The Navy Department Library
The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf
by Dr. Edward J. Marolda, Senior Historian, Naval Historical Center
Maintaining political stability and the free flow of oil to the global economy have been the overarching objectives of U.S. foreign policy in the Persian Gulf for almost half a century. The U.S. Navy has been one of the primary instruments of that policy, in both peace and war.
Prologue to the War
Between the establishment of the Middle East Force in 1949 and the outbreak of war in 1990, U.S. naval forces protected America's interests in the region and helped develop international support for U.S. foreign policy goals. The continuous, albeit limited, American military presence in the Persian Gulf demonstrated to potential aggressors that in any confrontation they faced the prospect of war with a superpower.
The Navy's extended presence in the region generated political support for the United States among the economically vital but militarily vulnerable states on the Arabian Peninsula. Local leaders recognized the value of having U.S. warships positioned between them and their often-bellicose northern neighbors. They also came to consider naval forces that operated in international waters or required only minimal support facilities ashore as the most appropriate expression of U.S. ties to their countries. Their devout Muslim populations were not likely to accept large, predominantly Christian, and non-Arab air and ground forces operating from inland bases.
The U.S. Navy's performance during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 strengthened these relations. The carrier and battleship task forces that operated in the North Arabian Sea and the cruisers, destroyers, and mine countermeasures ships of Joint Task Force Middle East in the gulf were largely responsible for maintaining the flow of oil from the producing countries of the region. The fleet also prevented Iran's military power from advancing across the gulf. These positive actions helped dissipate the memory of Washington's lack of resolve during the Tehran hostage crisis and the Lebanese civil war in the early 1980s, when significant doubt had developed about American staying power. The local Arab states would not forget this American constancy when Iraq threatened regional stability in 1990.
The Navy's long experience as a military shield in the gulf also fostered closer relations between the United States and its Western allies. Multinational operations during the Tanker War that involved naval units from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands enhanced a sense of joint responsibility for the protection of international shipping and maintenance of the Persian Gulf oil trade. Hence, America's traditional allies were well disposed to President Bush's August 1990 proposal for international military action against Iraq.
Not only did the tanker escort operation Earnest Will highlight growing American determination to oppose threats to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf but the Navy's increasing ability to support forceful action. More than four decades of preparing for war with the Soviet Union and engaging in Cold War operations had created a Navy of formidable fighting power. The experience had spurred development of the most advanced ships, aircraft, weapons, and equipment.
The Tomahawk land attack missile, intended originally to carry nuclear warheads deep into the USSR, was equally capable of delivering conventional munitions against other nations. Missouri and Wisconsin had been recommissioned in the 1980s because of their ability to employ cruise missiles, but the battleships' existing 16-inch guns were also ideal for bombardment missions. The sophisticated Aegis defensive system, designed to frustrate multi-dimensional Soviet attacks on the fleet, could handle lesser threats with great confidence. The Composite Warfare Commander concept, designed so carrier task force officers could control air strikes against distant Soviet targets and also defend their formation from enemy air, surface, and submarine attack, was also valid for combat against regional foes.
The Cold War experience had inspired the U.S. Navy and allied navies to develop common operational and tactical procedures and compatible weapons and communication systems. After decades of combined exercises around the globe, the British, Argentine, Australian, and other navies were adept at operating in conjunction with the American fleet. Having coordinated with Western European military authorities in the loading, transportation, and delivery of materiel to NATO armies numerous times during the Cold War, the Navy's Military Sealift Command was reasonably well-prepared to handle major transoceanic operations.
Equally important to the readiness of the U.S. Navy in 1990 was its combat experience in the regional wars in Korea and Vietnam and lesser hostilities in such places as Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, the Persian Gulf, and Panama. U.S. naval air forces had become skilled at projecting power ashore and sinking fast attack craft. Sailors and marines were no strangers to amphibious warfare during the Cold War and the gunners on board the Iowa-class battleships had honed the skills needed for accurate bombardment and naval gunfire support. U.S. naval forces also refined tactics and techniques for oceangoing patrol operations involving Navy, Coast Guard, and allied air and sea forces. The operations of naval special warfare, harbor defense, explosive ordnance disposal, and salvage units also reflected the Navy' experience in the regional conflicts of the Cold War.
The near loss of carrier Forrestal off Vietnam and frigates Stark and Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf to fire, missiles, and mines reinforced the importance of thorough damage control training. Cruiser Vincennes's missile shootdown of an Iranian airliner had driven home in only a few terrible minutes the vital importance to fleet air defense of sound human judgment. By August 1990 the officers and bluejackets manning the fleet's Aegis and NTU antiair warfare systems were well trained in operating the equipment and coordinating their actions with Air Force E-3 AWACS units.
Great Britain's withdrawal of military forces from "east of Suez," Iran's revolutionary excesses, and the Soviet Union's maritime penetration of the Indian Ocean and invasion of Afghanistan during the 1970s and 1980s prompted the Carter and Reagan administrations, and the Navy, to evaluate their resources for mounting military operations in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area. They were not heartened by the findings. There were no major U.S.-run ports, airfields, or logistic bases in the region and the distances from the East and West coasts of the United States could hardly have been greater. Armed with this understanding, the defense establishment strengthened the Carter Doctrine and the Reagan Corollary during the 1980s by creating maritime prepositioning squadrons, with combat-loaded ships deployed in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Marine forces based around the globe would be airlifted into the theater to take possession of the weapons and supplies delivered by the MPS ships.
Deploying Marine rapid-reaction units to the combat arena was only one aspect of the sealift mission in a Persian Gulf conflict. The Navy was also responsible for transporting from the United States and other global sites an expeditionary army (minus the troops) of mechanized infantry, armored, and air assault divisions. The Navy then had to maintain the fighting forces in the field. To handle these tasks, the naval service administered the expenditure of over $7 billion worth of construction for the most modern ships, including eight advanced, fast sealift ships. The Navy also worked with the Maritime Administration to ensure that the Ready Reserve Force fleet was prepared to sustain a major U.S. overseas conflict.
During the four decades of the Cold War that preceded the crisis with Iraq, the Navy developed a logistic support system that enabled its own combat forces to remain continuously deployed in waters far from the United States. Forward naval bases in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean were important to this global establishment. The fleet, however, was not tied to shore bases, as it demonstrated during 1980s operations in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. A contingent of mobile logistic ships provided combatants, via underway replenishment, with the wherewithal to fight and remain on the line.
The Navy did not always take advantage of the Cold War experience, and this neglect hampered its effectiveness in the crisis with Iraq. The mine warfare operations in Korea and Vietnam did not set off the Navy's alarm bells, as they should have. The relative ease with which the Navy's MCM helicopters and surface units seemed to handle their duties masked the inadequacy of these platforms and their command and control establishment.
Throughout the Cold War, the Navy relied on its European allies to carry the burden of coastal mine countermeasures while it prepared for blue water combat. The British, Belgian, French, and other navies built and put to sea the most advanced ships and equipment and the most intensively trained sailors. To prepare for a global conflagration with the Soviet Union this division of labor made sense, but the Navy had to expect it would be committed to coastal operations in the post-Cold War era.
The damage by mines to merchant ship SS Bridgeton and frigate Samuel B. Roberts during 1987 and 1988 in the Persian Gulf briefly focused the Navy's attention on mine warfare. As a result, the fleet refined mine hunting and sweeping tactics and procedures, and tested some new equipment. These efforts and the success of American counter mine actions during the last months of the Iran-Iraq War, however, fostered a complacent attitude in the Navy about its mine countermeasures capability. Consequently, the Navy was little better prepared in 1990 to deal with sea mines than it had been in 1987.
The Navy's experience confronting the Soviet threat did not spur the service to adjust its post-Cold War relationship to the U.S. command structure. Enactment of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation in 1986 increased the operational control by theater commanders (whatever their service) over naval and other component forces, but the Navy resisted any weakening of its traditional autonomy. Naval leaders were steeped in Mahanian operational concepts that envisioned flag officers directing grand fleet actions at sea, as they had in the cataclysmic World War II battles of Midway, Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf. As embodied in the Maritime Strategy of the late 1980s, fleet commanders would control the aircraft and missiles they dispatched from their ships against the Soviet heartland.
