16 MiG-21MF, 20 MiG-23ML and 24 MiG 25RB/PD at H 3 Air Base in far western from Iraq, near the border with Syria and Turkey.
The H 3 Air Base was not only an airfield, but a cluster consisting of three airfields, two of which were considered satellites of the main, but all those airfields had been provided with HAS ( Hardened Aircraft Shelter) , but the H 3 Main were equipped with more HAS and another facilities. The others two satellites airfields were labeled as H 3 Northwest and H 3 Southwest, and near of this airfields could be possible use long strips of the Highway Amman-Baghdad as alternatives runways.
Another particularity of H 3 were that location away from urban centers or villages , since this Air Base was situated in a desert place, which provided the highest degree of secrecy about the operations had been carried out from this base.
Surface HAS( Hardened Aircraft Shelter) partially covered by sand: The image were edited to show the approach dimensions of this construction as well the aircraft probably a MiG 23/27 Flogger . its possible to see a few MiG 23/27 abandoned in the GoogleMaps images taken in 2013 around the base, in the time when this base were active the MiG 23 Flogger certainly had belong to this base and most of the time should be keep inside this HAS.
Surface HAS in H 3. Those Surface HAS near of the runways should be used by interceptor fighters as MiG 21MF, MiG 23MF or MiG 25PD. Those fighters had the primary mission to defend this base against any threat.
As H 3 was relatively far away from the border with Iran, and consequently the battle zones, so far that could diminished the risk of attack by Iran or even interceptions by this, especially in the case by the F 14A Tomcat equipped with long range air-air missiles as AIM 54A Phoenix against the MiG 25RB Foxbat when it had been approaching or taking off its base for reconnaissance missions.
The location of H3 would allow the MiG 25RB to accomplish reconnaissance missions of the border of Turkey's as well as NATO facilities in this country, and even the Mediterranean Sea through Syria with it was allied with Soviet Union, besides Iran with benefit to access this country from east border, along the north border already covered because this border it was with Soviet Union.
Anyway the MiG 25RB based in H 3 could perform missions in the Gulf Persian by simply using some base in southern from Iraq to refuel, but the main problem for the MiG 25RB in reconnaissance missions in the Gulf still would remain as the threat of the F 14A Tomcat from Iran during the war Iran/Iraq.
This part of H 3 has widely paved area however for only four HAS. Those type of HAS in Iraq airfields has been described by some sources as “ Drive Thru” HAS, since it has an inlet and outlet for the aircraft which would decrease the time required to maneuver the aircraft to access the HAS. However the large paved area as taxiway appears to be out of proportion in size to only 04 HAS, and these distribution almost equidistant resembles an Air Carrier with their lifters to transport the aircraft's to the below decks.
1.HAS: The dimensions are lower compared to the previous Surface HAS had been described, but if this structure its only destined to cover the lifter for the Underground facilities indeed that would be advantage since that should present a less detectable target;
2.MiG 23/27 Flogger: Those dimensions are only to give the scale when close of the HAS, and when compared with the previous Surface HAS its clear that HAS in the image above is smaller than the previous HAS and would be too restrictive for ground crew working on aircraft;
3. Access Ramp: It’s not clear what the purpose of this to the HAS, but if this ramp gives access at the underground levels, indeed to the Underground Shelter that would be a reason for this since could be used even by vehicles;
4. HAS Access: In all HAS of this dimensions appear that one of those entrances has less restriction than the other due to the presence of a small wall, so if this HAS would be a “Drive Thru” HAS there wasn’t reason for this asymmetry;
5. HAS Exit: Its possible see in the image a shadow had been created by a small wall, what certainly would create some problems to maneuver an aircraft at the HAS, but if this small wall were only a deflector jet for the aircraft inside the HAS when this get out from the same to avoid the exhaust of the jet engine create a cloud of dust and withdraws the aircraft for an enemy during attack against the airfield, once the aircraft could be maneuvered in the underground level to leave where it enters in the HAS.
Thanks at the Iran Air Force the US Navy Fleet didn’t receive many visits of the MiG 25 RB from Soviet Union in the Gulf, once the MiG 25RB from Iraq Air Bases should cross along the coast of the Iran and very close of the Iran Airfields ,in missions over the Persian Gulf.
The reason should be that the first part of the reconnaissance mission from MiG 25RB would be easy in the Gulf , without problems with Iran Air Force, but in the regress part of the mission, that would be funny part, when CAP of the F 14A Tomcat from Iran Air Force would be positioned over the Persian Gulf between the MiG 25 RB and its base to cut off his return to Iraq.
