"Gulf lesson one is the value of air power...(it) was right on target from day one. The Gulf war taught us that we must retain combat superiority in the skies...Our air strikes were the most effective, yet humane, in the history of warfare."
- President George Bush 29 May 1991
The air campaign was designed to exploit Coalition strengths (which included well-trained aircrews; advanced technology such as stealth, cruise missiles, precision-guided munitions (PGMs), superior command and control (C2), and ability to operate effectively at night); and to take advantage of Iraqi weaknesses (including a rigid C2 network and a defensive orientation). Coalition air planners intended to seize air superiority rapidly and paralyze the Iraqi leadership and command structure by striking simultaneously Iraq's most crucial centers of gravity: its National Command Authority (NCA); its nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare capability; and the Republican Guard divisions.
The Strategic Air Campaign formed Phase I of the four phases of Operation Desert Storm. Phase II focused on suppressing or eliminating Iraqi ground-based air defenses in the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO). Phase III emphasized direct air attacks on Iraqi ground forces in the KTO (including the Republican Guard Forces Command (RGFC) and the Iraqi Army in Kuwait). Phases I-III constituted the air campaign. Phase IV, the ground campaign to liberate Kuwait, used air attacks and sea bombardment in addition to ground attacks on concentrations of Iraqi forces remaining in the KTO. Concurrent with the Offensive Ground Campaign was an amphibious landing option, Operation Desert Saber, to be executed as required for the liberation of Kuwait City. The theater campaign plan recognized the phases were not necessarily discrete or sequential, but could overlap as resources became available or priorities shifted.
On 16 January, at 1535 (H - 11 hours, 25 minutes), B-52s took off from Louisiana carrying conventionally armed air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). They would launch their ALCMS approximately two hours after H-Hour. The first irretrievable hostile fire in Operation Desert Storm began at approximately 0130 (H-90 minutes), 17 January, when US warships launched Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) toward Baghdad. At 0238, while the TLAMs were still in flight, helicopters attacked early warning radar sites in southern Iraq. Stealth fighters already had passed over these sites en route to attack targets in western Iraq and Baghdad. The helicopter, F-117A, cruise missile, F-15E Eagle fighter, and GR-1 Tornado fighter bomber attacks helped create gaps in Iraqi radar coverage and the C2 network for the non-stealth aircraft which followed. Powerful air strikes then continued throughout the country. Within hours, key parts of the Iraqi leadership, C2 network, strategic air defense system, and NBC warfare capabilities were neutralized. By the conflict's first dawn, air attacks on Iraqi forces in the KTO had begun. These led to a steady reduction of their combat capability, and made it difficult for them to mass or move forces without coming under heavy Coalition air attack, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CENTCOM. Hundreds of Coalition aircraft participated in these missions, marked by precision and impact, while suffering extremely low losses. Coalition air power continued to destroy strategic targets in Iraq and the KTO. Although hindered by bad weather, the air campaign, which extended throughout the 43 days of Operation Desert Storm, won air supremacy and met its key objectives, although suppression of Scud attacks proved far more difficult than anticipated and the destruction of Iraqi nuclear facilities was incomplete because of intelligence limitations.
Planning The Offensive Air Campaign
The Early Concept Plan - Instant Thunder
During the initial days after the invasion of Kuwait, the CENTCOM
and Service component staffs began planning for defensive and
offensive operations from Saudi Arabia. The Air Force Component,
Central Command (CENTAF) staff began planning an air campaign on 3
August; this provided the basic input for CINCCENT and CENTAF
commander briefings to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
(CJCS), the Secretary of Defense, and the President.
The Air Staff concept plan had been called Instant Thunder to contrast it with Operation Rolling Thunder's prolonged, gradualistic approach to bombing North Vietnam during the 1960s. Instead of piecemeal attacks designed to send signals to enemy leaders, Instant Thunder was designed to destroy 84 strategic targets in Iraq in a single week. If all went well, air attacks would paralyze Iraqi leadership, degrade their military capabilities and neutralize their will to fight. There was, however, great concern on the part of CJCS and CINCCENT, particularly in August and the first part of September, that an aggressive Iraqi ground offensive in the absence of significant heavy Coalition ground forces might succeed in seizing key airfields as well as ports, water facilities, and oil production sites.
In addition to attacks designed to influence the Iraqi leadership's ability to control their forces, the plan also envisaged attacks to reduce the effectiveness of forces in the KTO. Targets included NBC facilities, ballistic missile production and storage facilities, key bridges, railroads and ports that enabled Iraq to supply its forces in the KTO, and the Iraqi air defense system.
The Air Staff planning group (known as Checkmate), working under the Air Staff's deputy director of plans for war fighting concepts, categorized strategic targets as follows:
The Instant Thunder concept plan was designed to attack Iraq's centers of gravity. It envisioned a six-day (good weather and 700 attack sorties a day) attack on 84 strategic targets in Iraq. This initial plan, however, did not address some major target systems that became important in Operation Desert Storm.
Although suppressing Scud attacks later proved crucial to the strategic objective of frustrating Saddam Hussein's effort to draw Israel into the war, the missiles were not regarded initially as a threat to military forces - unless they were equipped with unconventional warheads - because of their inaccuracy. (In fact, however, a Scud strike on a barracks in February inflicted more US casualties than any single engagement. Moreover, Scud attacks elsewhere in the theater, for example on the ports of Ad-Dammam and Jubayl, in the early stages of the war when large concentrations of VII Corps troops were waiting for their equipment to arrive by sealift, potentially could have inflicted very large casualties.) In any case, trying to find and attack such mobile, easily hidden targets promised to absorb many sorties without likelihood of much success. The early plans, therefore, concentrated on attacking the fixed Scud launch facilities and production centers.
