22 February 2016

Operation Moked: The Premiere of the Anti-Runway Bomb

In the run up to the 1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East, the Israeli Air Force was significantly outnumbered by the Arab air forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and Iraq as well. Egypt's air force alone had 50 percent more comparable combat aircraft than the Israelis. As early as 1953 it was clear that neutralization of the Arab air bases would be vital in any future conflict. By 1960 operational planning centered around executing a simultaneous strike on all the Arab bases in range of Israel. The operations branch commander of the IAF, Rafi Har-Lev, and the top navigator in the air force, Rafi Sivron, began work on Operation Moked- the simultaneous neutralization of the Arab air bases.

The MATRA BLU-107 Durandal on a USAF F-111
The basis of the planning was intelligence- not only were the dispositions and activity cycles of the Arab squadrons determined, but they also were able to secure information on the runway thickness and design of the bases. Planning began in earnest in 1963 and was continually updated by the flow on intelligence from reconnaissance and human sources.

Since trapping the Arab combat aircraft on the ground was key, the Israelis and the French (before their abrupt change in foreign policy under Charles De Gaulle shifted away from Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War) co-developed a new type of bomb specifically designed for destroying runways. After its release, a first rocket acted as a braking rocket to slow the munition to get it to the optimum penetration angle. A second rocket then fired that drove the bomb through the runway and within six seconds the explosives detonated, creating a larger crater than would have been possible with a conventional bomb. Israeli Military Industries (IMI or "Taas", it's Hebrew name) was the lead contractor for the new weapon.

Aircraft carrying the new bombs would target eighteen air bases in Egypt, six bases in Syria, and two bases in Jordan. Once the runways were knocked out, the rest of the strike force could pick off the grounded Arab aircraft with guns and rockets. On 5 June 1967 at 0700 hours, the command went out from the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv "Execute Moked". One-hundred sixty aircraft took off in the first wave. Jordanian radar detected the strike force but assumed that they were US Navy aircraft of the Sixth Fleet which were known to be in the region. At 0745 hours, Egyptian fighter aircraft were finishing up landing after their dawn patrols of the airspace adjoining Israel. Maintenance crews and pilots were in the process of heading to breakfast before the next patrol cycle began and that was when the Israelis struck. As each aircraft delivered the new runway bombs, they swung around and commenced strafing runs against the flight lines of trapped aircraft. While ten percent of the strike force was lost, within six hours the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan were neutralized. As Mordechai Hod, the commander of the Israeli Air Force said before the attacks "A jet aircraft is the deadliest weapon in existence- in the sky. On the ground, it is useless."

Operation Moked was a hugely successful gamble. The Israelis committed nearly all of its aircraft to the strikes, leaving only 12 fighters to protect Tel Aviv, something that the IDF commanders didn't fully reveal to the Israeli government.

Durandal test round dropped by a Mirage III
The runway cratering bomb was further developed starting in 1971 by the French weapons firm MATRA as the Durandal, named for a mythical French sword. The Durandal differed from the 1967 anti-runway munition in that after release, a braking parachute was used to stabilize the bomb instead of a braking rocket. There is a oft-repeated misconception that Durandal was used in Operation Moked, but that would have been nearly ten years before Durandal was available. Rather, the 1967 weapon was a distinct program that led to the current Durandal weapon. The Durandal was put into production for the French in 1977 and in 1982, it was evaluated by the United States Air Force for use by the General Dynamics F-111. It would subsequently be cleared as well for the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle and received the designation BLU-107 and was used to great effect during Operation Desert Storm. The Durandal was designed for a shelf life of 11 years and if was carried on three sorties and not used, it was withdrawn from use. As such, the BLU-107 Durandal is no longer in use by the USAF.

Further reading:

Operation Drugstore: The 1982 Air Battles Over the Bekaa Valley
Foxbats Over the Sinai
Selling the Skyhawk to Israel and a Watershed Change in American Foreign Policy
Birth of the Lion: The Development of the IAI Kfir

Source: Air Combat Reader: Historic Feats and Aviation Legends, edited by Walter Boyne and Philip Handleman. Brassey's, 1999, p235-245.

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