Ultimate Bomb-Truck: Vought's A-7 Corsair II

Vought's A-7 is one of the world's most cost/effective and capable attack aircraft ever flown. Although derived from Vought's legendary F-8 Crusader, the A-7 is a completely different aircraft. Limiting speed to below Mach 1 and eliminating other features of the F-8 dramatically reduced structural weight and cost, allowing the A-7 to carry three times the Crusader's weapon load and deliver it extremely efficiently and with unprecedented accuracy. The A-7 has seen service in numerous conflicts and performed very well in the attack role - in US service in Vietnam it achieved one of the lowest aircraft loss rates. Today A-7s are still in service with two countries.

An A-7 Corsair II participating in the joint exercise Bright Star 1983. (DoD) An Attack Squadron 72 (VA-72) A-7E heads for its target in Iraq with a load of eight Mark 82 500-pound bombs during Operation Desert Storm. Photo taken on 26 February 1991 by Commander Leenhouts. (DoD) A Vought A-7D Corsair II of the 137th Tactical Fighter Wing during Exercise Amalgam Brave '87, an air defense training exercise. The aircraft is armed with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage pylon and an ANALQ-131 pod on the wing. (DoD)

History
The Aircraft
Variants
A-7D
A-7E
YA-7E
TA-7C
A-7K
YA-7F
Exports
A-7s in Service
Grenada
Lebanon
Libya
Panama
The Persian Gulf Tanker War
Desert Storm
Retirement
 

History

The A-7 went through a very quick development programme before entering production and service. The conception of the A-7 began in 1962 when the United States Navy (USN) began looking for a new single seat close support aircraft that could carry a very heavy weapon load over a long range. On 17 May 1963 the Navy announced the VA(L) competition (standing for Navy Attack Bomber, Light, or Light Attack Aircraft) for an aircraft to replace the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Its mission was to carry as much as 6 800 kg (15 000 lb) of conventional weaponry at long ranges and be very cost-effective. This was to be achieved by modifying an existing airframe and limiting performance to subsonic speeds. The aircraft would also have to be in service by no later than 1967.

Towards the end of June 1963, a Request For Proposals (RFP) was sent out to the aviation industry with just four competitors responding. These were Douglas with its proposed TF-30 turbofan-powered and enlarged A-4D-6 Skyhawk, Grumman with its single-seat A-6 Intruder (Model 128G-12), North American Aviation with a TF-30-powered version of the AF-1E Fury and Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV, into which Vought had merged in 1961) with the Model V-463, a modified version of the Crusader.

On 11 February 1964 the USN named LTV the winner of the competition as the A-7 would be available soonest and would be the cheapest since it used a tried and tested airframe and engine. LTV was contracted to develop and build one prototype, six flight test machines and 35 production aircraft under the designation A-7A. Another 140 aircraft were ordered on 10 November 1965.

Wary from previous experiences with contractors incurring huge cost escalations and delays in aircraft development, the Navy imposed strict penalties on any conditions that could not be met. As a result, the contract was the only true fixed-price contract ever issued for a major weapon system. Each A-7A cost a little over one million dollars, which was an impressive bargain even in the 1960s.

Some of the penalties that might be paid to the Navy if the targets were not met were $50 000 per day per aircraft for each day inspection trials were delayed, $750 000 if the weight target was missed and another $750 000 if the maintenance requirements were not met. The only requirement LTV missed was the weight limit, by 270 kg (600 lb). LTV had to pay the fine, but the design team, headed by Sol Love, decided that the extra weight was essential in order to strengthen the wing, allowing the A-7 to carry more weaponry. This turned out to be cheaper in the long run as later modifications to the wing were not needed.

Progress with the project was very rapid, with the first YA-7A prototype being rolled out of the factory on 13 August 1965. It made its maiden flight on 27 September 1965, flown by LTV test pilot John Konrad. It was christened Corsair II on 10 November 1965 in honour of Vought's famous World War II piston engine fighter. By mid-1966 the other six aircraft were flying.

Two A-7 Corsairs in 1991. (DoD)

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The Aircraft

As it did not need to fly at supersonic speeds, the A-7 had a different wing to the F-8 and was powered by a more efficient turbofan without afterburner, making the airframe shorter. The area-ruling of the F-8 was eliminated and the fuselage was made larger and fatter. By decreasing structural strength for subsonic flight, much weight was saved. The F-8's variable wing incidence mechanism was eliminated, saving even more weight weight. Of all-metal semi-monocoque construction, the A-7's airframe was a multi-spar structure with integrally stiffened aluminium alloy upper and lower skins.

The high-mounted wing, with an anhedral of five degrees, had an outer leading edge dogtooth extension, (similar to the F-8's) but less swept back, with a sweep of only 35 degrees at quarter chord. The outer wing section folded upward for carrier stowage, the hinge being located at the edge of the dogtooth. Flying controls consisted of full-span leading edge flaps, large single-slotted trailing edge flaps on the inner wing trailing edge, conventional aluminium ailerons on the outer wing trailing edge and spoilers above each wing forward of the trailing edge flap hinges. The vertical tail, with integral rudder, was very large and was swept back 44.3 degrees at quarter-chord. Both tailplanes were one-piece all-moving units and were swept back 45 degrees and had a dihedral angle of five degrees.

There were eight external stores stations on the A-7, capable of carrying an impressive load of more than 6 805 kg (15 000 lb), but the A-7 had also proved able to carry 9 070 kg (20 000 lb) of ordnance. There were two stations on the fuselage sides just ahead of the wing leading edge, each capable of carrying 227 kg (500 lb), including AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (AAM). There were six stations on the wings; two outboard pylons on each wing that could each carry 1 587 kg (3 500 lb) and the inboard pylon on each wing could carry 1 134 kg (2 500 lb). Virtually every single type of weapon in the Navy's armoury could be carried by the A-7A. Weapons included air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, (including anti-tank and anti-radar missiles), electro-optical and laser guided weapons, general purpose ('iron') bombs, bomblet dispensers, rockets, gun pods and fuel tanks. The A-7A also had fixed weaponry - a pair of 20 mm Colt Mk 12 cannon with 600 rounds per gun. One gun was mounted on each side of the chin-mounted air intake.