Instant Thunder Evolves Into Operation Desert Storm Air
During the fall, JFACC planners merged CENTAF's pre-deployment
concept of operations with the Instant Thunder concept to form the
foundation for the Operation Desert Storm air campaign plan.
CENTCOM's offensive air campaign special planning group (SPG), in the RSAF Headquarters, was part of the JFACC staff and eventually became known as the Black Hole because of the extreme secrecy surrounding its activities. The Black Hole was led by a USAF brigadier general, reassigned from the USS Lasalle (AGF 3) where he had been serving as the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Middle East when Iraq invaded Kuwait. His small staff grew gradually to about 30 and included RAF, Army, Navy, USMC, and USAF personnel. Because of operational security (OPSEC) concerns, most of CENTAF headquarters was denied information on the plan until only a few hours before execution. By 15 September, the initial air planning stage was complete; the President was advised there were sufficient air forces to execute and sustain an offensive strategic air campaign against Iraq, should he order one.
During October, as planning began for a possible offensive ground operation to liberate Kuwait, air planners began to give more attention to Phase III, air attacks on Iraqi ground forces in the KTO. There was concern a ground assault against the well prepared KTO defenses might result in large and unnecessary loss of life. If Saddam Hussein did not comply with UN demands, air attacks would help the Offensive Ground Campaign meet its objectives rapidly and with minimal casualties. Computer modeling suggested to air planners it would take about a month of air attacks to destroy 75 to 80 percent of the armored vehicles, trucks, and artillery of the regular Iraqi army in Kuwait. Historical evidence shows attrition levels of 20 to 50 percent usually render a military force combat ineffective.
Another change from Instant Thunder was the decision to begin bombing the Republican Guards in southern Iraq at the start of Operation Desert Storm. The Secretary of Defense and CJCS identified the forces as the mainstay of the Iraqi defenses in the KTO, not only because they provided the bulk of Iraq's mobile reserves, but also because the regime counted on them to enforce the loyalty and discipline of the regular troops. In addition, weakening the Republican Guards would diminish Iraq's post-war threat to the region.
The Operation Desert Storm Air Campaign Plan
The plan was based on achieving the five military objectives listed
below. These objectives were derived from the President's objectives
and a planning model developed by the Air Staff's deputy director of
plans for war fighting concepts. Below each objective are listed the
target sets that would be attacked to secure the objective. (Although
degrading a target set commonly would help achieve more than one goal,
target sets are listed only once.
JFACC Air Campaign Objectives
Biological and Chemical Weapons Research, Production, and Storage
The extensive Iraqi NBC program was a serious threat to regional
stability. Coalition planners intended to destroy weapons research and
production capability and delivery vehicles. Because of the Iraqis'
elaborate efforts to hide the extent of their programs, Coalition
forces were uncertain of their exact scope.
Intelligence estimates varied, but the planning assumption was that Iraq could produce a rudimentary nuclear weapon by the end of 1992, if not sooner. throughout the planning period, and during the conflict, finding and destroying NBC weapons facilities remained a top priority. International investigations continue to reveal the advanced character of Iraq's nuclear program, and to uncover additional facilities. The existence of the Al-Athir complex, 40 miles south of Baghdad, which was reported lightly damaged by bombing, was not confirmed until late in the war. It was the target of the last bomb dropped by an F-117A in the conflict.
Scud Missiles, Launchers, And Production And Storage
Iraq's Scud missile capability was considered a military and a
psychological threat to Coalition forces, a threat to civilian
populations in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some other Gulf countries,
and a threat to long-term regional stability. Along with targeting the
fixed launch sites in western Iraq, Coalition planners targeted Iraq's
ability to deploy existing missiles and build more.
Intelligence estimates at the time of the total numbers of mobile launchers and Scuds were sketchy and proved to be too low. As a working estimate, planners used 600 Scud missiles (and variants), 36 mobile launchers, and 28 fixed launchers in five complexes in western Iraq, plus some training launchers at At-Taji. Initial attacks concentrated on eliminating the fixed sites. Plans were developed for hunting and destroying mobile Scud launchers, but the missiles would prove to be elusive targets.
CINCCENT planners estimated that, with odd weather and a specified
level of effort, Phases I-III would last approximately 18 days. The
main attacks of Phase I, the Strategic Air Campaign, would last about
six days; a lower level of effort, against strategic targets, would
continue throughout the remainder of the war to maintain pressure
inside Iraq, to reattack targets not previously destroyed, and to
attack newly discovered targets. The concentrated Phase II effort to
establish air superiority over the KTO would last approximately one
day; as was true for Phase I, a lower level of effort would continue
to keep enemy air defense suppressed. Phase III, designed to reduce
Iraqi combat effectiveness in the KTO by half, was to begin near the
end of the Phase II SEAD effort and was expected to complete its
objectives in about 10 to 12 days. Phase III attacks would continue
until the President directed the start of the Offensive Ground
Campaign. During Phase IV of Operation Desert Storm, air operations
were designed to support the ground maneuver scheme by flying
interdiction, battlefield air operations, and close air support (CAS)
sorties. Interdiction would continue against enemy artillery, rockets,
and reserve forces throughout the KTO. There was some planned overlap
of the phases (Table VI-1).
Executing the Air Campaign
In this section of Chapter VI, the air campaign is portrayed
chronologically, primarily by week, to give an historical perspective
of the effort - from the first hours of Operation Desert Storm through
the application of air power in the KTO during the Offensive Ground
Campaign. In some instances, a particular day (D-Day, D + 1, D + 2, D
+ 20, and D + 38) is highlighted to show the weight of effort applied.