Especially with regard to the Central Command, the Navy was not interested in long-term, fixed joint relationships. During Operation Earnest Will the naval command setup proved inadequate. To correct it, Washington combined the small staff of Commander Middle East Force with the new, still Navy-led, Joint Task Force Middle East. Soon after Iraq and Iran ceased their fire, however, the mission-oriented, short-term task force headquarters was disestablished.
The experience of the Iran-Iraq War and the prospect of further conflict in the Persian Gulf suggested that the Navy needed a more permanent and capable command function in the region and a stronger, more durable relationship with the theater headquarters. Naval leaders in Washington, however, resumed their reliance on the Middle East Force for routine gulf operations and kept the low-ranking and under-staffed Commander Naval Forces, Central Command in Hawaii, far removed from both the Persian Gulf and CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida. The Navy expected that in the event of another conflict in the gulf the admirals leading the unified commands in the Atlantic and the Pacific would temporarily assign their naval forces to the Army or Marine general heading Central Command. In essence, the fleet's warships, especially its carriers, would remain under Navy control.
The Navy assigned few representatives to the staffs developing Operation Plan 1002 and taking part in Exercise Internal Look so the service was not fully attuned to Schwarzkopf's philosophy of command and his views with regard to a conflict in the CENTCOM theater. The Navy's reluctance to relinquish control of its forces to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., CINCCENT, and to interact with the Tampa headquarters lessened the command's readiness to respond to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.
Hardening the Shield
The U.S. Navy's presence in the Persian Gulf might have limited the scope of Saddam Hussein's aggressive activity in the waters of the gulf, but it certainly did not deter his attack on Kuwait. Ivory Justice, a July 1990 exercise ordered by Washington, involved only two American frigates, several Air Force aircraft, and a few jet fighters of the United Arab Emirates. It could not be called a show of force. A swift and simultaneous movement of the Independence carrier battle group and other naval forces toward the Strait of Hormuz might have made a difference. National security policymakers, however, did not want a spotlight on American military power. When their low-key approach to the crisis was coupled with Ambassador Glaspie's muted warning to Saddam, it is hardly surprising that the Iraqi generalissimo felt he had little to fear from American arms.
While the fleet's presence in the region did not deter Saddam's attack on Kuwait, it did make clear to the Iraqi dictator that further advances could cost him dearly. In hindsight, Saddam probably had no intention of invading Saudi Arabia, but the inveterate risk-taker might have launched such an attack if powerful U.S. naval and air forces were not close at hand. Within days of the invasion of Kuwait, carrier aircraft were in range to help defend the Arabian Peninsula.
On 15 August, just two weeks after Saddam's assault on Kuwait, three MPS ships disembarked at al-Jubayl the equipment and supplies of a Marine expeditionary brigade. The troops arrived by air the next day. This response was quick, but not as quick as it should have been. The movement forward of these U.S. naval forces needed the consent of no other nation and could have been ordered shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. General Powell and others in Washington, however, concerned about Saudi sensitivities, waited until 7 August and the official start of Desert Shield to order the action.
On the 25th, the same day that Major General John I. Hopkins declared his 7th MEB ready for combat, the troops, armored vehicles, and 30 days of ammunition and supplies of another MEB began arriving at al-Jubayl. In short order, these two brigades were ready to fight to hold open the ports and airfields into which streamed an increasing flood of Army troops and Air Force tactical squadrons. The speedy deployment of the Marine expeditionary brigades to the distant operational theater affirmed the soundness of the maritime prepositioning concept and the wisdom of devoting considerable sealift and airlift resources to the program.
During the tense days of August 1990, many observers concluded that Saudi Arabia was at great risk from a massive invasion by Iraqi armored forces and loss of the oil wells and refineries in the eastern reaches of the country. There was much less appreciation of the serious threat posed by the Iraqi military machine to the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf and to the Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ports on its south shore. With 750 combat aircraft and approximately 165 naval vessels, 13 equipped with antiship missiles, the Iraqis had the ability to attack merchant ships in the waters of the gulf and to wreak havoc in the congested GCC harbors. Saddam's jets could have reached the shipping lanes of the central gulf and the coastal sites within minutes from their bases in Kuwait and Iraq. Denied use of these vital ports, the UN coalition could not have deployed an expeditionary army to the Arabian Peninsula as quickly as it did.
The Iranians possessed similar military resources and might have used the UN crisis with Saddam to close the Strait of Hormuz or, as they had during the Iran-Iraq War, threaten international shipping.
Neither Baghdad nor Tehran initiated hostilities of that sort during Desert Shield, and for many reasons might not have. But, the powerful naval force that the coalition rapidly concentrated in the Persian Gulf and contiguous waters could only have counseled Iraqi and Iranian caution. Land-based aircraft formed an aerial umbrella over the gulf. On the surface, east of the Strait of Hormuz, steamed American aircraft carriers protected by U.S., British, Canadian, and Australian cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. Many of these warships were equipped with Aegis and other state-of-the-art radar systems, electronic countermeasures gear, surface-to-air missiles, and Phalanx close-in weapons systems. In coastal waters, GCC naval forces stayed on the lookout for fast craft or commercial vessels whose crews or passengers might have had hostile intent. Navy harbor defense, special warfare, and explosive ordnance disposal units, and Coast Guard port security units formed the final maritime line of defense in the key ports of Manama, al-Jubayl, and ad-Dammam.
The coalition's ability to counter enemy sea mines was a weak link in this defensive chain. Until mid-September, when British Hunt-class mine-hunting ships arrived on station, UN ships were vulnerable to Iraqi mines. The four-ship American MCM flotilla, carried to the gulf in a slow-moving vessel and shunted from port to port in search of an operating base, was not ready for action until long after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The UN coalition was able to dispatch strong ground forces to Saudi Arabia because of the absence of any enemy opposition to seaborne movement. Friendly control of the sea, however, is not a given; it has to be established. Throughout August, fleet units deployed in the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific weighed anchor and converged on the Middle Eastern hot spot. By the end of the month Naval Forces, Central Command consisted of two carrier battle groups (which operated most of the 319 Navy and Marine aircraft then in the theater), a pair of battleships, and 25 other naval vessels, many of them armed with Tomahawk land attack missiles. British, French, and Arab surface combatants complemented this American fleet.
As some U.S. and allied warships steamed at flank speed for the Persian Gulf, other units replaced them in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the North Arabian Sea. Even though some governments were reluctant to involve their military forces in the confrontation with Iraq, no political commitment was required to demonstrate support for the UN stand by positioning naval forces in waters traversed by the ships of the allied expeditionary army.
These latter deployments were prudent because the governments of Libya, Sudan, and Yemen, which fervently supported Saddam's stand against the West, had the ability to hazard the UN response to Iraq's invasion. The armed forces of these nations boasted more than 600 combat aircraft and a large number of missile-armed surface ships, submarines, and mine warfare vessels. These forces, or explosives-laden fast boats crewed by terrorists, could have attacked the sealift ships moving through the several constricted waterways around the Persian Gulf. But, with American and other combatants just off their shores, and carrier and land-based aircraft flying nearby, Libyan Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi and his ideological cohorts did not interfere with the UN sea line of communications.
Hence, U.S. and coalition naval forces made a major contribution to the success of allied fortunes in Desert Shield by helping to deter further Iraqi aggression on land and sea and by establishing control of the oceans that gave the coalition access to the Arabian Peninsula.
Increasing the Political and Military Pressure on Saddam
The multinational embargo patrol, a naval blockade in all but name, proved to be a valuable weapon in the UN-U.S. arsenal. It did not compel Saddam to give up his Kuwait conquest, as its most fervent proponents hoped. But, the embargo patrol prevented the Iraqis from filling their war chest with imported aircraft, ships, missiles, ammunition, and the other necessities of combat.
Of equal importance, the patrol operation enabled the international community to employ military force against Saddam, even if the UN member states were not yet ready to wage war against him. Most coalition governments readily allowed their navies to take part in offshore operations that involved minimal risk of casualties or political commitment. The successful conduct of the embargo patrol during Desert Shield made it easier for participating Western governments to persuade citizens that their naval forces were engaged in a righteous international effort. In addition, the patrol demonstrated to the Arab world that only in a measured and discriminating fashion were Western and Christian military contingents likely to use force against other Arabs. Ultimately, it also allowed President George H.W. Bush and other world leaders to argue that war was justified to liberate Kuwait, since the restrained application of military force represented by the embargo patrol failed to budge the Iraqi dictator. In short, the naval patrol helped the UN make the transition from peace to war.
