The first Gulf of Sidra incident, August 19 1981, was an incident in which two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter attack aircraft were shot down by two US F-14 Tomcats off of the Libyan coast.
In the 1970’s, Libya had claimed a 12 mile extension zone of its territorial waters in the Gulf of Sidra
, which had prompted US Naval Forces to conduct Freedom of Navigation
operations in the area, the so called "line of death". These operations further increased when Ronald Reagan
came to office; in August 1981
he authorized a large naval force, led by USS Forrestal
, to deploy off the Libyan coast. The Libyan Air Force responded by deploying a high number of interceptors and fighter-bombers, and early on the morning of August 18
when the US exercise began, at least three MiG-25 'Foxbats'
approached the US Carrier groups but were escorted away by F-4 Phantom IIs
and F-14s from VF-41
. The Libyans tried to establish the exact location of the US Naval Force. 35 pairs of MiG-23 'Floggers'
, MiG-25s, Sukhoi Su-20 'Fitter-Cs'
, Su-22M 'Fitter-Js'
and Mirage F.1s
flew into the area, and were soon intercepted by seven pairs of F-14s and F-4s. The situation was tense, but neither side fired any weapons, even in at least two cases when MiG-25s tried to breach through the American fighters by flying high and fast.
On the morning of the 19th, two VF-41 Black Aces
F-14As, Fast Eagle 102
(CDR "Hank" Kleeman/LT "DJ" Venlet) and Fast Eagle 107
(LT "Music" Muczynski/LTJG "Amos" Anderson), were flying combat air patrol
to cover aircraft engaged in a missile exercise. An E-2A Hawkeye
gained radar contact with two Sukhoi Su-22
'Fitters' which had left Okba Ben Nafi Air Base
The two F-14s from VF-41 Black Aces were ordered to intercept the two Libyan aircraft. Only few seconds before the crossing, at an estimated distance of 300 m one of the two Libyans fired an AA-2 "Atoll" at one of the F-14s, which missed. Then the two Sukhois flew right past the Americans and tried to escape. The Tomcats evaded and were cleared to return fire by their "rules of engagement" (ROE), which mandated self defense on the initiation of hostile action. The F-14’s turned hard port and came behind the Libyan jets. The American pilots fired AIM-9L Sidewinders, and the first kill is credited to “Fast Eagle 102”, and the second Libyan was downed by “Fast Eagle 107”. Both Libyan pilots ejected.
The official United States Navy report states that both Libyan pilots ejected and were safely recovered, but listening to the official audio recording of the incident taken from USS Biddle one of the F-14 pilots states that he saw a Libyan pilot eject but his parachute failed to open.
Less than an hour later, while the Libyans were conducting a Search and Rescue operation of their downed pilots, two fully armed MiG-25s entered the airspace over the Gulf and headed towards the US carriers at Mach 1.5 and conducted a mock attack in the direction of USS Nimitz. Two VF-41 Tomcats and one VF-84 Tomcat headed towards the Libyans, who then turned around. The Tomcats turned home but had to turn around again when the Libyans headed towards the US carriers once more. After being tracked by the F-14's radars, once again the MiGs finally headed home. One more Libyan formation ventured out into the Gulf towards the US forces later that day.
The international tensions and dogfighting incidents seen in the movies Top Gun and Iron Eagle were drawn in part from this incident.