In other cases, particular subjects, such as armored vehicle
destruction or attacks on hardened aircraft shelters, have received
special attention because of their significance. In the last section
of this chapter, the effects of the air campaign are recounted by
target set, and some operational considerations (such as air
supremacy, TLAMs, and the counter-Scud effort) are addressed. But
before beginning the description of air operations, a brief discussion
of the techniques used during the war to evaluate the effectiveness of
the air campaign is necessary to place the campaign narrative in the
D-Day, The First Night
Early in the evening of 16 January, under the guise of routine AWACS
station changes, the Coalition launched its first night crews to the
standard Operation Desert Shield surveillance orbits.
At Coalition airfields and on board Coalition warships all across the Gulf region, the first hours after midnight 17 January were marked by activity with a new sense of urgency. At the air bases and on flight decks, crews prepared to launch the biggest air strike since World War II. On other warships, sailors were preparing TLAMs for their first combat launch. In cramped compartments, dozens of B-52 crew members, some of whom had left US bases hours earlier, prepared for combat. More than 160 aerial tankers orbited outside Iraqi early warning radar range and refueled hundreds of Coalition aircraft. Shifts of RC-135, U-2RI and TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft maintained normal 24-hour orbits to provide intelligence coverage of Iraq and Kuwait. E-3 AWACS and E-2Cs orbited over Saudi Arabia, powerful radars probed deep into Iraq and crews watched for Iraqi reactions. Meanwhile, the initial attack packages marshaled south of the Iraqi and Jordanian early warning and ground control intercept (GCI) coverage. As H-Hour approached, the entire attack armada moved north, led by a fighter sweep of F-15s and F-14s. As the attack packages flew past, each AWACS moved forward to its wartime orbit. The huge air armada, comprising hundreds of aircraft from many different nations and Services, headed into the dark and threatening hostile airspace.
D-Day, Daytime Attacks
The start of the second wave attacks roughly coincided with sunrise.
This made available even more aircraft, as those best suited for
daylight operations began flying missions. throughout the day, USAF
A-10s conducted more than 150 sorties against Iraqi ground forces in
the KTO and radar sites in Iraq, while F-16s struck targets in the
KTO, including airfields and many SAM sites. The initial USMC strikes
during the dawn hours of the first day included attacks on enemy
aircraft on runways or in revetments at the heavily defended Iraqi air
bases of Tallil, Sh'aybah, Al-Qumah, and Ar-Rumaylah. Thirty-one
aircraft were assigned to hit Tallil Airfield alone. Thirty-six
aircraft were tasked to strike other targets in and around Al-Basrah,
and more than a dozen aircraft struck the heavily defended airfield at
Sh'aybah. Other attacks hit the airfield, bridges, and railroad yards
at Al-'Amarah on the outskirts of Al-Basrah. AV-8Bs attacked armor and
artillery targets in southern Kuwait.
Planners were unable to determine if F-15E strikes against fixed Scud launch sites had been successful. The Coalition did not know how many mobile Scud launchers Iraq had - in retrospect, some early estimates of the number were too low. A basic planning assumption always had been that Iraq would use its Scuds to attack Israel, intending to draw it into the war and fragment the Coalition. Scuds also would be targeted against Saudi Arabia and other regional states. This assumption proved correct, but the amount of effort and the length of time required to deal with the Scud threat was underestimated.
By nightfall on the first day of Operation Desert Storm, the Iraqis had suffered serious damage to the strategic C3 network, the formerly robust strategic air defense system, and key leadership facilities. Part of the known NBC long-term threat already had been degraded, and Coalition air forces had defeated Iraqi Air Force attempts to offer a coordinated resistance.
One key immediate objective was to seize air superiority so the full
weight of Coalition air power could be brought to bear. The Iraqi Air
Force's disorganized response was a positive and heartening sign that
air superiority operations were succeeding. Air superiority was
clearly important to the rest of Operation Desert Storm. Although the
Iraqis would retain the ability throughout the war to react piecemeal
to some Coalition strike packages, they would lose the ability to
coordinate defensive actions, and each defensive sector would become
increasingly isolated from the overall system.
Air superiority, or the dominance of a group of aircraft in a given time and space without prohibitive interference by the opposing force, was effectively gained in the first hours of the war. Coalition aircraft demonstrated they could control airspace of their choosing - the Iraqi Air Force could not coordinate an effective defense. Air supremacy (the degree of air superiority wherein the enemy is incapable of effective interference) would be announced on 27 January.
D + 1 (18 January)
Day two operations continued the campaign against key strategic and
tactical targets. Nuclear targets were again struck, as they were on
D-Day. Between 0400 and 0530, the Coalition attacked air defense, BW
and CW facilities, leadership targets, and airfields using more than
80 Coalition night-attack aircraft, including F-117s, F-15Es, F-111s,
A-6s, and RAF and Italian Air Force GR-1s. Shortly after sunrise,
F-16s and F/A-18s attacked Iraqi army units, including three
Republican Guard division elements. Nearly 100 F-16 sorties struck the
Tawakalna Division . Approximately 150 A-10 sorties were scheduled
against Iraqi forces near, and west of the tri-border area, where the
ground campaign's flanking maneuver would pass through weeks later.
FJA-18s and A-6s, supported by EA-6Bs, attacked Tallil Airfield. Large
groups of USMC aircraft flew against the Republican Guard's Al-Madinah
Division, just west of Al-Basrah. EA-6Bs provided composite active and
passive electronic support for air strikes in and around Basrah.