Some analysts contend that U.S. forces operated as discrete national contingents during the gulf crisis, so the UN effort cannot be described as a truly multinational, combined military enterprise. While there may be merit to this argument with regard to ground and air forces, it is far from accurate with regard to naval forces. U.S. Navy leaders generally believed that the integration of the allied naval forces was a major success story.
This integration was especially true of the embargo patrol. American leaders convened monthly conferences of the naval forces taking part in the patrol and suggested various operational approaches. After years of interaction, the Americans had learned how to lead NATO and other naval commanders while respecting their individual national requirements. Many of the participating navies followed U.S. direction, if allowed to do so by their home governments. With a few exceptions, cooperation and consensus among the naval contingents characterized command and control of the embargo patrol. That relationship worked well in the Persian Gulf crisis. The situation did not require absolute operational control of the forces involved.
Individual patrol sectors in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf were the responsibility of one or more navies, but interception task groups routinely comprised ships and aircraft from several nations. Non-American officers often served as on-scene commanders. It was not unusual for U.S. and Australian frigates, British Royal Marines, or other UN naval forces to cooperate in combined, high-seas interception operations. The participants worked out common procedures for identifying, hailing, stopping, and boarding suspect merchant ships and limiting the risk of hostilities.
Normally, the presence of two or three warships, backed up by attack aircraft and armed helicopters loaded with combat-ready naval commandos and marines, was enough to stop a merchantman. But, the terms "vertical insertion" and "fast-roping" entered the lexicon of maritime patrol operations when the international team discovered that they could carry out their mission without the adverse political consequences associated with shooting up or sinking a ship that refused to stop for inspection. As the SS Ibn Khaldoon "peace ship" incident revealed, allied naval commanders had learned the importance of using minimal force to defuse antiwar demonstrations, which carried great potential for turning international opinion against the UN effort. The upshot of this effort was that a truly multinational force carried out the UN mandate and completely stopped Iraq's overseas commerce.
Conversely, the sea became a major highway over which flowed the warmaking resources of a huge allied expeditionary army. As during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, sealift remained the only way to deploy major forces overseas quickly and efficiently and then to sustain them. In little more than seven months the Navy's Military Sealift Command deployed from the United States and elsewhere to the sands of Saudi Arabia 95 percent of the armored vehicles, attack helicopters, wheeled transport, heavy weapons, equipment, ammunition, and supplies for 10 combat divisions and many smaller formations.
The Navy's long-term preparation for the sealift mission bore fruit during Desert Shield. The specially designed fast sealift ships came on line as intended, loaded out Army armored vehicles and helicopters in American ports, sped across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and delivered their high-priority material to the operational theater. The ships returned to the United States and repeated the round-trip passage as many as seven times during Desert Shield. The fast sealift ships proved to be the stars of the operation, carrying 10 percent of all Desert Shield cargo. More important, they accomplished their primary purpose, which was to put heavy Army units on the ground quickly.
The Ready Reserve Force fleet did its job but not without difficulty. The RRF lacked critical crewmen skilled in the operation of machinery in the older ships, some of which had not been adequately maintained. As a result, many of the crews had difficulty firing up the boilers of their ships, getting them to designated ports of embarkation on time, and keeping them in operation once underway. The RRF included plenty of older break-bulk freighters, but not enough roll on/roll off ships. Since the United States dominated the seas, however, foreign chartering firms did not hesitate to satisfy the American request for more ships. Foreign charters, faster to ports of embarkation and cheaper to operate than the American merchantmen, quickly made up the shortfall. Moreover, Japan, South Korea, and other maritime nations aided the sealift effort with their own merchant fleets.
Port operations in the United States, Europe, and Saudi Arabia that involved the joint Transportation Command, Navy and Army commands in the United States and overseas, and the governments and military forces of many European and Arab nations were anything but smooth. Some ships arrived late at ports of embarkation while others arrived before there were cargoes for them. At several sites the port groups took too long to load ships, stowed cargo improperly, or scattered the equipment of one ground unit among a number of ships.
The combined efforts of many people helped alleviate most of these problems. The military and civilian officials responsible for the sealift effort exploited their previous preparation and training to break log jams quickly and decisively. These officials had anticipated supporting NATO forces battling the Warsaw Pact armies on the central German plain, but they adapted their plans and operations to the Desert Storm mission.
An important reason for the success of the sealift operation was that the UN coalition's European and Arab members made their sophisticated transportation establishments available. The Germans, Belgians, Dutch, and GCC countries put their highways, railroads, canals, and port facilities at the disposal of the U.S. logistic commands. Even former Warsaw Pact nations pitched in with resources. With an enormous capacity to unload and store cargo, Saudi ports easily handled the tanks, armored personnel carriers, and pallets of ammunition and supplies that the MSC ships disgorged at the end of their journey. Unfortunately, neither the Army nor the Marine logistic commands ashore had enough trucks to transport armored vehicles, troops, and supplies to the front. Once again, international support proved a godsend. The Saudis and Japanese supplied the coalition with hundreds of heavy equipment transporters, trucks, and other vehicles. This timely assistance enabled General Schwarzkopf's logisticians to complete the deployment of the half-million-strong allied expeditionary force to the northern Saudi border in time for the G-Day offensive into Kuwait. Along with the Military Airlift Command, which flew American troops into the battle zone, MSC deployed a major field army half way around the globe in little more than seven months.
Gearing Up for Battle
The Navy and the other U.S. armed services could have fought and beaten the Iraqis long before January 1991, but the task would have been harder and the cost higher. The Navy, like the other services, used the six months offered by Desert Shield to marshal powerful fleet units in the theater, fully arm and supply them, and bring active and reserve Sailors and Marines to fighting pitch.
Even with six months to prepare for war, the Navy experienced significant operational difficulties, especially in the area of command and control. In keeping with its previous insistence on providing the flag officer who would lead CINCCENT's naval forces in a major crisis in the gulf, in early August the Navy nominated the Pacific Command's Commander Seventh Fleet to be COMUSNAVCENT. With no viable alternative, the Secretary of Defense approved the proposal. An emergency did not develop, but precious time was lost before Vice Admiral Henry H. Mauz Jr., his flagship, and much of his staff could deploy to the theater and get acclimated to the new operational environment.
During much of Desert Shield the Navy's top leadership saw the Persian Gulf, where the majority of the carriers would steam and where the commander of all CENTCOM naval forces hoisted his pennant, as its exclusive operational arena. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Frank B. Kelso and Mauz saw COMUSNAVCENT more as a fleet commander, executing a short-term mission than as General Schwarzkopf's component commander. Thus, Mauz remained on board his flagship in the gulf and continued to manage his Western Pacific responsibilities as Commander Seventh Fleet. He did not establish a close personal relationship with Schwarzkopf or Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Charles Horner. The representative whom Mauz posted to Riyadh late in Desert Shield lacked the rank and aviation background to have any real impact on Schwarzkopf or Horner. The small groups of talented naval officers assigned to the CENTCOM staff and to the staff planning the air campaign were greatly outnumbered by their Air Force and Army counterparts.
Admiral Kelso and his staff in Washington were not convinced that the UN coalition would initiate hostilities in mid-January 1991. Hence, the CNO authorized the 1 December 1990 relief of Mauz by Vice Admiral Stanley R. Arthur so the former could take up a new billet in the United States. This late change of command gave Arthur little time to get oriented to his forces, put his stamp on their direction, or prepare them for a war that most non-Navy observers believed close at hand. Arthur immediately appreciated the need for a closer, personal link with the theater commander. He also recognized that since the war against Iraq would be a joint campaign fought primarily on and over land, he needed to strengthen the Navy's presence on the staffs in Riyadh and better integrate naval forces into the campaign plan.
It was already too late. With the war liable to begin at any time, Arthur had no wish for his command to be caught in the middle of a headquarters shift or staff reorganization. Schwarzkopf and Arthur remained dissatisfied with the preparations made by Mauz and his staff for participation in the joint-service, multinational campaign. Fortunately for the Navy, Arthur, a combat-tested leader, possessed all the qualities needed to put Naval Forces, Central Command on a solid war footing.
