The Gulf War - Air War

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Air War - Operation Desert Storm

As is usual in modern war, the first objective of the allied force in Saudi Arabia was to gain air superiority. Air superiority gives a military force the ability to indiscriminately attack enemy targets, disrupt enemy lines of supply, to conduct recon, and, of course denies the enemy the ability to do all of these things himself.

The air campaign against Iraq was launched 16 January 1991, the day after the United Nations deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expired. Saddam was given every opportunity to conclude the stand off peacefully, but US/Iraqi talks in Geneva were inconclusive, at best.

The magnitude and the power of the air attack was a shock to all concerned. The initial attack swept away much of Iraq's ability to defend against further air assaults. Radar installations were attacked by helicopters, F-117's were sent to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to destroy command and control centers, air bases and hangars were bombed. U.S. Navy bombers and Tomahawk missiles wreaked havoc on all aspects of Iraqi air defense. The air campaign was conducted not just by the United States, but the Saudi, British, French, Italian, as well as various Arab Air Forces.

The Allied air campaign was thorough and devastating. Realizing that traditional anti-air defense was futile the Iraqis took to psychological methods that included using human hostages as shields for prime targets. They placed their aircraft near ancient historic sites and holy places, knowing the allies would be reticent to attack where there might be significant "collateral damage".

In an effort to demonstrate their own air offensive capability, on 24 January the Iraqis attempted to mount a strike against the major Saudi oil refinery in Abqaiq. Two Mirage F-1 fighters laden with incendiary bombs and two MiG-23s (along as fighter cover) took off from bases in Iraq. They were spotted by US AWACs, and two Royal Saudi Air Force F-15s were sent to intercept. When the Saudis appeared the Iraqi MiGs turned tail, but the Mirages pressed on. Captain Iyad Al-Shamrani, one of the Saudi pilots maneuvered his jet behind the Mirages and shot down both aircraft. After this episode, the Iraqis made no more air efforts of their own, only sending most of their jets to Iran in hopes that they might someday get their air force back. (Iran never returned the jets.)

With Iraqi air defense effectively neutralized, the Allied Air Forces proceeded to pound the Iraqi divisions arrayed in Kuwait and Southern Iraq. Utilizing fuel bombs, cluster bombs, armor piercing guided bombs, missiles and various other ordinance, Allied forces degraded Iraqi ability to fight on the ground. Attacks by B-52 bombers were noted to be especially terrible; entire regiments, brigades and divisions were effectively crushed in a few minute air raid by these powerful though dated bombers.

By late February the Coalition forces were ready to kick off the ground campaign...

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For an excellent first hand account of the war, read Rick Francona on the Gulf War

Richard S. Lowry has procuced an excellent chronicle of the war. Read our review!

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