From our vantage point some 30 years later, Desert Storm seems like little more than an appetizer for future conflicts in Iraq, and as such, it tends to garner less attention than more recent (and ongoing) conflicts in the Middle East. As a result, it’s easy to forget just how massive, intricate, and logistically challenging the Coalition’s speedy victory over Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime really was.
While there’s no question that the Iraqi military was outclassed in every appreciable way by the massive force fielded against it, Iraq was not without serious and sizeable defenses. In fact, Iraq’s capital in Baghdad may have been one of the most heavily defended cities on the planet when Coalition aircraft first screamed across Iraq’s border on 17 January 1991. It may be fair to say that the Coalition Force’s victory was a foregone conclusion as the Gulf War began, but the tactical and strategic domination of the Iraqi forces was not.
America, who led the allied force and delivered a massive amount of hardware and personnel to the theater, used the short-lived conflict to demonstrate just how capable its military truly was as its most formidable opponent, the Soviet Union, drew its final political breaths elsewhere on the globe. Victory may have been all but assured, but for U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, it wasn’t just about securing victory. Schwarzkopf had been selected to lead the largest coalition of allies formed since World War II, and he took full advantage of the size of the force, alongside its logistical might, to leverage a battle plan with a truly massive scope.
On the eve of the first day of the air campaign in Iraq, Schwarzkopf’s coalition had a whopping 2,430 military aircraft at its disposal. Keen to handily defeat his opponent, the American general began the Gulf War in the skies, with five straight weeks of airstrikes and combat patrols bolstered by naval bombardments that were meant to crush Iraq’s sizeable collection of air defense assets, neuter the Iraqi Navy’s ability to deploy forces by sea, and pave the way for ground forces who were to follow soon thereafter.
By the time the coalition’s ground forces moved across the Iraqi border, Saddam Hussein’s weaker troops were practically waiting to surrender. In fact, the ground war of Desert Storm ended after just 100 hours, that is, after weeks of abuse from the skies. According to some sources, the allies would have moved across the Iraqi desert even faster if they hadn’t been slowed down by the need to process thousands of surrendering troops.
While the victory of Desert Storm was truly one shared among dozens of participant nations, the gargantuan logistical effort required to fly 18,000 air deployment missions and more than 116,000 combat air sorties in a matter of just under two months can’t be dismissed. The fighting in Iraq was a clinic in America’s ability to project power anywhere on the globe, and while that’s a testament to the incredible skill, talent, and bravery of the troops and aviators in the fight, it also served as an important example of the power of a well-laid plan.
This video from the YouTube channel, “The Operation’s Room” is one of a series they’ve done on the Gulf War, all of which are worth a watch. This one, in particular, however, offers a sense of just how large and well-coordinated the air operations of Desert Storm truly were.