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

This report highlights the role of the U.S. Navy in conjunction with the nation's other maritime forces - the Marine Corps and Coast Guard - in DESERT SHIELD/STORM. But neither of those operations could have been accomplished without the full participation of all services. Each service brought its strengths and special operational capabilities to bear as the situation required. The result was the most complex, fast-moving, successful, major joint power projection operation in history.

The six ships of the Middle East Force were on station in the Persian Gulf when the President decided to deploy additional forces to Southwest Asia beginning 7 August. The Independence battle group had steamed into strike range in the North Arabian Sea, and theEisenhower battle group was transiting the Suez Canal to the Red Sea within strike range of Iraq. When United Nations sanctions were imposed, the U.S. Navy immediately commenced interception operations against ships headed to and from Iraq and Kuwait.

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 those naval forces afforded protection for the introduction of ground and air forces arriving in theater in response to deployment orders.

The Navy's ability to control the seas was taken for granted, as it has been since 1945. That control makes it possible for us to deliver our troops and supplies safely to any area of conflict. The maritime superiority which enabled our victory was made possible by earlier sound investments in people, ships, aircraft and weapons systems. DESERT SHIELD/ STORM demonstrated again that sea control is fundamental to successful power projection. Because naval forces were on station and ready, we were never seriously challenged, and sea control was assured from the outset.

Maritime superiority and forward deployment gave us another edge in DESERT SHIELD/ STORM. Only a nation possessing both unquestioned control of the seas and significant experience operating in forward areas in close cooperation with the naval forces of our coalition partners could have provided the leadership for 23 nations whose naval forces participated. The ability of the U.S. Navy to operate effectively with so many other navies did not come quicklv or easily. It was built over forty years of close cooperation with the navies of NATO and other allies. Familiarity with the geography and local navies was gained through a continuous presence in the Gulf since 1949. During the Persian Gulf "Tanker War" of 1987-88, the U.S. vividly demonstrated its military and political staying power to even the most skeptical critics within the Arab world. Operation EARNEST WILL laid the foundation for DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

Multinational naval cooperation was demonstrated in many warfare areas but was most evident in the maritime interception campaign. Maritime interception was an important military and political tool from the outset. Enforcement of the U.N. sanctions weakened Iraqi forces prior to the conflict and imposed a heavy burden on Iraq's economy. Through April 1991, over 9200 merchant ships had been challenged, more than 1200 boarded for inspection, and at least 67 diverted for carrying prohibited cargo. Countless ships were deterred from on-loading Iraqi oil and other products for export. Iraq's GNP was reduced by half. The impact of the embargo was clearly felt by Iraqi soldiers in the trenches. The eroding effect on their morale and will to fight undoubtedly saved many coalition lives. The maritime interception effort continued even after cessation of offensive operations as a guarantee of Iraq's compliance with U.N. resolutions.

The contribution of strategic sealift was one of the major success stories of DESERT SHIELD/ STORM. Sealift investments of the 1980s paid great dividends. The early force arrival dates achieved by maritime prepositioning and fast sealift ships met or exceeded our most ophmistic projections. Military Sealift Command (MSC) controlled ships delivered 3.4 million tons of cargo and 6.8 million tons of fuels--much of it moved half-way around the world. Over 90% of all cargo was transported into theater via sealift; more than 95% will return the same way.

The five month build-up period during DESERT SHIELD allowed the Navy to overcome obstacles and build teamwork with the other services and our coalition partners required to meet the challenges which arose during combat. Once unleashed, a massive joint and combined force acted in unison to quickly eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Naval forces played an essential role. For example, about one third of all strike sorties were flown by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. Six aircraft carrier battle groups and two battleships were simultaneously engaged. Cruisers, destroyers,battleships and submarines launched a combined total of 288 Tomahawk cruise missiles from theRed Sea and Persian Gulf against heavily defended key Iraqi facilities. About 85% of those missiles hit their targets with pin point accuracy, contributing to the early neutralization of Iraqi air defenses and reducing the risks for American aircrews.

Naval forces literally eliminated the Iraqi Navy and projected power ashore. Surface combatants, helicopters, carrier-based aircraft, land-based P-3s, and our multinational naval partners all contributed to the destruction of more than 100 Iraqi vessels. Amphibious forces conducted an impressive series of raids, feints and rehearsals which highlighted their exceptional responsiveness and flexibility and paved the way for a most successful deception operation.

