The Maturation of Operational Art
Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM
John S. Brown
Earlier authors in this collection have made the point that American commanders conducted campaigns at the operational level long before they conceptualized an operational level as such.1 The belated American doctrinal recognition of the operational level of war in 1982 and operational art in 1986 was part of an overall post-Vietnam renaissance in the United States’ military thinking that focused heavily on a Soviet adversary and took Soviet doctrine into account.2 In emerging from its Vietnam experience, the United States Army in particular had to shake off the trauma of ten wearying years of a war generally won at the tactical level but overwhelmingly lost at the strategic level.3 It also had to recover from a generation wherein little doctrinal thinking beyond the tactical had occurred at all. The Korean War had featured an operational component, but Eisenhower’s “New Look” soon had ground forces flailing to establish strategic relevance.4 The “Flexible Response” of the Kennedy and Johnson years promised to consider the full spectrum of military options, but in practice it was about low intensity conflict - counterguerrilla, pacification, nation building, Green Berets, and the like.5
Post-Vietnam developments made a rethinking of doctrinal principles likely. Whatever World War II hubris had been left in the Army had hemorrhaged out during the fighting in Southeast Asia, and the Army found itself struggling to articulate the value it would bring to future quarrels.6 The 1973 Arab-Israeli War crystallized the recognition that mid-to-high-intensity conventional combat was not only possible, but likely.7 The return to a European focus again juxtaposed the United States with the Soviet Union, which not only wielded superior conventional capabilities, but also had refined and elaborated doctrine at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.8 Finally, embarrassing shortcomings with respect to joint and operational performance during the muddled-through invasion of Grenada led to Congress’ bullying the Department of Defense into the Goldwater-Nichols reforms - reforms that the services could not seem to come up with themselves.9 The story of this post-Vietnam military renaissance and its translation into a collective canon labeled AirLand Battle has already been told.10 In this article, we hope to describe how
this newly refined doctrine translated into practical capabilities and how Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM played out as examples of the operational art. Although its focus is the U.S. Army’s experience, it takes into account the jointness of the campaign and parallel developments in other services.
Combat veterans will tell you there is a difference between having a plan and carrying it through to successful conclusion, between “knowing what right looks like” and “making it happen.” Given the comparatively recent American articulation of the operational art and the distances in time separating most of DESERT STORM’s senior commanders from their last exposures to service school systems, their success at implementing contemporary classroom doctrine would have been surprising had there not been additional mechanisms at work to translate newly developed theory into practical operational capabilities. Five such mechanisms stand out: the proliferation of officers trained in the new doctrine onto the staffs wherein operational decisions are effectively made; the general adaptation of a vocabulary that reflected the new doctrine; the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) and similar simulations-driven exercises; the development of technical capabilities commensurate with the doctrine; and the evolution of the Capable Corps.
Most senior American leaders of DESERT STORM had little exposure to the operational art in the Army educational system. Key, albeit relatively junior, members of their staffs had. The United States has long had a love-hate relationship with staff specialization such as that represented by the German General Staff. On the one hand, theorists and commentators since at least as far back as Emory Upton have praised the efficiency of the German General Staff and advocated it as a model - a model many European militaries in fact adopted.11 On the other hand, frontier and maritime traditions of greater vintage characterized service with troops or sailors as “where the action was,” and service on a senior staff as somehow less manly. Indeed, General George S. Patton, Jr.’s comments on the subject capture a stereotype quite nicely:
Twentieth-century Americans adopted an egalitarian attitude toward military staff work; rather than evolving a small, highly special-
ized elite cadre, they rotated officers between staff and line assignments fairly routinely. In the views of the officers themselves, they “did their time” on staff in order to return to the troop, flight, or sea duty they truly preferred.13 In keeping with this egalitarian attitude toward staff work, the American Army trained virtually all its middle-grade officers in such skills. The Command and General Staff College (CGSC) and its predecessors at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, have turned out tens of thousands of officers since 1881, and tens of thousands more have received the same training in a nonresident status.14 The Navy and Air Force developed similar institutions at Newport, Rhode Island, and Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, respectively. As the staff complexities of the operational art became more apparent to those attempting to promulgate it, the year given over to such programs as resident CGSC instruction seemed too brief to develop a proper mastery. The School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) graduated its first students from an extended two-year version of the CGSC in 1985, featuring intense emphasis upon the operational art, higher-level command and staff coordination, and historical precedents. By 1990 SAMS was graduating about fifty students a year. In addition, students in the one-year CGSC course were offered the opportunity to compete, with extra work and effort, for a Master of Military Arts and Science (MMAS) degree within the time frame of their CGSC attendance.15
How did the Army attract talented middle-grade officers to intense staff training in an organization inclined to denigrate staff work? In many cases the attraction was to return to troop duty earlier than otherwise would have been possible. During the 1980s Army force structure featured heavy requirements for the field-grade officer in branch-immaterial nominative assignments or assignments drawing on a secondary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). A major who had just been with troops had little prospect of returning to troop duty soon. An additional year at Leavenworth in SAMS, however, virtually guaranteed an immediate return to an operational unit, albeit generally on a corps or division staff. Once there, the major could reasonably hope to make a favorable impression and be returned to a battalion within a year or so, when the next SAMS class graduated to replace the officer. The mathematics worked out to a return to troops as a field-grade officer within two to three as opposed to four to five years. A fraction of SAMS’s popularity was its exploitation of a time-honored American technique: Seduce talented officers into staff work by promising to make them line officers in due course.16
Whatever their motives, SAMS graduates proliferated throughout the Army and enhanced staff proficiency - particularly with respect to the operational art heavily emphasized at the time. They were reinforced by an emphasis upon the operational art in the basic course, and thus the tendency of all recent officer graduates of the service school systems to
use concepts and vocabulary that facilitated its use. The 1986 edition of Field Manual (FM) 100–5, Operations, deployed an array of historical operational vignettes to make its points; such terms as Center of Gravity, Lines of Operation, and Culminating Point were recommended as key concepts for operational design. Although they did not develop a precise equivalent to SAMS, Navy and Air Force educators also gave due attention to the operational art and campaign planning during this period and developed appropriate literature for their student officers as well.17
Although initially a tactical construct, the categorization of the Battlefield Operating Systems (BOS) - maneuver, fire support, intelligence, command and control, air defense, mobility-countermobility, and combat service support - gave planners a convenient checklist and matrix that had operational implications as well. Soviet theorists, with their heavy emphasis on the operational art and their advocacy of such instruments as the operational maneuver group, were carefully studied, as were the alleged operational superiorities of the German World War II Wehrmacht. Woe be unto the Leavenworth student who did not have something intelligent to say about Auftragstaktik or Schwerpunkt. In a relatively brief period of time the Army school system had permeated grades captain through colonel with an appreciation of the operational art and a vocabulary appropriate to that appreciation.18
The intellectual residue of a service school system fades quickly unless it is put to use. Prior to the 1980s the operational level of war was not much amenable to rehearsal. Field and fleet exercises at that level, even if actual troop and sailor participation were scaled back, were extraordinarily expensive.19 War games using blocks of wood or paper chits to represent units or ships had been in use since the nineteenth century, but these tended to be torpidly paced, heavily dependent upon umpires for scenario depiction and combat resolution, and deficient in placing appropriate pressure on combat support and combat service support assets.20 The introduction and rapid maturation of computer simulations changed this situation. The BCTP, for example, began as a tactical-level simulation capable of forcing battalion staffs to cope with the full range of circumstances they might encounter. Computer-generated battlefield circumstances were reported through keyboard operators to subordinate commanders, who in turn passed them higher. These subordinate commanders, not umpires, had the mission of bringing the computer developments to life, reporting them through doctrinal communications systems in such a manner that they seemed real to commanders and staffs above them.21 Computer simulation developed considerable sophistication, in particular with respect to resolving the probabilities of combat results quickly and thus driving combat support and combat service support commanders and staffs to perform in real time as well. Within a decade simulations were the preferred - and economical - way to drill staffs in
their battlefield responsibilities. One seldom saw entire units maneuvering in the field at greater than the battalion level.22
Originally a tactical training asset, simulations soon drove staff training at all levels. Division and corps staffs found themselves commanding and controlling fast-paced battles with an intensity they never before had experienced during training. Rather than being training supervisors or spectators, senior officers now found themselves to be training subjects - their successes and shortcomings analyzed with excruciating precision.23 Simulations-driven exercises expanded to accommodate joint assets, joint headquarters, and major commands at the highest level. For the first time it was truly feasible to “rehearse” short of war at the operational level. Indeed, before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., had conducted a major joint simulations-driven exercise, INTERNAL LOOK 90, that eerily anticipated circumstances he would face several months later. He attributed some fraction of his subsequent success to the insights gained and staff skills honed in this particular exercise.24
Computers were not driving training alone, of course. They also were part of a larger modernization effort that radically enhanced technical capabilities to pursue warfare at the operational level.25 Communications, benefiting from revolutionary advances in microchips and computer integration, were more sophisticated, capable, pervasive, and redundant than ever before. Intelligence gathered through satellite imagery, from airborne platforms with multiple sensors and from signal intercepts - as well as from more traditional means - allowed unprecedented precision in one’s appreciation of the enemy. Aviation with the AH–1 Apache attack helicopter and artillery with the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) acquired ranges and capabilities that made “deep battle” deep enough to be significant at the operational level. A sophisticated new generation of tactical vehicles, to include the redoubtable M1A1 Abrams tank and formidable M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicle, concentrated far more fighting power into far less frontage than ever before. This is not to mention the considerable role of hastily procured, largely commercial, global positioning systems in assuring that fighting power did not get lost in the desert when maneuvering through operational distances. Even combat service support had, in the highly mobile M977 and M978 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTTs) and ubiquitous High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), achieved technical advances with operational implications. Now food, fuel, ammunition, and logistical services stood a reasonable chance of keeping pace with combat vehicles advancing quickly through challenging terrain.
