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U.S. Navy in Desert Shield/Desert Storm banner

"The United States Armed Forces, with the forces of allied coalition countries, achieved a great victory in the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi aggression. We must ensure that the lessons of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM inform our decisions for the future." -- Memorandum from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, 8 March 1991

"I believe the magnificent performance of our forces and the totality of their victory have clearly established the tenor of after-action discussions--success. We planned, mobilized, deployed, and executed this operation farther from the shores of the continental United States than ever before. We applied military pawer beyond what our coalition partners--and indeed many Americans--could have imagined. Our accomplishments and successes greatly overshadow any identified shortfalls or deficiencies." - -General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, Preliminary Report on Lessons Learned, 5 April 1991

"It is absolutely essential that we review the performance of our people, platforms, weapons, and tactics while memories are fresh. We want to find out what worked well and what didn't work so well." --Statement by Admiral F. B. Kelso, II, USN before the House Armed Services Committee, 24 April 1991

INTRODUCTION: From almost any vantage point, Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM were tremendously successful. There has not been sufficient time to collect, sort and analyze all the data required for detailed tradeoff analyses between specific systems and programs. Nevertheless, some useful broad trends and conclusions are already apparent. This initial recapitulation of lessons learned underscores keys to victory which must be nurtured and reinforced. It also highlights areas for improvement.

The lessons of DESERT SHIELD/STORM can be usefully separated into three broad categories: (l) areas not tested, (2) old lessons revalidated, and (3) new lessons learned. Areas not tested encompass systems and capabilities which, because of the special circumstances of those operations, were not realistically stressed, tested or evaluated.

"...Lessons should be interpreted in light of [the] DESERT SHIELD/STORM scenano, and in some cases may be less applicable generally. For example, we did not test our open ocean concepts. Equipment, tactics, and CWC organizations designed to fight in blue water were modified, often significantly, in this geographically limited joint arena. Some areas such as ASW were not played at all due to lack of a threat. As the budget process focuses on the very positive results of DESERT SHIELD/STORM, these facts must not be forgotten." - Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look -First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

AREAS NOT TESTED. Nearly every early attempt to extract the lessons of DESERT SHIELD/STORM has begun with a cautionary note concerning the "unique aspects" of those operations and the "lessons not learned" . This assessment reviews those "areas not tested" in context with the old and new lessons to foster critical examination of the entire range of naval warfare capabilities. Reviewing the areas not tested also helps avoid learning the wrong lessons.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM was not a model for all future operations. The conditions which existed in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are unique, and not likely to be fully duplicated in other remote areas where U.S. interests require protection. We cannot plan on the advantages of a cohesive coalition, outstanding infrastructure, or six months of preparation time. For 20 years, Saudi Arabia has been over-building industrial, commercial, and transportation facilities, including more than 30 air bases and eight modern port facilities. Nor can we plan on the availability of unlimited free fuel and ample supplies of water in a desert environment.

Those assets- and the close cooperation of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - were key to our ability to quickly base over 500,000 troops and over 2,000 aircraft ashore in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. Even six months would not have provided time to build such infrastructure from scratch. In many places we would have to operate without it.

Given our present understanding of Iraq's military capabilities, our nearly six months preparation and an uninterrupted logistics train, we enjoyed, in the words of defense analyst Jeffrey Record ". ..a set of circumstances so fortuitous that it is highly unlikely it will ever be duplicated again." For this discussion, those "fortuitous circumstances" have been catalogued under three general headings: (l) the galvanizing threat posed by Saddam Hussein, (2) opposition strategy, and (3) infrastructure and environment.

A GALVANIZING THREAT: Although there were clearly additional forces at work, Saddam Hussein's repugnant behavior aroused unprecedented international opposition, secured U.N. legitimacy, helped minimize the potential for a significant split with the Soviets or China, and ensured overwhelming domestic and international support for military action. Despite his best efforts Saddam was unable to broaden the conflict. Israel remained on one of the sidelines while international terrorists and Iraq's potential allies stood by on the other. Additionally, other international actors did not seek to exploit the possible opportunities presented by our major commitment of forces to Southwest Asia.