U.S. naval forces trained intensively during Desert Shield. Afloat forces carried out numerous antisurface, antiair, naval gunfire support, combat search and rescue, and amphibious exercises with other coalition units. Central Command put on the several highly publicized amphibious exercises not only to divert Iraqi attention from the desert flank, but also to prepare Navy and Marine units for actual amphibious operations, should they be necessary.
In some cases, ongoing operations added a strong dose of realism to this training. Formations of Iraqi aircraft went "feet wet" and briefly headed for the fleet on numerous occasions during Desert Shield. Aegis and NTU cruisers and Navy E-2C, Marine and Canadian F/A-18, and Air Force AWACs aircraft reacted quickly to the aerial threat. The routinely fast and coordinated response by strong UN antiair units during Desert Shield may have been one reason why the Iraqis launched only a single over-water attack during Desert Storm.
The Navy's training for participation in the Desert Storm air campaign, however, was a mixed bag. Officers and enlisted personnel of Rear Admiral Riley D. Mixson's Red Sea carriers, in theater for a long time and dependent on Air Force tanker and AWACs support for the overland approach to Iraq, worked with their Air Force counterparts to fit Navy operations into the joint air campaign plan. The Saratoga and John F. Kennedy attack, fighter, and electronic countermeasures aircraft rehearsed strike missions, large-scale aerial tanking evolutions, and other operations with comparable Air Force units. This interaction minimized wartime differences between Battle Force Yankee and the Air Force.
The carriers of Rear Admiral Daniel P. March's Persian Gulf force were less well prepared to take part in the joint air campaign against Iraq. During much of Desert Shield, Battle Force Zulu air units carried out unilateral exercises in the North Arabian Sea. Since March's air units would approach their targets in southeastern Iraq and Kuwait primarily over water, they considered it more important to coordinate their operations with Navy aerial tankers and E-2C aircraft than with similar Air Force units. March had little face-to-face contact with the leaders and staff officers in Riyadh. Battle Force Zulu's lack of adequate training for coordinated, joint-service air operations complicated the Navy's participation in the air war.
While a sooner move of the carrier battle force into the Persian Gulf might have improved the coordination of air operations, naval leaders were rightly cautious about hazarding their capital ships in such a way. When asked just before Desert Shield about the feasibility of operating carriers in the gulf, commanding officers of ships that had made brief forays into those confined waters in the 1980s recommended against it. Vice Admiral Mauz was concerned throughout Desert Shield about the threat from Iraqi missile-armed aircraft, fast attack vessels, and shore-based Silkworm missiles, and Iran's potential for mischief. As with Generals Powell and Schwarzkopf, the Vietnam experience had had a marked influence on Mauz, Arthur, March, and numerous other naval commanders. They abhorred the waste of lives and resources that characterized the failed war in Southeast Asia and were determined to limit needless risks to their Sailors, Marines, ships, and aircraft. Moreover, they understood the impact that the loss of even one ship or helicopter loaded with Marines could have on American sentiment and support for the administration's foreign policy. But, once these admirals decided that the threat was manageable and that the carriers could carry out flight operations in the obstacle-strewn gulf, they acted boldly. Mauz, for instance, not his superiors in Washington or Riyadh, pushed for the deployment of carriersIndependence and Midway into the gulf during Desert Shield. Arthur followed suit. Eventually, four carriers launched aircraft from inside the Strait of Hormuz and just 185 miles southeast of Kuwait City.
Logistically supporting their forward-based combat forces in this distant region of the globe was not a big concern of these naval leaders. Backed up by facilities in the United States and the major overseas bases at Subic Bay, Naples, and Diego Garcia, naval logistic forces maintained a steady flow forward of personnel, fuel, ammunition, and supplies. The warships in the Central Command theater could count on the flotilla of oilers, ammunition, stores, repair, and salvage ships, fleet resupply aircraft, and shore-based logistic support sites to keep them in the fight for the duration of the war. A dearth of precision-guided munitions and slow mail delivery to some fleet units were exceptions to the generally positive performance of the logistic establishment.
By the start of hostilities, the Navy's medical establishment was well prepared to minister to the needs of the Sailors and Marines under Vice Admiral Arthur and Lieutenant General Walter Boomer, Commander Marine Forces, Central Command. Staffed by hundreds of highly skilled and motivated healers, most of them naval reservists, the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort, three shore-based fleet hospitals, and several medical battalions stood ready for action. Thousands of hospital corpsmen lined up on the northern Saudi border alongside Marine infantrymen. Disease prevention teams cut short an outbreak of diarrhea among troops in the desert and other medical staffs sold most Sailors and Marines on the benefits of constant water consumption and good field hygiene. The Navy's medical contingent in the gulf lacked certain critical supplies, some chemical protective gear, and reliable field radios, but in general was prepared for war.
Desert Shield was not an easy time. More than 30 American Sailors involved in Desert Shield died as a result of mishaps, a reflection of the danger inherent even in peacetime naval operations. Other Sailors had to endure exhausting "port and starboard" watches, blistering heat and humidity, fouling sand, and often rough seas to ready their ships, aircraft, and weapons for battle. Marines, Seabees, SEALs, corpsmen, and other personnel ashore enjoyed few creature comforts or diversions from the daily grind. Recognizing Arab and Muslim sensitivities, naval personnel accepted restrictions on their own political expression, religious observances, and social behavior.
Despite these hardships, the morale of America's Sailors on the eve of Desert Storm was high. The naval establishment had, for the most part, trained them well for the coming fight, equipped them with the most modern weapons and equipment, and provisioned them with all manner of essential supplies. Most Navy men and women had confidence in themselves, their shipmates, and their leaders. Belief in the righteousness of the UN mission was widespread. Their common objective was to finish the enemy quickly and decisively and then return home to waiting families and friends. The Navy, along with the other U.S. and allied military services, was ready on 17 January 1991 to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait and destroy Saddam Hussein's war machine.
Littoral Combat in the Persian Gulf
Not for the first time in the twentieth century, the U.S. Navy fought the Persian Gulf War as part of a joint-service and multinational team that executed one of the most exceptional campaigns in military history. With Americans in the lead, coalition forces restored Kuwait to its government and people and severely limited Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten regional peace. The Navy and the other joint and combined forces reduced the Iraqi air force by more than half, eliminated the Iraqi navy as a fighting force, destroyed 4,200 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces, and killed, wounded, or captured perhaps 100,000 Iraqi troops.
Conversely, NAVCENT did not suffer the sinking of a single ship and only lost a half-dozen aircraft. Six naval air crewmen were killed in action. The Iraqis shot down seven Marine aircraft and killed or wounded 110 Marines.
The Air War
Naval power was fundamental to the success of the Desert Storm air offensive. The Navy's Tomahawk land attack missile, employed in many of the most critical strike operations of Desert Storm, added a new dimension to the traditional Navy mission of projecting power ashore. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines positioned in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean launched these weapons. Without risking a single naval aviator, the fleet units were able to strike targets with reasonable accuracy hundreds of miles from the sea in heavily defended Baghdad. They were not super weapons. Needing greater penetration and explosive power during the Gulf War, the TLAMs did not always neutralize their targets. Moreover, the Iraqis were able to shoot down some of the missiles. Still, the majority of the successfully launched TLAMS survived to damage or destroy their targets. Validated in war, the Navy's land attack missile significantly strengthened America's strike warfare arsenal.
Carrier squadrons, fighting alongside other American and coalition air units, brought devastating firepower to bear against the enemy's warmaking establishment in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. The air campaign severely damaged Saddam's national command, control, communications, power-generation, and integrated air defense systems; oil refining installations; airfields and aircraft shelters; and naval facilities. The coalition's air forces also leveled those Iraqi facilities that intelligence had identified as involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction.
The Navy made a special contribution to the air campaign by helping defeat Iraq's integrated air defense network in the early stages. Before the war the Navy's U.S.-based SPEAR intelligence group had suggested that the key to success would be neutralization of Iraq's radar-directed, surface-to-air missile system. This analysis was correct. Following up on this appreciation, Lieutenant General Horner used Navy tactical air launched decoys and Air Force-operated Navy drones to fool the enemy into thinking they were coalition aircraft. The Iraqis wasted scores of precious surface-to-air missiles on false targets. In addition, the Navy's HARM air-to-surface missiles destroyed many of those radars that dared to activate (unfortunately some hit a few coalition radars). And, the Navy's carrier-based EA-6B Prowler electronic countermeasures aircraft proved to be one of the real superstars of the war, helping protect coalition strike aircraft by jamming Iraqi radar signals.
