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

"...My administration, as has been the case with every President from President Roosevelt to President Reagan, is committed to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf." -- President George Bush Address to the Nation, 8 August 1990

"Our action in the Gulf is about fighting aggression and preserving the sovereignty of nations. It is about keeping our word, our solemn word of honor, and standing by old friends. It is about our own national security interests and ensuring the peace and stability of the entire world." -- President George Bush Remarks to Pentagon Employees, 15 August 1990

"When a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often asked by policymakers is: 'What naval forces are available and how fast can they be on station ?' " -- Admiral C.A.H. Trost, USN Chief of Naval Operations Proceedings, May 1990


After the world's fourth largest army poured across the border into Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the United States deployed a major joint force which served as the foundation for a powerful 33-nation military coalition to stem Iraq's brutal aggression. The United States Navy provided the sea control and maritime superiority which paved the way for the introduction of U.S. and allied air and ground forces, and offered strong leadership for the multinational naval force.

At the time of the invasion, the Navy was already on station in the region. The ships of Joint Task Force Middle East, a legacy of U.S. Navy presence in the Arabian Gulf since 1949, were immediately placed on alert. Battle groups led by USS Independence (CV 62) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) sped from the Indian Ocean and Eastern Mediterranean to take up positions in the Gulf of Oman and Red Sea, respectively--ready to commence sustained combat operations on arrival.

When President Bush ordered the deployment of troops and equipment to defend Saudi Arabia, long-established maritime superiority facilitated the largest, fastest strategic sealift in history, with more than 240 ships carrying more than 18.3 billion pounds of equipment and supplies to sustain the forces of DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Maritime superiority also allowed allied naval forces to implement and sustain United Nations trade sanctions against Iraq immediately after they were imposed severing Saddam Hussein's economic lifeline.

Low-key but close military ties with friendly Arab states, developed during 40 plus-years of naval operations in the region, helped pave the way for the quick introduction of U.S. ground and air forces into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. When U.S. Marines began arriving in Saudi Arabia, their supplies and equipment were close at hand. Maritime Prepositioning Ships based at Diego Garcia and Guam carried enough tanks, artillery and ammunition to sustain the Marines for 30 days. The MPS ships' proximity to the theater of operations allowed Marines to begin marrying up with their supplies in Saudi Arabia less than two weeks after the invasion of Kuwait.

Under the Navy's Total Force concept more than 21,000 naval reservists were called to active duty in support of DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Serving in specialties from medicine to mine warfare, reservists worked alongside their active duty counterparts in the Arabian Gulf. Others filled critical vacancies on the home front.

Saddam Hussein's rejection of diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis led to the final decision to restore Kuwait's sovereignty by military force. The ensuing air war and the effects of the economic embargo decimated Iraq's military infrastructure, severed communication and supply lines, smashed weapons arsenals, and destroyed morale. Some of the flrst shots fired were from Navy ships in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, as they launched salvos of Tomahawk cruise missiles against pre-programmed targets in Iraq.

After an impressive 38-day air campaign, the ground offensive began with allied forces sweeping through Iraqi defenses in blitzkrieg fashion. The allied push into Kuwait and southern Iraq was made easier by the amphibious forces on station in the Arabian Gulf. The threat they posed forced tens of thousands of Iraqi troops to maintain positions along the Kuwaiti coastline to defend against attack from the sea. The Iraqi army was crushed after a mere 100 hours. Iraqi troops--tired, hungry and war-weary from six months of economic blockade and more than a month of relentless allied bombing--surrendered by the thousands. Less than seven months after the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait was once again free.


DESERT SHIELD/STORM brought together the largest force of Navy warships assembled in a single theater since World War II, adding a powerful punch to Navy forces already onscene the night of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Arabian Gulf and Southwest Asia are familiar territory to the United States Navy. U.S. naval forces have been operating in the region since 1801 and have maintained a continuous presence there for over 40 years. It is likely that Navy ships will continue to represent and protect U.S. interests in the region for the foreseeable future.

The American response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the threat against Saudi Arabia was a logical extension of the United States' post World War II Arabian Gulf policy. Saudi Arabia, with its enormous petroleum reserves, has long had a special relationship with the United States, symbolized by President Franklin Roosevelt's meeting with King Ibn Saud in February 1945. The present Saudi monarch, King Fahd, recalled that meeting when he met with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in Jidda on 6 August 1990. Planning for the huge air base at Dhahran, which figured so prominently in DESERT SHIELD/STORM, began in 1944 and continued after the war as a symbol of American commitment to the Saudi monarchy. The U.S. Navy has maintained a permanent presence in the Gulf since the establishment of the Middle East Force in 1949.