  • Limited access to critical enroute support bases, aircraft refueling facilities and overflight rights.
  • An opponent who receives support from allies with significant capabilities such as the USSR or China.
  • Non-availability of overseas bases from which to conduct offensive or support operations.
  • U.S. action without strong regional or international support.
  • Force and mobility requirements of a second major simultaneous crisis in another region.

OPPOSITION STRATEGY: Because Iraq did not press their attack into Saudi Arabia in the days following annexation of Kuwait, or attack coalition ground and air forces in Saudi Arabia early in the build-up, we were able to fine tune our forces and plans. Once conflict began, Iraq's burrowing, defensive, survival-oriented strategy, precluded a realistic test of our tactics and systems against a modern, well-led, well-trained, highly motivated adversary. Also, Iraq's strategy was shaped in part by the fact that it was not a maritime power, possessed no submarines, and had only limited ability to threaten forces enroute to the theater.


  • Rapid transition to hostilities.
  • Requirement for forcible entry, significant naval opposition, and antisubmarine warfare.
  • Confrontation by an integrated defense and strong resistance from a capable adversary with modern high-tech weapons.
  • Neither close air support nor anti-air warfare were fully tested by this conflict.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND ENVIRONMENT: Our regional allies provided a well-developed infrastructure in what could have been a difficult operating environment. The modern ports and airfields of Saudi Arabia accommodated the rapid build-up of coalition forces with relative ease. There was an ample supply of fuel close at hand. The flat, featureless terrain of the region, and the demanding environmental conditions proved both a help and a handicap during operations. The terrain is well-suited for air warfare, but navigation and concealment were more challenging for ground forces. Sand, heat and unusual radio wave propagation conditions hindered operations. The normally clear air-mass of the region is well-suited for flight operations although unusually poor weather encountered during the air campaign hampered battle damage assessment, forced modification of plans and precluded delivery of some precision ordnance. The lack of a significant coastline and the "bottleneck" effect of the Northern Persian Gulf made the option of amphibious assault more challenging than would be the case in other regions.


  • Limited host-nation support and infrastructure.

  • While the extreme and unique topographical and climatological conditions of Southwest Asia posed special challenges, DESERT SHIELD/STORM only tested our capabilities to operate in one of many extreme environments.

  • Amphibious assault was not fully tested.

OLD LESSONS REVALIDATED. DESERT SHIELD/STORM reaffirmed the importance of clear-cut military objectives, political cohesion and civic support. Established principles of war such as concentration of force, unity of command, effective leadership, the will to fight, and detailed planning were also reaffirmed.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM demonstrated in unmistakable fashion the value and effectiveness of joint and combined military operations. The unique capabilities of each of the U.S. military services-- and those of each of our allies --were exploited during various phases of both operations. The combined force provided a synergistic combat capability which brought the greatest possible military power of the coalition force to bear against the opponent. Likewise, our experience also reaffirmed the importance of joint and combined training, the value of forward presence and the validity of joint force sequencing for power-projection.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM underscored the principle that control of the sea is essential for successful power-projection. Maritime superiority afforded the United States a position of leadership in implementing and enforcing the U.N. sanctions. The traditional role of sealift in moving heavy equipment and supplies into the theater was clearly highlighted.

The strategic advantage of high technology was re-confirmed. We must continue to emphasize reserach and development to retain that edge. At the same time, we were also forcefully reminded that possession of high-tech weapons alone is not a sure defense against simple low-tech weapons like mines. Finding and neutraloizing mines is always challenging. We cannot always afford to provide the minelayer unimpeded opportunity to lay mines. No known or projected technology could have quickly neutralized over 1,000 enemy mines once they were in place. Nevertheless, we must clearly focus our high-tech resources on developing the best mine countermeasures capability available.

THE LESSONS OF DESERT SHIELD/ STORM. The following summary highlights the preliminary U.S. Navy lessons learned.

QUALITY PEOPLE AND REALISTIC TRAINING. The excellent quality of our people and their high state of training were fundamental to success. The all-volunteer force worked and worked well. Our men and women knew their jobs, knew their equipment, and knew how to fight. Naval forces arrived in theater trained, ready and sustainable. The Navy-Marine Corps team quickly assembled a composite force from literally all corners of the globe, then executed a complex series of maritime intercept, strike, naval gunfire support and amphibious operations, under the most demanding circumstances. Teamwork was evident at all levels.

  • We will continue to emphasize joint operations in our training. Some minor training shortfalls were observed with respect to new systems and joint procedures not widely practiced prior to DESERT SHIELD. We made good use of the nearly six month build-up prior to commence ment of combat operations to overcome such problems.

"Routine training must include joint terminology and procedures. Jointflight training detachments (Red Flag, Solid Shield, Fallon) should actively seek to combine operations on available ranges. The Navy should work to incorporate KC and AWACS assets routinely. When deployed, joint and multinational operations/exercises should focus on interoperability issues--comms, tactics, limitations."--- Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look -First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

  • We must continue emphasis on people programs which are the foundation of the all-volunteer force. High retention and the experience level of our forces contributed to victory.

"The quality of our personnel deployed in theater set new standards of excellence. I cannot say enough about the performance of our people. The speed of their advance on the battlefield, their expert employment of weapons systems, exceptionally low UCMJ violation rate, and their strong positive showing on media events all support the services quality force programs.. . The credit for this goes to the troops and their commanders. The all volunteer force is a winner " --- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, Preliminary Report on Lessons Learned, 5 April 1991

  • High quality, realistic training is difficult, time consuming and expensive, but it is fundamental to success in combat. As our force gets smaller, we will focus continued attention and resources on training. Just one of many examples of the superb level of training readiness enjoyed by our forces from the outset was provided by the amphibious force:

"There was no pre-deployment work-up, yet four of the five largest amphibious operations since INCHON (number one was STEEL PIKE in 1964) were executed flawlessly and without injury or damage. The training was realistic and at times dangerous (but never unsafe): in full EMCON, darkened, at night the ATF executed simultaneous launch of 50AAVs,simultaneous landing of l2 LCAC, and air assault from seven LHA/LPHs in a very narrow sea echelon area." -- Rear Admiral J. B. LaPlante, USN, CTF 156, "Quick Look" Report, 11 March 1991

TOTAL FORCE CONCEPT: Over 99% of the Naval Reservists called to duty in support of DESERT SHIELD responded to that call. They augmented the active force with the mix of skills required to get the job done. Reserves had major roles in cargo handling, medical support, combat construction and control of shipping. Like their active duty counterparts, they proved to be well-trained and highly professional. While some specific functional areas and administrative matters requiring additional emphasis were noted,DESERT SHIELD/STORM clearly validated significant aspects of the Navy's total force concept.

Over the past decade, the United States has invested heavily in Naval Reserve manpower, training, and equipment. This investment really paid off in DESERT SHIELD/ STORM:

  • Seabees: about 2/3 of all Seabees were reservists.

  • Mine countermeasures: the Naval Reserve provided more than half of the total dedicated MCM personnel.

  • Combat Search and Rescue: all of the Navy's dedicated Combat Search and Rescue personnel are reservists.

  • Cargo Handling Battalions: all of the so-called "combat stevedores" who loaded and offloaded the largest military sealift in history are reserve personnel.

  • Intelligence: 400 Naval Reserve intelligence personnel were activated and stood watches, conducted analyses, and interrogated prisoners.

  • Harbor Defense: all of the Navy's Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare personnel are part of the Naval Reserve.

  • Other reserve key personnel provided vital medical, logistics, public affairs, and religious support.

"Reservists activated to support USNAVEUR forces during DESERT SHlELD/STORM validated the Total Force Concept. Most reservists arrived well-trained from previous annual training periods in theater and were fully and easily integrated into day-to-day operations in minimum time. This was particularly true of the USCOMEASTLANT reserves who were all well exercised under TF 137 and its concept of operations. We are currently looking at the feasibility of creating a new MED logistics task force augmented with reserves, patterned after TF 137, for use in contingencies." - Admiral J. T. Howe, USN, Commander in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Quick Look First Impressions Report, 20 March 1991

JOINT OPERATIONS. DESERT SHIELD/STORM illustrated the importance and benefits of joint and combined operations. The significant progress made in the past several years was reflected in success on thebattlefield. That success firmly cemented the commitment of the Navy to joint operations.

  • Working as a team with the other services and our coalition partners generated tremendous combat capa bility in a short period of time. That teamwork extended into fully integrated combat operations of unprecedented scope, complexity and speed. Clearly, joint operations require continued emphasis.

  • Years of close cooperation and coordination with the navies of our NATO allies and other coalition partners, not only in regular multi- and bi-lateral exercises but particularly as part of a multi-national cooperative naval effort during the Iran-Iraq war, laid a strong foundation of interoperability and common procedures. During DESERT SHIELD/STORM, that prior experience facilitated strong informal multi-national naval cooperation even before formal agreements/procedures were developed and implemented.

  • Some problems were encountered, particularly in command and control, communications, interoperability, and matters of joint doctrine. For example, regardless of who serves as the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), all services must have significant representation on his staff to ensure strike planning is fully integrated. Although the nearly six month build-up enabled us to overcome most obstacles and build the teamwork required to resolve problems which arose during combat, the JFACC doctrine must be further refined to ensure it is flexible and enables us to optimize use of our resources.

FORWARD PRESENCE. DESERT SHIELD reaffirmed the importance of forward presence as a pillar of our national military strategy and underscored the role of the Navy in sustaining that presence. Our maritime forces clearly benefited from years of experience in the harsh operating environment of Southwest Asia. Over 40 years of continuous naval presence in the Persian Gulf-- largely independent of political access -demonstrated U.S. interest and resolve. Over those years, our coalition partners in the region came to recognize and respect the depth of our commitment and gradually afforded additional access, paving the way for the massive deployments required by DESERT SHIELD.

  • Forward presence made possible the rapid positioning of naval forces in response to the invasion of Kuwait.

  • Deploying forces augmented ships already on station in the Persian Gulf. Naval forces were prepared to launch strikes had Iraqi forces continued southward into Saudi Arabia. Their sustainable combat capability and control of the sea provided protection for the introduction of ground and air forces into the theater and enabled immediate enforcement of U.N. sanctions.

SEA CONTROL. DESERT SHIELD underscored that sea control is a fundamental prerequisite for power projection operations. As demonstrated during the "tanker war" with Iran, Iraq's mines, missile-firing patrol boats and aircraft were capable of damaging and disrupting seaborne commerce. Sealift carried 90% of the cargo required for DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Without control of the sea, that cargo would have been at risk, slowing the deployment, threatening our ability to charter foreign merchant ships and significantly increasing costs. Because our naval forces were on station and ready, we were never seriously challenged, and sea control was assured from the outset.

MARITIME INTERCEPTION. The role of our naval forces, working with our coalition partners to implement the U.N. sanctions through a comprehensive maritime interception campaign, is a major DESERT SHlELD/STORM success story. Through April 1991, over 9200 merchant ships were challenged, over 1200 were boarded for inspection, and at least 67 were diverted for carrying prohibited cargo. Iraq's GNP was reduced by approximately one-half. The impact of the embargo was clearly felt by Iraqi soldiers in the trenches- with corresponding impact on morale and will to fight.

  • Sanctions against seaborne commerce are enforceable. How effective they will be in achieving their ultimate objectives depends on other factors such as agricultural development, support by neighbors and other allies, and geography.

  • Aircraft, especially those with inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR), made a vital contribution to our ability to conduct round-the clock maritime surveillance.

  • The training and advice of U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detach ments (LEDets) proved invaluable.