In order to improve efficiency and range, a new engine was needed in place of the F-8's afterburning turbojet. The chosen engine for the A-7A was the non-afterburning Pratt & Whitney (P&W) TF30-P-6 turbofan delivering 5 148 kg (11 350 lb) of thrust. As the new engine required a larger mass flow of air, the intake was enlarged and made blunt. Fuel was carried in the wings and fuselage, giving a maximum internal capacity of 5 678 litres (1 249 gallons), with a weight of around 4 620 kg (10 200 lb). In addition, 4 542 litres (999 gallons) of fuel could be carried externally, and the A-7A could be refuelled in midair by a retractable in flight refuelling probe mounted on the starboard side of the fuselage adjacent to the cockpit.

Landing gear was a hydraulically retractable tricycle type with a single wheel on each main unit and two wheels on the nose unit. The mainwheels retracted forward into the fuselage while the nose unit retracted rearwards. An anti-skid braking system was fitted to the landing gear. A nose gear launch bar was fitted for carrier catapault launching and a sting-type arrestor hook under the rear fuselage was used for carrier landings, emergency landings or aborted takeoffs. A large door-type speed brake was mounted under the centre of the fuselage, with the hinge attached towards the front of the fuselage. It could be extended downward to a maximum of 60°.

The A-7A was equipped with an AN/APN-153 Doppler radar, AN/APQ-116 attitude reference set, an AN/APN-141 radar altimeter and AN/ASN-41 air navigation computer.

Deliveries of the A-7A proceeded rapidly, with the first aircraft being delivered only 12 months after the Corsair II's first flight and well before the 1967 deadline. Two fleet readiness squadrons (VA-174 and VA-122) received their first A-7As in September and October 1996 respectively. Initial carrier qualifications had been performed by 15 November 1966 aboard the USS America and the first operational A-7A squadron, VA-147, was commissioned on the first of February 1967. Although beating the deadline by several months, the A-7 was not yet cleared for combat. After satisfactorily completing testing on the first of June 1967, the first combat-ready A-7As were delivered to VA-147 in the last quarter of 1967.

In service the A-7A performed very well. Compared to the A-4 Skyhawk, it was much more likely to survive combat damage as it had duplicated hydraulics systems and the pilot's McDonnell Douglas Escapac rocket-powered ejection seat was protected with boron carbide cockpit armour. Compared to the A-4 the A-7 was also much easier to maintain. Maintenance man-hours per flight hour (MMH/FH) were an impressive nine to 11 hours when the norm was around 40 to 50 man-hours per flight hour. The A-7 also had a considerably longer range than the A-4, allowing it to fly missions the smaller A-4 could not. However, there were problems with steam ingestion into the air intake during catapult launching which caused a loss of thrust, and the CP-781 weapons release system was not very reliable. The steam problem was solved by modifying the 12th engine compressor stage, but the CP-781 problem was more difficult to solve.

Two A-7 Corsairs assigned to Llight Attack Squadron 72 (VA-72) on the carrier USS America, as seen on 6 May 1982. (USN/W M Welch)

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Variants

A total of 199 A-7As were built before production switched to the A-7B model with a variety of minor improvements. The aircraft was fitted with an upgraded TF30-P-8 engine rated at 5 530 kg (12 200 lb) of thrust, giving an 8% improvement in performance over the A-7A. A-7Bs also had improved flaps, were 593 kg (1 308 lb) heavier than the A-7A and had upgraded TACAN systems and radar altimeters. The A-7B first flew on 6 February 1968 with test pilot Joe Engle at the controls. A total of 196 A-7Bs were manufactured in just one batch in FY (Fiscal Year or Financial Year) 1967. The fist operational A-7Bs went to VA-146 and VA-125 in late 1968. They deployed on the USS Enterprise on 6 January 1969, bound for Vietnam.

The A-7C designation was originally reserved for a proposed two-seat training version of the A-7B, but it never materialized - the TA-4J Skyhawk was ordered instead. But the A-7C designation was applied. The Corsair II performed so well that in 1966 the United States Air Force (USAF) ordered the A-7D powered by an Allison TF41-A-1 turbofan. The Navy also liked the idea of the upgraded Air Force variant and decided to buy it as well, under the designation A-7E. However, delays in producing the new engine for the A-7E resulted in the first 67 A-7Es ordered being delivered with TF30-P-8 engines and getting the designation A-7C after delivery. These aircraft also had the improvements of the A-7E, including a head-up display, new avionics and an M61 rotary cannon. However, they also had A-7B features such as dual instead of triple hydraulic systems and Escapac IG ejection seats.

On 25 November 1968 the first A-7C made its maiden flight, piloted by Robert Rostine. Deliveries began in July 1969 to the training squadron VA-122 at NAS Lemoore, California. Only two operational squadrons received the A-7C and these were VA-82 and VA-86. All A-7Cs were later converted to A-7E standard, but retained the A-7C designation.

Two A-7Es from Attack Squadron 46 off the coast of Virginia on 10 November 1987. They are armed with AGM-88A HARMs. (USN/LCDR John Leenhouts)

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A-7D

Although the US Army was not allowed to operate fixed-wing combat aircraft, it required close air support for its troops on the battlefield, especially with the United States' increasing involvement in Vietnam. The Army wanted a single-purpose, specialized and effective subsonic attack aircraft that would be many times more cost-effective than the high-performance fighter-bombers equipped to drop bombs which the USAF preferred. They wanted a replacement for the ageing North American F-100 Super Sabre with a much better payload. A quick and inexpensive way to achieve this was to buy the A-7, and so on 5 November 1965 the USAF announced a decision to order the Corsair II for the Tactical Air Command (TAC) arm of the Air Force with Congress approving the funds in 1966. Two YA-7D prototypes were built, with TF30-P-6 engines, the first making its maiden flight on 6 April 1968. Both aircraft were later retrofitted with TF41-A-1 engines.

As the Air Force began issuing requirements for their version of the Corsair II, it became obvious that a new designation was needed to reflect the 20-plus changes made to the airframe. The designation A-7D was thus assigned. Most significant among the new changes was the fitting of a new, more powerful engine. More thrust was wanted for the A-7D, but the TF-30 couldn't deliver. As an afterburning variant of the TF-30 would take too long to develop, the Air Force selected the British Rolls-Royce RB162-256 Spey turbofan instead. It was licence-built in the US by Allison as the TF41-A-1 and developed 6 460 kg (14 250 lb) of thrust, which was 1 300 kg (2 900 lb) more than the TF30. A-7Ds also had a revised avionics suite and their two Mk 12 cannons deleted. These were replaced by a M61A-1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel cannon firing at a selectable rate of 4 000 or 6 000 rounds per minute with a maximum rate of fire of 6 600 rounds per minute. It was mounted in the port side of the fuselage and provided with 1 000 rounds of ammunition. A KB-18A strike camera in the lower forward fuselage engine compartment was used for strike damage assessment.