Other naval aircraft helped reduce the Iraqi army in Kuwait. As Commander Battle Force Zulu moved his carriers ever closer to the target areas, attacks on the enemy's field forces grew in intensity. Marine AV-8 Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets used Mavericks, and Navy A-6 Intruders used their FLIRs and 500-pound laser-guided bombs in "tank-plinking" strikes that by G-Day had severely mauled the enemy's armored forces. The naval services could have done greater damage to the enemy if they had had more precision-guided munitions in the theater.
Not all missions, however, required this relatively expensive ordnance. General-purpose bombs were the optimum weapons for reducing the battle worthiness of the enemy's field army. Even though "ancient," the Korean War and Vietnam War vintage Mark 80 series of general-purpose bombs, 5-inch Zuni and 2.75-inch rockets, fuel air explosives, and Walleyes proved almost as good as the Rockeyes for this mission. With A-6s dropping all manner of "dumb" bombs by night, and F/A-18s, AV-8s, and other coalition aircraft bombing by day, the helpless Iraqi troops got little respite from Horner's aerial onslaught. Navy and Marine aircraft also dropped leaflets as part of a sophisticated psychological warfare effort. Enemy morale and military effectiveness suffered badly from this constant attention. By the last days of the war, carrier aircraft and both ship-based and shore-based Marine aircraft were launching numerous strikes against the Iraqi army as it fled from Kuwait City along the "highway of death."
Navy and Marine commanders, having digested the Vietnam and other Cold War experiences, generally employed their ordnance with precision and restraint. There were few civilian casualties and minimal destruction of non-military targets during the war. Aside from obvious humanitarian concerns, naval leaders understood how bombing inaccuracy might enrage the enemy population and generate domestic and international opposition to the UN mission.
As Lieutenants Mark Fox and Nick Mongillo demonstrated with their F/A-18s, Navy fighters were just as capable of shooting down enemy jets as Air Force F-16s and F-15s. Navy fighters did not score additional fixed-wing kills during the war, however. Horner and his staff knew that the electronic gear on Air Force fighters could differentiate between friendly and enemy aircraft, but they were not as confident about the Navy's IFF equipment. Naval leaders placed greater faith in their interceptors. Nevertheless, since there were more than enough Air Force units to handle those relatively small number of Iraqi fighters that elected to "dog fight," Horner wisely chose not to employ other coalition aircraft and risk accidental, or "blue-on-blue" shootdowns.
If the Air Force was unsure about the Navy's IFF equipment, it had great confidence in Navy-designed weapons. The Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles developed by the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California, performed especially well and figured prominently in the coalition's 38 aerial victories.
As critics have observed, the A-7 and A-6 attack aircraft had made their operational debuts during the Vietnam War and hence lacked the more advanced avionics and weapons systems of the stealthy F-117. These Navy jets were reaching the end of their useful service lives. Despite their age, they performed various missions with marked effectiveness. The Navy's last two A-7 Corsair squadrons, whose deactivation was postponed for Desert Storm, did not lose a plane to enemy action, and they employed with skill most of the weapons in the aerial arsenal, including precision-guided munitions, general-purpose bombs, and 20-millimeter guns.
The venerable A-6 Intruder was clearly the naval services' workhorse for strike warfare during Desert Storm. Navy and Marine A-6s carried 10,000 pounds of ordnance, much more than the F-117, operated in smoke-filled skies, bad weather, and at night, and flew long distances without aerial refueling. Their FLIR equipment was especially effective at nighttime spotting of stationary Iraqi vehicles. A-6Es were also vital because their laser designators helped other naval aircraft drop laser-guided bombs accurately. The F/A-18 Hornet, even though its bomb-carrying capacity and range were inadequate for deep-strike missions, performed well in battlefield interdiction operations. The AV-8 could only operate effectively at low level, which made it vulnerable to enemy air defense weapons. The Harrier's ability to fly from unimproved airstrips and from assault ships close offshore, however, made it especially responsive to the requirements of Marine ground commanders.
Battle Force Zulu's four carriers were able to add their offensive punch to the air campaign, in part because the air defense umbrella established by the coalition fleet allowed the capital ships to move right up to the enemy's coast. U.S. naval leaders have concluded that a determined air assault on the fleet would probably have damaged or even sunk some coalition ships, especially in the early stages of Desert Shield when coalition air defenses in the gulf were not robust. By the start of Desert Storm, however, SAM-armed U.S. Aegis/NTU cruisers; British, Australian, Canadian, and Dutch warships; and Navy, Marine, Air Force, British, and Canadian early warning and patrol planes, backed up by fighters, saturated the northern gulf. The Iraqi air force had to test the defensive perimeter in the gulf only once to discover that the coalition's seaborne defenses were as impervious as those on land. The shootdown of two Iraqi Mirage jets on 24 January, while exposing some command and control shortcomings, highlighted the resiliency and depth of the allied air defenses.
Navy surface and air units and Air Force AWACS planes also monitored hundreds of aircraft flying over the gulf every day for the seven months of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Of the 65,000 sorties monitored by allied forces, none involved a mid-air collision of coalition aircraft.
The Navy had its share of operational difficulties during the air campaign, but its battle commanders and staffs demonstrated true professionalism in diagnosing most problems and quickly correcting them. For instance, in the first days of Desert Storm, the carrier navy realized that its tactical approach to strike operations was wrong. Missions carried out at low level, in keeping with prewar training, resulted in the loss or damage of a number of planes. The Royal Air Force suffered as well in its low-level airfield attacks. Meanwhile, the allied onslaught had neutralized the enemy's air defenses above 10,000 feet, affording the coalition a virtual sanctuary at the higher altitudes.
Vice Admiral Arthur, based on his own combat experience in Vietnam, recognized that the situation demanded an immediate change of course. A consummate wartime fleet commander, Arthur generally gave his subordinate officers the latitude they needed to fight their forces. But, as in this case, he did not hesitate to step in when decisive action was called for. He immediately advised his air wing commanders to forego the costly low-level tactic and employ their aircraft from the higher reaches of the Iraqi sky. Aircraft losses declined as a result.
So too did bombing effectiveness. Naval aircrews had not been well trained for such missions and naval aircraft, electronic targeting systems, and aerial ordnance had not been configured for high-level strike operations. Many Rockeye bombs dropped from the higher altitudes, for instance, did not explode when they reached the ground.
Another hindrance to bombing effectiveness was the enemy's skill at cover and deception. Like the Communists in the Vietnam air war, the Iraqis positioned armored vehicles, trucks, and missile launchers made of wood at key locations; painted black "holes" in airfield runways; and employed ferries, pontoons, and earthen causeways to move supplies across the Euphrates and other critical rivers.
The Navy and the Air Force had a difficult time destroying the highway bridges between Baghdad and the front during the early weeks of the air campaign. Frequently, several strikes were required to knock out the durable, multi-span bridges. But the Navy-Air Force experience benefited the later "bridge busting" operations of the Royal Air Force. By the end of Desert Storm the combined strike effort had eliminated 75 percent of the bridges between the Iraqi capital and southern Iraq. For the most part, the carrier forces were able to quickly adjust their tactics, aircraft, and weapons systems to the demands of the campaign.
The Navy and the Air Force also had difficulty tracking down Saddam's missile launchers that propelled high-explosive SCUD warheads into the heart of Israel and Saudi Arabia. This massive effort diverted aircraft from other vital missions and at the tactical level produced no tangible results-there is no evidence that coalition aircraft destroyed any Iraqi launchers.
Convinced that the allies were serious about locating and destroying the weapons, however, the Israelis stayed out of the war, and their decision had great strategic value. Saddam did not succeed in splitting the coalition of Christian and bitterly anti-Israeli Arab forces.