D-Day through D + 6: Summary of Week One (17-23 January)
At the end of Operation Desert Storm's first week, substantial
results had been accomplished against several target categories,
according to CENTCOM and intelligence reports. Many important targets
had been destroyed by the first two days' operations, affecting
several key Iraqi capabilities. The Coalition enjoyed air superiority,
primarily because the Iraqi Air Force was not vigorously contesting
the air campaign; still, the Iraqi Air Force remained a potential
threat. Iraq's strategic air defenses and C3 network had been
fragmented, partly as a result of damage to the Iraqi national
electric power grid. Iraq's known nuclear and BW programs, as well as
its stocks of deployable CW were under daily attack. National
political and military leadership was becoming increasingly cut off
and isolated from preferred, secure means to direct operations. Iraqi
ground and naval forces in the KTO were attacked from the beginning,
to eliminate their ability to conduct substantial offensive operations
and reduce their ability to oppose later military operations.
During the first week, aircraft attacked Iraqi facilities throughout Iraq and Kuwait. USAF F-117As, F-16s, B-52s, A-10s, and F-4Gs, Navy and USMC A-6Es and F/A-18s, USMC AV-8Bs, and Navy A-7s attacked air defense radars, communications nodes, and military headquarters. During the first 24 hours alone, for example, 3rd MAW flew four major strategic strike packages. Another three waves hit such targets as the bridges in Al-Basrah and the RGFC Al-Madinah Division on days two and three. Aircraft such as RAF and RSAF GR-1 fighter-bombers attacked Iraqi airfields to destroy aircraft and bomb support facilities, and to suppress air defenses. USAF F-15s, Navy F-14s, and Navy and USMC F/A-18s provided CAP and sweeps for attack packages and played an important role in establishing air supremacy quickly. USAF A-10s performed Scud-hunter and antitank missions.
Two factors slowed progress of the air campaign in its first week: bad weather and a greater-than-expected effort against Scuds. A weather front stalled over Iraq on the third day of the conflict, and disrupted operations for the next three days. Many sorties were canceled, others were diverted to different and sometimes less important targets; some missions were less effective even when they got to their assigned targets, or flew into greater danger.
Because the effort to suppress Scud attacks proved more difficult than originally anticipated, greater emphasis against Iraqi Scuds began on the third day; this effort also took sorties away from other planned targets. Although the Army s Patriot air defense missile system experienced operational success against Scuds, the Coalition still fated an urgent requirement to prevent launches, and the Iraqi ability to hide before and after launch proved considerable.
D + 10 (27 January - CINCCENT Declares Air Supremacy)
The air superiority gained in the first days of Operation Desert
Storm, and the air supremacy declared on D + 10, against some of the
more heavily defended airspace in the history of warfare, granted
Coalition aircraft a safety and freedom that permitted operations at
high and medium altitudes over Iraq with virtual impunity. Air attacks
continued on strategic targets in Iraq and to cut off and destroy the
combat effectiveness of the Iraqi army in the KTO. For example, in
Iraq, Coalition air forces continued to target Scud production and
storage facilities, airfield facilities at H-2, Tallil, and Shaykhah
Mazhar as well as the air defense headquarters, the Ministry of
Industry and Military Industrialization and several secret police and
intelligence headquarters buildings in Baghdad. In the KTO air forces
targeted the Ar-Rumaylah ammunition storage area, the Al-Basrah radio
relay and TV transmission facility, divisional logistics sites, and
directed hundreds of sorties against Iraqi army artillery, armor, and
D + 7 through D + 13: Summary Of Week Two (24 - 30 January)
As the bad weather that disrupted air operations during the first
week of Operation Desert Storm cleared, the Coalition intensified its
air attacks. The most notable aspects of week two operations were the
interdiction of Iraqi LOCs in the KTO, the start of hardened aircraft
shelter destruction, and the direct attacks on Iraqi forces in the
KTO. Additional Coalition members began or increased their
participation - the Qatari Emirates Air Force began flying combat
missions and the FAF extended its combat operations into Iraq. Air
attacks against strategic targets continued. The Iraqi strategic air
defense system was so badly fragmented that only three of 16 IOC were
fully operational. The anti-Scud effort continued unabated, although
Iraq continued to launch Scuds at both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Coalition air losses were extremely light, with only three aircraft
(an F-16, an AV-8B, and an RAF GR-1) lost to enemy action in seven
days' operations. The Iraqi Air Force lost 11 aircraft in air-to-air
D + 12 through D + 14 (29 - 31 January) - The Battle Of Al-Khafji
On 2 January, the Iraqis launched several small attacks into Saudi
Arabia and captured the undefended, evacuated border town of
Al-Khafji. Coalition air power played a key role in defeating these
attacks, which ended with an important Coalition victory during the
air campaign's third week. Other than Scud attacks on Saudi and
Israeli cities, this was the only noteworthy Iraqi offensive action.
Saddam Hussein's exact purpose is not known, although he might have
sought to probe Coalition forces or provoke a large-scale ground
battle. EPW reports show a major objective was to capture American
troops. Although Iraqi forces occupied the nearly deserted town, their
ultimate defeat said much about their combat capabilities 12 days into
the air campaign (Coalition ground actions in Al-Khafji are discussed
in more detail in Appendices I and J).
D + 20 (6-7 February - Emphasis On Degrading The Iraqi Army And
During the air campaign's 21st day, attacks continued across the
theater, although CINCCENT was shifting the emphasis from strategic
targets in Iraq to direct attacks on Iraqi forces in the KTO. Map
V1-10 depicts the D + 20 planned sorties during 6 to 7 February, 1700
to 0025 hours. These attacks were roughly concentrated in four
geographic regions - strategic targets in Baghdad; strategic targets
in northern Iraqi Scud-related targets in the southwest and southeast
of Iraqi direct attack on Iraqi forces in the KTO.
