In this article, we will share with you the details of the 1981 Muñiz Air National Guard Base attack in which eight USAF A-7 attack jets were destroyed.
On January 12, 1981, 40 years ago, 11 commandos from a Puerto Rican separatist organization broke through the perimeter fence at Muñiz Air National Guard Base on the island, armed with explosives.
Their targets were aircraft from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. What followed was not only the most destructive single attack on U.S. military forces since the Vietnam War up to that date but also the most significant material loss from any single act of terrorism against the U.S. Air Force anywhere in the world.
Eleven saboteurs, disguised in military uniforms, penetrated the security fence and infiltrated the A-7 parking ramp through a hole cut in the perimeter chain link fence.
Investigators believe that some, if not all, arrived near the ramp in a boat guided along a nearby channel. The operation occurred during a shift change of the base security, which was provided by both contracted civilian guards and uniformed Air National Guard Security Forces.
The perpetrators exited the area the same way they came in, using the entry point as the exit point. Choosing to strike at shift change indicates the possibility of prior surveillance or insider information. The commandos placed approximately 25 explosive devices on the aircraft.
The planes were destroyed using individual satchels containing four sticks of Iremite (an emulsion explosive) with detonators and incendiary charges. They were time-delayed using a simple watch and battery combination.
The explosives were stolen from a Puerto Rican explosives factory, with the theft traced back to the Boricua Popular Army. The AFOSI (the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations) called the explosives “sophisticated”.
It was estimated that the entire operation took less than eight minutes to complete. Officials expressed concern as to how a group of semiskilled intruders was able to inflict severe damage to mission capability.
The attack caused approximately $45,000,000 in damages to ten A-7D aircraft and a single F-104.
Destroyed aircraft were A-7D AF Serial Numbers 72-0189; 72-0219; 72-0221; 72-0222; 73-0994; 73-1050; 74-1748, and 74-1755. The sole F-104C, of a Mission Design Series previously flown by the PRANG, was a non-flyable aircraft destined to be a permanent memorial static display.
This was the first peacetime incident in which USAF aircraft were destroyed by a domestic act, and the first time separatists had attacked a USAF installation on US soil. It was the greatest material loss from any single attack perpetrated against the USAF anywhere in the world.
The National Guard Bureau (NGB) was aware of the shortfalls in security at Muñiz ANG Base, and of the threat, yet corrective actions had not been implemented at the time.
The bombings resulted in the implementation of more strict security protocols and systems around the perimeter of the base. It was also determined that an increase in security personnel was in order raising the number to 22 guards, up from 11, funded entirely by the federal government, as well as electric devices added to the fence.