However among others possible reasons that the Soviet Union did relocate its staff to H 3 was surely the fact that Air Base had underground HAS , since it was away from the border of Iran, also meant that this was close to Israel, and how Israel and Iraq had a history of conflict, the presence of well protected underground HAS was very convenient to the Soviet Union.
The complex H 3 with its three bases were impressively by its scale as the complexity, besides those three bases H 3 ( Main, Southwest and Northwest) near of H 3 Main as large set of bunkers, which later in 1991 during the First Gulf War were extensively attacked in reason that facilities were identified by U.S. Intelligence as storage sites for Chemical Weapons.
Surface HAS: The dimensions of this type of surface HAS are larger than the supposed Underground HAS, since the visible part in the surface would only lift access to underground levels, whereas Surface HAS in the image above e should have dimensions suitable to allow the ground crews to work in the maintenance of the aircraft.
The H 3 Main should be two types of HAS, one its the surface type and the underground type. In Surface HAS that were build near of the runway would be intended to interceptor fighters that could defend the base, once alerted should take off quickly. While in Underground HAS would be crowded with aircraft for others missions such as reconnaissance and attack, or even interceptors as backup. The reason to keep the attack or reconnaissance aircraft in the Underground HAS instead of the Surface HAS could be described by the fact the attack or reconnaissance missions could be planned in in advance of hours or even days, since the interception missions in most cases its reaction from a threat that still hard even today to anticipate.
In the case of attack against base with these HAS, those fighters with interception mission take off to protect the base, leaving the Surface HAS empty , which even if those HAS were hit would not result in the destruction of aircraft since the same HAS were empty. While others aircraft would be in Underground HAS that would provide greater protection for the aircraft's inside even if the base is heavily attacked.
Although Underground HAS and even Surface HAS are complex and extremely expensive to build, it would has had the purpose to avoid the installation of several systems of the SAM ( Surface Air Missiles) and AAA (Anti Air Artillery) to protect the airfield, once the SAM and AAA also are even expensive and vulnerable specially by attack aircrafts with mission to destroy or even jamming the air defense radars as SEAD (Suppression Enemy Air Defenses), since systems SAM and AAA could be more efficient when it would be moved to other locations and thereby obtain the element of surprise against an attack aircraft's, instead of being kept in one location known as an airfields.
There are several sources that claim as many of the HAS were built by companies of the former Yugoslavia during the 80's, and were basically of two types, surface and one underground type.
Surface HAS: Although the images has been taken by satellites at disposal not permit a correct measuring from the height of the HAS in H 3 , it only could be estimated that at least the dimensions of Surface HAS had a larger height as its width and length than compared to the suppose Underground HAS.
Underground HAS: When compared with the type of surface would be possible to estimate that the inner space of these types of HAS, would in fact too restrictive for ground crews, at least for the dimensions of the aircraft as MiG 25 Foxbat, but still the MiG 25 could use this to get to the underground once this restrictive HAS could be the elevator, where would be made all phases of operation and maintenance since this underground levels could be capacity to receive several fighters at the same time.
However the origin of the complex H 3 bases are older, since during the 70s these bases had been extensively enlarged and modernized, and received in this period its HAS well as other bases in Iraq.
The interesting fact about this period of the 70's were that H 3 bases became known as Koreans Camps, since Koreans labors had been working in the construction of the Highway between Baghdad and Amman were housed near of these bases.
If those Koreans labors belong to the North Korea that could explained who and when de Underground HAS were built in H 3, because the North Korea has a long tradition of building underground facilities, especially underground HAS in its airfields, would be a very likely hypothesis that the H 3 underground facilities were built during the 70s by the North Koreans who were also building the highway which serve to hide the construction on H 3, and most likely under the guidance of the Soviet Union.
An overview of Hwangju AB from North Korea is provided in the image below, with significant facilities or features annotated:
There is an interesting article on the Air Bases from North Korea that has underground shelters for aircrafts, in this case the link is: http://geimint.blogspot.com.br/2010/...elds-dprk.html
With the presence of the Soviet Union in H 3, particularly the MiG 25 RB conducting reconnaissance missions over Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and those missions of the MiG 25RB were a serious threat from Iran, since the details had been collected by all sensors that could be equipped in the MiG 25 RB certainly given to Iraq high advantage to conduct the war against the Iran. Probably because this reason H 3 were attacked in 1981 by Iran Air Force, on a daring mission performed by F 4E Phantom II.
