The Blackburn Buccaneer’s swansong was its participation in combat operations during the 1991 Gulf War as part Operation: Granby. The first batch of six aircraft resplendent in desert camouflage and additional equipment including ECM pods departed from RAF Lossiemouth for the Middle East in the early hours of the 26th January 1991. The Buccaneers supported the Tornado force by providing a laser designation capability. It became common practice for each attack formation to comprise four Tornados and two Buccaneers; each Buccaneer carried a single laser designator pod and acted as backup to the other in the event of an equipment malfunction. The first combat mission took place on 2 February, operating at a medium altitude of roughly 18,000 feet, and successfully attacked the As Suwaira Road Bridge.
Operations continued on an almost daily basis but due to the limitations of the Pave Spike targetting pod all missions were flown in daylight hours. Approximately 20 road bridges were destroyed by Buccaneer-supported missions, restricting the Iraqi Army’s mobility and communications. As Coalition ground forces pressed into Iraq the Buccaneers supported the Tornados as they continued to attack airfields to keep the Iraqi air force on the ground. Missions included targeting bunkers, runways and any aircraft sighted. Following Buccaneers providing target acquisition for the Tornado’s laser-guided bombs, the Buccaneers would sometimes conduct dive-bombing runs upon remaining targets of opportunity in the vicinity (these weapons were carried in the Buccaneers internal weapons bay).
In one well known incident on the 21st February 1991, a pair of Buccaneers destroyed two Iraqi transport aircraft on the ground at Shayka Mazhar airfield. One was a Soviet built An-12 “Cub” while the second one was a captured Kuwaiti Lockheed L-100 Hercules (civilian version of the C-130 Hercules) pressed in to use by the Iraqis. The footage from the targeting pod was then presented to the World’s media during one of General Schwartskopf’s press conferences (see targeting image in gallery). The Buccaneers flew 218 missions during the Gulf War in which they designated targets for friendly aircraft as well as dropping 48 laser-guided and unguided bombs themselves.