The Gulf War

From the US Centennial of Flight

F-15 Fighter

F-15C, D and E models were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm where they proved their superior combat capability with a confirmed 26:0 kill ratio. F-15 fighters accounted for 36 of the 39 Air Force air-to-air victories. F-15Es were operated mainly at night, hunting SCUD missile launchers and artillery sites.

HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter

During Desert Storm, HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters provided combat recovery for coalition air forces in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf. They also provided emergency evacuation coverage for U.S. Navy sea, air and land (SEAL) teams penetrating the Kuwait coast before the invasion.

Aerial view of Basera Airfield

Fighter Squadron Two at Basera International Airport.

B-52 Bomber in Gulf War

In Operation Desert Storm, B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard. The Gulf War involved the longest strike mission in the history of aerial warfare when B-52s took off from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., launched conventional air launched cruise missiles and returned to Barksdale — a 35-hour, nonstop combat mission.

A-10 fighters

In the Gulf War, A-10s, with a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles.

The Gulf War was an anomaly compared to other wars of the second half of the 20th century. It was fought on a clearly delineated battlefield against known enemies and with a clear objective. But the weapons used were like those from a science fiction novel. There were silent airplanes that could not be tracked from the ground, bombs that could be steered to hit a target the size of a chair, missiles that could destroy other missiles in midair, and satellites that could tell a person in the middle of the trackless desert where they were. Damage assessment was done through television news. It was a posthumous victory for the U.S. Air Force’s first Chief of Staff, Henry “Hap” Arnold, who had dedicated his service to research and development for technology that would win wars quickly and with as few casualties as possible. The technology that had cost billions of dollars in the preceding decades was unleashed in a massive demonstration of American power. All levels of air power including stealth bombers, aircraft carriers, cruise missiles, troop helicopters, and satellites worked together to ensure perhaps the fastest ground campaign in history.

the Iran-Iraq War ended with a ceasefire in 1988, both countries were
decimated, and Iraq had accumulated more than $40 million in debt. But rather
than working to rebuild his country, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein threatened
Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, two neighboring countries that Iraq held
an ancient claim on. He ordered them to cut their oil production to raise its
price and not only to forgive Iraq’s debts, but also to compensate Iraq for
“protection” from Iran. Although the countries did cut oil production, the
demands were just an excuse for invasion, and on August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded

invasion began at 2 a.m., as tanks and armored units rolled down a superhighway
connecting the two countries. They were covered by aircraft, including Mil
Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships and Sukhoi ground
attack aircraft. The Kuwaitis attempted to fight back. Their air force launched
U.S.-built Hawk surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and downed 23 Iraq Air Force
(IQAF) airplanes, but their supply was quickly exhausted. Pilots took to the
air to try to fight back, but quickly found it safer to fly to safety in Saudi
Arabia. By dawn, Iraq had control of Kuwait.

world was shocked. That day the United Nations Security Council demanded that
Iraq withdraw immediately. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, fearing his country would
be next, asked the world to help, offering air bases and facilities. Many
countries jumped to action. The United States immediately began a mobilization
to the area by sending 48 McDonnell
Douglas F-15 Eagles. In reaction, on August 8, Hussein annexed Kuwait as
Iraq’s 19th Province. Later that day, U.S. President George Bush
announced he was sending troops to the region and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight Eisenhower was heading toward the Persian Gulf. Operation
Desert Shield had begun.

the American example, nations around the world organized either to send troops
or to help the effort financially. Although the United States sent the largest
force, Great Britain, France, Argentina, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Italy,
Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates,
Greece, the Netherlands, and Australia all sent either aviation or naval help.
The coalition was given legal status through U.N.
Resolution 665, passed August 25. Alliances which were unimaginable a year
before took place, such as a Royal Air Force maritime patrol plane assisting a
Soviet warship in intercepting an Iraqi blockade-running ship.

these forces built up, Saddam Hussein was watching commentators on television,
especially on Cable News Network (CNN), who were predicting disaster for the
coalition. His air force was considered the sixth best in the world and he felt
that he could be victorious, especially if he could convince other Arab nations
to leave the coalition. He also announced that Western nationals, trapped in Iraq,
would be held at targets as “human shields.” Although he released all the
captives by December 6, this maneuver demonstrated his potential ruthlessness.

November, the focus of the coalition had shifted from protecting Saudi Arabia
to expelling Iraq from Kuwait. On November 29, the United Nations passed Resolution
678, ordering Iraq to leave by January 15, 1991. The U.S. Congress
authorized President Bush to use force against Iraq on January 12, 1991.