Navy presence was embodied in the "little white fleet" of USS Duxbury Bay (AVP 38), USS Greenwich Bay (AVP 41) and USS Valcour(AVP 55)--former seaplane tenders--which rotated duties as flagship for Commander Middle East Force and his staff. All three ships were painted white to counter the region's extreme heat. The flagship served as the primary protocol platform of the United States throughout the region. Accompanied by one or two other rotationally deployed warships, the Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR) provided the initial U.S. military response to any crisis in the region, as well as humanitarian and emergency assistance.

For the next 20 years, three or four ships at a time were assigned to MIDEASTFOR -generally a command ship and two or three small combatants such as destroyers or frigates. Because temperatures in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean reached as high as 130 degrees, the non-air-conditioned ships rotated every few months ---a practice still followed today, with the exception of the single forward-deployed command ship.

American political involvement in the Arabian Gulf after the end of World War II deepened with successive crises. For three decades we depended on others to provide for the defense of the region. The United States flrst looked to the British, who withdrew from the Gulf in the late 1960s. In the 1970s we turned to Iran and Saudi Arabia to act as "twin pillars" in the region. When Bahrain became a sovereign state in 1971, the U.S. Navy worked out an agreement to take over piers, radio transmitters, warehouses, and other facilities left vacant by the departing British. USS La Salle (AGF 3), an amphibious transport ship converted for Gulf duty, began to serve as the permanent MIDEASTFOR flagship 24 August 1972.

La Salle became a familiar site in the Middle East. La Salle and the small MIDEASTFOR's peacetime mission has focused on building good relations--"showing the flag" to generate goodwill and promote mutual understanding, while providing a counterweight to aggressive Soviet Navy expansion in the region.

After the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the United States assumed greater responsibility for the security of the Gulf. During the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis, nearly 30 Navy ships were on constant patrol in the region, including one carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean or North Arabian Sea. In April 1980, the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) battlegroup served as a jumping off point for the jointservice rescue attempt of the 52 American hostages. In 1980, the Carter Doctrine declared the Arabian Gulf region to be a "vital" interest to the United States--one for which we were willing to fight. Events in the Middle East convinced President Carter that the United States required a means of rapid response to regional crises. In October 1980, a new unifled Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) was created to meet that need. The RDE later evolved into Central Command, which marked the beginning of the capability to move large military forces into the Arabian Gulf, the sine quo non of DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

The political situation in Southwest Asia continued to deteriorate. After 10 months of intermittent skirmishes over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, Iraq attacked Iran in September 1980, launching a war that would last eight years. By 1982, more than 100,000 people had died. The war was costing each side $1 billion a month and devastated both countries' oil industries. In the so-called "tanker war", both belligerents launched attacks on neutral merchant vessels transiting the Gulf, prompting several Gulf states to seek protection from foreign navies.

On 1 November 1986, Kuwait, a nonbelligerent, announced it would seek international protection for its ships. On 7 March 1987, the United States offered to reflag 11 Kuwaiti tankers and provide U.S. Navy protection. Kuwait accepted.

On 17 May 1987, an Iraqi attack aircraft fired two Exocet missiles, killing 37 sailors and wounding 21 others aboard USS Stark (FFG 31). Iraq apologized, claiming "pilot error."

American units had already found a dozen mines in Arabian Gulf shipping lanes when the Navy began escorting re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers during Operation EARNEST WILL in July 1987. During the very first escort mission, a mine ripped into the re-flagged supertanker Bridgeton. That first month, three tankers hit mines and minesweeping operations by Navy helicopters began.

Later that summer, U.S. forces captured the Iranian minelayer Iran Ajr while it was deploying mines in international shipping lanes andU.S. helicopters repelled an attack by Iranian speedboats. In October 1987, U.S. surface forces destroyed an armed Iranian oil complex in retaliation for an Iranian missile attack on a U.S.-flagged tanker.

On 14April 1988, watchstanders aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) sighted three mines floating approximately one-half mile from the ship. Twenty minutes after the first sighting, as Samuel B. Roberts was backing clear of the minefleld, she struck a submerged mine nearly ripping the warship in half. Working feverishly for seven hours, the crew stabilized the ship. Samuel B. Roberts was sent back to the United States for repair and later returned to the region to serve with the Maritime Interception Force during DESERT SHIELD.