The Navy also suffered with the other services from the lack of accurate and timely battle damage assessments. Because of over compartmentalization, different service priorities, and the overwhelming volume of data available, the intelligence agencies in Washington and CENTCOM's J-2 in Riyadh were often unable to deliver timely information to naval forces on the line. Naval commanders in the Persian Gulf were also frustrated with the dearth of satellite intelligence on the basing and movement of aircraft on their northern flank in Iran. Moreover, the TARPS pods carried by a number of its F-14 Tomcats provided the fleet with good tactical intelligence, but there were not enough of these specially equipped aircraft in the operational theater.
As in all of America's modern conflicts, interservice problems arose during the Persian Gulf War. From the first days of Desert Shield, General Schwarzkopf made it clear that he wanted Lieutenant General Horner and the Riyadh-based staff of the Joint Force Air Component Commander to control Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps air units assigned to Central Command. Horner and most other Air Force officers, in keeping with their views on air power, were comfortable with this centralized control.
The Navy, because of its traditional stress on decentralized handling of air power, did not take easily to JFACC management. Some naval officers thought that the Air Force-heavy JFACC staff did not understand how to make optimum use of the Navy's primary strike weapons, the carrier planes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Others feared that the Desert Storm experience would lead to greater Air Force control of carrier forces in the future and hurt the Navy's ability to compete for increasingly scarce defense dollars.
The Navy also had trouble working with the air tasking order, at least initially. Lacking compatible communications equipment, the carriers could not easily receive the lengthy Riyadh-generated document. Navy staff officers also found the large, daily menu of air strikes unwieldy. Moreover, Navy and Marine air staffs thought that the ATO would not be able to handle fast-changing battlefield situations. Carrier and shore-based naval air staffs, however, adapted their operations to the ATO process. They had to. Only the ATO could adequately handle the 2,500 daily sorties over Iraq, Kuwait, and the Arabian Peninsula. The Navy had no comparable mechanism. In fact, the battle groups and individual carriers were prompted to organize "strike cells" and refine the process by which they nominated targets to Riyadh.
Horner also accommodated the needs of the naval services. The general, no air power ideologue, did not object to Arthur's directing over-water operations, particularly the assault on the Iraqi navy and the air defense of the right flank. Horner also allowed Major General Royal N. Moore Jr. to manage most of the missions in Kuwait of his 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.
Still, from the start friction dogged the Navy and Air Force staffs managing the air war. Mixson's Battle Force Yankee, having trained extensively with the Air Force in Desert Shield, worked reasonably well with the JFACC. Relations between Battle Force Zulu and Riyadh, however, were strained. The causes were many: the inadequacy of Battle Force Zulu's preparation for a joint air war; different service combat doctrines; parochialism on both sides; poor fleet-to-shore communications; the shortage of Navy officers in Riyadh with sufficient authority; and the small number of Navy personnel on the JFACC staff.
One particular source of irritation was Battle Force Zulu's dependence on Air Force aerial tankers for the strike missions into Iraq and portions of Kuwait. The Navy did not believe that the battle force carriers received their fair share of tanking support in the initial phase of the air war. One can rightly question allocation priorities when so many of the Air Force's tankers were committed to refueling the B-52s (whose bomb drops were fairly inaccurate until late in the campaign) on their long round trips from Diego Garcia, Spain, and the United States. Another problem was that some of the Navy and Air Force aerial refueling equipment and fuel was incompatible. Both services, however, took successful steps to harmonize refueling operations.
In contrast to their staffs, Arthur and Horner had few disagreements. For the most part, Arthur's dealings with Schwarzkopf also remained cordial and professional. The one major exception was the latter's strong reaction to the fleet's sinking of Iraqi oil tankers. The admiral was justifiably concerned with the danger that these ships potentially posed to Sailors and Marines conducting amphibious operations. The general, of course, knew there would be no amphibious assault on Kuwait. He feared that the Navy's actions might take the heat of international opinion off Saddam for his deliberate release of oil into the gulf and might cast the coalition as an ocean polluter. Again, with a few exceptions, accommodation and cooperation were much more typical of interservice relations than conflict. Despite their disagreements, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and Army commanders and staffs worked together to carry out a crushing air campaign.
The Maritime Assault on Kuwait
The maritime campaign mounted in the northern Persian Gulf and the coastal reaches of Kuwait riveted the enemy's attention on the seaward flank. Believing that Saddam was especially fearful of a U.S. Marine assault on the coast of Kuwait, General Schwarzkopf directed his naval component commander to reinforce the Iraqi dictator's fears. Each phase of Vice Admiral Arthur's maritime campaign focused on that objective.
The first stage, clearing enemy forces and defenses from the northern gulf, got off to a slow start. Horner had fully committed Battle Force Zulu to the air war ashore, and until Theodore Roosevelt arrived in the gulf, Arthur and March lacked enough aircraft to search effectively for Iraqi combatants.
One measure taken against enemy naval vessels was short-lived. On the second day of the war Ranger aircraft mined the approaches to the primary operating bases of the Iraqi navy. Even though the Iraqi command had already dispersed some of its combatants for protection along the coast and among the islands of the northern gulf, Arthur's forces had the ability, through intensive and repeated mine-laying activity, to stifle the movement of enemy naval vessels. But U.S. naval officers have not always been enamored with the potential of offensive mine warfare. The admiral was also disturbed by the loss of a pilot and plane during the low-level mine-laying operation. Finally, he was concerned that there were too many mines already in the water, even though only American mines had been dropped there (presumably set for automatic self-sterilization). The upshot was that Arthur ruled out further American mine-laying operations.
Arthur, however, did impress upon his principal subordinates the importance of the offensive aspect of the antisurface mission and assigned the energetic Rear Admiral Ronald J. "Zap" Zlatoper to direct operations. Zlatoper and his local area antisurface warfare officer, Captain G. T. Forbes, put together a hard-hitting, offensive campaign employing the most effective aircraft, weapons, and ships in his arsenal. Coalition ships with long-range radar, combat aircraft, and patrol planes searched the harbors, inland waterways, and seaways of the northern gulf for enemy naval combatants. Once they made contact, the allied patrol forces guided ship-based Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, British Lynx, and Navy LAMPS helicopters to prospective targets. These British-American teams then used their innovative hunter/killer tactics and advanced radars, mast-mounted sights, night-vision goggles, video cameras, and Sea Skua and Hellfire missiles to locate, identify, and destroy the Iraqi foes. Most operations routinely occurred after dark, because in the Gulf War the U.S. Navy, like the other armed services, was supreme in nighttime warfare.
Coalition naval forces were the first to capture enemy troops when Commander Dennis G. Morral's American-Kuwaiti task unit seized the platforms in the ad-Dorra oilfield. The crews of Nicholas and Istiqlal found that most of their 23 Iraqi prisoners were in sad physical shape and eager to surrender. This impression was reinforced on 24 January when Curts, Leftwich, and Nicholas and their embarked SEAL and Army helicopter teams captured 75 Iraqi troops on and around Qurah Island. Thus, even before the battle of Khafji there were clear signs that enemy troops were badly supported, demoralized, and unlikely to put up fierce resistance to UN ground forces. These operations also demonstrated to American commanders that Arab fighting men would be valuable members of the international team.
There was a little known but important maritime dimension to the Battle of Khafji. U.S. and British naval aircraft eliminated an enemy boat force moving south along the coast toward the Saudi town and joined other coalition units in destroying the armored columns thrusting toward Khafji and the northern Saudi border.
Then, in the "Bubiyan Turkey Shoot," American, British, and Canadian aircraft bloodied the surviving vessels of the Iraqi fleet as they attempted to reach safety in Iranian territorial waters. The gulf experience laid to rest the old argument that small, fast, and highly maneuverable enemy missile craft would make littoral waters too dangerous for oceangoing navies. In a few short weeks, coalition naval forces destroyed or forced into Iranian hands more than 140 enemy vessels, which included most of the larger units in the Iraqi navy and every one of its 13 missile-launching vessels.
After clearing the enemy from the northern gulf, Admiral Arthur's forces proceeded to the next stage of the effort to fix Iraqi eyes on the sea. Beginning in early February 1991 the Battle Force Zulu carriers, as scheduled in the ATO, intensified their air attacks on targets in Kuwait and Arthur moved the fleet ever closer to the hostile shore. Mine countermeasures forces cleared lanes through suspected minefields for Missouri and Wisconsin, warships the Iraqis probably expected to accompany an amphibious force. For several weeks before the ground assault into Kuwait, these battleships signaled the coalition's naval presence by lofting their shells into Iraqi defenses ashore. Like the Tomahawk land attack missiles, the battleships' UAVs greatly improved the Navy's ability to project power ashore with precision and no risk to naval personnel. Because of their especially thick protective armor, these ships could survive hits by enemy shells, bombs, missiles, and mines that would sink other less endowed surface combatants. Complementing the battleships' defenses was the firepower of their escorts, as demonstrated when British frigate Gloucester's Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles destroyed an Iraqi Silkworm launched against Missouri.