15 arrived and Iraq remained in Kuwait. The coalition’s attack, named Operation
Desert Storm, began on January 17.  Soon
after midnight, a force of Lockheed F-117A Nighthawks flew into Baghdad. And although Baghdad had seven times the defenses of Hanoi
during the Linebacker II raids, these
stealth airplanes slipped silently through them, dropping Paveway laser-guided
bombs on various sites around the city. Tomahawk missiles launched from
aircraft carriers were also hitting various targets.

world watched the attacks live on CNN but was unaware that amidst the images of
thick anti-aircraft fire around the city, America’s newest aircraft were
darting effortlessly to their marks. And military officials did not need to
wait for reconnaissance reports to confirm target hits. One of the targets was
the AT&T communications building in Baghdad and with reporters from CNN
reporting live on the air via telephone, Pentagon officials knew the target had
been struck when they were suddenly cut off.

the first day, 655 coalition aircraft flew 1,322 sorties against communication
centers and airfields. Planes from the IQAF tried to fight the coalition
planes, but their older technology was no match. By the second day, they were
fleeing for airfields in neutral Iran. Some thought this was a sign of victory,
although others were worried that they had been sent there to wait until the
ground war had begun. Within 24 hours, the coalition achieved air superiority
and was free to destroy Iraq’s command and control centers and to cut
communications between Baghdad and Kuwait. Other planes began to take aim at
the Iraqi troops on the ground, destroying tanks, bunkers, and highways.

there was an unexpected delay to the air war. On January 17, Iraq launched its
first Scud missile. The SS-1 Scud surface-to-surface missile was built by the
Soviet Union in the late 1950s and sold to Iraq in the 1970s. The Scuds had
limited range and accuracy but were useful weapons of terror. Coalition
intelligence had underestimated their numbers and failed to account for them in
the war plans. Hussein was using them to break the coalition. By firing them at
Israel, he hoped to draw that country into the war, knowing the Arab nations
would not fight alongside Israel. And he fired them at Saudi Arabia to try to
convince it that it was too risky to host the coalition. Both attempts failed
as the United States rushed Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot missile batteries to
protect the two countries. The Patriot was not perfect–it did not always
intercept the Scud and even when it did, the falling debris often inflicted
damage. But the Patriot missile was a major political weapon for keeping Israel
and Saudi Arabia happy and to CNN, it made for exciting television.

a month, airplanes and helicopters pounded away at any targets that might
contribute to the ground war, from destruction of communications buildings and
bridges to dropping “Daisy Cutter” bombs over the possible frontline to destroy
landmines. Precision bombs were used to decrease errors and casualties. Their
accuracy was such that a hit was only considered “on target” if it was within
10 feet (three meters) of its mark, very different from World War II, when the
hit had to be within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of the target.

February 24, the ground war began. But there was not much left of the Iraqi
military. The remaining soldiers had no communications with command, no
reinforcements, and little food or water. Having watched their tanks and
vehicles being destroyed, the once-feared Iraqi troops suffered extremely low
morale and deserted or surrendered quickly. The hundred hours of the ground war
were spent processing prisoners and negotiating around bombed locations. Iraq
accepted a ceasefire on February 28 without ever really fighting. Coalition
casualties were extremely low, although one quarter was the result of friendly

Force officials celebrated the victory as a triumph of air power 60 years after
the early air power prophets predicted that air power alone could win wars.
They cited the desalination plant in Kuwait City being destroyed on February 24
(with orders issued before the ground campaign began) as a sign that the Iraqis
were planning to retreat before ground troops arrived. The victory of air power
in the Gulf War was definitely a victory for the Air Force’s technology
development program. Stealth aircraft, “smart” bombs, Patriot missiles, the
Global Positioning System, F/A-18 Hornets, and other new technologies,
supplemented older technologies such as the B-52 Stratofortress and Huey
helicopters to destroy a war machine that was regarded as dangerous but in the
end, was not advanced enough to fight the world.



Chant, Christopher. Air War in the Gulf 1991. Oxford,
England: Osprey Publishing, 2001.

Gunston, Bill. History of Military Aviation. London:
Hamlyn, 2000.

Hallion, Richard P. Storm Over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War.Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.

Murray, Williamson. “Tactical Exercises: The First Night.” Military
History Quarterly, Fall 1996.

Frontline: The Gulf War: