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

"If you look at the naval assets that have been deployed into the region, aircraft carrier battle-groups - four of them have been active at one time or another--as well as all other naval assets, I would agree there obviously isn't any other nation in the world that could do that today. We have in the first three weeks of the exercise deployed more capability than we had deployed in the first three months in 1950 when we were asked to go to Korea." -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, 6 September 1990

" We are doing this for the people of Kuwait, for our other friends in the region, for our own economic interest, for the safety of Americans who are in danger, and for the promise of a safer new world where disputes will not be solved by war." -- General Colin Powell, USA Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 11 November 1990

INTRODUCTION. We may never learn the extent to which on-scene naval forces influenced Saddam Hussein to stop short of invading Saudi Arabia. We do know that the sustainable combat capability and control of the sea provided by naval forces afforded protection for the introduction of ground and air forces arriving in theater in response to the deployment order. The joint teamwork of naval, air, and ground forces-- together with our coalition partners-- generated tremendous combat capability in a remarkably short period of time.

THE BUILDUP OF U.S. NAVY FORCES. The initial buildup of Navy forces for DESERT SHIELD/STORM drew upon the normal forward-deployed posture of the fleet. On 2 August, the ships of Joint Task Force Middle East were on station in the Persian Gulf, theEisenhower battle group was in the central Mediterranean in the last month of a scheduled six-month deployment. and theIndependence battle group was in the Indian Ocean near Diego Garcia in the early stages of a scheduled Indian Ocean deployment. After the invasion, both battle groups moved toward the crisis area and by 8 August were on station and ready to conduct air strikes-- Eisenhower in the Red Sea and Independence in the Gulf of Oman. Independence could have launched long-range strikes as early as 5 August if required.

Thus, on C-day, 7 August--the day that President Bush committed U.S. forces to the protection of Saudi Arabia-- naval presence in the crisis area consisted of two carrier battle groups with more than 100 fighter and attack aircraft plus a surface action group and command ship in the Persian Gulf. Those forces were later reinforced by four additional carrier battle groups and two battleships. The Navy also deployed the command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), a 31 ship amphibious task force, plus various support ships, combatants, mine warfare ships, and submarines.

The Navy forces requested by CINCCENT were geared toward defense of Saudi Arabia. Key elements of those forces came from both Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and from units stationed ashore in CONUS. This reinforcement was implemented quickly and effectively because:

  • The Navy started from a forward deployed posture.
  • The Navy is structured to deploy quickly and to be self-sustaining while deployed.
  • The all-volunteer force was trained and ready to support the deployments

"Forward presence meant Red Sea MIF operations could begin almost immediately [following enactment of U.N. sanctions]. We were also ready to conduct interception operations in the Med, with particular emphasis on the Northern approaches to the canal..." --Admiral J. T. Howe, USN, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Quick Look-- First Impressions Report, 20 March 1991

THE BUILDUP OF AIRPOWER. The buildup of air power began immediately on 7 August. Fixed wing Navy and USAF combat aircraft were on scene the first day, and their number grew steadily, reaching a level of about 700 fighter and attack aircraft by the end of the first month. In addition to fixed wing aircraft, Marine and Army attack helicopters made a major contribution to U.S. airpower in theater, particularly with regard to close air support and anti-armor missions.

The first combat aircraft on scene were the air wings of Independence and Eisenhower, followed closely by two Air Force F-l5C squadrons flight-ferried from the U.S. directly to Saudi Arabia with the support of USAF tankers. The aircraft carriers provided more than 100 fighter and attack aircraft plus airborne early-warning, electronic warfare, and surveillance aircraft. The carrier aircraft were ready for sustained combat operations on arrival. Each battle group carried a full combat loadout of fuel and ordnance for its aircraft, plus a complete aircraft intermediate maintenance facility with its associated spare parts, test equipment, and maintenance personnel. The Saratoga battle group arrived on 22 August to relieve Eisenhower. The Kennedy battle group reported on station 7 September.