"The success of MIF ops was due in no small measure to experience and training provided hy LEDets. Drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean have allowed LEDets to become familiar with many Navy procedures, capabilities, and support assets for conducting boardings from Navy platforms. LEDets provided Navy personnel with training in boarding procedures and authority, and indoctrinated personnel in policy for use of force, as well as team duties." -- Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look--First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

WARFIGHTING. Conducting complex joint operations in a geographically constrained near-land/overland environment poses speaal challenges for naval forces. Those challenges were met through innovation and teamwork. In general, combat systems, tactics, and organization worked as well or better than expected. While not every naval warfare area was stressed or even tested, naval forces participated in virtually every aspect of the campaign. For example, about one-quarter of all air sorties were flown by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. Marine forces spearheaded the drive into Kuwait. Platforms capable of multimission operations proved especially valuable, making major contributions in cross-warfare areas where demand was greatest.

  • COMMAND RELATIONSHIPS. After commencement of Desert Shield, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet was designated naval component commander. While that new organization worked well, it also highlighted the importance of peacetime planning relationships and staffs which parallel wartime responsibilities and requirements. The Navy is working with CENTCOM to establish permanent command relationships that will support both peacetime planning and wartime requirements.

  • ANTISUBMARINE WARFARE. ASW was not tested as there was no threat. While Iraq did not have any submarines, many third world and regional powers do, and regional submarine threats are expected to increase in the future. Primary ASW systems such as P-3s, S-3s and LAMPS helicopters used multi-mission capabilities to good advantage in both the maritime interception campaign and in the destruction of the Iraqi navy. S-3s also provided critical tanker and EW support.

  • ANTI-AIR WARFARE. DESERT SHIELD/STORM presented an unprecedented AAW deconfliction challenge. All operations were conducted safely and successfully from pre-hostilities through re-deployment. There were no "blue-on-blue" air engagements. Restricted geography, unusual RF propagation conditions, proximity of the threat from Iraq and potential threat from Iran, the large number of commercial airflelds and air routes in the vicinity, the joint/combined nature of the operation and the limited time available to establish positive identifica tion of potential hostiles prior to their entry into engagement envelopes combined to form a most complex, demanding AAW environment. Coalition air and surface units were controlled through a complex sea-air land data link architecture. Some problems were noted- primarily in the areas of communications interoperability - but the overall success of joint/combined AAW during DESERT SHIELD/STORM will provide a solid foundation for future operations.

"The Arabian Gulf link network was the most complex ever attempted, and combined U.S. and MNF link-1l ships, USN, USAF, RSAF, AE Waircraft, USAF TACC,and USMC TACG and TAOCs in a combined TADIL A/B/ JTIDS architecture." - Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look --First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

  • STRIKE WARFARE. The Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) used the air tasking order (ATO) as a centralized planning and execution tool. It was effective in managing the high volume of sorties generated to concentrate coalition air power against Iraq, especially during the preplanned, structured stages of the campaign. There were some problems with production of the ATO and its delivery to naval forces. The flexibility of the ATO must be improved to account for changes, shift ing priorities and real time target requirements as the campaign progresses.

"The ATO... was effective in mamaging the volume of sorties generated to concentrate coalition air power against Iraq, especially during the preplanned structured stages of the campaign... After the first two days, late completion of the ATO impacted operations. As hostilities progressed and key targets had been struck (with delayed BDA) the ATO proved increasingly unresponsive to rapidly moving events... The "kill box" concept was an improvement, as it allowed decentralized target selection and coordination with airborne assets for real hme target priorities..." -- Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look--First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

  • STRIKE AIRCRAFT. The A-6 aircraft was a workhorse for long range strike. It performed ex tremely well in an environment of established air superiority, but its survivability would be reduced against future high-tech air defenses. It was clear the A-6 requires upgrade and eventual replacement. The performance of the F-117 demonstrated the value of stealth and validated the requirement for a follow-on, long-range all weather stealthy strike aircraft (AX) as a replacement for the A-6. In addition, the excellent performance of the F/A-18 confirmed the validity of the multimission strike/fighter concept.

  • TOMAHAWK CRUISE MISSILE. Tomahawk was a tremendous success, and its first use in combat fully confirmed the results of previous extensive operational testing. The value of distributed firepower was demonstrated by Tomahawk launches from surface combatants and submarines. DESERT STORM highlighted the importance of rigorous training on this complex weapon system, not only for shooters, but for all levels of command, including joint staffs involved in strike planning. Knowledge grew rapidly throughout the build-up period. Planned improvements in the Tomahawk missile and mission planning systems will further enhance the capabilities and potential contributions of this formidable weapon.

