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F-4G Wild Weasel V: The Best F-4 Phantom Ever?

F-4 Phantom. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Published on 2/10/2023 – In Mother Nature, a weasel is a rodent-eating mammal that lays claim to the title of being Britain’s smallest and most numerous carnivore. In the professional wrestling world, the late great manager and commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (1944 – 2017) was derisively nicknamed “The Weasel.” And in the military aviation world, you have the “Wild Weasel” (as opposed to a domesticated weasel, i.e., a ferret, I reckon) a specialized U.S. Air Force warplane tasked with the hair-raising mission of suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), i.e. attacking surface-to-air missile (SAM) air defense radars. Wild Weasel duties served as the basis for the last hurrah – at least in American flyboys’ hands anyway – for a grand ol’ fabulous fighter, the F-4 Phantom II…in this case the F-4G Wild Weasel V variant to be precise.

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Brief General History of the F-4 Wild Weasels

The F-4G was certainly not the first warbird to perform Wild Weasel duties for the U.S. Air Force, nor will it be the last. The first generation of Wild Weasel warbirds was the F-100F Super Sabre, whilst the second and third generations manifested in the form of the F-4C and F-105 Thunderchief (AKA the “Thud”) respectively, all of which were put to the acid test during the Vietnam War. Due to the eventual depletion of the Thud inventory, the U.S. Air Force went back to the F-4C for Wild Weasel IV…but it took Wild Weasel V, i.e. the F-4G, for the Phantom II to truly excel in the SEAD role.

F-4G Wild Weasel Specifications

The F-4G was basically a modified F-4E cannon replaced by the AN/APR-47 electronic warfare equipment; a tad bit ironic in light of the fact that early versions of the Phantom were considered disadvantaged against North Vietnamese MiG-21 “Fishbeds,” MiG-19 “Farmers,” and MiG-17 Frescoes due to the lack of a gun.

In any event, AN/APR-47 is a radar warning receiver (RWR) designed specifically for the F-4G, using a modified directional receiver unit designed by E-Systems (based in Greenville, Texas) to increase target location capabilities; the ‘47 is in turn an improved version of the AN/APR-38 Wild Weasel system and performs detection, location and jamming of radar emissions.

Whilst the AN/APR-47 enabled the Wild Weasel to *detect* the enemy radars, it was the AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) that actually enabled the warbird to destroy them, with the latter being the more effective and sophisticated of the two air-to-ground missile systems.

The F-4G/Wild Weasel V made her maiden flight in 1975 and was fully operational by 1978, with 134 such airframes converted from the F-4E platform.

Wild Weasels Weather the (Desert) Storm

I was a sophomore at North Hollywood High School, Calif. when the Persian Gulf War AKA Operation Desert Storm kicked off on 17 January 1991.  

Within the first hour or so of watching the news reports about that military campaign, the very first specific weapons name to be imprinted on my memory was “F-4G Wild Weasel,” thanks to the reporting of then-NBC Nightly News correspondent Fred Francis, who gave a fascinating description of how the plane was responsible for taking on Iraq’s formidable French-made “KARI” integrated air defense system (IADS).

Besides developing an instant admiration and respect for the Wild Weasel pilots, I also thought to myself “What a cool, catchy name.”

But there was more to this Wild Weasel than cool semantics. While 39 Coalition aircraft were still shot down by the KARI defense system – plus one U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet  shot down in air-to-air combat by an Iraqi Air Force MiG-25 Foxbat – there’s no doubt that if it weren’t for the work of the intrepid F-4G pilots and electronic warfare officers (EWOs; AKA “Guys-In-Back” or “GIBs”), the losses would’ve been far more severe.

To give our readers an idea of just how harrowing the Weasels’ missions over Iraq were, on the night of 19 January 1991, a single F-4G, callsign Longhorn 31, piloted by then-USAF Major Steve “Teach” Jenni and EWO’d by then-Captain Mark ‘Gucci’ Buccigrossi, managed to successfully evade six Iraqi SAMs in under two minutes. For their remarkable efforts, “Teach” and “Gucci” were awarded the Silver Star, the third highest award for valour in the face of the enemy in the U.S. military.

Desert Storm would turn out to be the first and the last war for the F-4G, as the plans were already in place for her to be replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon AKA “Viper” for Wild Weasel duties, specially the single-seat Block 50/52 F-16C, which was redesignated the F-16/CJ/DJ. But the F-4G certainly made the most of that “one brief shining moment,” as described by the late great aviation historian Robert F. Dorr: “F-4G Advanced Wild Weasels flew many hundreds of other combat missions without suffering losses – taking out 74 percent of the enemy missile radars destroyed during the war. Just one F-4G Phantom was lost.”

Where Are They Now? 

The F-4G was officially retired in 1996. Now, before anybody nitpicks me and accuses me of being “ethnocentric” or “Western-biased,” yes, I know, the Iranians still use the F-4 Phantom to this day.

And evidently, Iranian Air Force Phantoms did participate in bombing raids against ISIS in Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala back in December 2014. That caveat/disclaimer out of the way…

Whilst there are still plenty of surviving F-4 Phantoms left today, to my knowledge only one of them is a Wild Weasel specimen, which has been on display at the Cold War Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio.

This particular F-4G had done her duty with the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing out of George Air Force Base, Calif., launching more than 40 missiles during the Gulf War.

If any of our dear readers know of any other surviving F-4Gs out there, please let us know in the Comments section. Thanks in advance!

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).