Avionics were radically upgraded, the main changes going into the sophisticated new navigation and weapon delivery system that allowed all-weather operation. The AN/ASN-91 navigation/weapon delivery computer was the primary element of the system and continuously computed weapons delivery and navigation data for greatly increased weapons delivery accuracy. An AN/ASN-90 inertial measurement set provided basic three-axis navigation and an AN/APN-190 Doppler radar measured speed and drift angle. The new AN/APG-126 forward-looking radar provided nine modes of operation for air-to-ground ranging, terrain-following, terrain-avoidance, ground mapping, and other functions. An AN/AVQ-7 head-up display received and displayed computed attack, navigation and landing data from the tactical computer, and a projected map display showed navigation data.

The pilot's accommodation was modified, with the McDonnell Douglas Escapac IC ejection seat adapted to utilise the USAF survival kit and restraint system and low-pressure oxygen system. A few other changes were made, including higher energy-rated wheels, tyres and brakes, and the fitting of a boom receptacle in place of the probe. This receptacle, mounted on the top of the fuselage behind the cockpit and offset to port, was only introduced from the 17th production aircraft onwards.

The first five A-7Ds built were delivered to the USAF for testing purposes and given the temporary designation YA-7D. Unusually, these retained the in-flight refuelling probe. The first production aircraft was delivered on 23 December 1968 and the first delivery to the Tactical Air Command was in August 1969.

A total of 459 A-7Ds were built between FY1967 and FY1975, each with a unit cost of $2 860 000. The first aircraft entered service in 1970 with the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) and 354th Tactical Fighter Wing at Myrtle Beach AFB in South Carolina.

In 1973 the USAF began sending A-7Ds to the Air National Guard (ANG), and by 1987 they were being flown by ANG units in ten states in the US as well as in Puerto Rico, eventually equipping a total of 14 ANG squadrons. Many of these ANG machines were new from the factory. They were later upgraded with Pave Penny laser target seeker pods, which were mounted just below the engine air intake. Another upgrade was the addition of manoeuvring flaps in 1976 to increase agility at low level and low speeds.

In 1988 40 A-7Ds and eight A-7Ks were upgraded with the Low Altitude Night Attack (LANA) system which allowed automatic low-altitude flight at night. These aircraft received a forward-looking infrared system, wide-angle head-up display, CP-1117/A mission computer, night vision cockpit lighting, an improved autopilot and a programmable NavWeap Computer.

During the early 1980s most A-7Ds were replaced by A-10s in USAF front-line service, but remained in ANG service for a while longer before being retired in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By 1993 all had been retired.

An A-7D from the Arizona National Guard, with two other A-7s in the backgrond. The aircraft can be seen testing a new camouflage paint scheme on 19 September 1981. (Garfield F Jones)

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A-7E

The US Navy observed the Air Force's progress with the A-7D and was impressed by the new aircraft, especially by the increased power offered by the Spey engine. The Navy then decided to use this engine for its own variant of the Corsair II, which would succeed the A-7A in production. It was designated A-7E and had virtually all the modifications of the A-7D, except a more powerful engine and retractable in-flight refuelling probe. The upgraded engine was the TF41-A-2 developing 6 800 kg (15 000 lb) of thrust. However, because of delays in delivering this uprated engine, the first 67 were delivered with the TF30-P-5 engine and designated A-7C (see details above).

The first Spey-powered A-7E made its maiden flight on 9 March 1969 and between FY1968 and FY1979 a total of 529 A-7Es (not including A-7Cs) were built. A total of 22 Navy squadrons were equipped with the type. To ensure continued effectiveness, a number of A-7Es were upgraded with improved avionics. 222 aircraft were equipped to carry the Texas Instruments AN/AAR-45 forward-looking infrared (FLIR) pod on the inboard starboard stores pylon for night and bad-weather operations. The pod was also linked to a new Marconi raster-type head-up display for improved night attack capability. On 15 September 1978 the first FLIR-modified aircraft took off on its maiden flight and in July 1979 VA-81 became the first squadron to receive the upgraded aircraft.

The A-7E began to be replaced by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornets in 1987 with the last two squadrons transitioning to the Hornet in FY1992. By replacing the A-7s with Hornets allowed the same aircraft to carry out both attack and fighter missions and also allowed a smaller number of aircraft (85) to equip a carrier air wing instead of the 94 required for an A-7E wing.

Three A-7Es from Attack Squadron 72 fly over the USS Dwight D Eisenhower cruising in the Mediterranean on 1 August 1988. (USN/PH3 Houser)

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YA-7E

In early 1972 Vought decided to develop a privately funded two-seat trainer version of the Corsair II that would be offered to the Navy. The first TF-41-powered A-7E was transferred to LTV from the US Navy and modified as the V-519 two-seat combat trainer demonstrator. It first flew on 19 August 1972, piloted by John Konrad. It was initially designated YA-7H with the expectation that a production version would be designated A-7H, but this designation had been reserved for Greece's A-7Hs (the H standing for Hellenic). The two-seater was then re-designated YA-7E.

The fully combat capable YA-7 prototype featured two seats in tandem with the student in front and the instructor in the rear, both under a clamshell canopy. To accommodate the extra seat, the aircraft was stretched 86 cm (34 in) forward of the wing. The instructor's seat was raised over that of the pupil's to give the instructor a better view, which resulted in a humpbacked appearance to the airframe. Vought later used the YA-7E prototype as a demonstrator to test various Corsair II modifications and systems. After 13 years of service, it was put up for sale as scrap, but was bought by an ex-military pilot turned businessman and rebuilt to airworthy condition.

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TA-7C

The YA-7E demonstrator was successful in that it attracted an order for the trainer variant, designated TA-7C. Vought was awarded a Navy contract to convert 24 A-7Bs and 36 A-7Cs (all powered by TF-30 engines) into the two-seat TA-7C configuration. A contract for the first three was issued in 1975. The first converted aircraft made its maiden flight on 17 December 1976 and was delivered to the Navy on 31 January 1977.

In 1982, eight TA-7Cs were modified as electronic 'aggressor' aircraft and gained the designation EA-7L. They could carry electronic jamming pods and missile simulators on their underwing pylons to simulate Soviet weapons and tactics. They were operated by VAQ-34 at NAS (Naval Air Station) Point Mugu, California.

