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

"Joint service cooperation between the Navy-Marine Corps team, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force has been superb--on the ground, in the air, and at sea. We are all here working toward a common goal." -- Lieutenant General W. E. Boomer, USMC, CG lMEF Commander U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, 10 January 1991

"The portrait of an American soldier in the desert has become the hallmark of Operation DESERT SHIELD in the minds of many American people. But it is the maritime forces of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard who have been enforcing the U.N. sanctions against Iraq on a daily basis, and I will tell you they have been doing the job flawlessly. " -- General H. Norrnan Schwarzkopf, USA Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, COMUSNAVCENT Change of Command, 1 December 1990

"One cannot think about this activity without mentioning the Navy-- the very quiet, very professional way they put the embargo on, which continues to this day --out of sight --but very, very effective--maybe one of the most important things we did." --General Merrill McPeak, USAF Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 15 April 1991

INTRODUCTION. The decade of the 1980s witnessed a tremendous increase in emphasis on joint power projection operations like DESERT SHIELD/STORM . Since the Goldwater- Nichols Act codified that emphasis in 1986, the Navy has focused on better defining and understanding its roles and missions within the context of joint operations, particularly major joint power projection operations like DESERT SHIELD/STORM.

Earlier joint operations, including the Iran hostage rescue attempt and the contingencies in Grenada and Panama, demonstrated that there was considerable room for improvement. DESERT SHIELD/STORM reflected significant progress-- progress based in large measure on the lessons learned in those earlier aperations.

The unique missions and functional capabilities of each service are complementary, enabling and enhancing. Working together generates the greatest combat capability in the shortest period of time. It represents the best, most economical use of our military resources. A single unified chain of command with clear and direct lines of communication up and down is clearly the best way to ensure U.S. interests are translated into effective action.

JOINT OPERATIONS DURING DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The Navy was able to quickly and effectively integrate into virtually all aspects of DESERT SHIELD/STORM because of the significant experience gained during extensive involvement in joint operations in recent years. As an integral part of Joint Task Force Middle East in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, Navy ships routinely conducted complex data link and surveillance operations with USAF and Saudi AWACS aircraft-- a valuable prelude to DESERT SHIELD/STORM. In other theaters, joint exercises have grown dramatically in scope and complexity, as the interoperable capabilities of all the services have matured.

That is not to say there were no problems during DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The communications systems of all the services are still not as interoperable and compatible as they should be. The U.S. Air Force computer assisted flight management system (CAFMS), for example, was not interoperable with Navy communications systems. When the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) used that system to develop the daily air tasking order (ATO), the lack of complete interoperability precluded timely delivery of the ATO to naval forces afloat

In virtually every case where such problems arose, workable solutions were developed during the build-up of forces prior to DESERT STORM. The joint requirements process now in effect under the guidance of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) will minimize such problems in the future.

The Navy quickly recognized that predeployment command arrangements were inadequate for a Navy force of the magnitude assigned to Central Command during DESERT SHIELD. A new Navy component command was identified and deployed. Nevertheless, the advantages of a peacetime planning organization which parallels wartime requirements are clear. A revised organization is being developed to meet those requirements.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM clearly demonstrated the tremendous importance and benefits of joint and combined operations. The significant progress made in the conduct of such operations over the past several years was dramatically reflected in success on the battlefield. That success further strengthened the Navy's commitment to the concept of joint operations.

THE MARITIME INTERCEPTION CAMPAIGN. Mounting a successful interception campaign in response to U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq required the ability to control nearly 250,000 square miles of sea lanes. Only the United States Navy has the forces and expertise to undertake such a monumental challenge.

Navy ships on station in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait were on guard against possible attack by air or sea-- particularly against the U.S.-flagged tankers in the area. Ultimately, those warships became the "tip of the spear" for Operation DESERT SHIELD.

After around-the-clock diplomatic efforts failed, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 665, authorizing multinational naval vessels to begin enforcement of U.N. sanctions against Iraq and Kuwait. As diplomatic efforts continued, Navy ships patrolling the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Red Sea closely monitored merchant vessels transiting vast and busy shipping lanes. The mission of those ships was to stop the flow of oil out of Iraq and preclude the import of war materials into the country.