Technical advance altered the level of command at which the operational level of war was fought. Historically, the corps was the ground operational building block and the army or army group the level at which the operational art was pursued.26 By 1990 American heavy divisions had
acquired a depth, breadth, and potency of geographical reach that elevated them into operational building blocks. Indeed, the 1990 division readily occupied the terrain and assumed the mission of the 1945 corps and the 1990 corps that of the 1945 army.27 This trend had been recognized, and by the late 1980s had matured into the concept and then into the reality of the Capable Corps. Such a corps featured a sizable inventory of combat support and combat service support units that rendered it capable of sustaining combat operations for a prolonged period. Unlike the thinly manned command and control headquarters of World War II, the late twentieth-century corps had logistical attributes of the World War II army group.28 The net result was that DESERT STORM was fought on the ground with divisions as operational building blocks and corps as practitioners of the operational art.
Americans were late in coming to grips with the theory of the operational art. Although better with actual practice than with theory, they nevertheless suffered from the lack of a conceptual framework when campaigning on a grand scale. By 1990 this imbalance no longer obtained. Not only had they sharpened an appreciation of the operational level of war in their doctrine, they also had trained a cadre of mid-level officers in its use, spread relevant concepts and vocabulary broadly through the officer corps, drilled staffs at every level using simulations that captured much of the challenge of actual operations, exploited technology that considerably enhanced operational capabilities, and driven the level of operational practitioner down to the Capable Corps. They would soon face the requirement to bring this growth and change to bear in combat.
It has become fashionable to characterize the American deployment during DESERT SHIELD as lethargic, successful only because of the incredible inertia of Saddam Hussein through six long months.29 This is more sound bite to facilitate contemporary budget battles than it is historical analysis to assess relative performance. In fact, the DESERT SHIELD deployment progressed at least twice as fast as previous efforts to project such heavy forces overseas, albeit in the Army’s case half as fast as the standard Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki set in 1998 for the Army of 2015.30 DESERT SHIELD represented considerable progress along a continuum running from World War II through this future Army. The deployment also represented considerable operational finesse, allowing thoughtful progression from forces capable of deterrence alone through those capable of delay, of defense, and, finally, of attack.
The 2 August 1990 Iraqi seizure of Kuwait had been swift and sure, but it had not been without challenges. In part to achieve surprise and in part to operate within Iraq’s logistical means, the Iraqis had assault-
ed with three Republican Guard heavy divisions, several special forces units, and about 1,000 tanks.31 This was enough to quickly dispatch the 20,000-man Kuwaiti Army, but hardly sufficient to garrison a nation of 2 million people and secure a dozen major oil fields scattered across eight thousand square miles of desert. Within days four Republican Guard motorized divisions had joined their armored brethren to assist in securing Kuwait, and by mid-September Iraqi forces had built up to 360,000 men, 2,800 tanks, and 800 combat aircraft in or near Kuwait.32 The Iraqis moved to the Saudi border and attempted to reinforce their fait accompli by intimidating that neighbor, but a similarly swift conquest of Saudi Arabia was no sure thing. Saudi Arabia’s population of 14 million was more proximate to Iraq’s 19 million, its Army of 10 brigades and 550 tanks at least three times as strong as that of Kuwait had been, and securing its most important oil fields would require a further 250-kilometer advance on the part of the Iraqis.33 Perhaps more important, the American buildup progressed just quickly enough to render a painless Iraqi win doubtful - while guaranteeing that the shedding of American blood would eventually bring the full weight of an American response to bear.
The Americans were surprised by but not altogether unprepared to respond to the Iraqi invasion. As mentioned earlier, Central Command’s (CENTCOM’s) General Schwarzkopf had directed that the simulations-driven exercise INTERNAL LOOK 90 depart from a Soviet threat and instead examine an attack of six Iraqi heavy divisions through Kuwait into Saudi Arabia. In this war game the hastily deployed XVIII Airborne Corps lost many key oilfields and the port of Al Jubayl but succeeded in keeping a toehold at Ad Damman. The simulated Iraqis ground to a halt after being mauled by helicopters and tactical aircraft but inflicted an appalling 50 percent attrition upon the American ground combat forces in theater. Sobered by these results, CENTCOM planners resolved to frontload heavy ground combat units into scarce shipping, build up heliborne and other antiarmor capabilities quickly, and achieve effective cooperation with potential Arab allies early in the case of an actual contingency.34
The CENTCOM planners, reinforced as the crisis unfolded by further drafts of SAMS graduates - Schwarzkopf ’s famous “Jedi Knights” - soon had the opportunity to put their simulations-derived insights to practical use. Exercise INTERNAL LOOK 90 concluded on 28 July 1990. Iraq invaded Kuwait 2 August, and on 3 August President George H. W. Bush concluded that forcible response would be necessary. King Fahd bin Abdul Azziz al-Saud invited U.S. troops into his country on 7 August, and on 8 August President Bush announced that troops were on their way. At 1000 on 8 August the initial contingent of the 82d Airborne Division’s 2d Brigade lifted off from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina. Perhaps more important, by that time a heavy brigade of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was en route to the port
of Savannah, Georgia, preparing to embark.35 By the time it arrived air superiority would already have been achieved in theater, in part because of the 180 combat aircraft of the Saudis, in part because of about 600 American Air Force combat aircraft that swiftly reinforced them, in part because of the dispatch of 6 American aircraft carriers to nearby waters, and in part because of the worldwide reach of such American bombers as the B–1, B–52, and F–111. This is not to mention the maturing allied naval blockade that was evermore effective in choking off Iraq’s external sources of supply.36
The American buildup progressed quickly and, despite its unprecedented nature and scope, reasonably smoothly. American operational planners had long experience with the notions of rapidly deploying forces to Europe or Korea to offset a Warsaw Pact or North Korean buildup. They had matured elaborate automated data systems to prioritize and track units deploying by sea and air and to associate manpower, equipment, tonnage, and volume with them.37 Legislation was available to make civilian commercial lift available to military transporters when military means would not suffice. Indeed, DESERT STORM saw the first-ever crisis activation of the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), and unit load-masters soon found themselves wrestling with Boeing 747 load-plans as well as with those of the more familiar C–5s and C–141s.38 The deployment challenged the leadership and supervision of military transporters and load-masters. At the unit end of the hierarchy these were bright young officers and NCOs tracking company equipment and load plans as an extra duty. The hierarchy progressed through grizzled Air Force NCOs and Navy or Merchant Marine petty officers - who had absolute authority concerning what went where on their plane or vessel - up a ladder of technical responsibility that culminated in the four-star commander of the Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), activated in 1987.
The deployment was not without its quirks and shortcomings, with too little airlift and sealift for all that the operational planners would have liked to accomplish, but it was an impressive and unprecedented accomplishment nevertheless. In less than six months the Army alone loaded and unloaded 500 ships and 9,000 aircraft that delivered 1,800 army aircraft; 12,400 tracked vehicles; 114,000 wheeled vehicles; 38,000 containers; 1,800,000 tons of cargo; and 350,000 personnel. The small but capable fleet of eight newly designed Fast Sealift Ships (FSS) greatly facilitated this effort.39 The deployment exercised techniques and systems that had matured during dozens of training exercises hypothesizing the speedy dispatch of Cold War reinforcements. Indeed, the working mechanics were so familiar that staff pundits characterized the movement from Europe to Saudi Arabia as DEFORGER 90, a play on words with respect to numerous REFORGER exercises wherein Europe itself was in receipt of reinforcements.40 One difference, however, was that most heavy units
deploying to REFORGER fell in on equipment pre-positioned in Europe. When going to Saudi Arabia, they took everything with them.
At its middle levels the TRANSCOM hierarchy managing the Desert Shield deployment was populated by alumnae of the Command and General Staff College and its sister service schools, graduated recently enough to have been exposed to the emphasis placed upon the operational art during the 1980s. Even those officers who were not SAMS graduates themselves had the operational vision and vocabulary appropriate to support CENTCOM schemes that phased from deterrence through delay, defense, and ultimately attack. Broad features of the deployment that had operational implications included the front loading of antiarmor systems, the incremental construction of a logistical support base, and the ultimate development of a defense in depth.
The soldiers of the 82d Airborne Division were a mere trip-wire in the sand for about a week. During that brief period their deterrence value was the sure knowledge that an Iraqi attack wherein Americans were killed would guarantee war with the United States and preclude a speedy diplomatic solution to the Kuwaiti crisis favorable to Iraq. This thin psychological deterrence soon shaded into the capability to conduct a classic delay, as wings of combat aircraft and battalions of attack helicopters converged on Saudi airfields and the Saudis hastily redeployed their widely scattered ground units to thicken the screen opposing the Iraqis. Table 1 compares the Iraqi and allied buildups throughout the DESERT SHIELD period.41 By the end of August an Iraqi attack would have rolled forward into a robust screen of mobile allied antitank systems and into the teeth of allied air and aviation superiority as well. Sufficient ground forces did not exist to actually stop the Iraqi armor, but it would have been severely attrited while crossing 300 kilometers of open desert to reach valuable oil fields and significant built-up areas. There, they would have become entangled with enclaves of dug-in American paratroopers and marines armed with a proliferation of medium- and short-range antitank weapons while still being punished from the air. Although the overall odds favored the Iraqis, the only guarantee was that the combat would be brutal, sustained, and bloody.
