Here is why The A-10 Is not A Real Tank Killer, It’s forgotten F-111 AARDVARK. If I asked you to name the greatest tank killer of the Gulf War, you’d probably guess the A-10, and you’d be wrong.
No, the largest number of armored vehicle kills in that conflict belongs to the much-maligned F-111. The plane the Navy didn’t want and the Air Force didn’t even bother to give an official nickname to until they retired it.
Initial combat tests in Vietnam in 1968 resulted in the loss of three (out of six) aircraft due to a fault in the horizontal stabilizer. Not a very auspicious start to an already troubled aircraft.
The F-111 returned to Vietnam in 1972 and was highly successful, with only six combat losses for 4,000 sorties flown. It had two big things going for it. It carried enough gas to not need tanker support and it didn’t need standoff ECM (Electronic Countermeasure) support.
Related Link: F-111 Aardvark Night Dump and Burn videos
Legend has it the Vietnamese called it “whispering death”. I tend to take these stories with a large grain of salt. I’d guess it was something more like “F*ck you Yankees! Stop bombing us!”
The F-111’s crowning moment was Desert Storm. Sixty-six F models plus eighteen E models were deployed for the conflict. Most of them were based in Incirlik Turkey. At least some of the EF-111s were based in Taif in Saudi Arabia.
Their initial sorties were planned for low altitudes. Their initial strikes were made from 200 feet. At some point, they switched to medium altitude, once the Iraqi defenses had been marginalized.
The only F-111 loss I know of was an EF-111 that ran into the ground during evasive maneuvering.
Reportedly two F-111s took hits from AA-7 missiles (similar to our AIM-7 Sparrow) fired by MiG-23s yet made it back to base. Another one took a hit from an AA-8 fired by a MiG-29 and also made it back. It makes sense to me that an aircraft of that size could probably take a fair bit of damage.
The only recorded air-to-air “kill” by an F-111 was an Iraqi Mirage F-1 that ran into the dirt trying to intercept an EF-111 that was maneuvering down low at night. Self-critiquing.
Initially, the F-111s were targeted against Iraqi airfields air defenses, and other high-value targets. The EF-111 “Spark Varks” usually accompanied strike packages against more heavily defended targets. When I went to Baghdad to hit the SCUD missile factory, we had EF-111s as part of the package.
Later in the war, the F-111s were used for “tank plinking”. Using their Pave Tack targeting pods plus laser-guided bombs, they took out over 1,500 Iraqi armored vehicles. The US Navy did the same thing with their A-6 Intruders.
Attacking from medium altitude made sense here. With the larger radar-guided SAMs mostly suppressed, this kept you away from all those nasty tracked vehicles like the ZSU-23 and SA-13 that tend to travel around with tanks. Even the A-10s preferred to stand off with Maverick missiles when they could.
Overall the F-111 force flew around 5,000 sorties in Desert Storm.
The USAF started phasing out the F-111 fleet starting around 1993. They retired the last one in 1996. The reasoning was that the F-111 required a lot of maintenance and the job could be done by other aircraft. The F-15E Strike Eagle didn’t have the range of the F-111, but the B-1B could tackle whatever targets the Strike Eagles couldn’t reach.