Oil produced 95% of Iraq's pre-war revenue. The landward flow of oil was quickly stopped with the closing of Iraqi pipelines through both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Tankers loaded with crude were paralyzed in port as coalition naval forces controlled the Persian Gulf. Highly-dependent on imports of food and spare parts, Iraq soon felt the effects of the embargo. Before it was over, the effects of the embargo were felt by Iraqi soldiers in the trenches.

Overall coordination of the maritime interception forces fell Commander, Middle East Force. Under the guidelines in U.N. Security Council Resolutions 661, 665 and 670, he and his staff laid plans to intercept ships bound to and from Iraq and Kuwait, precluding all supplies except those intended strictly for medical purposes and, for humanitarian reasons, foodstuffs. An early alternative to war, the maritime interception forces soon captured the world's attention as they professionally demonstrated the international rejection of Iraq's aggression against Kuwait.

Battle group and destroyer squadron commanders in the Red Sea and North Arabian Sea coordinated the intercept operation as thousands of merchant vessels were tracked, challenged, identified, warned and then boarded and diverted if found in violation of sanction guidelines. The complexities of the interception mission required constant vigilance and attention to detail.

Challenges were issued over radios from warships, from P-3s flying maritime patrols, from embarked helicopters or tactical aircraft flying combat patrols to identify the vessel, its pointof origin, destination and cargo. Information from satellite imagery, radar, intelligence, shipboard computer data bases and public shipping records was used to corroborate ship ownership and other facts while masters were queried via radio. After determining the vessel was not a threat, not bound for a belligerent's border and not carrying war goods, the merchant ships were sent on their way.

From the first days of the maritime intercept mission, warships like USS John L. Hall (FFG 32), the first ship to challenge a merchant vessel, averaged 10 challenges daily --a process that became more deterrnined following U.N. approval of the use of force to ensure compliance with the sanctions. Early in the interception effort, some Iraqi merchant masters appeared as obstinate as their leader.

On 18 August, two days after the interception mission began, the first shots of Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM were fired across the bow of an Iraqi tanker that refused to alter its course in the Persian Gulf after being directed to do so by the guided-missile frigate USS Reid (FFG 30). A boarding team from USS England (CG 22) became the first to climb over the side of a merchant vessel, the Chinese freighter Heng Chung Hai, for cargo and manifest inspection. After a short period at anchor in the Red Sea, Heng Chung Hai was found to be empty and proceeded to Iraq. Later, USS Scott (DDG 995) ordered the Cypriot merchant Dongola away from the Jordanian port of Aqaba after the vessel's master admitted carrying cargo bound for Iraq. The master complied with the order without the need for a boarding in DESERT SHIELD's first diversion.

Those actions demonstrated U.S. resolve to enforce the sanctions from the very first days of the interception mission. That signal became stronger 31 August when a team from the cruiser USS Biddle (CG 34) boarded the first Iraqi merchant vessel of the intercept operation as it headed for Aqaba, Jordan from the Red Sea. Biddle crewmen boarded the Al Karamah to inspect the manifest and holds for cargo that may have violated the U.N. sanction guidelines. A thorough search found the vessel empty, andBiddle allowed Al Karamah to proceed.

In the early morning hours of 4 September, the crew of USS Goldsborough (DDG 20) boarded the Iraqi vessel Zanoobia.Goldsborough's recently-embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment (LEDet) -- one of 10 Coast Guard units embarked in Navy warships during DESERT SHIELD/STORM-- accompanied the ship's boarding party.

The Coast Guard LEDets had the corporate knowledge needed to effectively implement the interception operation. Coast Guard experts, seasoned by their experience in drug interdiction boardings, provided essential training to Navy boarding teams. Zanoobia's holds carried only tea, but it was enough to supply the entire population of Iraq for a month. The Iraqi merchant was directed to divert his course to another port outside the Gulf. The Iraqi master was unwilling to divert, and the Goldsborough was directed to take control of the ship. Goldsborough crewmen were brought aboard to take Zanoobia to the port of Muscat, Oman, where Iraqi diplomats boarded and advised the master to return to his point of origin.