In 1984 Vought upgraded 49 two-seat Navy aircraft, including the eight EA-7Ls, in order to bring them up to a standard similar to that of the single-seat A-7E. This upgrade consisted of adding the new TF41-A-402 engine and replacing the Escapac seats with Stencel ejector seats and adding manoeuvring flaps. All upgraded aircraft retained their original designations.

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A-7K

The USAF planned to transfer all of it's A-7Ds to the Air National Guard in the 1980s, but unlike the Air Force, the ANG wanted a two-seat combat trainer to keep its pilots up to standard. Negotiations began for such a trainer and in 1979 LTV received a contract to convert an A-7D to the two-seat TA-7D configuration. The aircraft emerged as a fully combat capable A-7D but with two seats in tandem, a one-piece canopy, raised rear seat and an in flight refuelling receptacle on the fuselage centreline. To accommodate the second crew position, the fuselage was lengthened by 46 cm (18 in) in front of the wing and 40.6 cm (16 in) aft of the wing.

Flying controls on the A-7K, as it was later designated, were slightly altered with the aircraft having automatic manoeuvring flaps added. These improved low-speed handling and gave greater stability at all speeds. In addition, a dual-channel, three-axis, stick-steering autopilot was provided.

The A-7K could deliver TV-guided missiles and carry Pave Penny laser target seeker pods, which allowed laser-guided weapons to be carried. But even with conventional 'iron' bombs, the bombs fell with an accuracy of under 3 metres (10 ft). Excluding the prototype that was converted from an A-7D, Vought built 30 new A-7Ks. The first flew in October 1980 and the first were delivered to the ANG in April 1981 with production spanning from FY79 to FY81. In 1993 the A-7K fleet was retired and sent to AMARC.

The prototype YA-7K (SN 73-1008) of the Arizona Air National Guard in flight. (USAF)

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YA-7F

In June 1985 the USAF issued a Request For Information (RFI) for the study of a Close Air Support/Battlefield Interdiction (CAS/BAI) aircraft. The Army and Air Force were at odds over the issue of CAS for infantry troops. The Army wanted the Air Force to deploy the Fairchild A-10 CAS aircraft, but the USAF was reluctant as it was, in their view, too slow and vulnerable and they preferred a supersonic aircraft. The Request For Information was intended to look at potential replacements for the A-10. In response, LTV proposed an upgraded and supersonic version of the A-7, able to reach about Mach 1.2. The new aircraft was originally called the A-7 Strikefighter, but was later renamed A-7F "A-7 Plus".

Following a very successful marketing campaign, the USAF accepted the new aircraft, and on 7 May 1987 awarded LTV a contract to modify a pair of A-7Ds to YA-7F standard. This new aircraft was to be powered by a General Electric F110 engine or an afterburning Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 engine developing 11 790 kg (26 000 lb) of thrust. In the end the F100 was installed. In order to accommodate the new engine, the fuselage was redesigned and lengthened. It had a 75 cm (29.5 inch) extension ahead of and a 46 cm (18 inch) extension behind the wings and the rear section of the fuselage was angled up by three degrees to maintain ground clearance.

The YA-7F had a number of aerodynamic changes, including a roughly 25 cm (10 in) taller fin and rudder. The wing was strengthened and fitted with automatic manoeuvring flaps, augmented flaps and wing leading-edge root extensions. An enhanced cockpit was added, equipped with hands-on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls and a head-up display. Other new equipment, amongst other things, consisted of a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system, a 60-KVA electrical generator and an onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS). Armament was to have been a single M61A1 cannon and up to 7 880 kg (17 380 lb) of mixed ordnance carried on eight externals stores stations.

The first YA-7F, converted from an A-7D, made its maiden flight on 29 November 1989, flown by chief LTV test pilot Jim Read. On its second flight it went supersonic. The second YA-7F took off for the first time on 3 April 1990 and, together with the first prototype, completed a successful flight test programme at Edwards Air Force Base. At one stage it was proposed that 396 ANG A-7D/Ks and 96 USN A-7Es be upgraded to A-7F standard, but when A-7s were withdrawn from the Navy and ANG in the early 1990s, the project was cancelled and no further A-7Fs were built. Instead, the Air Force decided to use F-16s for CAS/ground attack missions. It is quite ironic that the YA-7F looked like and would perform like the original F-8 from which the A-7 had been derived - it seems that the airframe was going around in a development circle, from F-8 to A-7 to F-8 again!

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Exports

The Corsair II's first foreign sale was to Greece, when the Elliniki Polimiki Aeroporia (Hellenic, or Greek Air Force) ordered 60 new A-7Hs (the H standing for Hellenic). These aircraft are basically equivalent to A-7E standard, except that they lack means of refuelling in flight and may be equipped with AIM-9L Sidewinders. In addition, their engines have a self-start capability which is achieved by a battery-powered electric motor that actuates a small gas turbine engine that in turn starts the engine through its gearbox.

The first A-7H flew on 6 May 1975 with deliveries to Greece following on for another two years during which the Corsair IIs replaced Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks in service. The first Greek Corsair IIs were delivered to 115 Pterix Mahis (Wing) based at Souda Bay in Crete where they are operated by two squadrons, 340 and 345 Mire Kiesos. (345 Mira is the A-7 conversion unit.) In July 1992, A-7s were also issued to 347 Mira Dioseos based at Larissa as part of 110 Pterix. 347 Mira later moved to Souda Bay in July 1993 and then to Araxos.

The Greek government observed the development of the two-seat TA-7C in the US and decided to buy it. An order was then placed for five two-seater trainers, designated TA-7H. These are similar to the A-7K, but lack the ability to refuel in flight. Deliveries of these aircraft, built in FY1978, took place between July and December 1980.

Corsair IIs were extremely popular in Greek service, as evidenced by the fact that they are still in service today. In the early 1990s the Greek air force decided to buy even more A-7s and so 36 surplus USN A-7Es and TA-7Cs were transferred to Greece. They were issued to 116 Pterix Mahis based at Araxos, where they equipped 335 Mira and 336 Mira. The A-7s replaced F-104G Starfighters, which had already been withdrawn from service and placed in storage.

The Forca Aerea Portuguesa (Portuguese Air Force) was looking to buy more effective combat aircraft in late 1970s, but was strapped for cash. It overcame this problem by buying 20 second-hand A-7As formerly used by the US Navy, which it got at a very good bargain. In May 1980 Vought received a contract to refurbish 20 spare airframes sitting in storage at the Aircraft Maintenance And Regeneration Centre (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. The aircraft were upgraded with A-7E standard avionics and gained the new designation A-7P (the P for Portuguesa). Although they retained TF30 engines, they were to the more powerful TF30-P408 standard. However, they also retained the two 20 mm Mk 12 cannon of the A-7A.