Three days after the mine blast, forces of the now-Joint Task Force Middle East executed the American response --Operation PRAYING MANTIS. Durlng a two-day period, the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force units of Joint Task Force Middle East destroyed two oil platforms being used by Iran to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping, sank or destroyed three Iranian warships and neutralized at least six Iranian speedboats. The success of PRAYING MANTIS--and broad-based allied naval cooperation during Operation EARNEST WILL --proved the value of joint and combined operations in the Gulf and paved the way for the massive joint/ coalition effort during DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

It was during these operations that USS Vincennes (CG 49) shot down an Iranian commercial airliner after mistaking it for an Iranian F-14. Within two months, Iran and Iraq reached a fragile agreement to end hostilies.

At the height of the Iran-Iraq war, MIDEASTFOR was composed of 12 or more ships. That force, along with mine countermeasures teams, special warfare units, and rotating carrier battle groups deployed to the North Arabian Sea, made up America's largest deployed naval force since the Vietnam era. The Navy's Administrative Support Unit contingent in Bahrain grew to over 800 personnel. By the end of 1989, however, U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf had drawn down to the normal flagship and four or five other ships, monitoring the again-busy transit lanes. That force was often augmented by a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean.

The Navy benefited from years of experience in the harsh operating environment of the Middle East, and the requirement to conduct those operations independent of major support bases. With no permanent U.S. bases in the area, forward-deployed ships became increasingly important as the United States worked to demonstrate the continuity of American commitments and maintain stability in the region.


The United States Navy is structured to provide four fundamental military capabilities. First is control of the sea to assure the U.S. can use the oceans for economic and military purposes while denying such access to opponents in time of crisis or war. Second, the Navy projects power ashore--with air power, naval gunfire, cruise missiles, and Marine forces--either in support of sea-control or to support a joint campaign ashore. Third, the Navy applies nuclear deterrence. Finally, the Navy and the Maritime Adminitration provide strategic sealift to support joint military operations.

The Navy applies the concept of combined arms operations at several levels. The Navy-Marine Corps team synergistically combines land, sea, and air capabilities and exemplifies the combined arms concept. In recent years, the Navy has also operated extensively with the Army and Air Force, which proved to be valuable preparation for DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The fundamental role of the Navy in joint power projection operations is to gain control of the sea. Sea control is an essential prerequisite for introduction of joint power projection forces.

As an integral part of the U.S. military strategy of forward defense, the Navy has maintained a significant forward presence since World War II. Forward deployments promote regional stability and maintain readiness for crisis response. President Bush reaffirmed forward presence and crisis response as fundamental pillars of U S. strategy in a speech at Aspen, Colorado on 2 August, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait

Like forward- deployed Navy forces everywhere, the forces on station in the Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Eastern Mediterranean on 2 August were self-sufficient and combat ready, capable of remaining on station for months independent of infrastructure ashore. The unique character of naval forces gave President Bush and his advisors a number of immediate options for responding to the crisis:

  • Ready forces to operate from over the horizon, independent of politically sensitive operating bases ashore.
  • A mechanism for allied involvement by nations unable or unwilling to commit land-based forces.
  • A ready capability to enforce U.N. economic sanctions.
  • And, as we saw in Operation DESERT STORM, an effective force, ready to fight and win.

*** image of Maritime Supperiority on page 6


Each military service is structured to perform specific missions in implementing our overall national military strategy. That strategy is based on four principal elements: strategic deterrence, forward presence, crisis response and force reconstitution. Maritime superiority remains essential to successful implementation of each element of that strategy.

Bringing all services together for major force projection operations generates the greatest combat capability in the shortest period of time. Combining forces for joint operations represents the best, most economical use of our forces, and takes full advantage of the unique missions and functional capabilities of each service.

The Navy plays an essential role in the complex process of generating joint forces for a major power projection operation. ***link to image of joint force sequencing, page 7The illustration on the next page shows a greatly simplified depiction of the process of sequencing joint forces for power projection. Initially, naval forces and regionally based Army and Air Force elements are forward deployed for deterrence, stability, and readiness for crisis response.

Naval forces are invariably among the first on scene in time of crisis or conflict. Often the presence of naval forces alone is enough to defuse a crisis. If the crisis erupts, naval forces can be rapidly augmented by airborne and Marine contingency forces airlifted into theater. At this point, naval forces play an "enabling" role, helping cover the introduction of follow-on ground and air forces. The joint force, once fully deployed, is capable of sustained heavy combat. At that point, the Navy complements and enhances the capabilities of land-based forces.