Weeks before then, British and American MCM forces had worked to clear additional lanes and fleet staging areas in the suspected minefields off Kuwait. General Schwarzkopf's prewar order forbidding reconnaissance flights over the northern gulf compelled the fleet to operate with imprecise information about the outer boundaries and composition of the minefields. The Navy paid a price for this ignorance. Only several hours apart, Tripoli, ironically the mother ship for the six American MCM helicopters, and cruiserPrinceton struck mines that severely damaged both vessels. Damage control skills honed by American Sailors since the Vietnam War enabled crewmen and experts flown out to the ships to keep them afloat and in position until relieved by other units.
Conventional wisdom has it that Iraqi sea mines stopped the Navy from launching an amphibious assault" on Kuwait, but that appreciation is false. Schwarzkopf had long before ruled out a landing on the heavily fortified and defended coastline unless it was necessary. He did not want to destroy the commercial and residential facilities that crowded the shore south of Kuwait City. On 2 February 1991, Schwarzkopf made it clear to his chief subordinates that he would not order an amphibious landing on the coast of Kuwait. Neither Arthur nor Boomer pushed for a major landing, even though Marine Commandant Al Gray and his representatives pressed hard for it. Indeed, Arthur directed the use of an LPH, a ship that was critical to amphibious operations, as a mine countermeasures support platform.
Nor did the mines preclude a secondary mission, the amphibious seizure of Faylaka Island. Helicopters based on board the amphibious ships could have flown over the mines to deploy Marines on the island. Ultimately, battleship bombardments, naval air strikes, and helicopter overflights were all that was needed to persuade the Iraqi garrison on Faylaka to surrender. Had it been necessary for the MCM force to rapidly clear lanes through the minefields, however, there was great probability that ships in the MCM force and in the following amphibious flotilla would have been damaged or sunk. The presence of sea mines off the coast of Kuwait limited the battleships' ability to provide naval gunfire support. The relatively thin-hulled destroyers and frigates could not be used at all for that mission. Enemy mines also put two important warships out of action and delayed and complicated naval operations.
The American capability to execute mine countermeasures in the Persian Gulf was sadly deficient. Avenger, lead ship of a new class, had mechanical and magnetic "signature" problems, as did some of the older ocean minesweepers. The MCM staff in the gulf was an ad hoc group only recently formed. Inadequate planning for the MCM phase of an amphibious assault on the mainland caused British naval officers to question the soundness of American tactical leadership, the only significant instance of such dissatisfaction during Desert Storm. Tellingly, General Schwarzkopf, the theater commander, and his naval component commander, Arthur, asserted several times after the war that the Navy's MCM force just did not do the job that they wanted done.
Adapting the Cold War-era composite warfare commander concept to the handling of naval forces in offensive littoral operations led to some confusion among commanders about responsibilities. Theoretically, Rear Admiral March led all U.S. naval forces in the gulf, in keeping with the age-old principle of unity of command. But in practice he had to share command and control with Rear Admiral Fogarty. March focused on the air war and Fogarty on the mine countermeasures, naval gunfire support, and amphibious aspects of the maritime campaign. March's battle leaders complained about the difficulty of getting timely authorization to attack enemy vessels. Fogarty's task group commanders were especially confused about which superior command was responsible for protecting their ships from enemy air attack. Needlessly complicating the command and control picture was the Navy's routine rotation of key commanders sometimes only days before the start of critical operations.
Despite the mined waters, in mid-February Arthur positioned the 31 ships of Vice Admiral John B. LaPlante's Amphibious Task Force, with Major General Harry W. Jenkins' 4th and 5th MEBs and 13th MEU (SOC) embarked, in close proximity to the coalition front opposite Kuwait. This powerful and mobile force enabled the theater commander not only to threaten the length of Saddam's coastal flank but also to reinforce coalition formations on land.
To convince the enemy that a landing was about to occur, the fleet increased its level of activity in the northern gulf on the day before the general offensive into Kuwait and for the next two days. Carrier aircraft and battleships rained bombs and shells on enemy troops on the mainland and on Faylaka Island. On successive days, attack aircraft and helicopters based in carriers and amphibious assault ships approached the hostile shore as if to inaugurate a landing.
Naval special warfare units simulated assaults on likely landing beaches. In these operations, Navy SEALs operated with the traditional derring-do that they first demonstrated in Vietnam. But, having learned from their Cold War experiences, the naval special warriors carefully planned and rehearsed their operations. They accomplished their hazardous missions without losing a man.
The amphibious deception worked to perfection. The enemy had wasted untold resources constructing bunkers and other fortifications and installing wire entanglements, minefields, and beach obstacles. The Iraqis also emplaced five antiship missile batteries and hundreds of artillery pieces on the coast. Of greatest importance, the enemy positioned seven divisions on that ultimately dormant front north and south of Kuwait City, delayed redeploying these critical forces until too late to influence the land battle, and ignored the exposed desert flank around which rumbled Lieutenant General Frederick Franks' armored behemoth.
The gulf maritime campaign was truly a combined endeavor. In contrast to the embargo patrol units, with which Arthur employed a "cooperative" command system to carry on the work of the multinational patrol, COMUSNAVCENT directed the combat operations of British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, and Kuwaiti naval forces in the gulf. The ships and aircraft of his coalition allies did not steam in a separate "foreign" flotilla but fought in fully integrated task groups that exploited national strengths. In short, these allied warships proceeded in tandem through the hazardous reaches of the northern gulf, and some of these ships together traded fire with the enemy.
As they had in almost every major American land campaign since the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France during World War I, Marine and Army divisions fought side by side during the final assault into Kuwait. Lieutenant General Boomer's I MEF was an integral part of the coalition's huge ground army that liberated Kuwait. Nevertheless, the Marine formation was an expeditionary force that could neither deploy far from the sea nor fight without substantial Navy involvement. The naval services gave strong ship and shore-based aircraft support to the Marine divisions, in part because the latter lacked armored and artillery forces that were as powerful as the Army's. The Marines also counted on naval gunfire support, which the battleships provided, if only for a short time during the ground offensive. Much of their 16-inch fire was directed at targets in the enemy rear or in support of the Arab forces on the coastal road.
Integral to Marine operations in the land campaign was the 3d Naval Construction Regiment that, with Marine engineer units, established air strips, ammunition dumps, and logistic sites, opened roads through the desert, and braved enemy fire to widen lanes through the Saddam Line. Also sharing danger with the Marines were Navy chaplains, medical corpsmen, and field hospital personnel, whose hard work and skillful planning had prepared them well for the desert war. Behind the lines and out to sea were the fleet hospitals, medical battalions, and hospital ships. They stood ready with advanced diagnostic and surgical equipment and well-trained professionals to handle thousands of wounded Marines. Fortunately, they never had to.
The coalition offensive into Kuwait and southern Iraq completed the destruction of the Iraqi army begun on 17 January 1991. The air campaign had devastated Iraq's forces in the Kuwait Theater of Operations, and by the time of the coalition's ground offensive communication between front line Iraqi units was problematic. Saddam's regular soldiers suffered badly from lack of food, warm clothing, and basic equipment, and as a result, the morale of the officers and men had plummeted. When the coalition's mechanized juggernaut stormed across the Kuwait and Iraq borders on 24 February, it quickly rolled over the infantry divisions in the enemy's first line of defense.
The forces to the rear, however, including most of the Republican Guard divisions, still had lots of fight and military power in them, even though they had been a prime target of the air campaign. Contrary to the views of some critics, coalition ground forces had to beat their foe on the field of battle before they could claim victory. Had the coalition's ground forces not been so well prepared, equipped, and skilled in their work, the Iraqis could have exacted a much higher price for allied success. The American armored, mechanized, and air mobile divisions had to demonstrate their overwhelming power before Saddam and his generals were induced to end the brutal occupation of Kuwait.
