Air Power Triumphant―The Gulf War
The U.S. Air Force found itself in a third major war since 1945 when, on August 2, 1990, forces led by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, seized Kuwait and began a conflict that differed considerably from those in Korea and Vietnam. The ending of the Cold War had eliminated concerns about an expanded war and the client support Iraq might have expected from the Soviet Union. Flexibility of doctrine, technology, leadership, and training allowed the Air Force to adjust to the unique components of the Gulf War―a desert battlefield, a loosely united coalition (including several Arab nations desiring minimal damage to Iraq), and an American people strongly opposed to a prolonged war and resulting heavy casualties. A first phase, Operation DESERT SHIELD, the defense Saudi Arabia and its huge oil reserves, began on August 6, when Saudi Arabia requested American assistance. Two days later F-15C Eagles from the First Tactical Fighter Wing, supported by E-3B Sentry airborne warning and control aircraft, arrived in the Persian Gulf―a first step in the rapid relocation of one-quarter of the Air Force's total combat inventory and nearly all of its precision bombing assets. Military airlift, including the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, rapidly moved 660,000 Coalition personnel to the area, although most supplies and equipment came by sea. Turbojet-powered C-141 and C-5 military transports operating between the United States and the Persian Gulf carried ten times more tons of cargo per day than all of the piston-engine transports designed for commercial traffic carried during the entire Berlin Airlift. That distance insured that U.S. Air Force KC-135 and KC-10 tankers would play a critical role in a war that required more than fifteen hundred aerial refuelings per day. Fortunately, Operation NICKEL GRASS, the aerial resupply of Israel during the October 1973 War, had revealed the need to equip Air Force C-141 cargo aircraft with inflight refueling capabilities, extending airlift's range in time for the Gulf War.
The second phase was Operation DESERT STORM, the liberation of Kuwait and the reduction of Iraqi military capabilities, especially its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The U.N. coalition opposing Hussein depended primarily on air power to hammer enemy forces and achieve its objectives while minimizing casualties. The U.S. Air Force flew nearly 60 percent of all fixed-wing combat sorties in support of DESERT STORM, dropping 82 percent of precision guided weapons.
The air offensive began at 0238 local time, January 17, 1991, with night attacks on Iraqi early warning radar sites, Scud short-range ballistic missile sites, and communication centers, including the interna-