***image picture of sea control page 6

As mentioned previously, gaining control of the battle space in three dimensions-- in the air, on the sea, and under the sea -- is a prerequisite for joint power projection. The Navy is responsible for achieving and maintaining the sea control and air superiority required for introduction of additional joint forces, and is structured to carry out that mission. Power projection cannot be sustained without control of the sea.

While DESERT SHIELD/STORM are not models for all future military operations, they do provide a regional prototype for certain joint power projection operations which might be anticipated in the decade to come. DESERT SHIELD/STORM unfolded in near text book fashion. We observed in the massive troop deployments an outstanding example of joint force sequencing in action. Forward deployed naval forces were flrst on scene --sustainable and combat ready on arrival. Their immediate combat capability provided cover for the introduction of ground and air forces. Sea control was assured from the outset, protecting the vital seaborne logistics train and enforcing U.N. sanctions. The forward presence of naval forces was a critical element in the rapid deployment of the joint force.


The Navy-Marine Corps team lived up to its tradition of mobility and flexibility while deploying forces for DESERT SHIELD/STORM. While attention focused on Kuwait, Navy and Marine Corps units were evacutating civilians from two other hotspots on opposite coasts of Africa.

***image of Naval Contribution to a Major Joint Operation page 7

On 5 August, Marines from a U.S. Task Force off the coast of Liberia began an evacuahon operation which eventually rescued 2,690 people, including 330 U.S. citizens, from the war-torn capital city of Monrovia. Operation SHARP EDGE began with a pre-dawn meeting in the wardroom of USS Saipan (LHA 2) to finalize a plan that had been in the works for nearly two months. During that time, Saipan and her Amphibious Ready Group, consisting of USS Ponce (LPD 15), USS Sumter (LST 1181), Fleet Surgical Team TWO and the destroyer USS Peterson (DD 969), waited off the coast for orders to begin evacuation.

Since December 1989, civil war had raged between rival Liberian factions, and the safety of American citizens could no longer be guaranteed. Tension grew as rebel leader Prince Johnson said he would begin rounding up foreigners to force foreign intervention in his fight against Liberian President Samuel Doe. Johnson threatened to attack U. S. Marines at the embassy if the United States did not intervene on the rebel side.

As dawn broke, more than 200 Marines from HOTEL Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines climbed into CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters for the 20-mile ride to the U.S. embassy compound in Monrovia and commenced the non-combatant evacuation operation. They evacuated not only Americans, but also Liberian, Italian, Canadian and French nationals during an operation which lasted until 30 November, when opposing forces agreed to a cease-fire. Sailors and Marines from the task force also provided humanitarian assistance, airlifting food, water, fuel and medical supplies to the ravaged city.

Navy support for the operation, the longest-running non-combatant evacuation operation in recent naval history, ended 9 January, when the amphibious transport dock USS Nashville (LPD 13), Helicopter Combat Support Squadron FOUR (HCS 4) and elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed the Liberian coastal area known during the operation as "Mamba Station."

Just a few days before SHARP EDGE ended, another civil war threatened American lives. USS Guam (LPH 9) and USS Trenton (LPD 14) with Marines from the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade embarked, raced from their DESERT SHIELD stations in the North Arabian Sea to rescue Americans and foreign nationals threatened by war in Somalia.

The rescue, Operation EASTERN EXlT, was implemented within hours of an urgent plea from the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Indeed, from the time the U.S. Ambassador in Somalia sent his first message, "I really view this with concern, we've got to get out of here. ..," to the time the execute order was given, less than 48 hours had elapsed.

Marine Corps helicopters took off while the ships were still 460 miles from the Somali coast. They twice refueled in-flight courtesy of Marine Corps KC-130 tankers which took off from Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf. The helicopters reached the Embassy, dropped off the Marines and brought back 62 evacuees. The first wave of Marines ashore set up defensive positions around the Embassy, while other waves conducted the evacuations. In all, 260 citizens from 30 nations, including 51 Americans, and the diplomatic contingent from the Soviet Union, were shuttled aboard the two waiting ships. A group of U.S. officials and the Kenyan ambassador were trapped by gunfire in an office two blocks from the U.S. Embassy. The Marines had to escort them through fierce firefights between the rival factions. Once all evacuees were safely aboard, the ships steamed back to the North Arabian Sea to rejoin DESERT SHIELD.

Marines and sailors have been perfecting non-combatant evacuation operations for many years. Since 1980, naval forces have responded to more than 50 international and regional crises. The capability to mount such operations-- even while simultaneously responding to a major crisis elsewhere-- is vital to protecting American interests and citizens around the globe.

Return to Desert Storm introduction

Published: Mon Mar 02 10:00:04 EST 2015