25 years after Operation Desert Storm

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- This is a victory for every country in the coalition, for the United Nations… It is a victory for the rule of the law and for what is right. – George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States

In August 1990, the first major foreign crisis for the United States since the end of the Cold War presented itself when Saddam Hussein, former dictator of Iraq, ordered his army across the border into Kuwait.

This was viewed as no ordinary act of aggression. Iraq’s army was well-equipped; the U.S. had provided abundant military aid to Iraq during their eight-year war with Iran, giving Iraq one of the largest armies in the world at that time.

Kuwait was a major supplier of oil to the U.S. An Iraq takeover would have presented an immediate threat to neighboring Saudi Arabia, another major exporter of oil. If Saudi Arabia fell to Hussein, Iraq would have controlled one-fifth of the world's oil supply. With many Americans turning their attention to the White House for a response to these acts of aggression, then President Bush stated those movements would not stand.

In the final months of 1990, the U.S. aided in the defense of Saudi Arabia in a deployment known as Operation Desert Shield; upon request, the United Nations Security Council provided additional multilateral support. When all forces were in place, the U.S. issued an ultimatum to Hussein: leave Kuwait by Jan. 15, 1991 or face a full assault by multinational forces.

Jan. 15 came and went with no response from Hussein; the following day, Desert Shield became Desert Storm.

Bombing sorties pummeled Iraq's military targets for the next several weeks. On multiple days there were over 2,500 similar missions. Iraq responded by launching missiles at American military barracks in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Attacking Israel was done to persuade all the neighboring Arab nations to join Iraq’s cause. After intense diplomatic pressure and negotiation, the Arab nations remained in opposition of Iraq.

On Feb. 24, 1991, the ground war began. Although the bombings lasted for weeks, American ground troops declared Kuwait liberated just 100 hours after ground attacks were initiated. American soldiers moved fiercely through Kuwait and entered southern Iraq. This however posed a dilemma for the United States. The military objectives were complete, but Hussein was still ruling Iraq from Baghdad.

President Bush feared allies would not support the occupation of Baghdad. Concerns were raised that if Hussein's regime were toppled, the entire nation could disintegrate into a civil war. Iraq ultimately agreed to terms for a ceasefire, and the conflict subsided.

Regardless, Iraq had not left Kuwait unscathed. Millions of dollars in valuables were plundered by occupying troops. As Iraq retreated, they detonated explosives at many of Kuwait's oil reserves. The disaster to the environment grew as Iraq dumped oil into the Persian Gulf. The costs of the conflict were enormous and the casualties staggering.

Although estimates of Iraqi deaths ranged in the hundreds of thousands, only 148 Americans were killed in the battle. This was primarily because of the technological advances of the U.S.

With Jan. 16, 2016 marking the 25th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, leaders across the Department of Defense are working diligently to highlight and amplify the incredible bravery, commitment, and expertise of the Airmen who fought and directly supported the Persian Gulf War as part of the joint forces.

Desert Storm marked the first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of stealth and space systems support capabilities against a modern, integrated air defense. The united coalition was made more combat lethal due to employment of space technology: weather satellites, US LANDSAT multi-spectral imagery satellites, GPS and early warning satellites. Additionally, space integration was vital to the coalition kill chain.

The initial phase air campaign sought air superiority, utilizing more than 30 aircraft types flying more than 69,000 sorties, ultimately propelling the Air Force to gain and maintain air dominance. Allied aircraft took down more than 39 Iraqi aircraft in air-to-air combat, neutralizing more than 700 by damaging more than 375 of the 594 hardened aircraft shelters. Over 9,300 laser-guided bombs were dropped out of a total 220,000 bombs on enemy targets. Furthermore, American Air Forces aided in the transport of more than 130,000 passengers and 700,000 short tons of cargo shipped throughout January 1991 alone.

Unique to Cannon, the EF-111A Raven on static display just outside Joe Cannon Estates was the model of aircraft to score the first air-to-air kill against Iraqi air forces during the opening assault of Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991.

More than 60,000 Airmen were deployed in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm; over 48,000 Reserve Airmen were recalled to support home-station requirements providing critical assistance to state-side missions and those directly augmenting forward combat operations.

The capability gap separating America’s Air Force from others is narrowing and requires modernization to maintain overarching advantages. The average age of an Air Force aircraft is 27 years, older than many of the pilots flying them today. The Air Force currently has 12 fleets of aircraft that quality for antique license plates in the state of Virginia.

Desert Shield and Desert Storm are well behind the U.S.; however, emerging and highly-capable threats will continue to challenge the Air Force’s current technological advantages, requiring continued investments in key modernization programs. That being said, the Air Force is focusing on capabilities, not platforms. Leaders want to preserve and enhance the overall agility and flexibility of the total Air Force.

Lessons learned since this conflict demonstrate the lasting value of American airpower, the impact of revolutionary air and space technologies, the benefits of an integrated total force, and a compelling need to continue investing in and modernizing the Air Force to ensure strategic, operational and tactical level advantages in future conflicts.