Deliveries of the 20 aircraft, including three spare airframes, began in December 1981. They were issued to Escuadra (squadron) 302 and 304 based at Monte Real, where they replaced North American F-86 Sabres. To provide training, a single TA-7C was loaned to the Portuguese Air Force for three years. A second batch of A-7Ps was ordered in May 1983, consisting of 24 more A-7Ps and six new TA-7P trainers. Deliveries to the newly established 303 Escuadra began in October 1984 with the TA-7Ps following in May 1985. All aircraft were delivered by May 1986. A further 20 non-flyable ex-US Navy A-7As were also provided as spare parts sources.

In Portuguese Air Force service the Corsair IIs served in the strike and interceptor role, in which they carried AIM-9P Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Corsair IIs were also equipped for maritime and defensive air support missions where they were equipped to carry AGM-65A Maverick air-to-surface missiles. They were also provided with radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers and AN/ALQ-131 jamming pods.

In the early 1990s Portugal ordered 20 Lockheed Martin F-16s (17 F-16As and 3 F-16Bs, the first of which was delivered in July 1994. With the introduction of the much more capable F-16, the Portuguese A-7s were all retired.

Thailand became the third export customer for the Corsair II when the Royal Thai Naval Air Division ordered 14 A-7Es and four TA-7Cs for coastal defence and sea patrol duties. These Corsair IIs were surplus aircraft and were subjected to inspection and substantial repairs at the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida, before delivery to Thailand in 1995. They equip 104 Squadron of 1 Wing at U-Tapao, which was formerly a Vietnam-era Boeing B-52 base and is now a Royal Thai Navy Station. Two extra A-7Es were acquired as spare parts sources. The Thai Corsair IIs were the Royal Thai Navy's first combat jets, and, although the Navy does have a carrier which operates two squadrons of ex-Spanish BAE Systems AV-8S Harriers, the A-7Es are strictly land-based. On paper these aircraft are still in service but are not operational, although with a little maintenanc Thailand could easily get them back in the air.

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A-7s in Service

By the time the A-7 was retired it had seen an enormous amount of combat, especially in Vietnam. The aircraft's first combat action came only two years and three months after the Corsair II's first flight - an achievement that puts most other aircraft manufacturers to shame! The first operational A-7A fleet squadron was VA-147, which was commissioned on 1 February 1967 and embarked on its first combat cruise aboard the USS Ranger on 4 November 1967. A-7As flew their first combat mission in Vietnam on 4 December when they attacked communication lines near Vinh in North Vietnam.

The USS Ranger was diverted to the Sea of Japan in response to the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo, but after tensions between North Korea and the United States cooled off, the ship returned to Vietnam where VA-147's A-7s participated in CAS missions during the Khe Sanh operation. During the Vietnam War, A-7A squadrons made a total of 17 cruises to Southeast Asia. In total, 22 A-7As were lost in combat, of which 13 were lost over Vietnam and nine over Laos. 15 were lost to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), four to surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and three to unidentified causes. Another 20 were lost in various accidents in the Gulf of Tonkin.

A-7Bs were first delivered to VA-146 and VA-125 in late 1968 and deployed aboard the USS Enterprise on 6 January 1969 bound for the Gulf of Tonkin. They entered combat in Vietnam with VA-146 and VA-125 on 4 March 1969. No aircraft were lost in combat, but one was lost in an accident. VA-25 and VA-87 also received A-7Bs and deployed aboard the USS Ticonderoga in March 1969. In total, A-7Bs went through 15 war cruises to the Gulf of Tonkin, with 11 aircraft lost in combat and another 12 due to accidents. AAA claimed seven aircraft, a SAM claimed one and another three were lost to unknown causes. A-7B squadrons made 45 war cruises, the last being in 1977 aboard the USS John F Kennedy. After that they were assigned to Naval reserve units until January 1987 when they began to be retired.

Only two operational squadrons, VA-82 and VA-86, were equipped with the A-7C and they each made only one combat deployment to Vietnam aboard the USS America. Two peacetime deployments were made before these two squadrons converted to A-7Es.

The much more capable A-7E entered service in Southeast Asia in May 1970 with VA-146 and VA-147 aboard the USS America. Most air wings operating A-4 Skyhawks and early A-7 variants were re-equipped with the superior A-7E. A-7Es flew many CAS missions over North and South Vietnam where their very reliable and accurate bombing and navigation systems served them well. Nevertheless, 17 A-7Es were lost in combat. The A-7Es aircraft participated in a number of important operations, including the mining of Haiphong harbour in 1972 and in the Linebacker I and II operations that led to the formal end of the Vietnam War in January 1973.

After the war many Navy squadrons operated the A-7E up to the mid 1980s. However, F/A-18 Hornets slowly replaced A-7Es - transition to the Hornet began in 1987 and the last A-7Es were retired in the mid 1990s. The last A-7Es were withdrawn in November 1994.

The US Air Force first deployed their A-7Ds to Southeast Asia in mid-October and November 1972, when the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) sent 72 A-7Ds to Korat Royal Thai AFB in Thailand under the codename Constant Guard VI. For the next 10 weeks, the 354th TFW's 72 A-7Ds averaged 62 missions per day, amassing a total of 6 568 sorties in 16 819 combat flying hours. By the end of October the A-7D had taken over the close air support mission from the Douglas A-1E Skyraider. A-7Ds flew close air support, search and rescue and bombing missions over North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The aircraft were respected for their long range and endurance, weapons delivery accuracy and ability to fly at varying speeds. Pilots also favoured them for their reliability and low rate of attrition.

In total, A-7Ds flew 12 928 combat sorties including 5 796 strike missions, 542 search and rescue missions and 230 Linebacker II missions. Only four A-7Ds were lost in combat, including two during the Linebacker II operation. The last US air strike over Cambodia was made by an A-7D on 15 August 1973. After the end of the War, most A-7Ds were replaced in the early 1980s by A-10 Thunderbolt IIs in USAF front-line service, but continued to serve with the Air National Guard.

At the end of the war, Navy A-7s had been flown by 20 different squadrons from 10 different aircraft carriers and flew 52 combat deployments. The Navy flew a total of 49 200 combat sorties with A-7As and Cs, logging 208 795 combat flight hours and delivering 186 000 tons of ordnance against the enemy. Navy and Air Force Corsair IIs flew 90 180 sorties and lost only 54 A-7s to enemy action, resulting in one loss for every 1 670 sorties - a remarkable achievement. A-7Es, with their upgraded avionics and engines, achieved a loss rate reduction of almost 25% over that of earlier A-7s and achieved one of the lowest aircraft loss rates in Vietnam. Corsair IIs were popular with their pilots and this factor undoubtedly contributed to it.

