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Iraqi Air Defense - Introduction

Iraqi air defenses were redesigned after the Israeli raid on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. A network of radars, surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and antiaircraft artillery (AAA) was installed, primarily concentrated around strategic and industrial facilities in the Baghdad area. The national air defense operations center (ADOC) in downtown Baghdad controlled Iraq's air defenses. The ADOC maintained the overall air picture in Iraq and established priorities for air defense engagements. Subordinate to this facility were sector operations centers (SOC), each controlling a specific geographic area. The SOC and the ADOC were connected by the French-built Kari command and control system. This modern, computerized system linked the diverse inventory of Soviet and Western radar and air defense weaponry. It provided a redundant C 2 capability.

The Iraqi air force played little role in the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein evidently believed that the coalition could not sustain its air effort beyond four or five days, and then the Iraqis could come out of their shelters and fight.

Consequently, the early attainment of air supremacy enabled allied forces to isolate the battlefield by interdicting enemy supply lines and degrading command and control links. Air supremacy also allowed coalition forces to conduct cross-border reconnaissance and aggressive deception and harassment operations with virtual impunity. The Coalition air campaign drastically wore down the ability and the will of the Iraqi Army to fight. Iraqi ground forces were so devastated and demoralized by the time the ground war started that they lacked the conviction to fight for their own soil, much less Kuwait.

On September 3, 1996, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein urged his air defense forces to ignore both the southern and northern no-fly zones and attack "any air target of the aggressors." This threat was not limited specifically to the aircraft of the U.S. military and the coalition forces. The threat could also apply to any civilian aircraft that might attempt to enter the area.

Even after the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi military still possesses a wide range of sophisticated weapons that potentially could be used to attack civil aviation aircraft overflying Iraq at cruising altitudes. These weapons include Russian- and French-made fighter and attack aircraft armed with cannons and air-to-air missiles, as well as Russian surface-to-air missile systems. The partially rebuilt integrated air defense command and control system combined early warning radars and visual observers with the sophisticated weapons.

Organization of Strategic Air Defense

Iraq's national integrated air defense system (IADS) was composed of a national air defense operations center (ADOC) in Baghdad and the following four air defense sectors:

  • The 1st Air Defense Sector, also known as the Central Air Defense Sector, had a Sector Operations Center (SOC) at Taji and Intercept Operations Centers (IOCs) at Taji, Al Taqqadum, Salman Pak, Al Kut, An Najaf, and An Nukhayb.
  • The 2d Air Defense Sector, also known as the Western Air Defense Sector, had a SOC at H-3 Airfield, with IOCs at H-1 Airfield, H-3 Airfield, and Ar Rutbah.
  • The 3d Air Defense Sector, also known as the Southern Air Defense Sector, had a SOC at Talil Airfield, and its IOCs are at Talil, Al Amraah, As Salman, and Az Zubayr.
  • The 4th Air Defense Sector, also known as the Northern Air Defense Sector, had an SOC in Kirkuk, with IOCs in Kirkuk and Mosul.

The Baghdad ADOC maintained the overall air picture and establishes priorities for air defense engagements. The SOCs were subordinate to the ADOC and control air defense operations in a specific geographic area. The SOCs directed the operations of Iraq's interceptor aircraft, groundbased air defense weapons systems, surveillance systems, and command, control, and communications assets. The IOCs provided local air defense control.

Iraq uses the KARI IADS, a French-supplied command, control, and communications system completed in 1986-1987. (KARI is Iraq spelled backwards in French.) KARI is a mix of technologies from different nations with uncertain integration. KARI was rapidly overwhelmed by Coalition air operations during the 1990-91 Gulf War for several reasons. First, KARI was very hierarchical, so that when the SOCs or ADOC were destroyed, the IOCs were unable to operate effectively. Also, much of the communications, data processing, and software for the integrated air defenses (IADs) were not up to the task of successfully defeating a modern, Western air campaign.

Some upgrades to KARI occurred since then despite sanctions, most notably the use of Chinese fiber optic cables to improve connectivity between various air defense nodes. These improvements prompted the U.S. to conduct strike operations against Iraq's air defense system in February 2001.