By mid-September the operational picture had again changed. The debarkation of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) put a force on the ground that could stand fast, rather than retire, in the face of all but the most massive of Iraqi attacks. Positioned far enough to the rear to assure the Iraqis would have sustained significant attrition from the air before closing, the tankers and mechanized infantrymen of the 24th had reasonable prospects that Iraqi attacks would be too weakened to force them off their positions. If they did, subsequent positions arranged in depth afforded the likelihood of progressively attriting and then stopping the attack short of vital logistical installations. Firing from defilade
positions with superb fields of fire and state-of-the-art weapons that accurately outranged Iraqi counterparts by hundreds of meters, they could anticipate loss ratios of better than a dozen to one in their favor, thus considerably offsetting Iraqi numerical superiorities.42 Within a few weeks Egyptian and Syrian heavy divisions equipped equivalently to the Iraqis arrived, as did the 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. Within two months of their attack on Kuwait, Iraqi prospects for a successful follow- on thrust deep into Saudi Arabia had plummeted from high to zero.
As Saudi security stabilized behind an ever more formidable DESERT SHIELD, the National Command Authority concluded that a diplomatic resolution of the crisis was unlikely and that the combination of blockade and economic sanctions also would not yield timely results. Iraqi forces had continued to build up in Kuwait. Although Iraqi prospects for a successful offensive had faded, their prospects for a successful defense had not. Line infantry replaced mechanized units in the border areas, and Iraqi engineers constructed arrays of minefields, obstacles, and fighting positions in depth. Saddam himself opined that the American people would not stand for 10,000 casualties and seemed determined to exact at least that number if forced to defend the country he had seized.43 American squeamishness over casualties might ultimately provide him the diplomatic leverage he sought. Determined to avoid this, on 8 November President Bush committed to an additional buildup of forces to provide an offensive option. Implied within this further buildup was the need to accumulate forces so potent they could crush the Iraqis with minimal losses to themselves. Within days the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), 1st Armored Division, 3d Armored Division, the brigade-size 2d Armored Division (Forward), and the remainder of the U.K. 1st Armoured Division were on their way to Saudi Arabia. This doubling of American forces in theater progressed at about the same pace as the deployment that had preceded it. By mid-February 1991 a second Capable Corps, the VII, had joined the XVIII Airborne Corps in theater.44 (See Map 18.)
As important as the speedy buildup of combat forces was the buildup of a logistical apparatus to support them. Accustomed to dealing with transoceanic distances, American logisticians had ample experience planning for and supporting operations in austere theaters. They had developed a notion of “above the line” and “below the line” forces. Above the line were the maneuver units operational commanders mentally perceived as the “chips” on their board. Below the line were the logistical units necessary to sustain them. In an austere theater, the ratio with respect to troops between the two was 1.6 to 1 in favor of those below the line. In DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM the required ratio was 1.3 to 1 because of the Saudi capability to provide important support services.45 Through the long years of planning for Cold War reinforcement, tables
and formulae had developed for interweaving combat, combat support, and combat service support in such a manner that the combat forces never went short. Combat units deployed with a prescribed number of “days of supply” on board, and logistical units arrived, set up for operations, and replenished the combat units’ days of supply before they were exhausted. They also provided the requisite array of logistical services: maintenance, medical support, communications, transportation, etc. The organizing principles for assuring that logistical assets kept pace with the buildup of tactical units were robust organic logistical capabilities at the battalion and division level and a Corps Support Command (COSCOM) capable of supervising the diverse logistical units tailored for the specific circumstances.
The COSCOM provided the overhead necessary to coordinate division logistical activities, supplied support beyond the technical capabilities of the divisions, replenished division stocks, and compensated for the quantitative differences between the means the division brought with it and the means the theater required. Numerous exercises and simulations during the 1980s developed leaders and staffs capable of guaranteeing a complementary buildup of combat and logistical assets. The XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters elements deployed with the first waves of the 82d Airborne Division and synchronized a remarkably smooth growth through the point that a four-plus division corps was on the ground. Behind this shield, VII Corps, Third Army, and CENTCOM eventually deployed and built up their own logistical structures as well.46
Another deployment technique that acquired operational significance was an emergent capability to train en route. During World War II divisions shipped men and equipment together and generally took six months to get from their training to stations overseas.47 During that time little meaningful training occurred - in particular with respect to maneuver training or firing crew-served weapons. Fortunate units had the opportunity to take a month or so and retrain overseas, as happened in England prior to Normandy or North Africa prior to shipment to Italy; unfortunate units deployed into combat cold, as happened at Kasserine Pass or Buna.48 During DESERT SHIELD heavy units shipped their equipment, and then trained intensively on others units’ hardware while the ships were en route. At the appointed time the soldiers deployed by air to intercept their heavy equipment as it arrived at the port of debarkation and moved from there to the field recently trained. This technique proved particularly useful for integrating replacements that inevitably arrived to fill out units preparing to deploy. American units from Europe, for example, rotated through gunnery training at Grafenwöhr and tactical training at Hohenfels hosted by the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized), which was not deploying.49 This had the operational significance of rapidly accelerating the pace at which distant adversaries faced American units fully prepared for combat.
DESERT SHIELD demonstrated the American appreciation of and contributions to the operational art. From a cold start operational planners deployed a force that was able to successively deter, delay, defend, and attack its Iraqi opponent. Given that the Iraqis had their deployment challenges as well, the window of likely allied defeat was narrow indeed. This operational planning was effected by a cadre of mid-level officers who had had significant education with respect to the operational art and implemented by a much greater number who understood its basic concepts and vocabulary. War plans changed almost weekly, with the area to be secured growing from small desert enclaves through the entirety of Saudi Arabia itself. Computer simulations assisted in operational analysis through each step in the planning and associated war-gaming process, most notably in the INTERNAL LOOK 90 exercise that defined key issues even before Saddam Hussein had seized Kuwait. The American achievement was greatly assisted by technological advances that provided a striking qualitative edge over the Iraqis and allowed a division to secure a sector formerly appropriate to a corps and a corps to secure a sector formerly appropriate to an army. Coincident with this advance with respect to weaponry was the maturation of the corps as a headquarters fully capable of integrating combat support, combat service support, and joint assets - again characteristics formerly associated with an army. With the mission of securing Saudi Arabia complete, American operational planners could now turn to their follow-on mission of liberating Kuwait.
DESERT STORM Prepared
DESERT STORM was a debilitating aerial and artillery preparation followed by a ground turning movement. On the map, the turning movement looks easy; broad arrows sweep in wide arcs to squeeze the hapless Iraqis into an evermore compressed pocket. Postwar commentators, particularly impressed with the several orders of magnitude difference in casualties, might lead one to believe it actually was easy. In fact it was far more difficult than one might think, and its eventual lopsided success was the result of a great deal of hard work by capable professionals well before the first armored vehicle crossed the line of departure. At the operational level plans were developed and refined, allies were incorporated into roles that were acceptable and suitable, units were trained and rehearsed for their missions, and the preconditions for a successful ground assault were achieved. While all this was going on, due precaution had to be taken against possible Iraqi actions to interfere with allied preparations. Let us examine these major prebattle efforts in turn.
The Jedi Knights conducting General Schwarzkopf’s operational planning had a few basic options, all of which the commercial media appreciated and debated.50 By November 1990 the Iraqis had matured a
layered defense, with line infantry entrenched behind protective barriers along the border backed up by local mobile reserves of regular army tank and mechanized divisions. These local reserves were themselves backed up by the operational reserves of the heavily mechanized Republican Guard. Of these Iraqi forces, the line infantry was considered brittle, the regular army heavy divisions reliable, and the Republican Guard formidable. The most direct approach for the allies would have been an attack into the teeth of Iraqi defenses along the Saudi-Kuwait border. The avenues available for such an attack included north along the coastal road, from the “elbow” of the border northeast along the shortest route directly into Kuwait City, or along the Wadi al Batin in the far west of Kuwait. A more indirect approach would be an envelopment through Iraq, either close in by punching through thinly held defenses immediately west of the Wadi al Batin or deeper by altogether turning the Iraqi line in its far west. Both the direct approach and the envelopment could be complemented by amphibious landings on the Kuwaiti coast and airborne or air assault landings into the enemy’s rear. Yet another alternative was not to attack seriously on the ground at all, but instead to rely upon air and naval bombardment, economic sanctions, and limited probes and attacks to wear down the Iraqi will to resist.
A factor complicating operational deliberations was the role allies were willing play. The United States, Great Britain, and France favored attacking Iraq directly. Their Arab allies believed the legitimate mission was to liberate Kuwait and were reluctant to commit their ground forces to a wider war.51 The two U.S. Marine divisions already ashore were more comfortable operating proximate to the sea - and thus to their logistical support - but were short on the heavy equipment and firepower necessary to punch through the thicker Iraqi defenses they would face. Arabs and western allies alike supported an air campaign, although the Arabs inclined to emphasize defending Saudi air space while the western allies were eager to carry the war deep into Iraq. Over time a campaign plan emerged that accommodated allied preferences and borrowed heavily from each of the basic operational options available.52 Fighting would begin with a multiphased air campaign to establish preconditions for ground assault. Allied air forces would successively smash Iraqi air defenses, secure air supremacy, suppress Iraqi command and control, isolate the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations, and attrit enemy ground forces in the path of the proposed offensive. The ground assault would begin with a division-size feint up the Wadi al Batin and a supporting attack by the marines reinforced with an Army armored brigade through the elbow of Kuwait. Arab thrusts equivalent in size to that of the marines would go in to their left and right. A marine amphibious feint would tie Iraqi units into coastal defenses, while an air assault deep into Iraq would isolate the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations from the Iraqi core around Baghdad. The
main attack would be that of the VII Corps, consisting of five heavy divisions, four separate field artillery brigades, an armored cavalry regiment, and a separate aviation brigade. This mailed fist - a description the corps commander, Lt. Gen. Frederick M. Franks, Jr., had chosen - would envelope the Iraqi line at its far west end, turning east to annihilate the Republican Guard before sweeping across the northern half of Kuwait. The four-division XVIII Airborne Corps, already commanding the air assault intrusion into Iraq, would ride the VII Corps’ left flank and continue to isolate the Kuwaiti Theater from the west, while assisting in closing the trap to the east.