An A-7 from the 76th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Wing, drops Mk 82 bombs over the Tyndall Air Force Base range on 1 May 1980. (USAF/Tech Sgt Frank Garzelnick)

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Grenada

The next time the Corsair II saw combat was in 1983 when the United States invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada to depose a Marxist government. On 13 March 1979 the New Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation (New Jewel) movement, headed by Maurice Bishop, ousted Prime Minister Eric M Gairy in an almost bloodless coup. Bishop then began to establish a Marxist-Leninist socialist government and forged close ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union and other communist countries.

When Ronald Reagan became President of the United States in January 1981, he took a strong dislike to Marxist, socialist and communist governments across the world. He disapproved of Prime Minister Bishop and was unable to act against him - but he didn't have to. On 13 October 1983 Bernard Coard, with the backing of the Grenadian Army, seized power in a bloody coup. Bishop was murdered on 19 October, together with a number of cabinet members.

Ronald Reagan was even more alarmed by Coard because he promoted a much more hard-line and brutal version of Marxism. With the backing of a number of nations belonging to the Organisation of East Caribbean States (Jamaica, Barbados and Venezuela), the US invaded Grenada on 25 October 1983 under Operation Urgent Fury.

Reagan justified his actions by saying that US forces found "a complete base of weapons and communication equipment which makes it clear a Cuban occupation of the island had been planned." Grenada was, said Reagan, "a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy, but we got there just in time". Reagan also used the fact that there were a few hundred Americans on the island as a pretext for the invasion. There were close to a thousand American students at St George's Medical College who were claimed to be in jeopardy as a result of the coup.

The invasion consisted of around 1 200 troops who were met with stiff resistance from the Grenadian and Cuban military units on the island. The first combat aircraft over Grenada were four A-7Es from VA-15 and VA-87 flying from the USS Independence. The A-7Es provided close air support for ground troops. As the invasion force grew to 7 000 troops, the defenders soon surrendered. Around 400 Grenadian, 84 Cuban and 135 American casualties were recorded.

During the operation, A-7s flew nearly 300 sorties during which they dropped 40 Mk 82 bombs and 20 Mk 20 Rockeye cluster bombs. The A-7E's 20 mm cannon was also extensively used to give covering fire. Vice Admiral Metcalf, Commander of the 2nd Fleet was quoted as saying "The A-7 provided the turning point in the battle of St George [capital of Grenada], allowing the multinational force to quickly gain the upper hand."

By the end of the year US troops had withdrawn, but US and Caribbean technical and security advisers remained. Grenada was then governed by the Interim Advisory Council until December 1984, when parliamentary elections established Herbert A Blaize, head of the New National Party (NNP), as prime minister. After the invasion Blaize said to the US: "We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

Four A-7Ds from the 178th Tactical Fighter Group of the Ohio Air National Guard, as seen in January 1985. (USAF/TSgt Bill Thompson)

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Lebanon

After the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, the country was plunged into conflict and turmoil. Christian and Arab factions fought each other, Palestinian terrorists fought the Israeli army and Syria fought most of the various factions at one time or another. A Multinational Force (MNF) was deployed to the Lebanese capital Beirut in order to keep the peace, especially between the Israeli Defence Force and the Lebanese population. The MNF was also to help with reconstruction, rebuilding Lebanon's economy and restoring authority. In support of the MNF the United States dispatched 1 400 personnel, Italy 1 400 and France 1 500. In January 1983 Italy sent another 800 personnel and Britain sent 100 men.

On 23 October 1983 a suicide truck bomb exploded outside the US Marine billet at Beirut airport, killing 241 US troops. Seconds later, another vehicle hit the headquarters of the French troops in Beirut, killing 58 personnel. In response, President Reagan decided to launch a retaliatory strike against the Iran-backed Hezbollah (Party of God) and Syrian facilities in Lebanon. The strike was delayed, but when Syrian missiles fired on Grumman F-14 Tomcats, Reagan had a target and a good reason for striking back.

The first time Syrian SAMs fired at the Tomcats was on 10 November 1983. On this day a French Etendard IVP managed to avoid being hit by a SA-7 surface to air missile, but on the same afternoon, two F-14As from VF-143 were fired at while underway over Beirut. However, a more serious event took place on 3 December 1983 involving two F-14As from VF-32 or VA-31, based on the USS John F Kennedy. They were flying a reconnaissance mission over Lebanon, the one Tomcat equipped with a TARPS (Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Podded System) pod. At roughly the same time as they were performing their reconnaissance flight, Israeli F-4E Phantom IIs and Kfirs attacked Syrian SAM sites. Not knowing, or caring, which aircraft belonged to which air force, the Syrians fired at least ten SAMs at the F-14s flying at 1 000 metres (3 500 ft) and over 960 km/h (600 mph). At that altitude and speed they could not be hit, but they were forced to abort their mission after a volley of SA-7s headed their way.

The US Navy saw this incident as another provocation and, having a definite target, decided to retaliate. On 4 December, a group of 28 aircraft was launched from the aircraft carriers USS Independence and USS John F Kennedy. Six A-7Es from VA-15 'Valions' and another six from VA-87 'Golden Warriors' were launched from the Independence. From the USS John F Kennedy three A-6E Intruders from VA-75 and seven Intruders from VA-85 were launched, together with six Intruders from VA-176 aboard the USS Independence.

The formation grouped and headed for the Syrian ammunition depots near Falouga and Hamman, around 16 km (10 miles) north of the Beirut-Damascus highway. As it passed along the coast, Syrian AAA and batteries of SA-7 and SA-9 missiles attacked the formation. The first aircraft hit was A-7E AE305 from VA-15. Covered by his wingman, the pilot ejected over Beirut harbour and was later safely picked up by USN helicopters. A SAM also hit another A-7E from VA-15, but the pilot landed safely on the Independence, although the aircraft was a write-off.

Not so lucky to get away was an A-6E from VA-85, which was shot down by a Syrian SAM. Lt Mark Lange and Lt Robert Goodman, Jr, both ejected from their damaged aircraft, but only Goodman survived. He was captured by the Syrians and held for 30 days before he was released.