The LEDet team which boarded Zanoobia left Goldsborough to go aboard the frigate USS Brewton (FF 1086), where they participated in another historic encounter on 14 September-- the first multinational boarding of an Iraqi vessel. After 24 hours of radio negotiations, the master of the Iraqi tanker Al Fao finally slowed when Brewton and the Australian frigate HMAS Darwin (F 04) fired warning shots across her bow.

Constant communication up the U.S. and Australian chains of command kept military leaders apprised of the situation throughout the operation. When it became apparent Al Fao would not agree to stop, the decision was made to proceed to the next step in the interception procedure. One hundred .50-caliber rounds later, Darwin followed her American counterpart's lead with short bursts of fire ahead of the target. As Al Fao suddenly slowed, both warships launched their boarding teams. A 13-man team of four Coast Guardsmen, five Brewton personnel and four Australians climbed to the tanker's main deck, the way lit by Darwin's helicopter. Al Faowas found empty and sent on her way to the Iraqi port of Basra.

In early December, USS Mississippi (CGN 40) intercepted and boarded the M/V Tilia outbound from Aqaba with a cargo of motor vehicles and household goods. Careful inspection revealed that most of the cars had been stolen from Kuwait. The cars, many of which had been vandalized, had been sold by Iraq for overseas shipment at bargain prices. The following day, USS Sampson (DDG 5) intercepted another ship with a similar load. Both vessels were sent back to Aqaba and required to offload the plundered material before being allowed to proceed.

From the early days of the interception mission, coalition warships effectively sealed off commercial shipping inside the Persian Gulf. Once-crowded Gulf ports emptied of oil shipping traffic within a few days following the Iraqi invasion, and incoming merchants changed course to avert confrontation with coalition maritime forces. Warships in the crowded Red Sea remained busy as vessels headed to Aqaba, Jordan, to try and offload contraband for overland shipment to Iraq. In fact, 45 of the 51 merchant diversions directed before the first week of March were performed by warships in the Red Sea.

While Coast Guard LEDet teams and Navy personnel performed the bulk of merchant boardings, Navy SEALs and Marines were deployed via helicopter to board some vessels considered potentially dangerous due to their origins, the crews' attitudes or other circumstances.

By Christmas, the number of maritime intercepts neared 6,000, with 713 vessels already boarded by U.S. and multinational boarding teams. Tensions rose in the Gulf of Oman when an Iraqi merchant, Ibn Khaldoon, carried not only sugar, milk, spaghetti and tea en route for Umm Qasar, but also hosted nearly 250 passengers later identified as "peace activists" protesting the allied embargo of Iraq by attempting to break through the "blockade" with prohibited cargo.

A boarding team of U.S. Marines and Navy SEALs arrived via helicopter from USS Trenton (LPD 14) and USS Shreveport (LPD 12) while a multinational boarding team of U.S. and Australian personnel from the destroyers USS Oldendorf (DD 972), USS Fife (DD 991) and HMAS Sydney (F 03) arrived via small boat to inspect the vessel's spaces.

The activists attempted to interfere with the boarding teams by forming a "human chain" to obstruct the team's passage. Team members fired warning shots into the air after several protesters grabbed for their weapons. Boarders also used non-lethal smoke and noisemaker grenades for crowd control. No injuries occurred, but it marked the only time boarding teams fired their weapons during a boarding. After inspectors located cargo which violated sanctions, the vessel which activists had dubbed the "peace ship," was escorted by U.S. and Australian ships to Muscat, Oman.

The early and continued success of the maritime intercept force was a reminder of the effectiveness of surface forces in maintaining control of the sea. U.S. and allied naval blockades during the Civil War and both World Wars were key to isolating tile enemy by cutting off supply lines. The 1962 quarantine of Cuba during the missile crisis prevented deployment of Soviet ballistic missiles capable of striking key U.S. population centers and military sites.