"...The objective is not always to reduce a target to rubble, but to significuntly disrupt operations. TLAM [the Tomahawk land attack missile] proved to be an excellent weapon to accomplish this, especially TLAM-D." - Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look --First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

"The use of TLAM has validated the effectiverless of these weapons for a number of contingencies..."Admiral J. T. Howe, USN, Commander in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Quick Look First Impressions Report, 20 March 1991

  • DEFENSE SUPPRESSION. The outstanding perforrnance of the EA-6B, other Navy defense suppression aircraft and weapon systems was a noteworthy strength in high demand for strike support of all services and coalition forces during the campaign. Their performance was instrumental in the early achievement of air superiority.

"Suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) was one of the Navy's noteworthy strengths. The EA-6B performed very well and was the clear choice. USN HARM (high-speed anti-radiation missile) and jam doctrine was successful..." -- Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look -- First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

  • SMART WEAPONS. Although not all weapons were used in sufficient numbers to draw definitive conclusions (the standoff land attack missile (SLAM, for example), "smart" or precision weapons clearly demonstrated their capabilities against point targets and we will be procuring more of them. We also reaffirrned a requirement for highly accurate penetrating weapons for use against heavily bunkered or hardened structures.

"Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) were consumed at a much greater rate than antlcipated in pre-hostilitles planning. LGBs quickly became the weapon of choice for a variety of missions against relatively low-value, non-hardened targets. MK-83 LGBs were particularly useful..." -- Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look --First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

"DESERT STORM demonstrated the necessity for precision guided munitions. Laser guided bombs (and their advanced successors such as inertially aided munitions), SLAM, and TLAM have all proven their worth, both militarily and politically. We need to maintain the technological edge these weapons give, both through continued research and development, preplanned product improvement (P31), and in maintenance of sufficient munitions in our arsenal to cope with likely future contingencies." -Admiral J. T. Howe, USN, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Quick Look First Impressions Report, 20 March 1991

"The 2000 pound penetrator is the weapon you need to kill the really hard, important, war-winning targets." - Rear Admiral R.D. Mixson, USN, Commander Battle Force YANKEE (Red Sea), during OPNAV debrief, 18 April 1991

  • TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE. The importance of realtime and near-real-time tactical reconnaissance in support of strike planning, naval gunfire support (NGFS), and battle damage assessment (BDA) was clearly demonstrated during DESERT STORM. Navy platforms such as the tactical air reconnaissance pod system (TARPS) equipped F-14 and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) performed as designed, but could not meet the demand.

  • AIRBORNE TANKING. Geography dictated extensive land-based tanking support for both USAF and naval air strikes into Iraq. Tanker coordination went extremely well. But tankers were stretched thin, and their apportionment necessarily limited the Navy's long-range strike contribution.

  • SURFACE WARFARE. DESERT STORM demonstrated the enduring value of long range naval gunfire support. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were effective in target selection, spotting the fall of shot and damage assessment. We are actively looking for alternative long range naval fire support systems to replace the battleships in future conflicts. The firepower of surface action groups was augmented with attack helicopters (U.S. Army AHIPs and Royal Navy Lynx). The combination of the attack helos working in con junction with SH-60B (LAMPS Mk III) and surface combatants provided a highly effective enhancement to surface warfare offensive/reconnais sance capability. Naval forces used the offensive firepower of strike aircraft (A-6s and F/A-18s) and surface combatants to destroy the Iraqi navy. At last count, 105 Iraqi vessels had been destroyed.

"...Ship/aircraft [helicopter] surface action groups (SAGS) proved to be indispensable in achieving ASUW offensive/RECCE coverage."

"Maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) played a major role in the ASUW success. P-3/NIMROD availability and reliability were outstanding, as was the quality of the surveillance and targeting provided from the beginning of maritime interception force operations to the present, including DESERT STORM. P3C with and without ISAR. .. were fully integrated with battle force operations." - Vice Admiral S.R. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look -First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

  • AMPHIBIOUS WARFARE. The entire spectrum of amphibious capability and force structure was used during DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Amphibious operations focused enemy attention on the threat from seaward and tied down at least seven Iraqi divisions, even after the coalition ground campaign was well underway. The responsiveness and flexibility of amphibious forces was highlighted by successful raids, rehearsals and feints. The large deck amphibious assault ship (LHA) proved its versatility, operating significantly more AV-8s than planned (20 vice 6) while serving as flagship and conducting the full spectrum of other amphibious operations.

  • MINE WARFARE. DESERT STORM again illustrated the challenge of mine countermeasures (MCM) and how quickly mines can become a concern. Because of the difficulty of locating and neutralizing mines, we cannot afford to give the minelayer free rein. Future rules of engagement and doctrine should provide for offensive operations to prevent the laying of mines in international waters. Our Cold War focus on the Soviet threat fostered reliance on our overseas allies for mine countermeasures in forward areas. The MCM assets of our allies-- on whom we have relied for MCM support in NATO contingencies for years -proved their mettle in the Gulf, both in Operation EARNEST WILL (during the Iran-Iraq war) and DESERT STORM. Both operations highlighted the need for a robust, deployable U.S. Navy MCM capability. We are undertaking a comprehensive review of both our mine countermeasures strategy and the readiness of our forces to ensure our ability to conduct independent mine countermeasures operations when required.

INTELLIGENCE. Intelligence support for DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM reflected application of proven principles coupled with chltstanding innovation. A joint intelligence doctrine and architecture are needed to support both joint and component commanders. More interoperable intelligence systems are also required.

COMMUNICATIONS. Almost every aspect of naval command and control communications capability was stressed to the limit during DESERT SHIELD/ DESERT STORM. Problems were solved through aggressive management, work-arounds, innovation, close cooperation and coordination, equipment upgrades and new installations. The volume of communications traffic, the scope of the USN/joint/ combined connectivity requirements, and the high precedence of a large percentage of the message traffic, presented a communications challenge of previously unimagined proportions. The STU-III, INMARSAT, SHF installations, portable communications vans, and high speed modems stood out among many systems which contributed to success. We are focusing increased attention on improving our ability to communicate with other services and nations, strengthening jam-resistant communications, and using high speed computer networks to increase capacity.

LOGISTICS. Naval forces arrived in theater with full, self-sustained logistic support capability. Aircraft readiness averaged nearly 90% with a full mission capability rating near 85%. The readiness of our ships was equally impressive. Those high readiness levels were virtually constant throughout the operation and reflect a high degree of unit self-sufficiency. There were ample supplies of fuel and ammunition, although inventories of laser guided bomb kits (a high demand item) were limited, and the aviation fuels provided by USAF airborne tankers posed safety problems aboard ship. Naval forces required minimal airlift and sealift for deployment and support. In fact, only 4.4% of strategic sealift was used for support of naval forces. Logistics messages were delayed by other operational traffic in the overworked communications system. The combat logistics force (CLF) performed superbly --meeting all requirements. Doing so, however, required nearly every CLF ship in the fleet. Versatile RRF sealift vessels augmented the CLF as ad hoc ammunition ships. DESERT SHIELD/STORM showed we must move carefully as we plan future CLF reductions.

"PHIBGRU TWO deployed in a week and-a-half from a standing start (the first ship left after three days). At this writing we are approaching the seven month point, and the average ship has had less than three weeks in port (only ten days of which was maintenance time). ...The list of out of commission equipment is shorter than at INCHOP. Aside from parts and the occasional large motor rewind, the ships have become fully self-sufficient and could apparently stay out here indefinitely." - Rear Admiral J.B. LaPlante, USN, CTF 156, "Quick Look" Report, 11 March 1991

STRATEGIC SEALIFT. The contribution of strategic sealift was one of the major success stories of DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. Major investments in sealift in the 80s paid great dividends. Throughout the deployment, Military Sealift Command (MSC) controlled ships delivered 3.4 million tons of cargo halfway around the world. Cargoes were loaded in over 40 ports in CONUS and Europe and were downloaded at two primary ports in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, 6.8 million tons of fuels were delivered. This cargo represents four times the cargo moved across the English Channel toNormandy in support of the D-Day invasion, and over six times the peak force build-up during a similar six month period of the Vietnam conflict. Sealift continues to do the heavy lifting: over 90% of all cargo was moved into theater by sea, and more than 95% will return the same way.