Attacks in northern Iraq were planned primarily against airfields and hardened aircraft shelters, CW and nuclear weapons storage and production facilities. As examples, a dozen F-111s from At-Taif bombed the nuclear production and storage facilities at Mosul (Al-Mawsil); JTF Proven Force F-111s hit communications transmitters and a railroad station near Kirkuk.
Attacks in and near Baghdad concentrated on leadership, C2, and airfields. F117A sorties were planned against leadership command facilities and a Signals Intelligence facility in Baghdad. Other F-117As were scheduled to bomb leadership facilities and hardened aircraft shelters at Ar-Rashid and Balad Southeast airfields near Baghdad. B-52s were tasked to bomb the military production plant at Habbaniyah. More than a dozen A-6s and F/A-18s were scheduled to attack the SAM production and support facility at Al-Falliyah. Concurrently, Red Sea Battle Force aircraft were bombing targets north of Baghdad in the target complexes around Samarra.
During the same period, taking advantage of night detection and targeting systems, dozens of F-1 5Es and LANTIRN-equipped F-16s were scheduled to respond to JSTARS and AWACS, which would direct attacks on Scud launchers and transporters, and other targets of opportunity such as convoys and Iraqi Army forces.
D + 14 through D + 20: Summary Of Week Three (31 January - 6 February)
Week three focused attacks on the Republican Guard and other Iraqi
forces in the KTO, with the overall emphasis shifting from strategic
attacks towards KTO objectives. JTF Proven Force kept up the pressure
over northern and central Iraq. The Iraqi Navy was eliminated as a
Convoys jammed up behind destroyed bridges and made large numbers of Iraqi supply vehicles vulnerable to destruction. Newly implemented FAC techniques, such as operating special scout FACs within designated geographic kill boxes, increased the efficiency and destructiveness of battlefield air operations. Psychological Operations (PSYOP) were mounted to weaken Iraqi morale and increase desertion. These included operations such as leaflet drops to warn Iraqi units of impending attacks (to spur desertion), and the use of BLU-82 bombs to send a threatening signal to Iraqi ground soldiers.
D + 21 through D + 27: Summary Of Week Four (7 - 13 February)
Week four maintained the emphasis on attacking Iraqi forces in the
KTO. It was notable for the full implementation of tank plinking
attacks on enemy armor forces, and for a strategic attack on an
alternate military command bunker in which, regrettably, Iraqi
civilians were killed.
Because of Coalition air superiority, the Iraqi Air Force was unable to gather intelligence about, or interfere with, the westward flanking movement Coalition ground forces were making as they prepared to execute the ground offensive. The air campaign had degraded the combat effectiveness of major parts of the Iraqi Army in the KTO.
The Strategic Air Campaign continued, although at a lower level of effort because of the focus on direct air attacks on deployed Iraqi forces. After four weeks of intense air attack, Iraq was strategically crippled. Its navy had been eliminated as an effective combat force, much of its air force either interned in neutral Iran or destroyed in Iraq, and its strategic air defenses neutralized. Iraq's forces and military capabilities were vulnerable to Coalition air power. The national electric grid had collapsed and refined oil products production halted. NBC facilities and systems had been struck, and Iraq's ability to produce CW munitions and agents badly damaged. Based on the reduced frequency of Scud launches after mobile Scud-hunting air operations began, the combined effects of the counter-Scud effort and the continued degradation of Iraqi military capabilities appeared to reduce Iraq's ability to launch missiles. Table VI-10 shows that during the first 10 days of Operation Desert Storm, Scud launches averaged five a day; during February, the average was slightly more than one a day.
D + 28 through D + 34: Week Five (14 - 20 February)
During Week Five, heavy attacks continued to focus on Iraqi forces
in the KTO, while operations against strategic targets and the SEAD
effort continued. Iraq's strategic air defenses remained quiescent,
with only six of the more than 70 operations centers and reporting
posts active. JTF Proven Force struck NBC and missile production
facilities in Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq. The counter-Scud
effort continued with direct attacks on suspected Scud launch
vehicles, mining and bombing of suspected launch and hide areas, and
nairborne alert sorties to search for targets of opportunity. These
efforts appeared to make Scud movements more dangerous and probably
narrowed the mobile launchers' operating areas.
Interdiction of LOCs leading into the KTO continued, as Coalition aircraft attacked pontoon bridges, which replaced previously destroyed fixed bridges. The Iraqis' heavy vehicle losses led to the use of civilian vehicles, even garbage trucks, to transport supplies to the KTO.
The emphasis was now shifting to attacks on front line Iraqi units and direct battlefield preparation for the impending ground offensive. While the antiarmor effort continued to damage or destroy a number of armored vehicles every night, other aircraft struck front line defenses and vehicles during the day. AV-8Bs dropped napalm on Iraqi fire trenches by day while, after dark, F-117s destroyed the pumps that supplied crude oil to the trenches. B-52 mine-breaching strikes continued, while MC-130s dropped the giant BLU-82.
D + 38 (24 February - The Strategic Air Campaign Continues, And
Air Operations Begin In Direct Support Of The Offensive Ground
During the Offensive Ground Campaign's four days, strategic air
operations continued throughout Iraq and Kuwait. RAF GR-1s and
Buccaneers, escorted by F-4Gs, bombed hardened aircraft shelters at
Tallil and Jalibah airfields. A large package of F-16s and F-4Es
escorted by F-15s, EF-111s, and F-4Gs attacked the Al Mawsil military
research and production facility in northern Iraq. F-1 6s bombed the
Shahiyat liquid fuel research and development facility. F-15Es sat
ground alert and flew airborne alert ready for rapid response to Scud
targeting by JSTARS and other surveillance systems. LANTIRN-equipped
F-16s also flew in response to JSTARS target advisories during the
night. B-52s bombed C3 sites in southern Iraq.