The A-7E formation attacked their targets roughly 30 km (18 miles) from Beirut. Cdr Ed Andrews, flying one of the A-7Es, heard about the downed Intruder and decided to search for the crew. When he reached the crash site, he circled around until Syrian AAA opened fire on his aircraft. Andrews attacked some of the AAA with his 20 mm cannon (he had already dropped all his other ordnance), but on his last pass he was hit by an SA-7 that destroyed his engine. He managed to reach the sea and eject, where two helicopters were to pick him up. However, he was reached by a local fisherman first and then handed over to the US Marines.

After the attacks, Lebanese Muslims became suspicious of the Western forces supporting the Christian-led government and began attacking US citizens, MNF personnel and the US embassy building. As a result, the MNF forces began pulling out and had completely withdrawn by February 1984. After they left, Hezbollah and the South Lebanese Army renewed fighting and began kidnapping Westerners in Beirut. The Israelis continued to raid Palestinian installations in the south of Lebanon and Syrian forces occupied parts of Beirut in 1987.

Three A-7Es from Attack Squadron 38 (VA-38) on 10 November 1986. (PH1 Ronald Beno)

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Libya

Ever since colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi became the head of state of Libya in 1969, he was at odds with the US. He closed US and British military bases in Libya and used his country's oil wealth to support the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other revolutionary groups, including the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Muslim separatists in Thailand and the Philippines. By the mid-1980s he was regarded as a supporter of terrorism by the West, and an ardent communist/socialist, which was, in America's view, just as bad.

When Ronald Reagan became President he decided to take action against Qaddafi, who he described as the "mad dog of the Middle East". On 6 May 1981 ordered the closing of the Libyan People's Bureau in Washington, expelling twenty-seven Libyan diplomats from the United States on charges of supporting international terrorism. Tensions between the US and Libya later resulted in direct conflict over the Gulf of Sidra in 1981.

Qaddafi had long considered the Gulf of Sidra as his own territory and also claimed another 12 nm (22 km or 13 miles) of territorial waters. The US and most other nations ignored the claim, but until Reagan came to power, they did nothing to oppose it. Reagan decided that he would challenge Libya by exercising his right to pass through international waters unhindered and sent an aircraft carrier task force there on naval manoeuvres. As the task force approached, in August 1981 Qaddafi declared a 'line of death' across the Gulf, over which the US fleet was forbidden to pass. On 19 August 1981 US Navy F-14s crossed the 'line of death' and shot down two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 fighters that were sent up to challenge them.

But Reagan was far from finished with Libya. In December 1981 he called for the American citizens living in Libya to leave the country or face legal action, and in March 1982 embargoed Libyan oil imports and banned any technology transfer between the US and Libya. In addition, Libyan assets in the US were frozen in January 1986. Some U.S. citizens living in Libya thought President Reagan's order was unconstitutional and considered challenging it in court. Considering it was a Presidential order, there might not have been any Columbus criminal defense attorney who would want to bring the case to court.

More action took place in March 1986 when three carrier task forces with 225 aircraft assembled off the Libyan coast for manoeuvres under Operation Prairie Fire. On 24 March, six SA-5 surface-to-air missiles were launched from a new missile base at Surt against patrolling F-14s. However, no Tomcats were hit, but later that day more missiles were fired. In retaliation a series of strikes took place. Two A-7Es from VA-81 served as decoys to the Libyan defences while two more A-7Es from VA-83 (all A-7Es were launched from the USS Saratoga) attacked a radar site near Surt with AGM-88A HARMs (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles). In the night a repeat sortie with the same aircraft from the same squadrons was flown. Simultaneously, A-6Es from VA-34 and VA-86 attacked and crippled a Libyan corvette with Harpoon missiles. A-6 Intruders also knocked out a missile site that had earlier fired on the Tomcats. Intruders from VA-85 also sunk another Libyan vessel with Harpoons on 25 March. During these attacks, EA-6B Prowlers from VAQ-135 flew cover and jammed Libyan air defences.

This was only a taste of things to come. On 5 April 1986 a bomb exploded in a Berlin nightclub frequented by US personnel, killing two people, including an American serviceman and injuring 204 others. After US intelligence sources suggested Libyan involvement, especially by the Abu Nidal organisation, another series of strikes was planned as retaliation, under Operation El Dorado Canyon.

On the night of 14/15 April 1986, the El Dorado Canyon air strikes were carried out. 18 General Dynamics F-111 bombers and four EF-111A electronic countermeasures/jamming aircraft left England and, after refuelling several times, bombed the Tripoli airport, a frogman training centre at the Libyan naval academy and the nearby al Aziziyah barracks where Qaddafi often stayed. As these strikes were taking place, A-6Es, A-7Es and F/A-18s from the USS America and USS Coral Sea hit the Ls Jumahiriya barracks and the airport at Bengazi. The six A-7Es involved came from VA-46 and VA-82 while the A-6Es came from VA-55 and VA-34. EA-6 Prowler electronic warfare aircraft from VAQ-135 and VMAQ-2 provided additional support.

As a result of these air strikes, several transport aircraft, some MiG-23s and a few helicopters were destroyed on the ground at the two airports. The French Embassy, located in a residential area, was also destroyed. Around 40 to 100 people were killed, including Qaddafi's adopted infant daughter and a teenage girl visiting from London. Although the strike was intended to kill Qaddafi, he was sleeping outside his barracks that night and was not harmed.

After the raid the US was severely criticised for attacking Libya, but it's not clear if it directly affected Qaddafi. In late 1988 and early 1989 he stopped his funding of terrorist groups, freed up civil liberties, reduced restrictions on international travel and improved relationships with other African leaders. It's unlikely that Qaddafi would have bowed to US pressure, but in any case, he did start to reform and today he has managed to drop most sanctions against his country.

Two A-7Es from Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) on 1 June 1988. They are armed with AGM-45 Shrike missiles. (USN/LCdr John Leenhouts)

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Panama

By August 1983, Manuel Antonio Noriega had promoted himself to general and gained effective control over the government of Panama. Ever since the 1960s he had worked as an informer for various US intelligence agencies. From the mid-1970s up until 1986 Noriega had been receiving funds from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pentagon for his informant duties. At the same time he was acting as a double agent for both the CIA and Cuba's intelligence agency and was deeply involved in drug trafficking - as early as 1971 the US Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs had sufficient evidence to indict Noriega, but legal and diplomatic obstacles, as well as CIA pressure, prevented this from happening.