Underground HAS: This part of H 3 also has four HAS has been distributed almost in a circle over a wide area of taxiway. However the dimensions are different between this HAS , which would indicate that at least one of these has been built to allow access to larger aircraft with less restriction. There are several sources that say the underground HAS in Iraq would be able to receive 04-12 aircraft at same time.
Underground HAS: Put 12 aircraft in the ‘basement’ that only could use a single elevator should be a problem due to the long time to return those aircraft at the surface, or even in case of the elevator broken or had been disabling after an attack against the base. So these underground HAS would be more logical that could has more of an elevator by Underground HAS , and the image above there are apparently two HAS side by side, as twined, and probably that could be two elevators for the underground facilities.
Underground HAS: Put two HAS together , or twin, it would not be interesting since the rule should be put those HAS so dispersed in order to make them less obvious as target. However if these are indeed twinned elevators to the ‘basement’ so that if one of these were damaged or even broken, the other could continue remain active and bring back at the surface the aircraft's that were on the underground, even if only for 04 aircraft the capacity of this facility in the image above. As a say left 04 MiG 25 in the basement during the battle because the single elevator would be out of service certainly should be not desirable
The introduction of the MiG 25PD/RB in Iraq Air Force had been gradually occurring in 1981 since the MiG 25PD/RB demanded high training of the pilots to those fighters, despite this fact the MiG 25RB were very active in reconnaissance missions during 1981, which would indicate that those MiG 25 RB were in fact from Soviet Union, and from the H 3 Air Base.
Thus it would be possible that Iran High Command had planed this attack against H 3 with intention to obtain the same result when in 1980 after the attack of several F 4E Phantom II from Iran against Shoiabah Air Base, the Soviets withdrew from this base, and so by attacking H 3 in 1981 the Soviets could withdraw the MiG 25RB from Iraq once for all.
Placing together two HAS would not be a very logical choice, since this would allow the enemy more easily discern this target due to its dimensions, both in terms of visual contact or infrared imaging, as well as for detection by ground mapping radar from attack aircraft( F 111E/F, Tornado GR 1, B 1B Lancer ). However if this facility could access to lifts to an underground HAS, putting both so close could be due to limited space in underground which anyway would not possible disperse the surface structures.
As some of HAS twinned has different dimensions, which also would not be very logical if the goal is to reduce the visibility of it, since this way the logical thing would disperse them. One possibility is that these structures did not had internal wall to separate both, which would allow large fighters like the MiG 25 would be maneuvered more easily to the elevators.
However in H 3 with facilities as Underground HAS that were immune to Iran's weapons at its disposal, once the Iran Air Force were equipped with precision weapons, as :GBU 10 Paveway II LGB ( Laser Guided Bomb) ,GBU 8 HOBOS and AGM 65A Maverick, that could be used by F 4E Phantom II against the Surface HAS , but against the Underground HAS those weapons would be useless. The Soviet Union remained in this base even after this attack of 1981, and had been continued even after the end of the war between Iran and Iraq.
The effectiveness of Underground HAS in H 3 to face an attack with high intensity, most likely based in the project of the Cairo West in Egypt , maybe had convinced the Iraq High Command to invest large sum of resources to build a large number of Surface and Underground HAS around others bases during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 80’s.
Even in the case of the Surface HAS built by the former Yugoslavs companies, known as trapezoidal form, most likely this could be resist all precision weapons from Iran Air Force, and the aircraft's inside this could be protected against any surprise attack.
But certainly the Underground HAS would resist against those precision weapons and most of the others, even against a blast from nuclear warhead if it wasn't a direct impact, because against a direct impact probably would be impossible for any bunker to resist. Maybe this last feature were required to face the nuclear capability from Israel or even about the probably advances in Iran nuclear program during the 80's.
During the First Gulf War in order to destroy the hardened targets of the Iraq, the Tornados GR 1 armed with LGB Paveway III had launched its weapons from an altitude of 7.140m, which due to sophisticated ground mapping radar that could detect the HAS in any condition atmospheric at long range and altitude. With this target on the ground mapping radar and its inertial navigation system allowed the f computer from Tornados GR 1 to calculate the launch point from LGB Paveway III in order to put this weapons in a ballistic trajectory allowing turning the altitude and initial velocity input by the Tornado in high final velocity when the LGB reached the target. By increasing the velocity at impact by 25% would increase the Kinetic Energy of the LGB Paveway by almost 60%, which would penetrate deeper into the target before detonation, which would increase the damage caused by it LGB .
