January 20-21, 1991 Chronology

Late in the evening of January 20th (between 2140-2150 hours), a SCUD alert was issued and air raid sirens sounded throughout Al Jubayl. As a result, units in the area went to MOPP 4. At 2230 hours, units secured from General Quarters and went to MOPP 0. At 0046 hours on January 21, 1991, the air raid sirens were activated once again.[34] NMCB-24 security logs note two explosions occurring at 15-20 second intervals southeast of Camp 13 at 0054 hours. At 0115, units secured from the alert. NMCB-24 security logs also note that Saudi sirens sounded at 0142 hours.[35] The NMCB-24 "Air Det" log notes SCUD alerts occurring at 2200 hours on January 20th, and also at 0330 hours and 0445 hours on January 21, 1991. Approximately twenty minutes after each alert, the "All Clear" was given.

CENTCOM NBC logs for January 20-21, 1991 note that at 2147 hours two SCUD missiles were fired towards Jubayl-Dhahran and four Patriot missiles were fired -- destroying the SCUDs in the air. Additionally, CENTCOM logs contain no entries to indicate the presence of chemical or biological agents in the Al Jubayl area during January 20-21, 1991. At 2200 local, a third SCUD was fired and was also destroyed in the air. [36]


Findings of the Loud Noise Event (January 19, 1991)

Thus far we have discussed information obtained from unit logs and personal interviews. Certainly there can be no doubt that a loud noise was heard during the early morning hours of January 19, 1991. What is debated, however, is the source of the loud noise. Many people who were interviewed believe the loud noise was caused by an incoming SCUD missile. Others believe the loud noise was caused by aircraft.

Based upon the information that has been reviewed to date, investigators have determined the loud noise was a sonic boom caused by coalition aircraft. Records reviewed to date show that no SCUDs were launched towards the vicinity of Al Jubayl on January 19, 1991.[37] However, as this was the third day of the air war, the skies were full of aircraft either flying to their assigned targets or on their way back to their home station. Many aircraft had to be refueled while airborne in order to complete their mission. To maintain a steady flow of aircraft and fuel, as well as prevent a mid-air disaster, refueling aircraft (both tankers and the aircraft to be refueled) were required to fly assigned routes or orbits. The sheer size of the air campaign required many refueling routes over Saudi Arabia, including over the port city of Al Jubayl.

To identify aircraft as the source for the loud noise, investigators reviewed the Air Force Central Command (CENTAF) Air Tasking Order (ATO) for the air campaign. The ATO shows that several sorties were scheduled during the early morning hours of January 19, 1991, which would have overflown Al Jubayl.[38] To further isolate and identify the aircraft most likely to have caused the sonic boom, data recorded by Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft was analyzed by the Department of the Air Force’s 552d Computer Group (ACC) located at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.[39] This data shows that two coalition aircraft (aircraft "A" and "B" shown in Figure 5) were exceeding the speed of sound[40] as they flew over Al Jubayl at approximately the same time the "loud noise" was heard and reported (approximately 0332 hours local time). Aircraft "A" flew the closest to Camp 13 and was accelerating through 638 knots (733.7 mph) to 652 knots (749.8 mph) while flying over the city at 0327 hours plus nine seconds local time. Aircraft "A" continued to accelerate out over the gulf achieving a top speed of 924 knots (1062 mph) at 0333 hours local time. Aircraft "B" flew a course that led it over the outskirts, south of Al Jubayl. Aircraft "B" approached Al Jubayl at 0327 hours and 16 seconds local time at a speed of 700 knots (805 mph). Aircraft "B" accelerated as it passed by the city and achieved a top speed of 873 knots (1003.95 mph) at 0327 hours and 57 seconds local time.