The scheme of attack that emerged from Schwarzkopf’s operational planners during the fall of 1990 and early winter of 1990–1991 seems as close to a “Leavenworth Solution” as one could hope to see. Every unit in theater had been given a role appropriate to its technical capabilities, doctrine, and, in some cases, national sensibilities. Elaborate matrices synchronized the actions of each of the battlefield operating systems: maneuver, fire support, mobility and countermobility, air defense, command and control, intelligence, and combat service support. A clever balance had been achieved amongst feints, supporting attacks, economy-of-force measures, and a main attack sufficiently weighted to achieve decisive results. Officers who had war-gamed dozens of campaigns in simulation war-gamed this one in simulation as well - time and again to refine details.53 Shortcomings that ultimately emerged during the conduct of DESERT STORM would not result from officers and staffs insufficiently trained to develop doctrinally correct campaign plans.
One significant attribute of the DESERT STORM campaign plan was the extent to which it changed over time.54 Word processors, improved duplication techniques, and modern communications made it feasible to edit and amend plans as disseminated documents. Space-age intelligence assets and ingrained habits of leadership rehearsal provided reasons to do so. Since DESERT STORM it has been fashionable to point out deficiencies in the shared intelligence picture. These complaints would ring hollow with such German generals as Alexander von Kluck approaching the Marne in 1914 or Hermann Hoth attacking the Kursk Salient in 1943 - commanders who had real intelligence dilemmas.55 No army in history has had as precise and accurate a picture of how its adversary laid out on the ground as did the American Third Army on 24 February 1991. Prior to the 1st Infantry Division breach, for example, battalion commanders received aerial photos detailing Iraqi platoon positions in their sectors. Narrative descriptions concerning where units were and when one could expect to encounter them proved remarkably accurate.56 Satellite imagery, aerial photography, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) feedback, and information drawn from a fistful of other sensors fed huge amounts of material into the voracious appetites of military intelligence analysts. At
first the return from Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) was limited by the Iraqi practice of coordinating via secure landline, but eventually the air campaign so disrupted this network that the Iraqis were forced back into more readily intercepted radio communications if they were to communicate at all.57 The Americans did not have much access to human intelligence (HUMINT), and a relatively small amount of information fed into the system through such traditional means as ground scouts, patrols, and reconnaissance units. This historically disproportionate reliance upon technical means of intelligence would have implications after the ground war started, as we shall see.
Ingrained habits of rehearsal were as important as updated intelligence in refining the campaign plan. Since 1981 American heavy units had been rotating through intense simulated combat at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center (NTC). This superb facility was soon paralleled by a somewhat smaller Combined Arms Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Hohenfels, Germany.58 There, realistic laser-gunnery exercises had revived an appreciation of the value of rehearsals as well as afteraction reviews. Rehearsals ran the gamut from map exercises through “rock drills,” wherein participants “maneuvered” through scaled-down versions of the terrain as if they were their entire units, to full-up rehearsals in like-type terrain with all men and equipment. As the ground war approached, successive levels of command were read into the plan, rehearsed their roles in it, and provided feedback. Updated intelligence interwove with rehearsal results to drive further refinements. A case in point at the operational level was the weighting of VII Corps with its fifth heavy division versus one heavy division left to the XVIII Airborne Corps.59 Another example was the decision to continue with the breach and short left hook in the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division’s sector even after it became apparent that Iraqi resistance farther west was so thin that divisions could sweep around that flank virtually unopposed.
Rehearsing VII Corps logisticians convincingly demonstrated that while the end run would provide important tactical advantages, a breach through the minefield would be necessary to sustain the attack logistically as it neared Kuwait. Yet another route farther east, perhaps up the Wadi al Batin, would have to be opened to sustain operations inside Kuwait. In the end it was decided that the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions and the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 24th Mechanized Infantry Division would sweep around the minefield, the 1st Mechanized Infantry Division would breach it, and the U.K. 1st Armoured Division would pass through the breach, take a hard right, and roll up Iraqi defenses in such a manner that lanes through the minefields farther east could be safely cut later.60
Rehearsals became larger, more comprehensive, and more complex as plans matured. Units deploying from Germany had not actually maneuvered above the battalion level, and those from the United States had
not actually maneuvered above the brigade level.61 Once clear of their port of debarkation and bivouacked in the desert, all now had ample opportunity to conduct maneuver training at every level. Commanders carefully balanced the advantages of additional maneuver training against wear and tear on unit equipment. Most found the opportunity to maneuver their units on an unprecedented scale through extraordinary distances while pacing themselves in such a manner that they sustained high operational readiness rates as well.62 When the air war had disrupted Iraqi intelligence collection and the time came to shift the VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps from DESERT SHIELD positions proximate to the east coast of Saudi Arabia to the staging areas for DESERT STORM farther inland, the respective corps commanders took the opportunity to maneuver on the grandest possible scale. The VII Corps, for example, rehearsed large-scale offensive movements through dozens of kilometers while moving west to its staging areas.63
This surrogate maneuver training was invaluable in itself and also provided the opportunity to resolve a number of technical issues with operational implications. Few soldiers, for example, had been familiar with the new GPS technology before DESERT SHIELD, but in short order virtually every platoon leader had one. This presented both training worries and doctrinal issues as several different makes of GPS were worked into the modus operandi of maneuver units. The results were dramatic. Suddenly units as small as platoons could maintain perfect alignment with each other while maneuvering in formations as large as a corps through hundreds of kilometers of trackless desert in the dark. The Iraqis would later be totally surprised by this unprecedented operational capability.64 Similarly, the experience of the rehearsal allowed operational commanders to determine the pace at which such uninterrupted maneuver should progress: twelve miles an hour. It turned out that this speed was one of several smoothly riding interfaces between gear ratios on the M1A1 tank - and the fastest such interface at which linear formations of unlike vehicles in a battalion or brigade formation could be kept together. Because the M1A1 rode smoothly at that speed, its gyrostabilization was optimized and the tank could fire accurately while moving.65 This yielded yet another operational capability unheard-of in earlier wars: the uninterrupted advance of a great mass of armor firing accurately on the move into a defender who could not hope to achieve the same range or accuracy even from fixed and surveyed positions. Twelve miles an hour may sound slow, but what historical army has ever sustained such an opposed rate of advance for days at a time?
Other training progressed collaterally with these first-in-a-generation corps-level maneuvers. A case in point was the 1st Infantry Division’s elaborate rehearsal of the breach it was to conduct during the first day of the ground war - to include the carefully choreographed passage of the
entire U.K. 1st Armoured Division through the Big Red One’s positions.66 Another case in point was live-fire gunnery, conducted across expanses commanders had theretofore only been able to dream about. M1A1 tank crews, for example, had their first opportunity to fire the high-performance M829A1 service sabot, as opposed to the far-less-potent training round.67
Much of this extraordinarily valuable ground force maneuver and tactical training occurred while the air war was already under way. The air war was intended to set the preconditions for ground assault: air supremacy, paralyzed Iraqi command and control, degraded Iraqi logistics, and severely mauled Iraqi armor and artillery formations. Air supremacy was readily achieved, and Iraqi command and control does in fact seem to have been nearly paralyzed by the time the ground war began. Logistical degradation wore unevenly, with Iraqi units nearest to the border being the most disadvantaged. In part this was because of the greater distances, every kilometer of which was exposed to allied attack, through which supply lines to these units passed. This was also because of the lower priority of line infantry units on the border and the absence of stockpiles in them comparable to those built up to support mechanized units and the Republican Guard. Indeed, the Republican Guard seems to have been well supplied and well fed until the VII Corps overran it. Attrition inflicted upon Iraqi armor and artillery was significant, but less than planners had hoped. Weather often interfered, as did the Iraqi energy in digging in or camouflaging this equipment, Iraqi use of decoys, and the high altitude at which allied aircraft flew to avoid losses. Precision-guided munitions were helpful in what came to be known as “tank-plinking,” but these were too expensive and in too short supply to be useful against unremunerative targets.
