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On Target: Organizing and Executing the Strategic Air Campaign Against Iraq: The U.S.A.F. in the the Persian Gulf War

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The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 capped an era of USAF modernization and enhanced readiness begun in the late 1970s and that continued through the 1980s. The long lead-time weapons acquisition and training programs, begun a decade or more earlier, came to fruition against a far different opponent and in an unforeseen locale than that envisioned by their creators. The fo The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 capped an era of USAF modernization and enhanced readiness begun in the late 1970s and that continued through the 1980s. The long lead-time weapons acquisition and training programs, begun a decade or more earlier, came to fruition against a far different opponent and in an unforeseen locale than that envisioned by their creators. The force designed to counter the superpower foe of the Cold War, the USSR, never fought a direct battle against that enemy during the existence of the Soviet Union. Instead, the USAF fought the first war of the so-called New World Order, a war that had as much in common with the colonial wars of the late nineteenth century as it had with the high-technology wars of the late twentieth century. The USAF shouldered the bulk of the fighting for the first thirty-nine of the conflict's forty-two days. This volume covers the air offensive against strategic military and economic targets within the pre-August 1990 borders of Iraq. The offensive air plan once again displayed the ability of the U.S. military to turn the necessity of improvisation into a virtue when, in mid-August 1990, an element of the Air Staff in the Pentagon wrote the basis of the offensive plan in ten days. The plan was founded upon the precepts of Col. John A. Warden III's air power theories-centers of gravity, shock effect, and the importance of leadership-related targets. Once the outline plan reached the arena of operations, the U.S. Central Air Forces (CENTAF), under the able leadership of Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, adopted the targeting philosophy of the plan and, after many modifications owing to new targets and an increased force structure, employed it with devastating effect. The author describes not only the outstanding performance of USAF men and machines but also the difficulties and complexities of coordinating the many elements of air and staff operations. Among these were the complex coordination of the fighters with their tankers, the speedy transmission of data from the allseeing eyes of AWACS and JSTARS aircraft, the multiple bomb runs over chemical and biological warfare bunkers, and the shortcomings of certain types of intelligence. All these factors impacted on mission effectiveness. The author also diagrams how outside influences-political pressure from neutrals, such as the Israelis, and from public news media-can affect the direction of the bombing effort. Although this account of the air campaign in the Persian Gulf concentrates on the operational history of a six-week war, it also places that war into its larger political and military context, especially in its tale of the interplay between the U.S. military and civilian leadership. It illustrates, with reference to actual missions, the operational advantages of stealth fighter bombers as well as their vulnerabilities. Davis presents the reader with a detailed account of one of the USAF's most important air operations in the last half of the twentieth century. In the decade after the conclusion of the Gulf War, the pattern of strategic air operations against Iraq became the template for USAF operations over Bosnia and during the air war over Serbia and, most recently, in Afghanistan as well. In planning for air operations in the Balkans, USAF officers were strongly influenced by John A. Warden's methodology and ideology with its emphasis on centers of gravity and strikes on leadership targets. Stealth air combat operations, inaugurated en masse in the Gulf War, became even more prevalent with the introduction of the B-2 bomber. Likewise, the use of precision weapons grew. The aversion of western democracies to both military and civilian casualties and their effect on targeting, tactics, and strategy first encountered over Iraq became more pronounced in subsequent conflicts-as did the continuing challenge in matching accurate intelligence to precision weapons.


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The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 capped an era of USAF modernization and enhanced readiness begun in the late 1970s and that continued through the 1980s. The long lead-time weapons acquisition and training programs, begun a decade or more earlier, came to fruition against a far different opponent and in an unforeseen locale than that envisioned by their creators. The fo The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 capped an era of USAF modernization and enhanced readiness begun in the late 1970s and that continued through the 1980s. The long lead-time weapons acquisition and training programs, begun a decade or more earlier, came to fruition against a far different opponent and in an unforeseen locale than that envisioned by their creators. The force designed to counter the superpower foe of the Cold War, the USSR, never fought a direct battle against that enemy during the existence of the Soviet Union. Instead, the USAF fought the first war of the so-called New World Order, a war that had as much in common with the colonial wars of the late nineteenth century as it had with the high-technology wars of the late twentieth century. The USAF shouldered the bulk of the fighting for the first thirty-nine of the conflict's forty-two days. This volume covers the air offensive against strategic military and economic targets within the pre-August 1990 borders of Iraq. The offensive air plan once again displayed the ability of the U.S. military to turn the necessity of improvisation into a virtue when, in mid-August 1990, an element of the Air Staff in the Pentagon wrote the basis of the offensive plan in ten days. The plan was founded upon the precepts of Col. John A. Warden III's air power theories-centers of gravity, shock effect, and the importance of leadership-related targets. Once the outline plan reached the arena of operations, the U.S. Central Air Forces (CENTAF), under the able leadership of Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, adopted the targeting philosophy of the plan and, after many modifications owing to new targets and an increased force structure, employed it with devastating effect. The author describes not only the outstanding performance of USAF men and machines but also the difficulties and complexities of coordinating the many elements of air and staff operations. Among these were the complex coordination of the fighters with their tankers, the speedy transmission of data from the allseeing eyes of AWACS and JSTARS aircraft, the multiple bomb runs over chemical and biological warfare bunkers, and the shortcomings of certain types of intelligence. All these factors impacted on mission effectiveness. The author also diagrams how outside influences-political pressure from neutrals, such as the Israelis, and from public news media-can affect the direction of the bombing effort. Although this account of the air campaign in the Persian Gulf concentrates on the operational history of a six-week war, it also places that war into its larger political and military context, especially in its tale of the interplay between the U.S. military and civilian leadership. It illustrates, with reference to actual missions, the operational advantages of stealth fighter bombers as well as their vulnerabilities. Davis presents the reader with a detailed account of one of the USAF's most important air operations in the last half of the twentieth century. In the decade after the conclusion of the Gulf War, the pattern of strategic air operations against Iraq became the template for USAF operations over Bosnia and during the air war over Serbia and, most recently, in Afghanistan as well. In planning for air operations in the Balkans, USAF officers were strongly influenced by John A. Warden's methodology and ideology with its emphasis on centers of gravity and strikes on leadership targets. Stealth air combat operations, inaugurated en masse in the Gulf War, became even more prevalent with the introduction of the B-2 bomber. Likewise, the use of precision weapons grew. The aversion of western democracies to both military and civilian casualties and their effect on targeting, tactics, and strategy first encountered over Iraq became more pronounced in subsequent conflicts-as did the continuing challenge in matching accurate intelligence to precision weapons.

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