Figure 5. Flight Paths of Aircraft Suspected of Causing the "Sonic Boom"


Assessment of the Loud Noise Event (January 19, 1991)

Based on the information that is available to date, the presence of a chemical or biological warfare agent in the Al Jubayl area during hte Loud Noise Event is judged to be "Unlikely." This assessment is based upon the following information:


Findings of Events That Occurred on January 20-21, 1991

The January 20-21, 1991, incident involved air raid sirens and a reference to "two explosions southeast of camp." Available records indicate that chemical detection tests were negative. The time of this event corresponds approximately to the time that a SCUD missile was launched towards Dhahran and was most likely intercepted by a Patriot air defense missile at very high altitude. Although there is no record of a reported impact site, this event is confirmed by numerous command log entries and the SCUD launch database.


Assessment of Events That Occurred on January 20-21, 1991

Based on the information that is available to date, the presence of a chemical or biological warfare agent in the Al Jubayl area during the events of January 20-21, 1991 is judged to be "Unlikely." This assessment is based upon the following information:

Through the early stages of the war, Al Jubayl was spared from direct missile attack. This did not keep units within the Al Jubayl area from having to respond to air raid warnings and increase the MOPP level each and every time a SCUD alert was issued. The SCUD missiles that could be seen from Al Jubayl were those flying over the city -- apparently targeted against Dhahran or other targets located south of the city. This all changed on February 16, 1991, when a SCUD impacted in Al Jubayl harbor.


SCUD Impact

During the Gulf War, the Iraqis fired a total of 88 SCUD missiles. A brief discussion of SCUD history and characteristics is contained at Tab D. The attack against Al Jubayl occurred a little over a month into the war and was the 66th missile the Iraqis launched.[41]

The Iraqis launched the 66th missile at approximately 0200 hours local on February 16, 1991. U.S. National sensors detected the missile early in flight and provided prompt warning of the launch. The incoming missile was the Al Hussein variant of the SCUD. It impacted in the harbor, approximately 150 meters from the commercial pier where an ammunition storage area was located and approximately 1000 meters from the USS Tarawa. Other ships that were in the harbor at the time of the SCUD impact included the USS Button, the USS Cleveland, and a Merchant Marine vessel--the Santa Adele.[42] The missile’s warhead did not explode and it caused no damage. The U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment 33 recovered most of the missile, including the warhead, from the harbor floor.

A Patriot missile battery was defending Al Jubayl. Although it received the launch warning, the Patriot battery was not-operational for maintenance reasons and was not able to engage the incoming missile.

According to excerpts from the U.S. Navy’s EOD Detachment 33 log, air raid sirens sounded in the city; the Harbor Defense Command (HDC) went to condition "Red", and the Rear Area Operations Center (RAOC) went to condition "Yellow."[43] The PSU 301 Command Duty Officer (CDO) heard an explosion outside of the command tent -- "something in the air and to the west." He recalls seeing "white hot luminescent objects still in the air." He then alerted the unit to General Quarters and contacted Harbor Defense Command.[44] Standard Operating Procedures required 3 Raider boats underway at all times. When General Quarters was sounded, PSU 301’s three remaining Raiders got underway.[45] Other eyewitness accounts from PSU 301 personnel indicate that there may have been an airborne explosion; some accounts indicate two explosions.

PSU 301 and EOD boat crews responded rapidly to the SCUD impact. By 0230 hours, an EOD boat and a PSU 301 Raider had arrived at the scene of the SCUD impact. However, due to smoke and the strong smell of what was thought to be missile fuel,[46] the accompanying PSU 301 boat backed off. The EOD team surveyed the harbor’s surface near the reported impact and located an area of major bubble activity and a strong smell of fumes. Approximately twenty minutes later, the EOD team marked the area with a surface buoy and returned to base.