A few vignettes make the point. The newly captured artillery commander of the Iraqi 49th Infantry Division commented that he had lost less than 10 percent of his artillery prior to the ground war but had lost all the rest in a single day of American preparatory artillery fires prior to the breach. In another vignette, the G–3 of the 2d Armored Division (Forward) rewalked the battlefield of his brigade’s Objective NORFOLK and found that virtually all the Iraqi tanks on it had been destroyed by American tank fire. Overall, the allied air campaign was a great success, but it did far less well against dug-in equipment than it did against command and control nodes and logistical assets. This situation changed radically, as we shall see, when ground fighting forced theretofore hidden Iraqi equipment into movement. Then the synergy to be achieved by employing ground and air assets in concert demonstrated itself with devastating effect.68
One limit on the operational success of the air campaign was the distraction presented by the urgent divergence of air assets to campaign against Iraqi missiles. Although the Iraqis launched only eighty-six
Scuds, these primitive missiles had an impact well beyond their numbers. Their range enabled them to reach, albeit inaccurately, soft and unprepared targets. Indeed, for Americans the bloodiest single incident of the war occurred when a Scud missile slammed into a barracks in Al Khobar, killing twenty-eight and wounding ninety-eight - almost half from a single unit, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment from Greensburg, Pennsylvania.69 Perhaps as troubling, Scuds launched at Israel threatened to bring that embattled nation into the war, thus wrecking carefully constructed American alliances with Arab nations hostile to or suspicious of Israel.70 Patriot air defense missiles hastily deployed to Saudi Arabia and Israel did destroy a number of incoming Scuds, but by 24 January 40 percent of all allied air sorties were nevertheless directed against the Scuds - as were significant intelligence, electronic warfare, and special operations resources.71 A vast cat-and-mouse game developed throughout western Iraq as American intelligence and reconnaissance assets attempted to find Scuds for fighter bombers to engage, while Iraqis attempted to fire their mobile missiles quickly and then scoot out of harm’s way. Planes hunting Scuds were not, of course, pursuing other previously agreed-upon targets whose destruction had been preconditions for the ground assault.
One frequent comment with respect to DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM was surprise that Saddam Hussein did not do more to interfere with the allied buildup.72 We have already commented on the relative buildup of forces in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations and on the narrow window of opportunity wherein a preemptive ground assault by Iraqis could have worked - if at all. The abortive Iraqi thrust at Khafji on 29–31 January 1991 reinforces this point. Terrorists and commandos could perhaps have been a viable threat to the logistical buildup, but the allies had given considerable time and attention to protecting themselves against them.73 Maneuver units made a point of scattering themselves into the open desert as quickly as possible, thus presenting a poor target themselves while being able to readily target any person or vehicle approaching them.
Preemptive strikes and terrorist attacks simply do not seem to have been in the plan whereby Saddam Hussein intended to achieve his diplomatic objectives. He had presented the world with a fait accompli, and hoped he could consolidate his gains, in all or in part, without an actual fight. If he convinced the allies that the forcible liberation of Kuwait would be prohibitively costly, he could strike a favorable deal. Before the air campaign began, it served him no purpose to further provoke the allies. Indeed, he took a number of measures, to include releasing the last of some thirteen hundred western hostages, to appear conciliatory.74 After the air attacks commenced, terrorist attacks and commando raids might have made more sense, but they would have had to overcome the extraordinary efforts the Saudis - possessed of a security apparatus with
long experience in dealing with Middle Eastern terrorism - had undertaken to protect themselves and their guests, the great lengths to which the allies had gone to make themselves unattractive as targets, and the damage Iraqi command and control had already sustained. Ports, airfields, and sprawling desert encampments consciously isolated from the civilian population and swarming with armed men simply did not present an easy target. Convoys could have been more lucrative, but they too had undertaken appropriate security measures. Preemptive attacks on a larger scale, such as at Khafji, had even less chance of success and more potential for disaster. Saddam Hussein was not unreasonable in falling back on his initial diplomatic premise, that he could make the liberation of Kuwait too costly for the allies to sustain.75
DESERT STORM operational planners sought to liberate Kuwait and disable the Iraqi war machine without testing Saddam Hussein’s chilling theory, “Yours is a society that cannot accept 10,000 deaths in one battle.”76 Plans were developed and refined to avoid so costly a battle, employing the latest and best in doctrine and simulations. Allies were given missions appropriate to their capabilities and inclinations. Training and rehearsal refined unit performance. Particular emphasis went into choreographing the breaches in the Iraqi defenses that were to occur, minimizing exposure to artillery when pushing down narrow lanes in the minefields and maximizing forces available to cope with expected counterattacks. The air campaign methodically paralyzed Iraqi command, control, and logistics while attriting front-line combat assets. This presented allied ground forces with a significantly weakened adversary. On 24 February 1991, the ground war began.
DESERT STORM Executed
It is a rare event for an operational plan to play out as designed. As the famous nineteenth-century German General Helmuth von Moltke said, “no plan … extends with any degree of certainty beyond the first encounter with the main force.”77 History’s victors were often embarrassed by differences between the campaign they intended to wage and the one that actually occurred. Its vanquished, of course, seldom intended the results they achieved. As an operational plan DESERT STORM was a bit of a historical anomaly: It worked as intended. Employing the parlance of the time, the ground operational scheme consisted of a demonstration, a feint, three supporting attacks, an economy-of-force measure to isolate - guard, if you will - the battlefield, and a main attack that featured a penetration early on and in itself was an envelopment.78 Let us review the nature and success of each of these operational components in turn and then discuss how they fit into the larger whole - and why it was successful.
A demonstration is an operation wherein contact is not actually made, but sufficient force is visibly deployed to cause an adversary to allocate significant resources to meet it.79 The U.S. Navy demonstrated with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) to create the impression that an amphibious assault was imminent. Like many, the Iraqis had been exposed to Marine Corps publicity concerning its ability to wreak havoc across the shore and had believed what they heard. Conscious exposure of the 5th MEB and its preparatory activities on the Cable News Network (CNN) and through other media heightened the Iraqi sense of anxiety, as did the visible presence of naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. The Iraqis dug in four divisions along their seaward flank specifically for the purpose of defending against amphibious assault, and as many more divisions were postured in such a manner that they might quickly intercede when the marines came across the beaches. Instead, once the ground war was well under way, the 5th MEB landed behind friendly lines and became an operational reserve for the supporting attacks discussed below.80
A feint is an operation wherein rounds are actually exchanged and fighting actually occurs, but the attacking force does not commit itself decisively in such a manner that it cannot readily extract itself.81 Again, the intent is to deceive the enemy with respect to where an actual attack will occur. The 1st Cavalry Division began its ground war by attacking up the Wadi al Batin, ultimately drawing the attention of five Iraqi divisions. (See Map 18.) After exchanging shots and doing some damage, the 1st Cavalry backed out of the wadi and swung west to catch up with the VII Corps and serve as its operational reserve.82
Demonstrations and feints work best if the deception they are intended to promulgate is plausible and one the enemy is inclined to believe anyway. The Iraqis had reason to be anxious concerning their two-hundred- plus kilometer coastline, particularly since important supply routes ran along it. They also fully expected an attack up the Wadi al Batin, recognizing that that prominent terrain feature would facilitate land navigation deep into the heart of their theater. Indeed, when VII Corps did conduct its attack from the west, it came across mile after mile of vehicle defensive positions aligned precisely along the azimuth described by 240 degrees magnetic - facing in the direction of an attack up the Wadi al Batin.83 Without much effort the theater deception plan had taken 20 percent of the Iraqi in-theater force structure out of the fight. By the time the Iraqis realized their mistake and attempted to redeploy, it was too late. The 5th MEB and 1st Cavalry Division, on the other hand, were readily available for operations elsewhere.
A supporting attack is a significant offensive effort intended to destroy units or to seize terrain and facilities that are important to the overall campaign scheme.84 Supporting attacks are often timed in such a manner
as to deceive an enemy into reacting to them as if they were the main attack. They may draw forces away from the main attack and, perhaps even more important, they may lead the enemy to malposition his reserves. Since a supporting attack involves significant resources and some risk, a single supporting attack is generally preferred. DESERT STORM featured three, largely because the two divisions of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, reinforced by the Tiger Brigade of the Army’s 2d Armored Division, had lined up on the most direct approach from the elbow of Kuwait into Kuwait City. Suitable but independent missions were needed for the Arab allies to their left and right. These, the largely Saudi and Gulf Coalition Joint Forces Command–East (JFC-E) and the largely Egyptian, Syrian, and Saudi Joint Forces Command–North (JFC-N), were each assigned the mission of conducting a supporting attack as well.
