The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War


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The size, cost, and impact of these interventions ranged no less widely. The intention of this policy brief is to summarize the lessons that should have been learned from these experiences. Air power can accomplish many things, but not everything. Six weeks of intense bombing of Iraq and Iraqi forces could not liberate Kuwait during the Persian Gulf conflict; it also took hours of ground warfare.

Air power can prepare a battlefield, but it cannot control it. Kosovo underscored a related limitation; although aerial bombardment over the course of some eleven weeks did help persuade Slobodan Milosevic to agree to NATO terms, it seems apparent that the threat of introducing ground forces made a greater impact.

The Gulf War marked the pinnacle of American military supremacy - Telegraph

Regardless, terrible things happened to civilians on the ground when only air power was employed: thousands of innocent people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands lost their homes and became internally displaced or refugees. In the end, Kosovo was not one but two wars: an air war dominated by NATO and a ground war dominated by Serbian military and paramilitary forces.

Air power might have accomplished more in Kosovo had NATO and the Clinton administration observed some of the traditional guidelines for the effective use of military force. Delay can make any intervention more complicated and costly. Hesitation is understandable when only humanitarian concerns are at issue, as it is much harder to marshal domestic and international support in the absence of an overwhelming cause.

But delay also exacts a price by squandering the opportunity to act preventively and with less force. In Kosovo, using air power earlier, after the wholesale violation of the October agreement—in which Serbia agreed to a cease-fire, limits on its forces in Kosovo, and international monitoring—certainly would have proven more efficient. Decisiveness is almost always preferable to gradualism. Here again, Kosovo was no exception. Starting at a relatively modest pace diluted the psychological and political impact of the NATO action; it also gave Serbia an almost free hand to pursue its objectives using ground forces.

The measures to avoid collateral damage insisted on by European members of NATO inhibited operations and limited their usefulness.

All things being equal, it is better to err on the side of too much rather than too little force. This is true of air campaigns—the contrast between the Kosovo intervention and the opening days of Operation Desert Storm could hardly be greater—as well as with ground or combined efforts. Some of the problems encountered in Kosovo were tied directly to the decision to use air power alone rather than in conjunction with ground forces. It is true that American interests in Kosovo were less than vital, and that persuading the American people and their elected representatives of the need to make large sacrifices, including casualties, would not have been easy.

But the Clinton administration never tried. The result is that the air-only intervention failed to achieve one of the principal goals the United States and NATO had set for themselves: guarding the people of Kosovo. Force protection to avoid casualties can and should be a consideration—but not the only one. Still, it is important to draw a distinction between what proved in the end to be the successful application of coercive force in Kosovo and the failure of it in Iraq in In the former, significant air power was deployed in an open-ended fashion.

The condition for stopping attacks was clear: Milosevic had to meet a specified set of demands.

NATO, meanwhile, had to be prepared to stay the course until he met them. Such coercion thus remains a risky form of intervention in that it cedes the initiative to the target, which has to decide whether to hold out or to compromise. But coercion does make for clarity of purpose, because it links intervention with a specific goal. Author R Richard N. Punitive interventions are in many ways the opposite: they lack any clear purpose or linkage, and their principal advantage is that the attacking side retains the initiative in that only it decides when it is satisfied.

To be sure, this would have been costlier to carry out and would have provoked significant international opposition. But it also would have had the potential to achieve the important goal of reinstating inspections while humiliating Saddam Hussein in the process, two outcomes that would have justified the diplomatic costs. Deterrence can work on occasion. Dispatching a carrier task force to the Taiwan Straits in was a classic example of effective gunboat diplomacy: a long-term strategic commitment was backed up by a sizable show of force.

Regardless, the U. By contrast, U. Carrying out more than one kind of intervention in the same place at the same time can invite trouble. This proved true both in Bosnia, where the presence of a lightly armed United Nations protection force made the use of air power risky, and again in Kosovo, where the presence of unarmed monitors worked to undermine the credibility of the threats to attack.

The problem goes beyond the danger of hostage-taking, which is all too real. In addition, it is difficult, if not impossible, to carry out an operation that requires consent at the same time one is threatening or actually carrying out a compellent or otherwise hostile operation. The former effort must be ended before the latter can be effective.

New technology is no panacea. To begin with, no system is invulnerable. Even a stealth aircraft can be shot down.

The Wages of War

Smart bombs go astray from time to time, missing their intended targets and occasionally causing unintended damage and destruction. Bombs and missiles can be fooled by decoys and frustrated by mobility and masking. Efforts during the Persian Gulf War to destroy mobile Iraqi SCUD missiles, for example, were an expensive failure, and attempts to intercept relatively primitive SCUDs with more modern antimissile systems likewise proved unsuccessful for the most part.