At 0720 hours on February 16, 1991, the EOD team returned to the site in order to check the status of the marked area. Bubbles were still rising to the surface and the same smell of missile fuel remained in the area. At approximately 0930 hours an EOD boat equipped with an Underwater Damage Assessment Television System (UDATS) conducted a survey of the harbor bottom. After lowering the UDATS and surveying the area around the buoy, the team located missile debris, including an item which resembled a warhead. At 1450 hours, the EOD team conducted its first dive at the impact site. The divers confirmed the location of an intact SCUD warhead, along with the guidance section, rocket motor, and miscellaneous components. All major components were separated from each other, confirming that the missile had broken apart.[47]


The Recovery Operation

In preparation for recovery operations, EOD personnel spent February 17th in consultation with their technical information center at Indian Head, MD. EOD personnel also made the requisite notifications to their command in Bahrain as well as other command entities located in the immediate port area. As expected, they also spent time responding to numerous requests for more detailed information.

On February 18th , the detachment’s divers continued their survey of the harbor floor, and mapped the site using the UDATS. At 1500 hours, the Operational Commander of the Harbor Defense Command visited the EOD camp and received an update on the situation.

During the period February 19 -21, the EOD team conducted extensive searches of the harbor bottom and recovered smaller SCUD components with the aid of an underwater camera system. Divers also located and marked a fuel tank for retrieval.

The EOD team began salvage operations on February 22, 1991, at 0800 hours. Using lifting balloons, they retrieved three major non-explosive components: the fuel tank (Figure 6), the guidance section, and the rocket motor (Figure 7). The missile pieces were hoisted out of the water using a crane. While the components were suspended, they were sprayed with a fire hose to flush out sea water and any caustic substances that could have remained. The EOD crew flushed out the pieces for a second time once they were on the pier. Later, the components were taken to the EOD base camp for temporary storage.


Figure 6. The Recovered SCUD's Fuel Tank


Figure 7. The Recovered SCUD's Guidance Section & Rocket Motor (rocket motor is in the foreground)

After the EOD team finished examining the recovered SCUD components, custody was transferred to the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center (JCMEC) on February 23, 1991. JCMEC was a coalition entity responsible for collecting captured foreign military equipment throughout the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO).

Recovery of the warhead began on March 2, 1991, at 0600 hours. During an interview it was reported that EOD divers collected sediment samples from the area near the warhead prior to its recovery from the harbor.[48] However, investigators found no record that confirms soil samples were taken. By 1320 hours the warhead had been safely removed from the water and operations to render it harmless had begun. During the operation, EOD personnel used an M18 chemical detection kit to check for the presence of chemical warfare agents. The operation ended at 1715 hours. During the entire recovery operation, EOD members found no evidence of chemical or biological agents.

On March 3rd, the disarmed warhead was loaded onto a barge for shipment back to the EOD base camp in Al Jubayl (Figure 8). JCMEC personnel took custody of the warhead on March 8, 1991. JCMEC shipped the missile components to the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, AL.


Figure 8. The Recovered SCUD's Warhead


Findings of the SCUD Impact Event

A SCUD missile did impact in the waters of Al Jubayl harbor on February 16, 1991. Eyewitnesses have reported the missile was intercepted and shot down by a Patriot missile. However, the Patriot battery that was located at Al Jubayl was not operational at the time and could not have shot down the SCUD. The SCUD did not detonate upon impact with the water. There were no injuries to personnel or damage to equipment as the result of this incident. This missile was subsequently recovered from the harbor floor by Navy EOD personnel. Testing conducted at the time of recovery for chemical warfare agents were negative.

Assessment of the SCUD Impact Event

Initially, as could be expected, this event received a considerable amount of attention. The opportunity to recover a SCUD nearly intact was not an everyday occurrence. The initial surge of interest diminished over time -- largely because no one was injured and no equipment was damaged at any time from the missile’s impact to its recovery.

Based on the information that is available to date, our assessment is that the SCUD missile was "Definitely Not" armed with chemical warfare agents. This assessment is based upon the following information:

  • that testing conducted for chemical warfare agents during recovery operations were negative.
  • chemical agents were not found when the warhead was rendered "Safe."

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