The marines attacked at 0400 on 24 February with a tightly choreographed breaching effort into the Iraqi infantry defending to their front. These Iraqi units, brittle to start with, had been pummeled by air strikes and were at the farthest end of Iraq’s tenuous logistical chain. They proved no match for the methodical Marine attack. M60A1 tanks with dozer blades breached the berms, while engineer line charges and M60A1 tanks with mine plows cleared lanes through the minefields. Marine artillery readily suppressed its Iraqi counterparts, and tanks and Tube-launched, Optically tracked Wire-guided (TOW) missiles quickly picked off the relatively few T–55s and T–62s that chose to fight. By the end of the first day the I Marine Expeditionary Force had advanced thirty-two kilometers, destroying dozens of armored vehicles, capturing 10,000 Iraqis, and seizing Al Jaber Airfield south of Kuwait City. The following morning an Iraqi heavy division attempted a counterattack but was quickly beaten off. By the third day of the ground war the I Marine Expeditionary Force had isolated Kuwait City, secured Kuwait International Airport, and seized Mutla Ridge, the dominant terrain feature overlooking Kuwait City, and roads north from it. Nothing that they encountered could cope with the marines’ carefully synchronized and tightly focused supporting attack.85
The Arab allies of Joint Forces Command–East and Joint Forces Command–North paced themselves against the Marine Corps advance. They were less well equipped and supported, however, and found themselves trailing the marines on the first day. They did preoccupy substantial Iraqi units to their front, however, and as the extent of the marine penetration became clear these defending units collapsed as well. On 27 February JFC-E and JFC-N were abreast of the marines and expediently passed Saudi-led units through the marines to accomplish the liberation of Kuwait City. It seemed prudent to have those responsible for securing such a heavily populated built-up area speak the language and understand the culture of the inhabitants. With the Iraqis having fled or surrendered, this advance into Kuwait City took on a festive air.86
An economy-of-force mission, as the name implies, is an effort to accomplish a supporting purpose with a minimal investment of resources.87 In the case of DESERT STORM the supporting purpose to be served was the isolation of the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO) from the rest of Iraq. Iraqi units and logistical assets from outside the KTO were not to be admitted, nor were Iraqi forces to be allowed to escape the theater. The XVIII Airborne Corps was ideally suited for such a role. The French 6th Light Armored Division, reinforced with paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division and incorporating organic missile-firing Gazelle helicopters, had the general attributes of an American cavalry regiment. On day one of the ground war it rushed forward to seize As Salman in a spirited fight and then faced west to guard against Iraqi intrusion from that direction. At the same time the heliborne 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) flew in to seize a forward operating base 176 kilometers deep into Iraq and then leaped a brigade forward to the Euphrates River Valley the following day. From these positions, swarms of Apache and Cobra attack helicopters fanned out to intercept and terrorize Iraqi ground movement along the northerly routes into the KTO. The dangerous east flank of the XVIII Airborne Corps was carried by the formidably heavy 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. These units backstopped the French 6th Light Armored and 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Divisions until they were set, cleared the corps’ right flank to the Euphrates, and then turned east to cooperate with the VII Corps in its main attack against the Iraqi Republican Guard. Given that its heavy division in effect became part of the main attack, the XVIII Airborne Corps had in fact isolated the KTO with minimal but well-chosen force.88
The main attack was that of the awesome Anglo-American VII Corps. This massive steel fist - five heavy divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, an aviation brigade, and four artillery brigades - boasted over 146,000 soldiers and almost 50,000 vehicles. Its divisions advanced with footprints twenty-four kilometers wide by forty-eight kilometers deep. Never before had so much firepower been concentrated into such an organization, and never before had such an organization featured such extraordinary tactical mobility. The purpose of a main attack generally is to crush an enemy’s center of gravity, that asset or attribute that is most essential to their prospects for success. The Iraqi center of gravity was adjudged to be the Republican Guard, three heavy and five motorized divisions equipped and trained to the highest Iraqi standards. As formidable as the Republican Guard was, the even more superbly equipped and far more highly trained VII Corps seemed the right force to defeat them.89
The 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) breach was as methodical and even more mechanized than that of the marines farther east. Tightly synchronized teams of M1A1 dozer tanks, M1A1 mine-plow tanks, combat engineer vehicles, and accompanying engineers in armored per-
sonal carriers bored through berms, minefields, and other obstacles while overwatched by sniper tanks and supported by the preparatory fires of fourteen battalions of field artillery. The carefully derived intelligence picture hopelessly compromised the Iraqi defenders, who found their crew-served weapons pounded into oblivion even before the first American target offered itself. The entire operation was a marvel of technology and technique. In a few hours the Big Red One had cut twenty-four lanes across a sixteen-kilometer front without the loss of a single soldier. In short order the division pulled its own units through the breach and passed the U.K. 1st Armoured Division through as well.90
Meanwhile, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, and 3d Armored Division had swept around the western margin of the obstacle belt and had swung east to envelop the Iraqi defenses. Finding little opposition short of Al Busayyah, the 1st Armored Division hammered that town with preparatory artillery and then swept through it, overrunning an Iraqi division and a corps headquarters en route. Farther east, the 3d Armored Division had made contact with the Republican Guard’s Tawakalna Mechanized Division, as had the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment screening to the east of the two armored divisions. Outnumbered but engaging accurately at extended ranges, the cavalrymen soon identified the basic contours of the Republican Guard defenses - to include several regular army heavy divisions that augmented their force structure. Within hours the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions rolling in from the west and the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) and U.K. 1st Armoured Division emerging from the breach were on line facing the east to deliver the decisive blow.91
The VII Corps attack on the Republican Guard was all that an armored assault is intended to be. From horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see, redoubtable M1A1 Abrams tanks on line beetled purposely forward across the desert, alternating the crack of their main guns when they identified worthy targets with the chatter of machine guns for those of lesser import. As the tanks progressed, their crews turned the landscape in front of them ablaze with the flaming hulks of destroyed Iraqi vehicles and equipment, mirroring the devastated landscape through which they had recently passed. In the wake of the M1A1s, M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles scurried along to keep up, occasionally joining the chatter of the battle with their machine guns or disgorging infantrymen to clear a position or police up prisoners. Farther to the rear, M113 armored personnel carriers sped along with communicators, engineers, mortarmen, mechanics, and other supporting troops, accompanied by the occasional hulking M88A1 recovery vehicle capable of snatching immobile tanks from their predicaments. Even farther to the rear, generally out of sight, M109 howitzer artillerymen struggled to keep the lip of the advancing tanks under the umbrella of their supporting fires. Potential targets were
destroyed by the tankers or surrendered to the infantrymen so quickly that the artillerymen seldom had an opportunity to fire, but when they did the effects were devastating. The Republican Guard - outflanked, surprised, outranged, and in any given exchange generally outgunned - had no more chance of reversing this inexorable advance than vegetation in the path of a magma flow. Their choices were to die, surrender, or flee. Those who fled found themselves horribly exposed to the attack helicopters and close-air-support aircraft that ranged forward to intercept Iraqis the ground troops had flushed out. The decisive attack achieved decisive results; in little more than a day the VII Corps smashed the Republican Guard and accompanying regular army units in its path and swept on across northern Kuwait.92 (See Map 18.)
Americans reasonably expected to win the war with Saddam Hussein but nevertheless were surprised by the expediency of the victory and its low cost in American lives. A major fraction of that happy result can be explained by American mastery of the operational art. The operational plan we adopted was solid. A corporate product, it may not quite have demonstrated the personal genius of Alexander’s timing at Arbela, Marlboro’s poise at Blenheim, or Lee’s eye for the ground at Fredericksburg.93 The interplay between commander and staff in contemporary planning makes personal genius difficult to isolate. The DESERT STORM plan was a good piece of staff workmanship, however, and made thoughtful use of each of the operational components involved. The demonstration and the feint reinforced misperceptions the Iraqis were already inclined to believe: that an amphibious attack would occur and that the main attack would be up the Wadi al Batin. A fifth of the Iraqi force structure was neutralized by deception, whereas the demonstrating and feinting forces were restored into play elsewhere. The supporting attacks seized important objectives - Kuwait City, for example - while taking on adversaries within their means. The fact that there were three supporting attacks rather than one neatly accommodated national sensibilities without unduly straining military resources. Perhaps more important, the location of these attacks further reinforced the Iraqi conviction that the main attack was coming across the Kuwaiti border from the south and led the Iraqis to persist in malpositioning the Republican Guard - their operational reserves. The XVIII Airborne Corps neatly isolated the battlefield with forces ideally suited for guarding a lengthy frontage, and the VII Corps conducted the main attack with forces ideally suited to delivering a devastating blow. The parts of the plan came together nicely, and each unit involved was well suited to play its part.
The allied capacity for operational maneuver juxtaposed to an Iraqi incapacity to do the same. The relatively few advantages the Iraqis had - generally longer-range tube artillery, chemical stockpiles, prepared defenses and, in some cases, combat experience - had been quickly compromised. There is little evidence that the Iraqis attempted an op-
erational- level counterstroke. The few Iraqi counterattacks that did occur seem to have been local and reflexive - certainly they were unsuccessful. The air campaign had seriously degraded Iraqi command and control at all levels, further aggravating inherent leadership shortcomings. The Iraqi command style was already ponderous and set piece. The line infantry divisions were virtually incapable of operational maneuver, and only the Republican Guard had ever demonstrated a capacity for it. Unsuccessful generals tended to be shot, so daring, creativity, and risk taking were unlikely Iraqi command attributes. Iraqi expectations were not for victory in the traditional sense, but rather to defend stubbornly enough that bloodied Americans opted for a diplomatic resolution.94
The American operational plan allowed the allies to fully capitalize on important technical advantages while negating the few the Iraqis might have had. The overall scheme fell into the classic three-phase battle advocated as early as by World War I’s Sir Douglas Haig: preparatory attrition, decisive attack, and exploitation. Fortunately for the Americans, technology rendered this somewhat shopworn paradigm extraordinarily effective. Air supremacy, precision-guided munitions, deep-attack helicopters, long-range rocket artillery, and space-age intelligence assets delivered preparatory attrition unprecedented in its effectiveness. Newly introduced global positioning systems smoothly guided huge formations in a great arc through the trackless desert. The openness of the terrain in the chosen path of advance allowed M1A1 tank gunners to take full advantage of their superior range, superlative training, and phenomenal accuracy. These factors are multiplicative; when crews have twice the effective range, are twice as fast, and are three times as accurate, it is as if the odds favor them twelve to one before tactical circumstances are taken into account. This is not to mention thermal sights that rendered American crews as dangerous at night as they were in the day - unlike their night-blind Iraqi counterparts. The Americans had important technological advantages; they used them well.
The DESERT STORM operational plan was greatly facilitated by sustainment architecture that the Americans had matured through the years and brought with them into the theater. The logistical assets of the Capable Corps and the robust divisions were taxed without being overwhelmed by the rigors and distances of the desert fighting. Supplies and services proved sufficient to sustain a campaign that wreaked unprecedented destruction at an unprecedented pace.
DESERT STORM provides the intellectual inheritance of the operational art a rare thing, a plan that worked as designed. Part of the reason was the merits of the plan itself, part the capabilities and competence of those chosen to carry it out. DESERT STORM was not, however, a flawless performance. Let us next comment on some of its principal shortcomings, and then assess lessons the campaign seems to impart.
