Operation GRANBY

Operation GRANBY, 1990 -1991

Iraq invasion of Kuwait, Aug1990

Operation Granby was an armed conflict carried out by a United States-led coalition of 35 countries against Iraq in response to the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The Iraqi military invaded the neighbouring State of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and had occupied the country within two days. The rationale for the invasion is thought to be related to Iraq’s financial debts following the Iran–Iraq War, and Kuwait’s oil production levels which impacted Iraq’s ability to generate revenue.

The invasion of Kuwait was met with international condemnation, and economic sanctions against Iraq were immediately imposed by the United Nations Security Council in response. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. president George H. W. Bush immediately deployed troops and equipment into Saudi Arabia and urged other countries to send Forces to the region.


Four days after the invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraqi forces on 2 August, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia issued a request to friendly governments for security assistance. The British Government’s decision to commit British Forces in support of Saudi Arabia saw Tactical Communications wing deploy across the Are of Operations as a force enabler allowing RAF combat aircraft  to deploy to the Gulf.

TCW Flight watch 12 Aug 1990
Tornados, Op Jural

Operation GRANBY began on 8 August, just as Tactical Communications Wing had started its main leave period and had reduced to skeleton manning. Tactical Communications Wing’s recall procedures were truly tested and 130 Tactical Communications Wing personnel were kitted out and sent to the Gulf between 9 and 12 August.

This initial group were to set up communications links between Units located at Thumrait air base and Seeb airport in Oman, and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, in what was becoming a rapidly expanding theatre of operations. Operation

GRANBY began as an air operation but quickly developed into a Joint Forces one. It was headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, so the remit for immediate communications was expanded to include them.

The first Tactical Communications Wing detachment was deployed to Dhahran to support Short Range Air Defence systems and Forward Helicopter Units providing Clansman and 092 long haul HF communications. Distant terminals located in Cyprus gave the necessary rear links to the UK. Additional detachments were then deployed to Seeb and Thumrait, with  Tactical Communications Wing supporting the Maritime Patrol Nimrod aircraft that were stationed there.


Watchman Radar - Operation GRANBY, Cyprus


NBC Sentries
RAF GR1 Jaguars, Dhahran
Op GRANBY Battle Group
Patriot battery, Dhahran, 1991

In addition to the the in-theatre command nets, it was imperative that HF and UHF ground-to-air communications were established as soon as possible, to provide vital Flight Watch and other facilities for the ever-increasing numbers of Air Transport aircraft that were arriving. These were quickly set up at Al Jubayl, Dhahran, Tabuk, Riyadh and King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia , Muharraq in Bahrain and Seeb and Thumrait in Oman. All of these detachments were highly mobile; for instance, the Flight Watch located at King Khalid Airport was used to reconnoitre suitable desert airstrips at Al Qaysumah and Al Hadriyan.


The advance parties that set up the first Flight Watch systems carried Inmarsat hardware. While these Satellite Communications systems were being installed they used secure speech equipment to provide immediate secure communications, as it soon became apparent that the need for rapid, secure communications was paramount.


The fastest means of communicating over a distance is by satellite, so the priority for Operation GRANBY was to provide secure speech, Air Staff Management Aid, ASMA, the secure command information and messaging system developed by the RAF plus secure facsimile equipment. Air Staff Management Aid had just been selected as the lead data system in joint operations, and this decision streamlined the deployment of data equipment to the Gulf. Data systems were relatively new to Tactical Communications Wing but fortunately an Exercise PURPLE WARRIOR, held just before this operation had given Tactical Communications Wing vital practice in providing Air Staff Management Aid in deployed locations.


As well as deploying communications equipment, operators and support personnel to the Gulf, Tactical Communications Wing became increasingly involved in activities in Cyprus.


Tactical Communications Wing’s Type 99 Air Defence Radar had been deployed to Cyprus in July in support of 280 Signals Unit. It was quickly included in Operation GRANBY and soon became an integral part of the Cyprus Air Defence Ground Environment. In this role, radar was used to provide 24-hour surveillance of the airspace around the island and for controlling the F4 Phantoms deployed from RAF Germany to improve the island’s defensive capability.


Aircrew NBC shelter, Saudi Arabia 1990
Scud Missile Case, Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia

Ground Campagne, Operation Desert Storm

Al Jubal Airhead 1990
HF Broadcast System, Op GRANBY
TSW Fuel Pillows, Operation GRANBY

As the conflict continued, other detachments were deployed and used as direct support for the two armoured divisions, the Forward Helicopter Units, Tactical Supply Wing, Air Raid Warning Notifications using the HF Broadcast system, Special Forces and also, to assist in the hunt for Iraqi SCUD missile systems. 

The Tactical Communications Wing detachment with the 4th and 7th armoured brigades had a VSC 501 satellite terminal called a ‘GRANBY Fit’ mounted into a FV432 armoured personnel carrier. This detachment moved with the brigades and carried out numerous tactical deployments, giving the Ground commander ground-to-air communications and missile warnings on the Air Staff Management Aid. 

Operation GRANBY, stretched the resources of the Unit to the limit, with very nearly every man available deployed. Tactical Communications Wing was heavily committed in manpower and equipment throughout Operation GRANBY and the expansion of the operating area meant that Tactical Communications Wing personnel were soon operating

from 11 geographic locations.

Understandably, the demand for communications and data seemed to increase as the campaign continued, and more and more people requested the most advanced equipment, even though it wasn’t always available. What was proved time

and again, was that Commanders needed their operational communications to be as good as, if not better than, communications back at their home bases. Tactical Communications Wing demonstrated that no matter how advanced equipment is, it still needs trained and skilled manpower to use and deploy it. During Operation GRANBY, all the training that Tactical Communications Wing had carried out over the years, often under arduous conditions, paid a handsome dividend. The development of the human ingenuity and skills needed to adapt to challenges was apparent in so many areas, and all of these factors enabled

Tactical Communications Wing to carry out its role to the full – to provide the best possible communications whenever and wherever required.


BA 747 and TCW Activation team, Kuwait 1991
After Saddam Hussein’s forces were successfully evicted from Kuwait, a TCW detachment was deployed to Kuwait International Airport to provide Flight Watch and mission planning system’s.  This commitment and that of other TCW detachments remaining in theatre to enforce the no-fly zones dictated by the UN Resolutions, known as Operation JURAL. Tactical Communications Wing continued to support air operations at the HQ in Riyadh and Dharan, eventually re-locating to Prince Sultan’s Air Base in Al Kharj in Saudi Arabia, and to Muharraq in Bahrain. In the operation expanded to include an RAF detachment at Ali Al Salem in Kuwait and was renamed Operation BOLTON. It would finish its story some 14 years later as Operation RESINATE at the start of the second Gulf War.

Junior Technician John Nichol, TCW

Adrian John Nichol joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in February 1981 as an electronics technician; serving on TACATC, Tactical Communications Wing until gaining a commission as a navigator in December 1986.

During Operation Granby, he was deployed to Muharraq Airbase in Bahrain with XV Sqn Tornados. On January 1991, during an ultra-low-level sortie against Ar Ruma airfield his aircraft was critically damaged by a shoulder-launched SAM SA-14, and John and his pilot, John Peters, were captured by Iraqi forces. After capture John was shown, bruised, on Iraqi television. He was tortured in the Abu Ghraib prison. He was released by the Iraqi Forces at the end of the Gulf War, leaving the RAF in 1996.

Tornado Down - John Nichol

Video: Operation GRANBY, Gulf War in Kuwait

RAF Activities and Background