In sum, the UN coalition won the Persian Gulf War because George Bush orchestrated a masterful diplomatic offensive, and because Norman Schwarzkopf skillfully handled his responsibilities as the theater commander of a diverse, multinational expeditionary force. Just as important, U.S. and allied air, ground, and naval forces, despite the inevitable "frictions" of war, worked together to execute a well-crafted campaign plan. While husbanding the lives of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in their charge, Schwarzkopf and Arthur, with their lieutenants, brought overwhelming military power to bear against the invaders of Kuwait.
Maintaining Peace and Profiting from the Gulf War Experience
The Navy was as critical to American interests in the Persian Gulf after Desert Storm as it had been in the 40 years before. Naval forces were involved in the UN efforts to restore the prewar overseas commerce of Kuwait and to withdraw speedily and efficiently from the Arabian Peninsula the coalition's expeditionary units. Moreover, the Navy played a prominent role in postwar efforts to limit Saddam's actions against the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, assure his compliance with UN resolutions, and limit his ability to again threaten regional peace.
Even before the dust had settled over the Kuwaiti battleground, naval and other UN forces moved into Kuwait City and the country's main ports to restore their basic functions. U.S., Australian, British, and French EOD detachments worked long hours in harbors that were cluttered with lethal, unexploded ordnance, sunken vessels, and the other detritus of war. Despite this tough operating environment, the EOD units opened the ports in short order, and did so without a casualty.
Equally impressive was the coalition's operation to open Kuwait to international shipping and neutralize the Iraqi minefields. The Belgian, French, and British mine-hunting ships, under U.S. tactical control, starred in a gulf operation that for the first time involved German and Japanese naval vessels. The troubles plaguing the U.S. MCM ships and helicopters during the war continued to hinder their operations in the months afterward. The Navy redoubled its efforts to provide the force with better equipment, including advanced sonar systems and remotely operated vehicles. Rear Admiral Raynor A.K. Taylor, the first postwar COMUSNAVCENT, concentrated on improving the training, readiness, and morale of the American MCM force. Taylor questioned the value to the operation of the helicopter units, but the overall American MCM performance improved steadily after June 1991 when the other navies departed the gulf. By early 1992 and the termination of the mine countermeasures program, U.S. naval forces had destroyed over half of the 1,288 mines found in the gulf.
The withdrawal from the operational theater after the war of thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters and tons of ammunition and other materiel was a monumental achievement of the Navy and the other American armed services. Desert Storm was unlike previous wars when the American forces sold for scrap, destroyed, or simply abandoned mountains of weapons, equipment, and supplies. In response to President Bush's pledge to the Arab governments, Schwarzkopf, Boomer, and Taylor acted to erase the Western military presence from Saudi Arabia. They also endeavored to preserve America's expensive fighting machine, especially in the post-Cold War era of budgetary cutbacks. The men and women of Schwarzkopf's logistics commands planned carefully and worked hard to execute this massive retrograde movement. Ultimately, the American forces left the desert much as they had found it in August 1990.
In Operation Desert Sortie, the Navy redeployed to their home stations the ships and cargo of the maritime prepositioning squadrons. Very soon after the Gulf War, the U.S. military had reestablished America's global readiness posture. By the spring of 1992, MSC had transported from the theater in 456 ships a phenomenal 1.9 million tons of supplies and equipment.
The embargo patrol continued to symbolize international solidarity as a counter to Saddam's postwar actions. The UN Security Council could count on coalition navies, along with air forces, being available to enforce its cease-fire resolutions. While some coalition members balked at joining the United States in imposing the "no-fly" restrictions over Iraq during the post-cease-fire years, they maintained their involvement with the embargo patrol. The multinational operation also enabled the UN Security Council to enforce, on a daily and continuous basis, the measures taken by the body to destroy Saddam's capacity for chemical, biological, and nuclear war and to limit his ability to threaten his neighbors. Long after Desert Storm, Saddam continued to brandish a sword in Persian Gulf affairs, but the multinational embargo patrol helped ensure that the weapon stayed dull-edged.
It took more than the maritime interception force to restrain Saddam's postwar actions, however. Time and again, U.S. naval and other American and allied forces were called on to curb his behavior. During Operation Provide Comfort, naval special warfare units, Seabees, and other naval forces, covered by carrier aircraft, operated in the UN protection zone in northern Iraq to bring humanitarian assistance to the Kurds and help protect them from the Iraqi army.
The fleet's presence in the gulf also continued to assure America's gulf allies of U.S. constancy. Indeed, a prime function of Naval Forces, Central Command in the post-cease-fire period was to work for better collective security arrangements in the region, not just in relation to the Iraqi threat but the potential Iranian threat. Accordingly, the Navy exercised with GCC naval forces and trained them in the use of U.S. weapons, communications, and tactics. In 2000, the GCC nations concluded a mutual defense pact.
It is clear that the presence in the Central Command Theater of strong U.S. Navy and other UN forces, their rapid reinforcement, and their employment against Iraq during the 1993 and 1994 confrontations helped restrain the Iraqi dictator. The fleet's Tomahawk strikes against targets in or near Baghdad in January and June 1993, at the direction of President Bill Clinton, moderated Saddam's actions, if only temporarily. When he once again threatened the peace by moving Republican Guard divisions into southern Iraq in October 1994, it took the rapid deployment into the gulf of U.S. forces, naval forces in particular, to restore the status quo ante. The fleet was called upon again in September 1996 and December 1998 to strike targets in Iraq.
Critics of Washington's postwar policy with regard to Saddam pointed to the continuing need for force or the threat of force to maintain peace in the region. But in view of the possible alternatives-Saddam's eradication of the Kurdish and Shiite peoples, military adventures against neighboring states, or de-stabilization of the Middle Eastern oil industry-the messy, but relatively stable peace of the post-Gulf War era was clearly preferable. Since the UN coalition's objectives did not include deposing Saddam, the United States and its allies were compelled to threaten the use of force to maintain the postwar balance of power in the Persian Gulf region.
Maintaining stability in the Persian Gulf and other troubled regions has long been a mission of the U.S. Navy, and because of its Desert Shield and Desert Storm experience the naval service enhanced its ability to do so. After initial opposition, Admiral Kelso concurred in the Defense Department's 1992 decision to make Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command a permanent, three-star admiral's billet. He also agreed the following year to the establishment ashore in Bahrain of the NAVCENT headquarters and improved logistic facilities. U.S. carrier, submarine, and surface forces steaming in the gulf during the high-tension years of 1993 and 1994 were comparable in number to the Sixth Fleet and Seventh Fleet units that plied the waters of the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. Consequently, on 1 July 1995 the Navy established the U.S. Fifth Fleet as CENTCOM's naval combat force.
The Navy improved its ability to work as part of a joint-services team, as demonstrated by its adaptation to the ATO process and integration into the staff of Operation Southern Watch, led by an Air Force general. Material improvements in ships, aircraft, weapons, and equipment following the Gulf War were legion, but a few examples should suffice. The fleet improved many of its communications and data link systems; developed, with its sister services, common aerial ordnance; emphasized mine warfare with establishment of a Mine Warfare Command and completion of the technologically advanced Avenger and Osprey-class ships; equipped the SH-60B Seahawks/Lamps III helicopters with Hellfire missiles, FLIR sets, machine guns, and a laser designator/range finder similar to that carried by the Air Force F-117; and encouraged Congress to fund construction of additional fast sealift ships.
In a larger sense, the Persian Gulf War stimulated the U.S. Navy to make the transition, rarely a comfortable process, from the Cold War to a new era of regional conflict with unknown enemies and uncertain allies. The 1992 White Paper From the Sea heralded the Navy's new post-Cold War strategy. Two years later that approach was further refined with promulgation of Forward . . . From the Sea. Both documents clearly embodied the experience of the Persian Gulf War and signaled the Navy's new focus away from the Soviet Navy and open-ocean combat "toward power projection and the employment of naval forces from the sea to influence events in the littoral regions of the world-those areas adjacent to the oceans and seas that are within direct control of and vulnerable to the striking power of sea-based forces." In that sense, the Persian Gulf War marked the opening of a new chapter in the history of the United States Navy.
Marolda, Edward J., and Robert J. Schneller Jr. Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.
Palmer, Michael A. On Course to Desert Storm: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1992.