Although Noriega was valuable to the CIA, his popularity began to decline in June 1986 when evidence of his drug trafficking, money laundering and double agent activities came to light. He was also suspected of murdering one of his opponents, Hugo Spadafora. When Noriega cracked down on civil liberties in 1987, the US Senate urged the Panamanian government to remove Noriega from office. In February 1988 he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida on drug charges and for money laundering, but he remained in power.

In May 1989 elections were held in Panama with Noriega's opposition candidate, Guillermo Endara, being elected President. However, the Noriega government nullified the vote. Noriega continued to cling to power and suppressed a military coup by the Panamanian Defence Forces in October 1989. But on 20 December 1989, 24 000 US troops invaded Panama and installed Endara as president. Noriega was captured and flown to the US in January 1990 and was convicted on drug and racketeering charges in April 1992.

In this offensive, (the seventh time the United States had invaded Panama since 1903) A-7Ds from the 180th Tactical Fighter Group of Ohio National Guard participated in the invasion. They were among the Air National Guard units that rotated in Panama to provide a force presence in an exercise called 'Coronet Cove'. The A-7D detachment was based at Howard Air Force Base just 45 minutes from Panama City.

Two A-7Es from Attack Squadron 72 (VA-72) approach the Saudi Arabian Coastline during a training flight off the USS John F Kennedy, which deployed to the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield. (USN/Cmdr John Leenhouts)

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The Persian Gulf Tanker War

On 22 September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran over border violations and disagreement over who should control the Shatt al Arab waterway between the two countries. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein believed that Iran was very weak as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and thought he would quickly conquer Iran if he attack soon. Border violations and interference in each country's internal affairs further provoked Saddam Hussein into attacking the country.

As the war continued for another eight years, Iraq's defences grew increasingly desperate. Iraq began to attack Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf and in response the Iranians attacked Iraqi shipping and shipping of Iraq's supporters like Kuwait. The USSR and US were drawn into the growing 'tanker war' in order to protect their shipments of oil and consequently lost a few vessels in the process.

On 14 April 1988 the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Samuel B Roberts was damaged when it struck an Iranian mine. The Navy, who's USS Stark had been attacked by the Iraqis on 17 May 1987, decided it had had enough and was going to retaliate. On 18 April 1988 Operation Praying Mantis was carried out. Two squadrons of A-7Es (VA-22 and VA-94) based on the USS Enterprise participated in strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels. They were some of the last A-7E squadrons that hadn't been replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet, but in 1990 Hornets did finally succeed them.

The Iran-Iraq War ended on 20 August 1988 after between 300 000 and one million people had been killed and around two million injured. The war achieved almost nothing as the border stood virtually exactly where it was when conflict began. It was extremely destructive to both side's economies, with each country ending up with more than $500 billion worth of damages. Both Iran and Iraq sacrificed their considerable oil wealth to the war for nearly a decade, and Iraq was forced to borrow heavily, especially from its allies on the Arabian Peninsula. The war was a massive human tragedy but received little coverage in the press, especially in the indifferent West, which had little sympathy for Iran or Iraq. A further consequence was Iraq's disastrous invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Two A-7Es from Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) in June 1988. They are armed with AGM-45 Shrike missiles (USN/LCdr John Leenhouts)

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Desert Storm

On 2 August 1990 Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in order to settle yet another border dispute and capture Kuwait's vast oil reserves. Kuwait was annexed on 8 August as Iraq's 19th province. Between August and November 1990 the United Nations passed a series of resolutions demanding that Iraqi forces withdraw from Kuwait by 15 January 1991. A multinational coalition force numbering around 500 000 personnel (mainly from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Syria, and France) was assembled against the Iraqi army. This build-up, called Operation Desert Shield, was originally intended to protect Saudi Arabia from further attack.

On 17 January 1991, 24 hours after the deadline expired, the coalition force attacked Iraqi targets in Kuwait under Operation Desert Storm. There were six American carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf with two squadrons of A-7Es. These were VA-46 and VA-72 aboard the USS John F Kennedy and were the last A-7E squadrons in front-line service. They saw action from the very beginning of the conflict. Before dawn on 17 January, 16 A-7Es from these two squadrons carrying AGM-88 HARMs attacked radar sites in and around Baghdad. The next day, A-7Es fired AGM-62 Walleye II missiles at various targets, and the day after that they launched a number of AGM-84E SLAMs at Iraqi targets. The next two weeks saw attacks by these two squadrons on targets in both Iraq and Kuwait, which included airfields, railroads, ammunition depots, Iraqi Republican Guard positions and suspected Scud surface-to-surface missile positions. A-7Es also served as air-to-air refuelling tankers.

By the time the war ended, A-7Es had flown 725 sorties that averaged 4.3 hours each, logging around 3 100 combat flight hours. No A-7s were lost to enemy action, but one was damaged beyond repair after its nose gear collapsed during a carrier deck launch. A-7Es had a very high operational rate during the conflict, with only one sortie being cancelled and achieved a very impressive mission completion rate of 99.7 percent. VA-46 and VA-72 returned to Cecil Field, Florida, and were decommissioned on 23 May 1991.

A Vought A-7 Corsair II during Operation Desert Storm. (DoD)

 

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Retirement

After the end of the first Gulf War the remaining A-7Es were rapidly retired. The last A-7E carrier launch took place on 27 March 1991 and the last squadrons to operate the type (VA-46 and VA-72) were formally disbanded on 30 May 1991. After that the only American Corsair IIs still flying were mostly two-seaters serving with VAQ-33 at NAS Key West, VAQ-34 at NAS Patuxent River, as well as those with the Naval Strike Warfare Centre at NAS Fallon. They were withdrawn on 1 April 1992 and by November 1994 all had been taken out of service. Most of the Navy A-7s were stored at AMARC, from where some were transferred to Greece, Portugal and Thailand. There are still a few hundred A-7s at AMARC available for foreign military sales. Around 36 A-7Bs, three A-7Ds, 167 A-7Es and 20 A-7Ks were delivered to the Centre. The aircraft are supported by Northrop Grumman, which took over Vought in 1994.

 

In more than 23 years of front line service between 1968 and 1991 with the US Air Force and Navy, A-7s logged over five million flight hours. The Corsair II proved to be one of the most cost-effective aircraft in their inventories and one of their most capable, efficient and accurate attack aircraft. The A-7 also had a very low combat loss rate and a low accident rate. It was also easy to fly and well liked by its pilots. Although the A-7 has been retired from US service, it is still flying - nearly fifty years after its maiden flight.

An A-7E from Attack Squadron 46 (VA-46) as seen on 16 January 1988. (LCdr John Leenhouts)

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