Shortcomings and Remediations
As successful an example of the operational art as DESERT STORM was, it was not flawless. Even in the midst of brilliant success, certain shortcomings became obvious: divergent pictures of the battlefield, fratricide, overwrought logistics, and differences in purpose and capability amongst coalition partners. Let us discuss each of these shortcomings in turn and then comment on the implications for the future of the operational art of postwar efforts to remediate them.
Once the ground war began in earnest and units were moving quickly and colliding with the enemy, appreciations of what was actually happening on the ground diverged. The theater headquarters in Riyadh had a different picture than that of the field-grade commanders in the directfire battle, with intermediate headquarters having their own snapshots as well.95 This was no new thing; since time immemorial battlefield confusion has been so commonplace that terms such as “the fog of war” have been invented to describe it. DESERT STORM varied on this theme given that modern technology produced an illusion of clarity that was not actually there. Space-age intelligence assets - satellite imagery, aerial photography, long-range radio intercepts, and preliminary reports speeding through advanced communications systems - convinced Riyadh that the Iraqi Army was in full flight and that a hell-for-leather pursuit was an imperative. Field-grade commanders, on the other hand, encountering their own fierce little battles, characterized the Iraqis as offering various levels of resistance depending upon whom they had fought and assumed that because of modern communications their reports were being taken into account. Whatever their intent, Iraqi communications were so severely degraded they could not have coordinated a withdrawal if they chose. The Iraqis who did fight seem to have fought back instinctively, without much evidence they were responding to any recent guidance. The field-grade commanders who met such resistance were understandably loath to rush carelessly into it.96
The most obvious operational implication of this discoordinate appreciation of the battlefield was the alleged snit between the theater commander, General Schwarzkopf, and the VII Corps commander, General Franks, over the pace of the VII Corps advance.97 Confident in his intelligence, Schwarzkopf set aside the customary usage of deferring to the commander closest to the action and with ever-increasing fervor admonished Lt. Gen. Joseph Yeosock, the Third Army commander, to have Franks pick up his pace. Franks recoiled from the idea of willy-nilly pursuit, particularly when his own subordinates suggested serious resistance was still prospective. Unfortunately, Franks’ internal information flowed in patterns not much changed since World War II - land lines, radios, operations sergeants posting maps with stickers or grease pencils, and
hurried huddles amongst commanders draping maps across the hoods of vehicles - whereas the operational tempo was considerably advanced over that of World War II. Franks had a reasonable feel for what was happening, but with all his tactical headquarters in some state of degradation due to continuous movement, he could never articulate this appreciation with the elegant precision that would have convinced Riyadh. Fortunately for the lives of many soldiers, Franks followed his instincts and met the Republican Guard with the irresistible onslaught of four divisions on line previously described. Postwar analysis determined that virtually all the Republican Guard tanks had been destroyed by ground fire; they had been ready for a fight until they were hit with overwhelming force.98
A near comedic example of the divergence of battlefield pictures involved an incident at Safwan Airfield. Schwarzkopf wanted Safwan controlled. Franks assumed control meant precluding retreat through it and put attack helicopters on the mission. Schwarzkopf subsequently deliberated with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell concerning the best location to accept the surrender of and stipulate terms to the Iraqis. The two four-star generals decided upon Safwan: inside the Iraqi border but allegedly controlled by Americans. It came as a post– cease-fire shock to VII Corps that Schwarzkopf wanted a media-worthy elaboration of tents, traffic controls, press support, and other facilities thrown up overnight on an airfield the Iraqis still occupied. With a bit of a wink at the terms of the cease-fire, Franks dispatched a heavy brigade to bloodlessly bully the Iraqis off of the airfield, and the show went on.99
Most battlefield confusion was not so amusing. Like wars before it, the Gulf War featured the horrors and agonies of fratricide. There is no reason to believe “blue-on-blue” engagements were more frequent during DESERT STORM than in earlier wars, and considerable evidence to suggest that they were less costly.100 The low number of casualties overall made them far more noticeable, however, as did the forensic evidence left when American-made depleted uranium was in the lethal rounds.101 Of ninety-six American combat dead, twenty-one were attributed to fratricide.102 Indeed, virtually every brigade-size unit that found itself involved in serious intermingled combat with the Iraqis experienced blue-on-blue engagements, although not all of them were fatal.103
The traditional ingredients of fratricide - battlefield confusion, limited visibility, high-tempo, fluid operations, intermingled friend and foe, and mistaken target identity - were all present during DESERT STORM. In addition, weapons were accurate at much greater ranges than they had ever been before, and the capability to reliably engage distant targets had outpaced the ability to reliably identify them. This proved particularly true at night, when an M1A1 crew, for example, could accurately engage a thermal hot spot at two thousand meters but would be hard put to distinguish the actual features of a target at a quarter of that distance. The
power of suggestion being as potent as it is, crews perpetrating fratricide seem to have “seen” enemy vehicles in shapes that would have been indistinct blobs under normal circumstances.104
In previous wars fratricide had generally been a tactical rather than an operational issue, often adjudged as an unfortunate cost of doing business.105 DESERT STORM commanders, less tolerant of such casualties, went to elaborate lengths to preclude them. By the fourth day of the ground campaign, with units stung by fratricides that had nevertheless occurred, restrictions accumulated to render fire and movement - even at the operational level - far more cautious, methodical, and tentative than it had been in the first few days. One battalion commander spoke of clearing all fires personally, for example, and an officer in a different unit reported taking an hour to get clearance to fire at a unit that was firing at him.106 Fortunately, this gingerly behavior occurred in the face of an enemy that was already defeated.
Another source of impedence in the closing hours of the ground war was a deteriorating logistical situation. At the battalion level, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies moved on the capable and relatively nimble HEMTT, a modern vehicle with outsized wheels, ample clearance, and good off-road performance. In the open desert, it readily kept up with the tanks. The vehicles designated to replenish the HEMTTs, however, were far less mobile. The 5,000-gallon tankers of the forward support battalion were road bound and awkward, as were most of the vehicles in the echelons of combat service support above it. M1A1 tanks were extremely fuel consumptive. Theoretically, they could achieve a 300-mile range on 500 gallons of fuel, but in practice they traveled perhaps half as far.107 Their powerful turbine engines consumed about as much fuel idling as on the move, and engines needed to be kept idling to support the power requirements of their highly sophisticated sights, fire controls, hydraulics, and communications. Other armored vehicles consumed less fuel than the M1A1 but nevertheless put enormous demands upon the supply system. Indeed, a heavy division could easily require 500,000 gallons of fuel to conduct a day of offensive operations.108
Logistical planners identify constraints that operational planners are wise to acknowledge. No tanker, for example, wants to be low on fuel in the presence of the enemy. As a rule of thumb, sustaining vehicles half-full or more on fuel during a movement-to-contact precludes that possibility. In a DESERT STORM American heavy division this imperative dictated a rotation of fuel truckers forward and back as HEMTTs that refueled combat vehicles cycled to the rear to refill from the 5,000-gallon tankers of the support battalion and then returned, often passing newly emptied HEMTTs on their way back. The 5,000-gallon tankers in turn had to rotate even farther to the rear to replenish themselves from established stocks. Given the fuel consumption of the M1A1 and the working
mechanics of truck capacities and rotations, the mathematics of fuel replenishment worked out to be a fuel stop every seventy kilometers - or about every four hours if progressing steadily in a linear formation at twelve miles an hour. A well-drilled task force can defend itself and nevertheless refuel in about fifteen minutes with two full fuel HEMTTs per company on hand.109
During the first several days of the ground war the carefully rehearsed refueling procedures smoothly supported the ground advance. Time and again American formations swept away Iraqi defenders so completely that the HEMTTs could follow closely upon the tanks without undue risk. During the climactic struggle with the Republican Guard, American units, in some cases after an advance of 150 kilometers, were at a logistical peak. Newly refueled M1A1s moved adroitly and speedily overran their adversaries - without fuel concerns affecting the pace of their maneuver. When Iraqi resistance collapsed and advance shaded into exploitation, however, fuel supplies became problematic. The road-bound 5,000-gallon tankers of the support battalions simply could not keep in supporting distance of the nimble HEMTTs traveling with the battalion task forces, and the logistical tether defined by the refueling return journeys stretched to the breaking point. In some cases a 150-kilometer gap separated the task forces from the convoys intended to refuel them. This distance not only greatly increased turnaround time for the cycling HEMTTs, but it also greatly increased the risk of hostile encounter or navigational error as miniature columns of HEMTTs, normally following a HMMWV with a radio and a GPS but without such equipment themselves, threaded their way back across the messy battlefield left in the wake of the tanks. It was not uncommon to encounter armed Iraqis who had not yet surrendered– some of whom still had fight left in them–and even less uncommon to risk flawed navigation as newly refueled HEMTTs rushed back through dust and darkness to intercept their steadily advancing task forces. One support platoon, for example, overshot its moving target and found itself between the advancing vanguard of M1A1s and the retreating Iraqis. Fortunately, the Iraqis were too committed to flight to take advantage of this situation, and alert M1A1 gunners recognized the HEMTTs rolling along in front of them for what they were. There nevertheless were tense moments as frantic task-force communicators jumped from one radio net to another trying to reestablish communications with this errant platoon.110
The operational result of this overly stretched fuel tether was that the allied advance had reached something of a culminating point by the hundredth hour of the ground war. Postwar critics made much of an allegation that the war ended too soon.111 Perhaps, but a day or two more would not have made a significant difference. It would have taken that long to get M1A1s that were “running on fumes” by the time of the ceasefire back into a robust and sustainable fuel posture. This is not to men-
tion the physical fatigue of soldiers who had been rolling for four days and the encumbrance upon speedy engagement caused by hastily minted precautions against fratricide. Ironically, other traditional ingredients of a Clausewitzian culminating point - casualties, ammunition shortages, maintenance attrition, and dwindling water supplies and rations - did not apply at this point in the Gulf War. Indeed, these factors reflected hardly any degradation at all.112