Additional land-based fixed wing aircraft began arriving by 9 August. In theory, virtually all fixed-wing aircraft deployed to the Gulf within the first month were capable of deploying within the first few days. Actual deployment times were driven by the availability of aerial refueling (and airlift) and the practical realities of establishing a support infrastructure for sustained combat operations --including ground support equipment and personnel, maintenance equipment and personnel, spare parts, ordnance, ordnance storage and handling equipment, and general base operating support.

The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps have standing preparations to provide such support, but moving the equipment, supplies, and personnel takes time. For example, the large stocks of ordnance required for an air strike campaign must generally come by sea. In DESERT SHIELD/STORM, the transportation time was minimized because of the foresight in prepositioning ordnance aboard ships in Diego Garcia. The first maritime prepositioning ships with USMC air ordnance arrived on 14 August --7 days after the deployment order. Two Afloat Prepositioned Force ships carrying USAF ordnance arrived in theater between 17 August and 19 August.

The experience in DESERT SHIELD/ STORM has validated the Services' aviation deployment concepts. The Navy and Marine Corps fulfilled their assigned role in the sequencing of joint airpower --the early arrival of combat-ready, sustainable airpower. In DESERT SHIELD/STORM, as in any major air-land campaign, the Air Force provided the majority of fixed-wing aircraft.

Even after the initial buildup was complete, however, Navy and Marine airpower remained important elements of total U.S. airpower. One reason was limitation on facilities. Even the numerous airfields of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states could only operate so many aircraft. The three aircraft carriers on scene in early September provided 20% of the total combat airpower. The three additional carrier battle groups deployed in response to the CINCs' request as part of the reinforcing buildup prior to the air war further increased the Navy's contribution. Marine aircraft not only added to overall numbers, but were integral to Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs).

THE BUILDUP OF GROUND FORCES. DESERT SHIELD/STORM illustrated that sizable U.S. ground forces and major deplovments will still be required in the post cold war world. In Saudi Arabia, unlike Europe or Korea, the U.S. did not have significant ground forces or equipment on scene. The U.S. was faced with a major expeditionary operation in which speed of deployment was potentially crucial.

The U.S. was generally well-prepared for a major expeditionary operation. Creation of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), along with major improvements in expeditionary capabilities in the 1980s-- particularly strategic sealift-- provided a solid force structure on which to base DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Specific mobility enhancement programs included:

  • AFLOAT PREPOSITIONED SHIPS (APS). Eleven ships, carrying ordnance, supplies, and fuel for the Army and Air Force, plus one ship carrying a naval field hospital. These ships are continuously manned by civilian crews under contract to the Military Sealift Command (MSC). Since initial deployment, most of the ships have been stationed at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, but they can be quickly repositioned in response to a crisis elsewhere in the world.

  • MARITIME PREPOSITIONING SHIPS (MPS). Thirteen ships, carrying unit equipment and 30 days of supplies for three Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs). The ships form three MPS squadrons, which are normally based in Guam, Diego Garcia, and the Atlantic. They are manned continuously with civilian crews under contract to the MSC.

  • C-5B GALAXY. The Air Force developed a new version of the C-5 airlifter and doubled the size of the C-5 fleet, greatly increasing the capacity to move outsized cargo via air.

  • FAST SEALIFT SHIPS (FSS). The Navy purchased and modified eight SL-7 fast sealift ships capable of making over 30 knots for rapid deployment of Army equipment. The SL-7s are maintained in 96 hour readiness status in peacetime. Two large hospital ships (one on each coast) are maintained in a similar status.

  • READY RESERVE FORCE (RRF). In the late 1970s, the Navy began purchasing militarily useful ships to bolster the aging mothballed fleet of World War II era cargo ships. Over the next ten years, the RRF grew to 96 ships-- mostly roll on/roll-off ships, barge carriers, breakbulk ships, and small tankers. These ships are maintained at various U.S. ports by the Maritime Administration in an inactive status, without crews. The RRF program was designed to allow activation of ships in 5, 10, or 20 days depending on readiness status. Upon receipt of an activation order, RRF ships are towed to a shipyard for mechanical preparation to sail. Crews are drawn from available U.S. civilian merchant mariners.