The high degree of coordination exhibited by the multinational naval force in enforcing the U.N. sanctions reflected years of peacetime training and cooperation between the United States and her allies. Building on the experience of Operation EARNEST WILL escort missions during the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. Navy and coalition partners paved the way for similar success in DESERT SHIELD/ STORM. The maritime interception campaign was an example of multinational cooperation at its best. The smooth informal organization at sea provided a marked contrast to the problems faced by commanders ashore.

"Each naval force received maritime interception force tasking, reportlng requirements, interception and VBSS [visit, boarding, search and seizure] guidance, patrol areas, restrictions and ROE from its own national command authority. Even without a formal international command and control structure, MIF demonstrated superb internatlonal cooperation, enhanced through monthly MIF conferences. Conferences facilitated cooperation, ensured mutual protection, and reduced redundancy." -- Vice Admiral S.A. Arthur, USN, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Quick Look-- First Impressions Report, 22 March 1991

"Establishment and implementation of coalition command relationships were difficult. We relearned that national pride, politics and public perception play as large a role in determining relationships as military requirements. These factors resulted in formal command relationshipstructures which with all their attending bureaucratic problems, complicated rather than simplified the commands ability to execute the mission. In a perfect world, all military operations would have unity of command. However, in coalition warfare where several nations temporanly unite against a common enemy we may be obliged to seek an informal command relationship which will work in the execution of combat operations."-- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, Preliminary Report on Lessons Learned, 5 April 1991

The coalition's naval effort to shut off Iraq's commerce assured there would be no resupply of war goods for the Iraq army and no outflow of oil to supply Iraq with hard currency. Though not always an exciting mission that grabbed newspaper headlines, it proved highly effective in keeping pressure on Saddam Hussein while solidifying the international coalition. Each successful diversion proved the honorable intentions of the world to attempt resolution of the crisis and ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait through non-violent means.

Saddam Hussein's lack of concern for his people's suffering was the greatest obstacle in effecting a withdrawal from Kuwait through the flawlessly executed maritime embargo. The failure of a political solution through the first 177 days of Operation DESERT SHIELD caused coalition leaders to add offensive operations to the menu of options being played out against Iraq.

The multinational maritime interception force continued their demanding mission as DESERT STORM began. While the air war raged on, the maritime intercepts continued at a steady pace, especially in the northern Red Sea, where cargo holds were meticulously checked for Iraq-bound materials headed for Jordan, one of Iraq's strongest sympathizers throughout the crisis.

When hostilities ended on 28 February, the maritime interception force's demanding mission continued unabated to keep pressure on Iraq. As U.N. members debated the terms of a permanent cease-fire and Navy ships received their initial redeployment orders, the shipping lanes were flooded with merchants, still challenged by coalition warships.

The U.N. Sanctions Committee relaxed restrictions on food for civilian groups on 22 March, but food for the Iraqi military was still prohibited, complicating interception efforts. The committee also authorized other materials and supplies related to food and medical supplies, such as refrigeration units and generators. Medicine was exempt from sanctions from the outset.

As merchant shipping resumed its normal peacetime level, the now-smaller interception force adjusted its ongoing mission to allow the free flow of non-prohibited material to Iraqi, Jordanian and Kuwaiti ports, while barring the shipment of goods that could bolster Iraq's military machine.

Well in excess of one million tons of shipping carrying prohibited cargo was diverted during the maritime interception campaign. Intercepted cargo included surface-to-air missile systems, command and control equipment, early warning radar systems, weapons, ammunition, repair parts, food stuffs and general supplies required to maintain Iraq's industrial base.

Over an eight-month period, over 165 ships from 14 allied nations challenged more than 9,000 merchant vessels, boarded more than 1,100 to inspect manifests and cargo holds and diverted over 60 for violation of sanction guidelines. U.S. boarding teams conducted 582 of those boardings. Another 25 were combined U.S.-allied boardings.

Return to Desert Storm introduction

Published: Mon Mar 02 09:59:21 EST 2015