U.S. B52 bombers that had flown nonstop from North Dakota bombed a strip of barren desert today in an earth-shaking climax to joint Egyptian-U.S. military maneuvers that served to test the reflexes of the new U.S. Rapid Deployment Force.
The strategic bombing raid in a bleak, undulating desert west of this tiny oasis, capped the Egyptian phase of of operation Bright Star '82, a series of bilateral military exercises of the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and the sultanate of Oman. Radical Arab states have labeled the maneuvers a "provocation."
The air show, which aside from the B52s, included precision bombing and strafing runs by U.S. F16s and A10s as well as Egyptians flying Soviet-made Badger bombers and Mig21s. Overseeing the entire operation was an Advance Warning and Control System (AWACS) radar plane.
With several hundred braided and bemedaled U.S. and Egyptian officers gathered under a protective canopy on folding chairs set on a red carpet, the day's exercises began precisely on time at 10 a.m. with the arrival from the south of six B52s, flying single file after their 14-hour and 7,000-mile flight from Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
As a U.S. Air Force officer gave a running commentary over a loudspeaker and an Egyptian translated into Arabic, the giant planes flew past, each dropping its 500-pound bombs in a ripple of crackling thunder just a half mile before the makeshift reviewing stand.
While the military observers talked between servings of coffee by blue-robed Nubians in white turbans, the B52s were followed in rapid succession by Egyptians dropping 1,200 bombs in clusters from their Soviet TU16 Badger bombers, strafing and bombing runs on targets in the sand by Egyptian Mig17s, Mig21s, French-built Mirage 5s, followed by U.S. F16s and A10s.
The performance by the Egyptian pilots was impressive and their targeting almost flawless. But it was the speed flying by F16s, hitting targets from such distances that often the planes could not even be seen, and the acrobatic ground-support tactics of twin-engined A10 Thunderbolts, that drew the most comment, including some by Warsaw Pact military attaches from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and East Germany who snapped photographs and jotted notes from their seats among the officials in the reviewing tent.
Asked later what he thought of the East European observations of the Bright Star exercises, U.S. Rapid Deployment Force chief, Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, was clearly pleased with the Warsaw Pact observers' attention.
"Nobody could watch a Bright Star exercise and come away unimpressed," he said before striding off after Egyptian chief-of-staff Gen. Abd Rabd Nabi Hafez, who had watched the show at his elbow.
After the desert target range had been pummeled with bombs, the 10 days of U.S.-Egyptian exercises wound up with a simulated assault on an entrenched position by helicopter-borne U.S. and Egyptian paratroopers whose antitank missiles left the desert smoking.
In all, 4,000 U.S. troops, including a reinforced battalion each from the 82nd Airborne Division and the 24th Mechanized Infantry, participated with a like number of Egyptians in the exercises.
Other Bright Star exercises -- albeit smaller and less impressive -- are continuing in the area. These include Special Forces units training with the Sudanese Army, engineer and medical units working at the former Soviet naval base of Berbera in Somalia and next month, a small Marine amphibious landing in southern Oman.