Those strategic lift assets were designed to support a rapid buildup in combat power based on the concept of joint force sequencing. The first ground-combat forces on scene for DESERT SHIELD/STORM were two brigades of the 82nd Airborne Division, which arrived via airlift to provide both initial presence and security for airbases and ports. These forces initially relied on support and provisions from Marine Corps supplies. They were quickly followed by two MPS MEBs, which provided additional firepower and greater sustainability. The heavy Army forces essential for modern mechanized warfare followed in turn-- first the 24th Mechanized Division, primarily via fast sealift, and subsequently the 101st Air Assault Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Armored Cavalry Division, and associated corps command element, also via sealift.

Strategic sealift was crucial to deploying Army forces. Although the soldiers were flown to the Gulf, the bulk of the equipment and supplies was too large to transport by air. The main exception is the 82nd Airborne Division, which is lighter than other Army divisions, has less organic sustainability, and is the lead Army division for rapid deployment. Otherwise, most Army unit equipment and resupply moved by sea.

Prior to the late 1970s, sealift was heavily dependent on the U.S. flag fleet and the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) of mothballed World War II-era ships. The procurement of APS, FSS, and RRF ships in the 1980s offset the decline in availability of militarily useful commercial shipping and the deteriorating condition of the NDRF. Sealift forces were sized for a global war growing out of a conflict in the Persian Gulf in which the initial Army deployment in the Gulf would be supported entirely by U.S. shipping. The eight SL-7 fast sealift ships were designed for rapid deployment of a heavy division. Deployment of succeeding divisions would depend on activation of the RRF, use of U.S. flag ships in the Sealift Readiness Program, charter of commercial vessels, and, if necessary, requisition of additional U.S. flag ships.

About three-fourths of DESERT SHIELD/STORM deliveries were made by ships resulting from the 7 billion investment in strategic sealift programs during the last ten years. Without these programs, there would have been no afloat prepositioning ships, no fast sealift, and no RRF. The APS/MPS ships prepositioned in Diego Garcia delivered ordnance and supplies two or three weeks sooner than sealift from the U.S. could have delivered it. Fast sealift ships delivered cargo at roughly twice the speed of most commercial shipping. The RRF provided militarily useful vessels-roll-on/roll-off ships, breakbulk cargo ships, LASH and SEABEE barge carriers-- that are no longer readily available in sufficient numbers from the activeU.S. flag fleet. The deployment in DESERT SHIELD/STORM was impressive and sealift performed close to its realistic potential in its first real test. More to the point, this experience has provided a sound basis for judging the nation's strategic lift requirements for the future.

NAVY MEDICAL BUILDUP AND FOLLOW-THROUGH. Shortly after Iraqi troops rolled into Kuwait, Navy medical personnel deployed to Saudi Arabia. From the corpsmen accompanying the Marines in the field to the hospitals stateside, Navy medicine proved itself ready. For example, three days after forces were committed to DESERT SHIELD, deployment orders went out to the hospital shipsComfort and Mercy. Both ships were activated, manned, and supplied from a standing start. They were on station and ready in the Persian Gulf by 23 September.

More than 6,100 active-duty Navy men and women were deployed to provide medical care to coalition forces in DESERT SHlELD/STORM. Additionally, 10,452 naval medical reservists were recalled to active duty. Many fllled large staffing gaps at military medical facilities where manpower was cut to the bone to support DESERT SHIELD. Other reservists served on the hospital ships and fleet hospitals in theater.

In addition to personnel of the Navy medical corps, medical service corps, and nurse corps, more than 5,800 Navy hospital corpsmen served with Marines during DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Eleven corpsmen were attached to each company of Marines. Corpsmen are assigned to a specific Marine unit for the length of their Fleet Marine Force tour of duty.

After being treated by corpsman in the field, sick and injured personnel could be quickly moved up the medical treatment ladder as required. Battalion aid stations provide patients with a physician's skills and clinical judgement in a safer environment with sufflcient time to accomplish a more complete examination. The next step up the ladder was a medical battalion surgical support company or a casualty receiving and treatment ship where patients were treated by teams of physicians and nurses supported by a staff of medical technicians with more complete medical facilities including a basic laboratory, holding wards, a pharmacy and greater surgical capacity. Casualties requiring more extensive treatment were transported to either a combat zone fleet hospital or a hospital ship. The scope of treatment available at these facilities mirrored fully-staffed hospitals in the United States.