Interdiction attacks also continued to disrupt the movement and resupply of Iraqi forces in the KTO. F-16s and A-10s, responding to JSTARS targeting, flew armed reconnaissance along Iraqi roads. Restrikes were conducted against bridges to curtail Iraqi reconstruction.
Battlefield air attack sorties increased to support ground forces. On G-Day, scores of ground attack aircraft assigned to kill boxes attacked artillery, armor, APC, supply vehicles, CPs, and troops. F/A-18s and A-6s with EA-6B SEAD, E-2 early warning and C2, and KA-6 refueling support, attacked ZSU-23-4 AAA and SAM batteries in the KTO. Sections of AV-8Bs attacked Faylaka Island about every half hour throughout the day in preparation for the pending Coalition occupation. RSAF F-5s, United Arab Emirates Air Force M2000s, and Kuwaiti Air Force (KAF) F-1s attacked artillery batteries and other Iraqi forces in the KTO. F-1 6s and Tornados bombed sites used to pump oil into trenches along planned Coalition ground attack corridors. Italian GR-1s and FAF F-1s and Jaguars struck artillery, armor, and troops in the KTO.
D + 35 through D + 42: Week Six (21-28 February)
During the four days before the ground offensive, the Coalition
continued heavy emphasis on interdiction of the KTO and destruction of
Iraqi forces in their defensive positions. Nearly 90 percent of all
combat sorties were targeted into the KTO against armor, artillery,
and other elements that threatened Coalition ground forces. According
to CENTCOM rough estimates at the time, based only on pilot reports,
air attacks on 23 February destroyed 178 tanks, 97 APCs, 202 vehicles,
201 artillery pieces or multiple rocket launchers, 66 revetments,
buildings, and bunkers, and two AAA/SAM facilities.
Because of the Coalition ground forces' rapid advance, and the light resistance most ground elements met, relatively more air effort was expended on interdiction than on direct battlefield support. By G-Day, thousands of Iraqi soldiers had deserted, either returning home or crossing the border to surrender to Coalition forces.
Bad weather caused cancellation or diversion of many planned sorties, and forced many others to operate at lower altitudes and use attack profiles that increased their exposure to Iraqi air defenses. The combination of poor weather, the smoke and haze caused by Saddam Hussein's deliberate torching of hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells, the fluid nature of the rapid ground advance, and the Coalition decision to operate and fight at night placed severe demands on Coalition forces and played a role in the few instances of fratricide that occurred.
Coalition air forces continued to strike strategic targets until the last moments of the war. Airfields were hit to prevent any Iraqi Air Force attempt to interfere with Coalition operations. Scuds remained a key target. Other attacks continued against NBC, missile production, and C3 targets, including a mission just before the cease-fire that used a specially developed hard-target penetration bomb (the 4,700-lb GBU-28) to destroy a leadership C3 bunker near At-Taji.
"If there is one attitude more dangerous than to assume that a future war will be just like the last one, it is to imagine that it will be so utterly different that we can afford to ignore all the lessons of the last one."
- Former RAF Marshal, Sir John Slessor, Air Power and Armies, 1936
The initial Operation Desert Storm air strikes attacked the entire target base nearly simultaneously to produce visible pressure and destructive effects against Iraqi centers of gravity. The highest initial priority was to establish air supremacy by degrading the Iraqi IADS, making enemy air forces ineffective, and preventing use of CW biological weapons. Achieving air supremacy allowed continuous air attacks with non-stealth aircraft against the complete range of targets. Stealth aircraft and cruise missiles allowed the Coalition to keep pressure on key leadership, as well as C2 nodes, in the more heavily defended areas, around the clock.
CINCCENT neutralized the enemy with decisive air attacks. Iraq's sophisticated air defense system was defeated by stealth, large packages of EW aircraft, decoy drones, and attack aircraft using PGMs and gravity weapons, while key nodes in the electrical power system, air defenses, C2 structure, and intelligence apparatus were attacked by stealth and conventional aircraft using PGMs and by cruise missiles. Scores of aircraft attacked Iraqi forces and facilities across the KTO and Iraq, using mostly gravity bombs and cluster bomb units, as well as PGMs (which constituted about 10 percent of the total munitions delivered). Saddam Hussein was unable to coordinate an effective response to the rest of Coalition military operations. What came after was not easy, and ground forces had to eject Saddam Hussein's forces from the KTO and secure the liberation of Kuwait, but air power set the stage and helped the Offensive Ground Campaign exploit a weakened enemy.
Assessments By Target Set
This section describes what air power, supported by some special
operations and artillery attacks, accomplished by target set. These
assessments cannot be definitive, because not all the data have been
collected, analyzed, and examined in detail. For the most part, they
must be both tentative and subjective because of the magnitude of
Coalition air operations, difficulties with gathering records for each
of some 60,000 attack sorties, and inaccessibility of enemy soldiers,
equipment and facilities.
Nuclear, Biological, And Chemical Weapons Research and Production Facilities
A key objective was degrading the threat from Iraqi NBC weapons of
mass destruction and their delivery systems (one of Iraq's centers of
gravity). Air power was one of the more effective ways to reach
research and production facilities deep inside Iraq. Damage to the
known nuclear weapons program was substantial. The Baghdad Nuclear
Research Center was damaged, including both research reactors.
However, UN inspection teams and US intelligence sources subsequently
discovered Iraq's nuclear weapons program was more extensive than
previously thought, and did not suffer as serious a setback as was
During December, a team was formed in CONUS to determine the most effective way to attack Iraq's arsenal of CW/BW weapons. Several experiments were conducted which attempted to find a way to destroy these weapons without releasing BW agents or causing significant collateral damage. Finally, through timing of attacks and choice of munitions, planners were able to minimize the chance for toxins to spread. No chemical of biological agents were detected after the attacks and no CW/BW collateral damage was experienced.