  • Early, accurate identification of lift requirements was difficult and changed often. Close coordination between MSC and the Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) kept the cargo flowing.
  • We need more roll-on/roll-off (RO/ RO) ships to meet unit equipment surge requirements. Problems encountered during the breakout of some RRF ships reflected shortfalls in maintenance funding in previous years.
  • World-wide sea control afforded by our naval forces contributed to a responsive charter market, which reduced the need for activation of the Sealift Readiness Program (SRP) or ship requisitioning.

"The successful pakhwork of MSC/RRF/charter and foreign charter vessels used to support DESERT SHlELD/ STORM demonstrated the need for MSC to be given higher national priority and to integrate their operations more closely with the Navy." -- Admiral J. T. Howe, USN, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Quick Look First Impressions Report, 20 March 1991

MARITIME PREPOSITIONING. The afloat prepositioning concept was validated in DESERT SHIELD. No other alternative could achieve such early force closure dates. Two squadrons of Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) deployed from Diego Garcia and Guam to deliver unit equipment and 30 days supplies for two Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEBs). The first heavy ground combat capability in theater (105,000 tons) arrived by 15 August (C+8). The MEBs were "married-up" and combat ready by 25 August. Eleven additional prepositioned ships from Diego Garcia, the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean delivered 102,000 tons of Army, Air Force and Navy equipment and supplies that same week.

MEDICAL SUPPORT. Navy medical ships and fleet hospitals provided well over two-thirds of in-theater medical capability during the first four months of the operation. In accordance with plans, the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort were activated and deployed on five days notice. Together with the Fleet Hospitals, they provided the most comprehensive medical care facilities in theater and the capability to deal with a major influx of combat casualties.

SUMMARY. The naval forces and capabilities put to the test in DESERT SHIELD/STORM were not achieved by decisions made in the last few years. The high quality people, aircraft, ships and weapons systems involved in this crisis were products of decisions made throughout the 1980s. So a final lesson might well be that the decisions we make today do have important ramifications for the future.

Affordability has alwavs been a factor in such decisions, but current economic realities give it greater weight than at any time in the recent past. We will have a smaller force-- that much is certain -and a smaller force, no matter how capable, will not be present in as many places, or respond as quickly, as the force which executed DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

In an evolving world which contains unknown numbers of Saddam Husseins, and a clear dependence on regional stability for economic, social and political progress, it is imperative that the United States retain the capability to protect its interests wherever and whenever they may be challenged. To defend America's interests around the world, future force structure must enable us to continue to employ the winning strategy of concentrating superior force anywhere rapidly enough to deter aggression or achieve quick success in combat.

"Force reductions now under review should preserve sufficient flexibility to cope with a wide range of realistic contingencies, because levels that cause potential adversaries to question U.S. capabilihes could degrade deterrence and involve the United States in otherwise preventable wars." -- John M. Collins, Congressional Research Service Senior Specialist in National Defense, in "Desert Shield and Desert Storm Implications for Future U.S. Force Requirements", 19 April 1991

"Deterrence, both nuclear and conventional, costs less than any level of conflict, and will remain the cornerstone of U.S. defense policy." from "THE WAY AHEAD" by H. Lawrence Garrett III, Secretary of the Navy, Admiral F. B. Kelso II, USN, Chief of Naval Operations, and General A.M. Gray, USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Proceedings, April 1991

While there were problems encountered, the outstanding first impression generated by the performance of our forces in DESERT SHIELD/STORM is being reinforced by the "post game analysis". Now we face the challenge of translating the lessons of DESERT SHIELD/STORM into decisions, programs and actions which will shape our forces, guide our training and ensure our continued readiness to forcefully defend America's interests whenever and wherever required.

Return to Desert Storm introduction

Published: Mon Mar 02 10:02:52 EST 2015