Fleet Hospital (FH) 5 was the first such facility deployed to Saudi Arabia. Built in just 16 days, with the help of Navy Construction Battalion Units 411 and 415, FH5 saw its first patient five days afte rconstruction began. The entire facility had arrived in Saudi Arabia in more than 400 containers aboard the afloat prepositioning ship MV Noble Star on 15 August. In less than two weeks, the Seabees, and Navy medical and support personnel from Naval Hospital Portsmouth, Virginia, had transformed the shipping containers into a 500-bed, forward-deployed medical facility, complete with operating rooms, intensive care units and radiological facilities. FH5, along with FH6 and FH15 which were set up in late January, cared for more than 32,000 patients during DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Members of all coalition forces, expatriates, enemy prisoners of war (EPWs) and Kuwaiti refugees received care from the fleet hospitals.

FH6 and FH15 exemplified the Navy's Total Force concept, demonstrating how Naval Reserve units could be recalled to active duty and hit the ground running. While the fleet hospitals worked ashore, Navy hospital ships operated in the waters of the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Gulf of Oman. Among the first ships deployed in support of DESERT SHIELD, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and USNS Mercy(T-AH 19), are the only hospital ships of their size in the world. These 1,000 bed floating hospitals stood at the ready throughout DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Each hospital ship is equipped with 50 trauma stations that form the casualty receiving area, 12 operating rooms, a 20-bed recovery room, 80 intensive care beds and 16 light- and intermediate-care wards.

Navy medicine was ready stateside too. All Navy medical treatment facilities geared up to receive casualties from DESERT STORM if the need arose. In cooperation with the other armed services, the Navy designated certain hospitals to be casualty receiving centers (CRCs). The CRCs were set up to receive patients from all services as they were medevaced stateside. Patients were then transferred to facilities near their duty stations or hometowns, if available and as soon as possible, to ensure appropriate medical care.

NAVAL RESERVE SUPPORT. The call-up of reservists in support of DESERT SHIELD/ STORM marked the largest activation of reservists since President Johnson mobilized reserve forces during the Vietnam Tet Offensive in 1968. On 22 August, President Bush issued the first executive order authorizing the call up of 48,800 members of the Selected Reserve to active duty.

Subsequent executive orders increased the authorization to 365,000 for all the services. Of those, the Navy was authorized a ceiling of 44,000. The full authorization was not used. Eventually, over 21,000 naval reservists were called to join active-duty units in and around the Arabian Peninsula, and fill critical gaps in military support positions in the United States and overseas. The Naval Reserve provided the Navy's only capability in many areas, including dedicated combat search and rescue, mobile inshore undersea warfare and logistic air transport.

The majority of reservists augmented their regular counterparts. They came from all parts of the country, representing many specialties: medical, naval construction, cargo handling, mine warfare, naval control of shipping, intelligence, public affairs, and the chaplain corps. Reservists made significant contributions, and provided meaningful training to their active-duty shipmates, enhancing the skills of both groups by the time the crisis was over.

Medical personnel composed the largest number of any specialty recalled-- approximately 50 percent of the naval reservists were involved in health care. The reserves provided 90% of the Cargo Handling Battalion capability in DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM validated the Navy's Total Force concept and underscored the importance and reliance our nation places on our reserve components. Navy Reservists proved a ready and an effective force for national security.

"The most important lesson learned from Operation DESERT STORM was that the system worked," said RADM James E. Taylor, USN, Director of Naval Reserve. "Our reservists were ready, they were well-trained, they did their job and they were highly motivated. We have proven that the investment we made in the past decade paid off-- our taxpayer's dollars have been well spent. The reservists hit the ground running and I think the American public appreciates what they did for the country."

Return to Desert Storm introduction

Published: Mon Mar 02 09:58:24 EST 2015