During Operation Desert Storm, the BW program was damaged and its known key research and development facilities were destroyed. All known BW research and production capabilities were made unusable. Most of Iraq's refrigerated storage bunkers were destroyed.
Iraq's CW program was seriously damaged. At least 75 percent of Iraq's CW production capability was destroyed. At Samarra, Coalition forces destroyed or severely damaged most known primary CW production, processing, or production support buildings. All three buildings used to fill munitions at Samarra were destroyed, although the Iraqis may have moved the equipment from one building before Operation Desert Storm for safekeeping. All three precursor chemical facilities at Habbaniyah were seriously damaged. Although Iraq previously had produced and distributed many CW agents to storage sites throughout the country, the means for delivering the weapons was badly damaged. Coalition air supremacy made Iraqi Air Force delivery of these weapons unlikely; most artillery (Iraq's preferred method of delivering CW) was disabled.
Why Iraq did not use CW still is a matter of conjecture. Concerted efforts, both public and private, were made before the war to warn Saddam Hussein of severe consequences of CW use. The fact that almost no chemical munitions were distributed to Iraqi forces in the KTO suggests Saddam Hussein chose to retain tight control over this capability. UN inspections since the war have confirmed Iraq did have chemical warheads for its Scud missiles, which Iraq continued to fire until the end of the war. This suggests deterrence worked. However, Coalition attacks also disrupted the Iraqis' ability to move, load, and fire weapons, and eliminated many battlefield delivery systems. The rapid ground offensive against the already blinded and confused Iraqis made effective use of CW against the Coalition offensive almost impossible. At present, there is no conclusive answer.
Scud Production and Storage Facilities
Immediately after the war, estimates, based on imagery analysis of
heavily damaged or destroyed complexes associated with Scud
production, concluded Iraq's overall ability to modify or produce Scud
missiles and support equipment was severely degraded and that
Baghdad's overall potential to build liquid-propellant missiles had
been reduced. More recently, UN inspection teams have determined most
production equipment, components, and documents had been removed
before the beginning of the air campaign. Recent intelligence
estimates confirm that actual damage to Scud production and storage
facilities is less than previously thought.
The GBU-28, a 4,700-lb deep-penetrator LGB, was not even in the
early stages of research when Kuwait was invaded. The USAF did not ask
industry for ideas until the week after combat operations started. Its
rapid development and combat delivery were impressive.
The bomb was fabricated starting on 1 February, using surplus 8-inch artillery tubes. The official go-ahead for the project was issued on 14 February, and explosives for the initial units were hand-loaded by laboratory personnel into a bomb body that was partially buried upright in the ground outside the laboratory in New York.
The first two units were delivered to the USAF on 16 and 17 February, and the first flight to test the guidance software and fin configuration was conducted on 20 February. These tests were successful and the program proceeded, with a contract let on 22 February. A sled test on 26 February proved that the bomb could penetrate over 20 feet of concrete, while an earlier flight test had demonstrated the bomb's ability to penetrate more than 100 feet of earth. The first two operational bombs were delivered to the theater on 27 February - and were used in combat just before the cease-fire.
The Counter-Scud Effort
Long before the offensive, it was recognized that Saddam Hussein was likely to attack Israel with Scuds in the event of hostilities. Accordingly, considerable thought was given to how Israel could be protected from such attacks without Israel's own forces entering the war. Although there was never any doubt about the willingness of Israel's highly capable forces to take on this mission, the President realized this was precisely what Saddam Hussein hoped to achieve. At a minimum, this almost certainly would have led to a war between Israel and Jordan and allowed Saddam Hussein to change the complexion of the war from the liberation of Kuwait to another Arab-Israeli conflict. It might easily have brought down the government of Jordan and replaced it with a radical one. The Coalition's unity would be tested severely, with potentially major repercussions.
Accordingly, the President directed that unprecedented steps be taken to persuade Israel not to exercise its unquestioned right to respond to Iraqi attacks. A special, secure communications link established between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MOD) before the offensive began enabled immediate and frequent contact between senior US and Israeli officials. Early warning of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on this link gave the Israeli populace as much as five minutes to take shelter before missile impact. The President offered and Israel agreed to accept four US Patriot batteries manned with US troops which deployed from Europe in record time. Delivery of Israeli-manned Patriot batteries was accelerated.
One air campaign target was Iraq's strategic offensive capability, including Scud production, assembly and storage, and launch sites. The first counter-Scud missions were flown on D-Day against fixed launch complexes and Scud support depots. By the third day of air operations, attacks had begun on ballistic missile production and storage capability.
On the second day of Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi Scud missiles struck Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel. Seven people were slightly injured by broken glass, but the political and emotional impact was tremendous. There was concern Saddam Hussein might use CW against Israel. In fact, 11 trucks were observed departing the Samarra CW storage facility in Iraq, heightening speculation about Iraqi CW preparations. Concern intensified that if the Scud threat were left unchecked, Israel might be forced to strike back.
When Iraq launched another Scud attack on Tel Aviv on 19 January, the pressure to respond was intense. A target intelligence officer assigned to the Black Hole identified what he believed to be a Scud launch site and recommended that F-15Es, loaded with CBU-89s and CBU-87s, strike the location. After this strike by the 4th TFW, which reported secondary explosions, there was a break of 85 hours before the Iraqis launched a single Scud against Israel, and more than five days before another mass launch.