DESERT STORM once again illustrated the challenge of mine countermeasures, especially in a confined area like the Northern Persian Gulf. Finding and neutralizing mines is difficult under any circumstances. We cannot always afford to allow mlrlelaying in international waters to go unopposed as we did in this case. There is no capability, either existing or projected, which could quickly neutralize over 1000 mines once laid. The U. S. Navy must possess the best mine countermeasures capability available.


The lessons of DESERT SHIELD/ STORM might usefully be separated into three broad categories: areas not tested, old lessons revalidated, and new lessons learned. Areas not tested encompass those systems and capabilities which, because of the special circumstances of these operations, were not realistically stressed, tested or evaluated. Reviewing the areas not tested helps avoid learning the wrong lessons.

AREAS NOT TESTED. Nearly every early attempt to extract the lessons of DESERT SHIELD/STORM has begun with a cautionary note concerning the "unique aspects" of those operations and the "lessons not learned." This assessment reviews those "areas not tested" in context with the old and new lessons to foster critical examination of the entire range of naval warfare capabilities and their applicability to future scenarios. Specific areas not tested by DESERT SHIELD/STORM include:

  • Limited access to critical enroute support bases, aircraft refueling facilities and overflight rights.
  • Non-availability of overseas bases from which to conduct offensive or support operations.
  • Force and mobility requirements for a second major simultaneous crisis in another region.
  • An opponent who receives support from allies with significant capabilities such as the USSR or China.
  • U.S. action without strong regional or international support.
  • Rapid transition to hostilities.
  • Significant naval opposition, antisubmarine warfare, or a require ment for forcible entry. Amphibious assault was not fully tested.
  • Confrontation by an integrated de fense and strong resistance from a capable adversary with modern high tech weapons.
  • Neither close air support nor anti-air warfare were fully tested by this conflict.
  • Limited host-nation support and infrastructure.

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

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

  • The value and effectiveness of joint and combined military operations.
  • The importance of control of the sea for successful power-projection.
  • The importance of maritime superior ity in affording the United States a position of leadership.
  • The vital role of sealift in moving heavy equipment and supplies into the theater. The strategic and tactical advantages of high technology.
  • The challenge of finding and neutralizing naval mines.


This initial review of lessons learned underscores keys to victory which must be nurtured and reinforced. It also highlights areas for improvement.

QUALITY PEOPLE AND REALISTIC TRAINING. The outstanding quality of our people, and their high state of training, were fundamental to success. The all-volunteer force worked and worked well. Our men and women knew their jobs, knew their equipment, and knew how to fight. Naval forces arrived in theater trained and ready. We must continue to emphasize:

  • People programs--the foundation of the all-volunteer force.
  • High quality, realistic training-including joint operational training-which is fundamental to success in combat.

JOINT OPERATIONS. DESERT SHIELD/STORM illustrated the importance and benefits of joint and combined operations. While some problems were encountered-particularly in command and control, communications, interoperability, and matters of joint doctrine--the significant progress made in joint operations over the past several years was reflected in success on the battlefield. That success firmly cemented the Navy's commitment to joint operations.


Conducting complex joint operations in an environment like Southwest Asia poses special challenges for the Navy. While not every naval warfare area was stressed or even tested, naval forces participated in virtually every aspect of the campaign. Multi-mission platforms proved especially valuable.

COMMAND RELATIONSHIPS. DESERT SHIELD/STORM highlighted the importance of establishing peacetime planning relationships and staffs which parallel wartime respon sibilities and requirements.

ANTISUBMARINE WARFARE. ASW was not tested as there was no threat, but primary ASW systems such as P-3s, S-3s and LAMPS helicopters used multi-mission capabilities to good advantage.

ANTI-AIR WARFARE. DESERT SHIELD/STORM presented a complex AAW challenge. All operations were conducted safely and successfully from pre-hostilities through re-deployment. There were no "blue-on blue" air engagements.

STRIKE WARFARE. The Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) used the air tasking order (ATO) as a centralized planning and execution tool to effectively manage tht unprecedented volume of sorties, especially during the preplanned, structured stages of the campaign.