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Of course, no system is better than the intelligence fed into it; accuracy is no virtue if the target is misidentified, as was the case with the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, or if the intelligence assessment is in itself flawed, as may have been the case in the U. The latter instance, along with the raid on suspected terrorist installations in Afghanistan, underscores the difficulty of carrying out successful preventive and preemptive interventions when critical, time-sensitive information is difficult to obtain.

Both Iraq and Kosovo suggest that short of occupation, military force is not a very good tool for changing regimes, although a successful use of military force that weakens or humiliates an adversary can help bring about a political environment in which domestic opponents of the regime in question may be encouraged to act. Moreover, as was demonstrated in Haiti, even prolonged occupation is no guarantee of desirable results, although the prospects for success clearly are affected by how other foreign policy tools such as economic assistance are put to use.

Again, military force is good at creating contexts, but what happens within those contexts is more a matter for diplomats and policymakers. Exit dates ought not to be confused with exit strategies. This firm went on to manufacture a fake campaign, which described Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and letting them die on the floor. The fifteen-year-old girl testifying before Congress was later revealed to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States; the supposed surgeon testifying at the UN was in fact a dentist who later admitted to having lied.

Various peace proposals were floated, but none were agreed to. The United States insisted that the only acceptable terms for peace were Iraq's full, unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. Iraq insisted that withdrawal from Kuwait must be "linked" to a simultaneous withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and Israeli troops from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon. Soon after the other states in the coalition did the same. A day after the deadline set in Resolution , the coalition launched a massive air campaign codenamed Operation Desert Storm: more than 1, sorties per day, beginning early morning on January 17, Weapons used included smart bombs, cluster bombs, daisy cutters and cruise missiles.

Iraq responded by launching 8 Scud missiles into Israel the next day. The first priority for coalition forces was destruction of the Iraqi air force and anti-aircraft facilities.

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This was quickly achieved and for the duration of the war Coalition aircraft could operate largely unchallenged. Despite Iraq's better-than-expected anti-aircraft capabilities, only one coalition aircraft was lost in the opening day of the war. Stealth aircraft were heavily used in this phase to elude Iraq's extensive SAM systems and anti-aircraft weapons; once these were destroyed, other types of aircraft could more safely be used. The sorties were launched mostly from Saudi Arabia and the six coalition aircraft carrier groups in the Persian Gulf. The next Coalition targets were command and communication facilities.

Saddam had closely micromanaged the Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War and initiative at the lower levels was discouraged. Coalition planners hoped Iraqi resistance would quickly collapse if deprived of command and control. The first week of the air war saw a few Iraqi sorties but these did little damage, and thirty-eight Iraqi MiGs were shot down by Coalition planes.


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Soon after, the Iraqi airforce began fleeing to Iran. On January 23, Iraq began dumping approximately 1 million tons of crude oil into the gulf, causing the largest oil spill in history. The third and largest phase of the air campaign targeted military targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait: Scud missile launchers, weapons of mass destruction sites, weapons research facilities and naval forces.


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About one third of the Coalition airpower was devoted to attacking Scuds. In addition, it targeted facilities useful for both the military and civilians: electricity production facilities, telecommunications equipment, port facilities, oil refineries and distribution, railroads and bridges. Electrical power facilities were destroyed across the country.

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At the end of the war, electricity production was at four percent of its pre-war levels. Bombs destroyed the utility of all major dams, most major pumping stations and many sewage treatment plants. In most cases, the Allies avoided hitting civilian-only facilities. However, on February 13, , two laser-guided "smart bombs" destroyed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing hundreds of Iraqis.

Iraq launched missile attacks on coalition bases in Saudi Arabia and on Israel, in the hopes of drawing Israel into the war and drawing other Arab states out of it. This strategy proved ineffective. Israel did not join the coalition, and all Arab states stayed in the coalition except Jordan, which remained officially neutral throughout.

On January 29, Iraq attacked and occupied the abandoned Saudi city of Khafji with tanks and infantry. Marines with close air support over the following two days. On February 22, , Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed cease-fire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within three weeks following a total cease-fire, and called for monitoring of the cease-fire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council. The US rejected the proposal but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave twenty-four hours for Iraq to begin withdrawing forces.

US forces pulled plows along Iraqi trenches, burying their occupants alive. Soon after, a convoy of Marines penetrated deep into Iraqi territory, collecting thousands of deserting Iraqi troops, weakened and demoralized by the extensive air campaign. The US anticipated that Iraq might use chemical weapons; General Colin Powell later suggested that a US response to such an act might have been to destroy dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, drowning Baghdad in water, though this was never fully developed as a plan.

The United States originally hoped that Saddam would be overthrown in an internal coup, and used CIA assets in Iraq to organize a revolt.

The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War
The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War
The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War
The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War
The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War
The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War The Future of Air Power : In the Aftermath of the Gulf War

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