The Cochimbo raid was a military operation during the Brazilian War code named Operation Rapid Run that was executed on January 10, 1983 by the United States Navy as well as the United States Special Forces and various factions of the anti-Brazilian alliance. The raid was carried out against the Cochimbo Air Force base, where Brazil's largest nuclear reactor was located. Having confirmed in 1982 that Brazil was refining its own plutonium and planning the construction of nuclear weapons with assistance from French scientists, the raid was considered critical to the ability of the United States to transition the war into Colombian and rebel hands.
Shortly after dawn, members of the US Special Forces tagged the nuclear reactors with lasers and Navy F-14's struck the reactor with laser-guided silicate bombs. A second sortie of F-14's only a few minutes later cratered the runways at the adjacent airfield as guerrilla snipers took out anti-aircraft gunners. In all, the raid resulted in zero casualties for either the United States or their allies, killed up to 300 Brazilians, incapacitated one of Brazil's largest airfields for over a year, and permanently crippled the Brazilian nuclear weapons program, which had already been hobbled by attacks by Argentineans at other weapons research facilities in southern Brazil. Having taken several months to plan and set up, it was regarded as one of the crowning achievements of US involvement in the war.
After the withdrawal of American troops from the state of Para in the fall of 1981, the Brazilian government returned a larger contingent of troops and planes to the Serra da Cochimbo mountains in the southern part of the state to man the still-unfinished air base, which Savala's adivsors had envisioned as a centralized, remote location from which the Brazilians could launch attacks against Colombia and United States Naval vessels, as they had intended upon early construction of the site in 1978 before the occupation of Para. After airstrikes against major nuclear reactors in southern Brazil throughout 1980-81, the Atomic Division, headed by Pedro Arhanda, elected to relocate most of their research to Cochimbo, which had a working refinery that the Americans had never bombed as the air base had been abandoned for most of the Para campaign.
In mid-1982, American spies within the Atomic Division were brought to Cochimbo to work, where they discovered that the Brazilians employed French nuclear scientists as advisors and had enough fissile material on site to construct a small nuclear device, which they intended to test in the first half of 1983. In September of 1982, these same spies left Cochimbo and were able to report their findings to the Allied command, warning that enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon would be ready by March of 1983, and the secretive site adjacent to the mountainous air base already had enough radioactive material to build dirty bombs. On top of that, the Cochimbo base came fully online in late September, which in turn led directly to the Battle Group Six raid in late October 1982, where two US ships were sunk and four were damaged. American leadership decided decisively that Cochimbo, which was well-defended and located deep in a remote mountain range, would have to be destroyed lest a more damaging attack occur soon thereafter. Taking out the base was seen as critical to the ability of America's allies to be able to continue fighting the war after the planned American withdrawal within the next 12-18 months.
Planning and Preparation
Coordination and Planning
Senior Allied leadership, including President Elizabeth Shannon of the United States, US Defense Secretary Julius Holmes, US Secretary of State George Steinbrenner, Colombian President Carlos Andrés Pérez, Colombian Minister of Defense Arturo Bernal, and senior Republicano guerrilla leader João Henriques de Ferro, met in Bogota on November 1, 1982 to discuss the severity of a potential Brazilian nuclear threat at the closest Savala-controlled airfield to Allied positions within Brazil and in striking distance of Colombian military installations and civilian targets, as well as American military targets off of the Brazilian coast. Shannon reportedly pushed hard for an attack as early as December, but was cautioned by her advisors and compatriots that such a move was potentially unwise due to uncertainties about the target, on which there was little hard intelligence.
Two Colombian spies infiltrated the air base between 20 November and 23 November, where they were able to better surmise the landscape of the target and determined the strength of the structure surrounding the nuclear refinery. With this information in hand, Allied leadership approved a tentative attack date in early January and set about planning an air strike, which would involve two separate squadrons of F-14s launched from American aircraft carriers, which would be covered by a Colombian interception wing that would attack any potential Brazilian pursuers as the American planes returned to their carriers upon completion of the mission. The bombing, decided upon to be carried out in the early morning, would revolve around Special Forces with guerrilla support laser-guiding the individual targets and preventing anti-aircraft measures from being taken. American Navy personnel dubbed the mission Rapid Run and President Shannon formally authorized it on November 30.
Two squadrons of F-14s were selected for the attack, one from the USS Herbert Hoover and the other from the USS Enterprise. A third aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, was positioned directly between the two as a potential deterrent to a Brazilian counterattack while the other two carriers' squadrons were airborne.
Both flights from the Hoover squadron staged coordinated flights, sometimes up to 800 miles round trip. Extra fuel and only minimal silicate laser-guided air-to-surface missiles were added to the Hoover squadron, titled Squadron H. The Enterprise squadron was titled Squadron E and given cratering bombs. Both groups practiced a joint exercise on December 20, in which they practiced timing an overpass of a designated location in the East Caribbean within minutes of one another, which would be critical to the execution of the strike.
In late December, the flights were given their code names - Hydra and Hooker for Squadron H, and Eagle and Endgame for Squadron E. All pilots were instructed to land their F-14's in Cuiaba, which was at the time held by the rebels, as they would not have enough fuel for the nearly 800 miles back to the carrier group.
Insertion of Special Forces
While the Republicanos had been active throughout Para even after the withdrawal of American soldiers from Belem and the countryside in early 1982, they did not have a firm presence in the Serra da Cochimbos and were wary of approaching a Brazilian military base without significant support. As a result, a Special Forces team coded Echo Seven Seven (E77), comprised of twenty members, was inserted under night cover on New Year's Eve 1982 by helicopter 50 miles away from the Cochimbo site.