After they leave the refueling point, the raiders cross the Saudi coast. The defense suppressors, hitting targets up to fifty miles away from the raid’s path, break off from the main raid now. They’ll execute their part of the mission, then return home on their own. The fighter escorts fan out as well, radars still off but in position so that they can get their shots before any interceptors are in range of the strikers.
The raiders now descend to stay below the horizon of the Iranian radars. Whether or not the Suter attack has been successful, if Iranian radar doesn‘t see them, the Iranians won’t react.
There’s a temptation to go to full military power, to minimize the time they spend in Iranian airspace, but full military triples their fuel consumption, for a speed increase of 130 knots, or just 25 percent. The Sufas can’t go supersonic with their ordnance and drop tanks, and low altitude does enough damage to their fuel consumption. Besides, since the Shavit is listening in, the Israelis will know about any detections as soon as the Iranians do.
Flying at a few hundred feet above ground level, their radars are still off. Their fighter escort is a little higher, flanking them on each side. The route is mostly scrubby desert, rising from sea level near the coast to about two thousand meters inland. A series of ridgelines lays perpendicular to their path, a low part of the Zagros mountain chain. It’s sparsely settled, and there are few lights at night marking the landscape.
It’s three hundred nautical miles from the Delek Station to Isfahan, or about thirty-five minutes’ flight time. During this time, the Iranians will begin to suffer cyber attacks and diversionary raids. For instance, powered decoys are launched in the direction of Tehran. The goal is to confuse and distract.
At seventy miles and ten minutes from the target, and cued by the Shavit, the close-in defense suppressors climb until they’re above the Iranian radar horizon. They may or may not be visible to Iranian radar, but it doesn’t matter. They loft HARM antiradar missiles pretuned to the Iranian radars’ frequencies. Any radiating surveillance or fire control radar will collect one or two missiles. Planes that have fired all their HARMs join the fighter escort. Those that still have HARMs orbit on electronic overwatch.
The HARMs hit two minutes later, and if the defenders weren’t awake before, they are now. It takes a few minutes for the gun crews to fully man their weapons, but they put up a storm of fire. Few of the 35mm guns are (or were) radar-guided, and none of the 23mm are. All they can do is shoot into their assigned zone and hope somebody flies through it.
The strikers never get close to the guns. They’re already climbing. This is the only time since takeoff they’ve used full military power, to gain speed and altitude as they zoom to medium altitude. Guided by their nav systems and cued by their HUDs, wave after wave of Israeli pilots release their weapons, lofting them toward the target, then pull back on the stick in a precise Immelman turn, rolling level onto an outbound course. The lob-toss delivery is the optimal method for delivering GPS-guided ordnance. Without coming closer than twelve miles to the target, the entire strike is outbound before their bombs even reach the target.
There are four Tor-M1 vehicles protecting Isfahan, each with its own search and fire control radars and eight Gauntlet missiles. When the guns start firing, the crews light off their radars, and they’re on line in seconds. Electronically netted though a battery command vehicle, they can cooperate to make sure they don’t engage the same targets.
The Israelis detect the signals, but by the time they launch their HARMs, all four SAM vehicles are firing.
The Tor missile only has a range of six nautical miles, but they aren’t after the retreating Israeli aircraft, or even the defense suppression planes, orbiting safely out of range. The Tor’s radar is good enough to spot and engage the incoming PGMs. Each vehicle can shoot at two targets at once, and they devote one guidance channel to the incoming HARMs and the other to the PGMs. Two manage to shoot down the HARMs coming at them, and one of the remaining two HARMs misses. One vehicle is lost, but the first thirty-second exchange of fire has allowed the Tor battery to destroy three of the PGMs.
Like they should have done in the first salvo, the Israelis now fire two HARMs at each remaining launcher, killing all three vehicles, but several more PGMs are also gone.
Outbound and clear of the defenses, the raid begins the hour and a half flight back to base. They’re up at high altitude now, for best fuel efficiency. They’re almost in the clear, but the Iranians have prepared a going-away party.