Each air defense sector was assigned several warning and control battalions that were responsible for operating visual observer posts and air surveillance radars. For example, the 1st Air Defense Sector controled 51st and 52d Warning and Control Regiments, and possibly a third regiment as well. The 3d Air Defense Sector controled the 71st and 72d Warning and Control Regiments, along with possibly a third. (NOTE: The 71st Warning and Control Regiment was reportedly located near An Nasiriyah and the SOC at Talil, while the 72d WCR was located near Al Amarah.) The 4th Air Defense Sector controled the 81st and 82d Warning and Control Regiments. (NOTE: The 81st WCR was reportedly located near Kirkuk, while the 72d WCR was near Mosul.) Reports from these battalion-sized units were sent up the chain to the IOC, then to the SOC, then to the ADOC to maintain Iraqi awareness of the air situation.

Each air defense sector controled one or more SAM brigades that consisted of a varied number of independent SA-2 and SA-3 batteries. Identified SAM brigades included the 145th SAM Brigade (subordinate to the 1st Air Defense Sector), the 146th SAM Brigade, the 147th SAM Brigade, and the 195th SAM Brigade (subordinate to the 4th Air Defense Sector). Other air defense assets assigned to the Air Defense Sectors included antiaircraft artillery (AAA) battalions, Roland SAM units, and electronic countermeasures units.

Iraq concentrated its national air defense coverage around Baghdad and key military and strategic targets. Many of Iraq's air defense weapons were destroyed in the Gulf War and during consequent U.S. strikes enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Iraq still maintained a fair number of air defense weapons systems despite these losses. Iraq possessed the SA-2/3/6/7/8/9/13/14/16, I-Hawk, and ROLAND I/II SAMs. Protection of strategic targets had priority over the protection of ground forces, with the exception of the Republican Guard division, who received SA-6 protection during the Iraqi invasion in 1990. Therefore, SA-6s and ROLANDs were deployed in defense of strategic installations in addition to units in the field.

Corps Air Defense

Corps air defense was the responsibility of the corps air defense command. It may have one, 57-mm, radar-guided, air defense artillery battalion, probably for the protection of corps headquarters and logistics sites. It could also take control of and re-allocate air defense assets of subordinate divisions.

The primary means of air defense support for the ground forces came from the air defense artillery weapons organic to the division, corps, and GHQ. Air defense artillery equipment had been obtained from numerous sources, primarily the Soviet Union and China. In tactical configurations, these weapons filled several roles. The 57-mm S-60, normally deployed in battalions of 36 guns, served consistently in defense of divisional headquarters and field artillery assets. The 37-mm M1939, the ZSU-23-4, and the lighter air defense artillery weapons often deployed close to frontline elements, covering troops as well as command elements. This general mix gave the Iraqis tremendous range and volume of firepower. Unlike the Soviets, the Iraqis did not employ SAMs well forward in the offense. Air defense of the forces was primarily provided by air defense artillery assets. In the past, SAMs moved forward only after initial objectives have been secured.

Division Air Defense

Iraqi divisions often had non-standard air defense organizations probably due to the wide variety of AAA and SAM systems in the Iraqi inventory, the subordination and type of division, and task-oriented division missions.

Each division had at least one organic air defense unit and possibly an air defense staff similar to a division artillery staff. Armored and mechanized divisions had SP antiaircraft guns, SA-9 SAMs, and one 37--mm antiaircraft artillery battalion with up to 54 guns. All divisions had an undetermined number of SA-7s.

The Iraqis applied modified Soviet employment doctrine for the SA-9 and SA-13, assigning up to a battery of SA-9s and ZSU-23/4s from the division air defense commands to each of the tank and mechanized brigades for the protection of headquarters assets.

The SA-7/9/14/16s were the only SAMs organic to army air defense units, although some ROLAND units may also be subordinated to the army. The SA-8 and SA-13 could also be available. In tactical configuration, the 57-mm S-60, 37-mm M1939, ZSU-23-4, and the lighter air defense artillery weapons often deployed close to frontline elements, covering troops, boundaries, gaps, and command elements. This general mix gave the Iraqis tremendous range and volume of firepower.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:47:10 ZULU