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Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)

The first Gulf of Sidra incident, August 19, 1981, was the firing of an air to air missile by one of two Libyan Sukoi Su-22 Fitter J fighter jets, followed by their shooting down by the US F-14 Tomcats they fired at.

In 1973 Libya had claimed much of the Gulf of Sidra as its territorial waters and subsequently declared a "line of death", the crossing of which would invite a military response. As part of its ongoing freedom of navigation activities in support of 12 mile territorial waters practices the US Navy aircraft carrrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) was operating near the line of death.

On the morning of the 19th, VF-41 Black Aces F-14As Fast Eagle 102 (CDR "Hank" Kleeman/LT D. Venlet)(160403 AJ102) and Fast Eagle 107 (LT "Music" Muczynski/LTJG "Amos" Anderson)(160390 AJ107) were flying combat air patrol to cover aircraft engaged in a missile exercise. An E-2A Hawkeye gained radar contact with two Fitters which had left Wheelus air base near Tripoli. The Fitters were heading towards the Tomcats and the lead Fitter fired an AA-2 Atoll short range heat seeking missile at the Tomcats. The Tomcats evaded and were cleared to return fire.

Muxzynski went for the lead Fitter and successfully engaged it with a very short range AIM-9 Sidewinder missile shot. Kleeman engaged the wingman and when the Fitter turned clear of the sun gained lock-on with a Sidewinder and fired, hitting the tailpipe. One Libyan pilot was seen to eject and was subsequently recovered from the sea. Sources differ on the fate of the other, some reporting presumed lost, others reporting ejection and recovery. The US country report says recovered.

These were the first combat kills by the F-14 aircraft.

Very early British press reports, like that in the Plymouth Evening Herald afternoon newspaper, mentioned the use of "radar homing Sidewinder missiles", an impossibility because those missiles are heat seeking only, though a radar proximity fuse has been used. Sources have occasionally suggested that Phoenix missiles were used, extremely unlikely for such a short range engagement and contrary to official US reports.

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