top of page

Desert Storm and "Precision Warfare"

In early July 1990, Iraq complained about Kuwait's behavior, such as not respecting their quota, and openly threatened to take military action. On the 23rd, the CIA reported that Iraq had moved 30,000 troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, and the US naval fleet in the Persian Gulf was placed on alert.

On 15 July 1990, Saddam's government laid out its combined objections to the Arab League, including that policy moves were costing Iraq $1 billion a year, that Kuwait was still using the Rumaila oil field, that loans made by the UAE and Kuwait could not be considered debts to its "Arab brothers". He threatened force against Kuwait and the UAE, saying: "The policies of some Arab rulers are American ... They are inspired by America to undermine Arab interests and security." The US sent aerial refueling planes and combat ships to the Persian Gulf in response to these threats. Discussions in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, mediated on the Arab League's behalf by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, were held on 31 July and led Mubarak to believe that a peaceful course could be established.[1]

The Iraqi Invasion Starts

The Iraqi response was to immediately order the invasion, which started on 2 August 1990 with the bombing of Kuwait's capital, Kuwait City.

At the time of the invasion, the Kuwaiti military was believed to have numbered 16,000 men, arranged into three armored, one mechanised infantry and one under-strength artillery brigade. The pre-war strength of the Kuwait Air Force was around 2,200 Kuwaiti personnel, with 80 fixed-wing aircraft and 40 helicopters. In spite of Iraqi saber rattling, Kuwait did not mobilize its force; the army had been stood down on 19 July, and at the time of the Iraqi invasion many Kuwaiti military personnel were on leave.

By 1988, at the Iran–Iraq war's end, the Iraqi Army was the world's fourth largest army; it consisted of 955,000 standing soldiers and 650,000 paramilitary forces in the Popular Army. According to John Childs and André Corvisier, a low estimate shows the Iraqi Army capable of fielding 4,500 tanks, 484 combat aircraft and 232 combat helicopters. According to Michael Knights, a high estimate shows the Iraqi Army capable of fielding one million men and 850,000 reservists, 5,500 tanks, 3,000 artillery pieces, 700 combat aircraft and helicopters; and held 53 divisions, 20 special-forces brigades, and several regional militias, and had a strong air defense.[1]

The Storm Begins

A day after the deadline set in United Nations Resolution 678, a US-led coalition launched a massive air campaign, which began the general offensive code-named Operation Desert Storm. The sorties were launched mostly from Saudi Arabia and the six carrier battle groups (CVBG) in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

The Gulf War began with an extensive aerial bombing campaign on 16 January 1991. For 42 consecutive days and nights, the coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most intensive air bombardments in military history. The coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tons of bombs, and widely destroying military and civilian infrastructure. The air campaign was commanded by USAF Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, who briefly served as US Central Command's Commander-in-Chief (Forward) while General "Stormin" Norman Schwarzkopf was still in the US.[1]

New Technology

Many main types of new technology were introduced in Operation Desert Storm:

  • The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM-A), launched from US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf at targets far inland. These missiles allowed for multiple, simultaneous attacks on critical targets without the need to put manned aircraft and their crews in harm's way. Believe it or not, the TLAM-A had the same processing power as the Commodore 64 personal computer--imagine that compared to today's smartphone capabilities...WOW!

  • Precision-Guided Weapons, both powered and free-fall, allowed for ground forces or aircraft to guide missiles into their targets with precision not seen in previous conflicts. You may have heard of these as "lazing" or "painting" the target, which provided a reflected signature for the weapon to follow into its target--striking within a zone only 10 feet in diameter!

  • The F-117 Stealth Fighter, virtually invisible to RADAR and other sensors of its day. I Had the privilege of going through Air War College with the commander of an F-117 squadron and he was, in my opinion, a very impressive officer and tactician.

  • Satellite communications that could allow well beyond line-of-site or even high-frequency radio communications by "bouncing" voice and data off of a US military satellite. This enabled global communications that sped up decision-making in the coalition chain of command.

  • The Patriot surface-to-air missile designed to counter ballistic missiles--a development that derived from, but was different to, those designed to counter enemy aircraft. With the threat of Iraqi SCUD missiles from mobile launchers, this system was essential in keeping an umbrella over coalition partner Israel.

Another new introduction--the concept of building a coalition to achieve United Nations military objectives.

Where was I?

At the time the operation began, I was a joint advanced navigation instructor serving at Mather AFB, CA. As the Admin Officer at the Navy unit, I saw an impressive number of instructors wanting to put in for transfers to operational units to join in the well as students who tried to accelerate their training program to get there more quickly.

Of course, this was for naught, as the war only lasted 42 days. Iraqi forces were decidedly defeated as a result of brilliant tactics and operational deception in company with the use of the "smart" weapons brought to bear on Iraqi targets. However, because the UN mandate was to get Iraq out of Kuwait, coalition forces were not empowered to "march to Baghdad" and finish the job. A dozen years later, they would...

It is interesting to think that this conflict--the first that relied on modern "smart" weapons--occurred 30 years ago...


[1] Wikipedia: Gulf War. Available at

11 views0 comments


bottom of page