SkyKnight Presents: IAF-Part 9: “Operation Opera”

Col Jaber, head of Iraqi Western Air Defense is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as he cannot believe what he is seeing. Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad. They bank hard right, slicing white tendrils of vapor in the sky. One at a time they light their afterburners. The crack of jet thunder has people all over Baghdad glancing up, as the jets instantly vault upward on tails of orange fire. Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.


 June 7 1981

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 8,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding afternoon light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes.

And then they are gone.

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that would ultimately repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, and the RAF’s dam buster attack.

The Combat Debut of the F-16

“Operation Opera” was the spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon only a year after Operation Opera in 1982. Israel’s interest in the F-16 was born after the Yom Kippur War when the IAF realized that they needed a new, advanced, relatively cheap, multirole jet. In one of the greatest ironies in history, the 1979 Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the shah of Iran, a staunch U.S. ally, leading the U.S. to cancel a massive deal to supply Iran with 75 top-of-the-line F-16 fighter jets. The Americans then offered them to Israel. Negotiations to acquire the F-16s was finalized that same year after the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The first F-16s were delivered to the IAF less than a year before the operation, and assigned to the new IAF 110th squadron formed at Ramat David Air Base.

The Operation

Saddam Hussein’s boasts of developing a nuclear weapons program led to Israeli fears that the newly constructed, French-built Osirak reactor could have the capabilities to produce weapons-grade material. The operation was aimed at destroying this reactor, called Tammuz-1 by Iraq, and located at the Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, 12 miles outside of Baghdad. To avoid spreading radioactive contamination, the attack was executed before the reactor could be fueled and brought online. As the Israelis still lacked an aerial refueling capability, the operation would test the limits of the F-16’s endurance out-of-the-gate. To reach Baghdad, the aircraft would have to fly more than 900 miles through the skies of three enemy nations at altitudes between 150 and 300ft. 

The F-16’s superb computerized bomb sighting system supported the decision to conduct the attack with conventional gravity bombs. The strike force would consist of eight F-16s, each carrying two Mk 84 2,000-pound bombs, with F-15s flying air cover for them. The F-16s and F-15s did not follow a straight line to the target. Their dogleg course was plotted to best avoid detection by Jordanian radar to the north and the Saudi E-3 AWACS operating to the south. The mission was planned to arrive shortly before sunset, with the sun at their backs complicating any attempt to engage them by ground based AAA.

The strike force had been briefed to expect challenge from Iraqi air defenses. So fifty miles out, the F-15 escorts broke away and climbed to 25,000 feet to fly patrol and provide air cover. The F-16s lit their afterburners at about 12 miles from the nuclear plant, climbed to 8,000 ft, rolled over and then dived, releasing their Mk. 84s at 3,500 ft. The weapons were delivered on target by two waves of four F-16’s each. On their way home, the Netz’s climbed to 30,000 ft to save fuel and overflew the hostile country, Jordan, which didn’t show any opposition against them.

Several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike… how the Israelis managed to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected, in broad daylight… and how they completed the raid without aerial refueling.

Just as it was for the IAF back in June of 1981, the Black Knights will fly the F-16 for the first time in a combat mission,  recreating “Operation Opera”.  The mission profile is a conventional low-level interdiction air strike.  Pilots should prepare for this unique mission by performing the following prior to Monday:

  • Map controls for the F-16C
  • Run through the Training Missions “Up-front Controls Introduction” and “SMS Page and CCIP with Unguided Bombs”
  • Load a Instant Action mission with the F-16 ready on the ramp to practice low-level flying with a loadout of 2 x Mk 84 and 3 x Ext Fuel Tanks
  • Practice jettisoning the ext fuel tanks
  • Practice lighting the afterburner, then popping up from low level and climbing to 8 or 9,000ft, rolling over into a dive, placing your CCIP pipper on a target, and then pickling off BOTH bombs. The F-16 bombsight should prove quite accurate.




  • SA-2
  • SA-3
  • SA-6
  • SA-8 @ Al Tuwaitha
  • ZSU-23mm
  • ZSU-57mm
  • 85mm Flak
  • EWR installations
  • Saudi E-3 AWACS
  • Iraqi Air Force
  • Royal Jordanian Air Force

Timing our attack for shift change at Western Air Defense sector Baghdad 

It’s a Sunday, so less activity at Al Tuwaitha

Ruhay Air Base located 3nm to South

Flight Plan devised to avoid Iraqi Army and Air Defense installations wherever possible

Civilian casualties must be kept to a minimum if we are to avoid international condemnation.

Netz FLT (F-16)

  • 8 F-16 Pilots Required.  More than 8 are welcome.
  • Tasking: Conduct low-level interdiction air strike on Osirak, the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Al Tuwaitha complex outside Baghdad.
  • Armament: 2 x Mk84; 2 x AIM-9, 3 x Ext Fuel


Baz FLT (F-15)

  • NPC (I would prefer this flight be AI, but contact me if you are unable to fly an F-16)
  • Tasking: Escort Netz Flight and provide CAP over target
  • Armament: 4 x AIM-9; 4 x AIM-7; 3 x Ext Fuel


Daya FLT (E-2C)

  • NPC
  • Callsign “Daya”
  • Tasking: Airborne CCC


Enter your Callsign and confirm your availability for this mission by selecting either

(Flying) or (Grounded)


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