[Editor’s Note: I was a sophomore in High School when Operation Desert Storm kicked off. I remember keeping track of the massive coalition buildup during Desert Shield, knowing each type of aircraft, the weapons it would most likely employ, and under what conditions. Lieutenant General David “Zatar” Deptula was the U.S Air Force Weapons Officer for CENTCOM at the time, orchestrating a brilliant air campaign that was in essence a clinic on how combat airpower could almost single-handedly bring a formidable opponent to its knees.]

Twenty-five years ago, the Air Force participated in Operation Desert Storm, the largest air campaign since the conflict in Southeast Asia. The campaign’s purpose was to drive the Iraqi military out of Kuwait, release the country from Saddam Hussein’s invasion and reestablish its sovereignty.

On the morning of Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded nearby Kuwait. In less than four hours, Iraqi forces occupied the capital, Kuwait City, and Hussein soon annexed the country as the 19th province of Iraq. The U.S. government initiated Operation Desert Shield in response.

U.S. Air Force fighters fly over burning oil fields in Kuwait after Saddam Hussein ordered them to be set ablaze. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
U.S. Air Force fighters fly over burning oil fields in Kuwait after Saddam Hussein ordered them to be set ablaze. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Several months later on Jan. 16, 1991, following Congressional concurrence with United Nations efforts to enforce a resolution that demanded Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, Desert Storm was launched.

“The real mission, the immediacy of that mission … was to deploy as many forces as possible to deter further aggressiveness by the Iraqi military and of course the Air Force was the first on the list, along with the Navy and the aircraft carriers, to deploy in the region,” said retired Lt. Gen. Bruce A. “Orville” Wright, a Desert Shield/Storm veteran. “It was a rapid deployment of forces from the continental United States (and some forces from Europe) to put enough airpower in place so the Iraqi military would be discouraged, if not deterred.

“We took out their eyes and ears, their control capability,” he continued. “The entire ground operations lasted about 100 hours and that’s a credit to the joint coalition airpower that was employed against the Iraqi military. We were all excited, that’s what we trained for our whole career. To take 24 F-16s and a squadron of very capable highly-trained pilots and maintenance professionals … and defeat what was then the largest ground force.”

The air campaign marked the initial phase of the war and for the Air Force, air superiority was the goal. With more than 68,800 total force Airmen being rapidly deployed in support of Desert Storm, there were approximately 69,406 sorties flown by 30 different types of aircraft.

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The infamous "Highway of Death," where the retreating Iraqi Army was absolutely decimated by coalition aircraft. (Photo courtesy of AP/Reuters)
The infamous “Highway of Death,” where the retreating Iraqi Army was absolutely decimated by coalition aircraft. (Photo courtesy of AP/Reuters)

“I remember thinking, ‘Saddam Hussein has no idea what’s coming,’ and after the first 60 minutes of the war, he will be largely disconnected from his tactical forces and he was. They tried to reconnect, but in many ways we began the decapitation of the leadership within the first 15 minutes of the war,” said Maj. Gen. Paul T. Johnson, an operational capability requirements director and Desert Shield veteran. “I really hope we can remember how we came together as a joint and a coalition team, nations from all over the world, all of the services supporting each other, generating effects for one another to achieve an effect in an incredibly short period of time.”

Desert Storm marked the first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of stealth and space systems support capabilities against a modern, integrated air defense, allowing the Air Force to succeed in their endeavor of air superiority.

“Over time I have come to understand the enabling capabilities that came to us from space, came to us out of stealth (and) that came to us out of new weapons and ammunitions that allowed us to do things in ways that we hadn’t done them before,” Johnson said. “Our ability to dynamically command and control across an entire theater there were things that, looking back now in hindsight, fundamentally began the transformation of airpower. There are so many things that we take for granted today … that saw their beginnings in Desert Storm.”

As with any mission, operation or task, there are lessons learned. Desert Storm taught the Air Force that being on the cutting edge of revolutionary technology is critical to success.

The original article can be viewed here.

(Featured Photo courtesy of USAF Public Affairs)