The Pentagon has released photographs and dramatic video and audiotapes of the U.S.-Libyan dogfight over the Mediterranean that it says prove its pilots were provoked and acted reasonably in downing the Libyan planes.
The photographs, although of poor quality, show at least one of the two Libyan MiG-23 fighters carried missiles. The Libyan government has claimed both its planes were unarmed.The cockpit audiotape clearly records the pilot of the lead U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat citing each of five attempts to maneuver away from the approaching Libyan jets, then, along with a second F-14, shooting down the MiG-23s.
Libya has asserted that the incident Wednesday was connected to growing American complaints that a Libyan chemicals plant is being readied for full-scale production of poison gas. President Reagan has said he would not rule out a military strike against the plant, which Libya claims is merely a medicine factory.
The Pentagon said there was no link between the factory dispute and the air battle, which it said began while the Navy Tomcats were flying a routine protective patrol for the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy well off the Libyan coast.
In Paris on Thursday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz hinted that Reagan may be willing to work out a
deal with Libya that would not require destruction of the plant.
Before arriving in Paris for an international conference on chemical weapons (see story below), Shultz acknowledged even some of America's allies are not convinced the plant is a weapons facility.
In his first public comments on Wednesday's air battle with Libya, Reagan onThursday said the American pilots had done the right thing in firing their missiles.
"Our pilots acted completely in self-defense," Reagan said as he boarded Air Force One in Los Angeles, where he ended two weeks of vacation.
The audiotape released Thursday by the Pentagon indicated that early in the confrontation the American aviators became concerned about the Libyan's intent.
After carrying out his fifth maneuver to evade the Libyan jets, the pilot of the lead F-14 said: "Bogies have jinked back at me again for the fifth time. They're on my nose now, inside of 20 miles."
At this point, the lead aircraft commander decided to defend himself.
"Master arm on," he said. "Master arm on. Centering up the T. Bogies have jinked back into me again. Sixteen miles. Centering the dot."
The phrases "centering up the T" and "centering the dot" refer to the use of a cockpit steering cue to ensure an optimum missile launch position. When ready, the pilot calls out "Fox 1" as the code for firing a Sparrow missile.
"Fourteen miles. Fox 1. Fox 1."
"Aw, Jesus," responded the backseat radar weapons officer.
"Ten miles. He's back on my nose. Fox 1 again," the pilot called out.
At the United Nations, meantime, the United States told the Security Council that the U.S. planes fired on the Libyan aircraft in reaction to hostile actions that "constituted an armed attack" on American forces.
U.S. Ambassador Herbert S. Okun made the statement in a letter to the 15-member council, which held private consultations on Libya's protest of the incident. But Libyan Ambassador Ali Sunni Muntasser called the incident a "premeditated act of aggression" and said the Libyan fighters were "unarmed, on routine reconnaissance, ordinary flying."
In releasing the videotape, chief Pentagon spokesman Dan Howard declared Thursday: "It tells me that the Libyan ambassador is a liar. That's the first thing it tells me.
"They were obviously armed aircraft with obvious hostile intent."
The audiotape paints the drama of the melee, complete with the heavy breathing that comes from maneuvering a high-speed fighter in tight turns and indications of how hard it is to maneuver behind a MiG to get a "tone" and get off a clear shot with a missile.
After a second attempt to maneuver away from the MiGs, the F-14s went to a "Warning Yellow, Weapons Hold" status.
That is an intermediate stage in the process of preparing to fire in self-defense.
Later, after the lead F-14 had fired a second Sparrow missile, the two Libyan fighters came into view. The second F-14 then fired a Sparrow and the weapons officer in the lead F-14 reported to his pilot, "OK, he's got a missile off."
At this point, it becomes almost impossible to determine who is talking, but the tape continues:
"Good hit. Good hit on 1."
"Roger that. Good kill. Good kill."
"I've got the other one."
"Select Fox 2. Select Fox 2."
Fox 2 is the code for a heat-seeking Sidewinder missile.
"All right, Fox 2."
"Those ------"> "Shoot him."
"I don't got a tone."
"Lock him up. Lock him up."
"Shoot him. Fox 2."
"I can't. I don't have a ------ tone."> At this point, the lead F-14 pilot finally succeeded in maneuvering behind the MiG and got his missile tone, firing the Sidewinder.
"Good kill. Good kill."
"We're showing two chutes in the air here."
Then in a report back to the carrier: "Roger. Two Floggers. Two Floggers splashed. We're heading north."