  • STRIKE AIRCRAFT. The A-6 aircraft was the workhorse for long range strike and performed extremely well in an environment of established air superiority. However, it was also apparent the A-6's advanced age necessitates both upgrades and eventual replacement. The performance of the F-117 demonstrated the value of stealth and validated the requirement for a follow-on, long range, all weather, stealthy strike aircraft (AX) as a replacement for the A-6. In addition, the excellent performance of the F/A-18 confirmed the validity of the multimission strike/fighter concept.
  • TOMAHAWK CRUISE MISSILE.Tomahawk was a tremendous success, and its first use in combat fully confirmed the results of previous extensive operational testing.
  • DEFENSE SUPPRESSION. The outstanding performance of the EA-6B and other Navy defense suppression aircraft and weapon systems placed these platforms in high demand.
  • SMART WEAPONS. "Smart" or precision weapons clearly demonstrated their capabilities against point targets. The requirement for highly accurate penetrating weapons for use against heavily bunkered or hardened structures was reaffirmed.
  • TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE. The importance of realtime and near-real-time tactical reconnaissance in support of strike planning, naval gunfire support (NGFS), and battle damage assessment (BTDA) was clearly demonstrated.
  • AIRBORNE TANKING. Geography dictated extensive land-based tanking support for both USAF and naval air strikes. Tanker coordination went extremely well. But tankers were stretched thin, and their apportionment necessarily limited the Navy's long-range strike contribution.

SURFACE WARFARE. DESERT STORM demonstrated the enduring value of long range naval gunfire support. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were effective in target selection, spotting naval gunfire and damage assessment. The firepower of surface action groups was augmented with attack helicopters, effectively enhancing offensive/reconnaissance capability. The offensive firepower of strike aircraft (A-6s and F/A-18s) and surface combatants destroyed the Iraqi navy.

AMPHIBIOUS WARFARE. Amphibious operations focused enemy attention on the threat from seaward and tied down at least seven Iraqi divisions, even after the coalition ground campaign was under way. The responsiveness flexibility of amphibious forces was highlighted by successful raids, rehearsals and feints.

MINE WARFARE. DESERT STORM again illustrated the challenge of mine countermeasures (MCM) and how quickly mines can become a concern. Because of the difficulty of locating and neutralizing mines, we cannot always afford to give the minelayer free rein. Operation EARNEST WILL (during the Iran-Iraq war) and DESERT STORM both highlighted the need for a robust, deployable U. S. Navy MCM capability.

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

COMMUNICATIONS. Almost every aspect of naval command and control communications capability was stressed to the limit during DESERT SHIELD/STORM. Problems were solved through aggressive management, work-arounds, innovation, close cooperation and coordination, equipment upgrades and new installations. The Navy is focusing attention on improving our ability to communicate with other services and nations, strengthening jam-resistant communications, and using high speed computer networks to increase capacity.

LOGISTICS. Naval forces arrived in theater with full sea-based, self-sustained logistic support capability. Naval forces required minimum airlift and sealift for deployment and support. Aircraft readiness averaged nearly 90%. The readiness of our ships was equally impressive and reflects a high degree of unit self-sufficiency. The combat logistics force (CLF) performed superbly, meeting all requirements. There were ample supplies of fuel and ammunition.

STRATEGIC SEALIFT. The contribution of strategic sealift was a major success. World-wide sea control afforded by our naval forces clearly contributed to a responsive charter market. Early, accurate identification of lift requirements was difficult and changed often. DESERT SHIELD/STORM identified a need for more roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ships to meet unit equipment surge requirements.

MARITIME PREPOSITIONING. The afloat prepositioning concept was validated. No other alternative could have achieved the early force closure dates witnessed during DESERT SHIELD. Beginning 15 August, two squadrons of Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) delivered unit equipment and 30 days supplies for two Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs) totaling nearly 45,000 men -- the first heavy ground combat capability in theater.

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

TOTAL FORCE CONCEPT. DESERT SHIELD/STORM validated significant aspects of the Navy's Total Force concept.

FUTURE FORCE STRUCTURE. To defend America's interests around the world, future force structure must enable us to continue to employ the winning strategy of concentrating superior force anywhere rapidly enough to deter aggression or achieve quick success in combat.


While there were problems encountered, the outstanding first impression generated by the performance of our forces in DESERT SHIELD/STORM is being reinforced as we review the after-action reports. The success of our forces provides a solid foundation for continued progress. The challenge is to translate the lessons of DESERT SHIELD/STORM into decisions, programs, and actions which will shape our forces, guide our training and ensure our continued readiness to forcefully defend America's interests whenever and wherever required.


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Published: Mon Mar 02 09:52:48 EST 2015