The fourth day saw increased effort to locate, disrupt operations, and destroy mobile Scud missiles. Many sorties were diverted or replanned from their intended targets to hunt for and suppress the Scuds. Although the strategic target list included Scud missile capabilities only as one of several higher priority target sets Scud suppression missions quickly took up an increasing share of air operations. Despite the poor weather conditions that caused the cancellation of nearly 300 sorties on 20 January, the JFACC kept planes on both air and ground alert for rapid response to Scud launches.
The Scud crews had several initial advantages. They fired from pre-surveyed launch positions. Mobile erector launchers are only about as large as a medium-sized truck and moved constantly. This enabled crews to set up relatively quickly, fire, and move before Coalition forces could respond. The area of western Iraq from which the missiles that struck Israel were launched is rugged, a good setting in which to conceal mobile launchers in ravines, beneath highway underpasses, or in culverts.
Scud launchers could be reconfigured and moving within a few minutes after a launch. Within 10 minutes after launch, a mobile Scud launcher could be anywhere within five miles of the launch site. If the Iraqi Scud crew were given five more minutes, it could be anywhere within nine miles of the launch point - 12 miles if it traveled on a road. Destruction of mobile Scud launchers depended on time - the faster strike aircraft could get to the target the better the chance of destroying the launcher. (See Appendix K and Appendix T for additional discussion of Scud launch detection.)
A considerable segment of the available intelligence-gathering capability was shifted to counter-Scud operations, including reconnaissance aircraft (U-2/TR-1s and RF-4Cs). Intelligence originally had estimated Iraq had 36 mobile Scud launchers, 33 of which were believed operational. Ad hoc groups were formed to develop options to the seemingly intractable problem of how to find and destroy Scuds. A special planning cell was set up in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, headed by a Joint Staff flag officer, to give the Israelis a chance to analyze the available intelligence, and elicit their ideas. When one Scud hit a residential section in Tel Aviv on 22 January, killing three Israelis and injuring dozens more, the problem took on even greater urgency.
The next week saw an intense effort in western Iraq to eliminate the mobile Scud launchers. B-52s bombed suspected Scud hide sites and support facilities at H-2 and H-3 airfields in western Iraq during the day and at night. During the day, A-10s and F-16s patrolled the area; at night, LANTIRN-equipped F-16s and F-15Es, and FLIR-equipped A-6Es took up the task. Pilots often received target coordinates or patrol areas, based on the most up-to-date information, as they headed out to the planes. Using Defense Support Program (DSP) early warning information and other indications, CENTCOM directed aircraft to attack the launchers. JSTARS helped detect and report destruction of several possible mobile launchers north of the KTO on D + 5. By D + 10, the weather had cleared and A-10s joined in what came to be called the Great Scud Hunt.
The Scud-hunting effort in southeast Iraq was similar to that in the west. The search area was nearly as large, and the mobile Scud launchers were difficult to find. However, Coalition tactics made it dangerous for Scud transporters, and any other vehicles, to move; JSTARS and other surveillance assets alerted ground- and airborne-alert aircraft to vehicular movement, resulting in rapid attack in many cases. Following Scud launches, attack aircraft were concentrated in the launch area to search for and attack suspect vehicles.
By early February, the counter-Scud effort seemed to be having an effect, although no destruction of mobile launchers had been confirmed. The daily CENTCOM chronology for this period contains numerous entries such as, "one Scud launched towards Israel, no damage," and "Patriots destroyed the only Scud launched at Saudi Arabia." As more intelligence assets were brought to bear on the problem, specific Scud operating areas (Scud boxes) were more clearly defined; Coalition striking power was concentrated there. On 19 February, Coalition aircraft began dropping CBU-89 area denial mines into suspected operating areas, to hamper the launchers' mobility. A key element in this effort was small SOF groups on the ground who provided vital information about the Scuds.
On 25 February, a Scud struck a barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 US soldiers and wounding almost 100 more. When the war ended, intelligence analysis showed the Iraqis had fired 88 modified Scuds, 42 towards Israel and 46 at Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.
Patriot Defender Missile Defense System
Scud ballistic missiles were the main weapon system with which
Saddam Hussein took significant offensive action against Coalition
forces, and the only one to offer him a possible opportunity, through
the attacks on Israel, to achieve a strategic objective. Had they been
more accurate or able to penetrate more successfully, they might have
inflicted serious damage on military targets, including the large
troop concentrations at Saudi ports at the start of the war. The
Army's Patriot Defender missile defense system not only helped defeat
the psychological threat of Iraq's Scuds, instilling a feeling of
confidence in people in the targeted areas, but also almost certainly
reduced civilian casualties. Scud attacks resulted in substantial
property damage, including that caused by falling debris from the
The war with Iraq was the first conflict in history to make
comprehensive use of space systems support. All of the following
helped the Coalition's air, ground, and naval forces: The DMSP weather
satellites; US LandSAT multi-spectral imagery satellites; the GPS; DSP
early warning satellites; the tactical receive, equipment and related
applications satellite broadcast; the Tactical Information Broadcast
Service; as well as communications satellites. Space systems
communications played a central role in the effective use of advanced
weapon systems. (For more detailed discussion, see Appendices K and
The largely featureless KTO terrain made precise electronic navigation crucial to many missions and functions. GPS was used by TLAM launch platforms to obtain accurate firing positions; by artillery for accurate targeting; by aircraft for more precise navigation; by SLAM for flight guidance; by minesweeping ships and helicopters to maintain accurate sweep lanes; by Navy CSAR and USMC medical evacuation helicopters to locate downed airmen or injured ground troops; and by many other units to provide grid locations for navigation aids and radars.
DSP was the primary Scud launch detection system during Operation Desert Storm. The DSP constellation and associated ground station processing provided crucial warning data of Scud launches. This data was disseminated by a variety of means. The national military command center used DSP data to provide military and civilian warning to Israel and the Gulf states.