In the first Gulf War in 1991, those trapezoidal HAS built by former Yugoslav companies during the 80s were destroyed only after several attacks by several types of aircrafts as: F 111F, Tornado GR1 and F 15E that were armed with LGB Paveway III as BSU 109 with 2000 lb. / 907 kg .
Since after the first impact with this LGB, a second LGB were aimed to the same point left by the impact for the previous attack, and because the accuracy of Paveway III much better than the Paveway II which had Iran during the war against Iraq during the 80s, its second Paveway III had been practically impacting on the already point damaged and weakened of the structure of concrete from HAS, thereby allowing the second impact penetrate and destroy the HAS, as well as any aircraft that were within them.
The Coalition led by USA in the first Gulf War had conducted more than 3,000 missions against Air Bases from Iraq, which had resulted in the destruction of 375 HAS of the approximately 594 HAS that Iraq had at the beginning of the First Gulf War. To ensure that the HAS were destroyed, several mission were demanded with this purpose, which had demonstrated the strength thereof of those HAS and its bases.
If the purpose of the use of penetrating LGB before detonation, the best way of achieving this would hit the target perpendicular at the surface , which considerably decrease the thickness of the protection from the target, beyond which an impact at a smaller angle than 90 ° would cause a deviation in the trajectory LGB at impact, which could reduces greatly the capability to penetrate inside the target causing more superficial damages, which could mean that HAS were able to operate and maintain the aircraft protected inside. The LGB Paveway III had besides the laser head seeker another guidance system as inertial navigation kit that allowed the LGB to remain in the designated trajectory even hasn’t located the marked target with the laser emission. This feature allows the LGB Paveway III to control its dive angle toward the target, which could increase their effectiveness in penetrating a target, as in the case of BSU 109.
Despite of the capabilities had been demonstrate by Tornado GR 1 about locating the targets and attack them from high altitudes due to the sophistication of its ground mapping radars and inertial navigation systems, they were not capable of illuminating targets with laser beam to designate those for LGB Paveway during the Desert Storm in 1991 , since in most missions the targets were covered by layers of clouds at low altitudes or even by smoke due to fires even from oil wells. The aircraft that would designate targets for LGB had been launched altitude by Tornados GR 1 were the Blackburn Buccaneers which already flying close the target at a low altitude to locate and designate the targets below the layer of clouds and smoke in cases where the target had previously been attacked or even by the Buccaneer, thus allowing a second LGB hit the target area where were already damaged to increase the penetration of the LGB.
Thus the Buccaneers equipped with AN/AVQ-23E “Pave Spike” flying at low altitudes were responsible for designating targets, which had exposed the Buccaneers at AAA and short range SAM during the day, once the AVQ 23E pod hasn’t night capability , making the task much more dangerous than those held by the Tornados IDS at medium altitude.
The USAF had sophisticated pods as AVQ 26 Pave Tack and LANTIRN with Thermal imaging capability that allowed operate day and night in the: F 111F (AVQ 26), F 15E (LANTIRN) and F 16D( LANTIRN) to designate targets for LGB Paveways, what gave the Coalition the capability to operate around o’clock against all targets and even Iraq Air Bases. Yet many important targets as Iraq Air Bases had been entrusted by the High Command of the Coalition (USA Command) at the Buccaneer and Tornados GR 1 due to efficiency tactic adopted by them, releasing part of the fleet of: F 111F , F 15E and F 16D in the missions to hunt down the mobile launchers of SS 1 Scud tactical ballistic missiles using the Thermal Imaging Pods to detect those evasive targets.
However with respect to the destruction from Iraq HAS in the first Gulf War could be detected that has discrepancy about details and information, since while Surface HAS there are many images and information about the operations of destruction of the HAS, however regarding Underground HAS the availability from information’s and images apparently it were trapped in the underground.
Since the unpleasant surprise about the MiG 25 RB in West Cairo Air Base during the War of 1973,what led the F 14A Tomcat to Israel in secret to protect the air bridge (Operation Nickel Glass) between U.S. and Israel, the United States had begun to invest a lot of effort and resources to obtain the capabilities to nullify the benefits from constructing underground facilities as a means to protect the military assets from Warsaw Pact and even China.
So in 1990 the underground facilities as well as Air Bases from Iraq should not be an obstacle to liberation of Kuwait by U.S. and Coalition formed for this purpose, however in 1990 it became again!