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Suppressing and destroying enemy air defenses (SEAD and DEAD operations) is one of the most important operations of an air force. During Operation Mole Cricket 19, the Israeli Air Force showed that it has improved its tactics after learning from the Yom Kippur War.
Israeli casualties in the Yom Kippur War
During the Yom Kippur war, the Israeli Air Force lost a large number of aircraft against Egyptian anti-aircraft systems. Both the losses and the inability of the Israeli Air Force to carry out the missions satisfactorily led to a review of the tactics.
At the same time, it is worth noting that the Israeli losses in this war prompted the start of the “Have Blue” program, which involved the development of stealth technology.
The greatest success of the First Lebanon War
Following the “missile crisis of 1981”, when the Syrian Forces placed anti-aircraft systems inside Lebanon, Operation Mole Cricket 19 was initiated as a response. It was the first time that Soviet anti-aircraft systems were destroyed without ground forces being directly involved.
At the same time, during the battle, the Israeli Air Force managed to shoot down more than 90 enemy aircraft, and the fact that it managed to eliminate the enemy air defense in less than two hours is in itself worthy of admiration.
The operation Mole Cricket 19 took place on June 9, 1982. The Israeli Air Force’s first wave consisted of 96 fighter aircraft (F-15 and F-16), with Kfir and A-4 Skyhawk already performing support missions for ground forces.
The second wave of planes, consisted of ninety-two aircraft and was intended to hunt for and destroy hostile anti-aircraft systems. During the same time, the help that the E-2 Hawkeye, the Mastiff, and the Scout drones gave was of the utmost importance.
Drones as decoys
With the start of Mole Cricket 19, the Mastiff UAVs were the first to get close to the anti-aircraft systems, which made them turn on their radars. The radar signals were then sent to the IAI Scout UAV, which was kept out of range of the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, and from there to the E-2 Hawkeye AWACS aircraft.
The high value E-2s were well away from any danger and analyzed the data fed to them by the UAVs. Upon detection of a launch of anti-aircraft missiles against the UAVs, the next stage of the attack would begin.
F-15 and F-16 fighters provided air cover, while F-4s equipped with anti-radar missiles (such as the AGM-78 SARM and AGM-45 SHRIKE) and guided bombs began attacking Syria’s air defenses.
The Syrian response
Syria’s Air Force responded to the attacks by mobilizing around one hundred fighter aircraft comprised of MiG-21, MiG-23, and Su-20 fighter jets, but Israel had already deployed recon UAVs near Syrian air bases, revealing the strength of the opponent they would confront.
At the same time, they managed to interfere with the communications between the ground control stations and the Syrian fighters, making the latter even more vulnerable to the F-15s and F-16s that would intercept them.
Result of the Mole Cricket 19
By the end of Mole Cricket 19, Israel had managed to hit 15 out of 19 anti-aircraft systems in about 110 minutes. At the same time, at least 82–97 Syrian aircraft were lost, with zero losses on the Israeli side.
By the end of the operations in the Bekaa Valley, where other means such as artillery were later used, almost all Syrian artillery units were destroyed (sources report up to 29 out of 30).
Looking at the overall results of the operation, we can draw some conclusions.
To begin with, we see that as early as 1982 the Israeli Air Force had realized the value of UAV’s.
The Mastiffs acted as decoys against the anti-aircraft systems, relaying the information to other unmanned aerial vehicles like the IAI Scout and from there to AWACS.
This plan greatly reduced the risk faced by the hugely valuable E-2 Hawkeyes, and the use of UAVs as decoys is something we continue to see today.
At the same time, the Israeli Air Force managed to both interfere with the Syrian aircraft’s communications with the ground and take full advantage of the inability of the Syrian aircraft to detect flanking attacks.
Overall, the Mole Cricket 19 mission can be considered an exemplary execution of an air defense suppression and destruction mission and certainly laid the foundation for tactics that are still utilized today.
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