The integration of allies into the overall operational scheme was another feature of the campaign reflecting uneven performance. The U.K. 1st Armoured Division meshed fairly seamlessly into the VII Corps. The elaboration of doctrine, planning, rehearsal, and execution necessary for interoperability had ample precedent in the nearly continuous combined NATO training the two nations had participated in since 1949. The Americans found the British accents, diet, and support vehicles curious without being problematic. Indeed, British battalions stationed in Germany had long-standing partnerships with American counterparts, making it almost inevitable that Tommy’s traditional irreverence for authority would slop over onto American soldiers. A case in point was a cheeky lance corporal returned from a forward reconnaissance who counseled an American battalion commander to make haste with debarkation because he was uncertain whether the Saudi Desert had room enough for the overbuilt American truck fleet and morale facilities.113
Integrating the French into the XVIII Airborne Corps was more difficult, with language being less of a problem than the lack of mutual training experience. France was a member of the NATO political structure without being a member of the NATO military structure. French soldiers had good reputations in combat and actual operations but were far less likely to have participated in the combined training NATO officers valued as a prelude. Doctrine, equipment, organization, and ways of doing business were different from that of other NATO allies. That having been said, American and French officers and soldiers nevertheless established a useful rapport at the working level, and the French emerged as valuable members of the XVIII Airborne Corps team.114
The Americans’ integration with their Arab allies was not possible to the degree achieved with the British and French. Of the Arabs, only the Egyptians had conducted serious ground tactical training with the Americans, and that in the tightly choreographed and highly photogenic Bright Star Exercises over a number of years in Egypt.115 Military-to-military relationships with other Arab nations had ranged from modest to hostile insofar as troop training was concerned, although there had been a considerable participation of Arab officers in American schools and of American officers in military assistance programs. The Syrians, Egyptians, and several others deployed Soviet-designed equipment that would have been virtually impossible to distinguish in combat from that of the
Iraqis, and the specter of Israeli participation was a constant source of anxiety to those most mindful of Arab-American goodwill and cohesiveness. The best that could be done with respect to ground integration was to negotiate workable lines of authority among the Arab allies, grouping them into the two joint task forces with their own sectors carefully defined and providing them with considerable autonomy in conducting missions complementary to but separate from the efforts of the western allies. Arab forces moved through the Americans, such as in the case of the liberation of Kuwait City, only after the most careful coordination. These constraints were not as rigorously felt in the air or at sea, wherein there were fewer moving parts, the equipment in use was western, the pilots and skippers spoke in or responded to English, and protocols for integration had been previously rehearsed.116
Following the Gulf War, America and its allies sought to remedy the shortcomings demonstrated during DESERT STORM. Significant investments in sensor information technology and a related process labeled digitization promised to improve upon the shared battlefield picture. Such advanced communications could guarantee that information available to platoons was simultaneously available at theater level and vice versa. Continuing experience with this hardware and software has clearly established that revolutionary means now exist to penetrate the fog of war. This progress is somewhat dampened by the following concerns:
Opinions vary, depending on whether one sees war as more science or art.117
One particularly promising aspect of advanced communications and information technology is its potential to radically reduce fratricide. If friendly positions are known by the virtue of a matrix of sensors and transponders generating visual displays accessible to all, the likelihood of blue-on-blue engagements theoretically could be driven to zero. This has worked out favorably in test environments, but not yet in training environments. Equipment malfunctions have been part of the problem, as has the fact that units drawn from different commands, components, or nations are seldom equivalently equipped. Digitization holds the greatest promise with respect to reducing fratricide in circumstances wherein those directing a strike can reasonably oversee a tactical display of unit or vehicle locations while doing so. Misplaced artillery and air strikes, tra-
ditionally the most appalling sources of fratricide, could become a thing of the past. However, visual tactical displays are of little use to the tank gunner or apache pilot sorting out intermingled friend and foe in direct-fire engagements. Only through-sight cues can prevent terrible mistakes on a messy battlefield wherein the separation of forces is measured in mils on an aiming reticle rather than in meters on a map. The fielded through-sight capability to separate friend from foe has not advanced since the Gulf War.118
The logistical tether - most specifically, the fuel tether - of American heavy forces has also received considerable attention since the Gulf War. The most promising advances have been with respect to the appetite of the fuel-guzzling M1A1 tank. Improvements include an auxiliary power unit that allows radios and turret to operate without the main engine running and externally mounted bladders that provide a supplemental fuel-carrying capability.119 Significant advances have also been made with respect to fuel standardization, tactical fuel-handling equipment, and transmodal movement of fuel supplies.120 Research initiatives that have not yet had practical effect stress the development of more fuel-efficient engines and the development of lighter, yet equally effective armor.121 The dramatic differences in off-road mobility between fuel HEMTTs accompanying battalion task forces and the higher-echelon vehicles intended to refuel them remain, virtually guaranteeing that the logistical tether may be improved but will not be abolished as long as tanks are the decisive instrument of ground combat.
With respect to training with allies and potential allies, progress has been made - albeit not as much as one might hope in the Middle East. The Kuwaitis train seriously and consistently with American units. A brigade set of equipment is permanently on hand in their desert nation, and American task forces rotate through to train on it - and with their Kuwaiti colleagues - on a near continuous basis.122 Similar brigade sets are now positioned in Qatar and Bahrain as well, albeit with less routine training. The Bright Star training with the Egyptians has evolved to yield considerably more promise of practical wartime combined operations, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations guarantee a steady flow of American technical experts to them and of their students into American schools. Unfortunately, the Saudis and Jordanians are unreceptive to the idea of an American troop presence on their soil consistent enough to sustain effective combined training, and the Syrians have gravitated back into a posture of hostility toward such an idea.123 It seems feasible to suggest integrating Kuwaitis and Egyptians on a modest scale into an American-led operational force, but an operation on the scale of DESERT SHIELD or DESERT STORM would probably require a return to the bifurcated command arrangements of the Gulf War. The prospects for effective combined operations with the traditional NATO allies remain
promising. It is true that budget cuts and force downsizing have reduced the numbers, scale of, and opportunities for combined training, but this degradation seems more than offset by the practical experience of working together in the actual conduct of operations in the Balkans.124 This is not to mention the broader maturation of the NATO Alliance as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have joined and many other nations participate through Partnership for Peace.125
In summary, the major operational shortcomings of DESERT STORM have been recognized and progress made with respect to them - without, however, the shortcomings’ having been fully resolved. Battlefield digitization seems likely to guarantee a shared picture of the battlefield in “real time” and to radically reduce the fog of war. This shared picture remains vulnerable to inaccurate initial information, spoofing, the uneven distributions of relevant information technology, and human limits in the pace of decision making. Digitization’s shared picture should allow units to reduce fratricide - radically in the case of artillery and air strikes, less so in the case of tanks and other direct-fire weapons. The logistical tether imposed by fuel resupply has lengthened by the virtue of initiatives to expend less; but difficulties remain in moving resupply vehicles forward through tactical terrain. Combined operations with allies are increasingly a part of our practical repertoire without, however, yet being broadly enough applied in the Middle East to represent much change since the Gulf War. What is a change is that Americans can have a heavy brigade on the ground in Kuwait in days rather than weeks, and in concert with the Kuwaiti Army can preclude an easy Iraqi fait accompli such as that of August 1990.
Taken together, DESERT STORM and DESERT SHIELD represented considerable advance in the American appreciation of the operational art. Wedded to an overall post-Vietnam renaissance in American military capabilities was a specific articulation of the operational art in doctrinal literature, the proliferation of middle-grade officers educated in its use, simulations-driven training exercises forcing evermore realistic training circumstances on operational leaders, enhanced weapons and communications technology, and the evolution of corps and division structures capable of successfully participating at the operational level of war. During DESERT SHIELD operational planners deployed a force that kept pace with the Iraqi buildup, offering Saddam Hussein little prospect of a successful seizure of the Saudi oilfields and no prospect of a painless one. During DESERT STORM the arms and services operated together with an unprecedented virtuosity that smashed a theretofore formidable opponent in a brief time - with astonishingly few casualties. One would be hard put to
imagine a more effective demonstration of joint and combined operations than that turned in to liberate Kuwait.
The above having been said, such proficiencies are perishable. Were we now presented with another opponent as formidable as Iraq was then, could we cope as handily? Post–Cold War downsizing has slashed American ground forces by a third. It would obviously be more problematic to field the seven active Army divisions of DESERT STORM out of the year 2002 inventory of ten than it was to field them out of the 1990 inventory of sixteen. Perhaps more important, focus has drifted away from warfare at the operational level, driven by the twin engines of operations other than war and year-2002-vintage defense transformation. Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Afghanistan have all been important operations; they have also been operations wherein the smallness of scale on the ground and the fluidity between the tactical and the strategic have been so extreme that an operational level of activity has never emerged. Transformation as it seems to be playing out within the Department of Defense emphasizes technology and the tactical applications of technology with relatively less thought to maneuvering units in the mass. Force structure is understandably easier to justify with the operational tempo of present requirements than with the anticipated demands of future ones.
Historically, American officers have lagged in their appreciation of the operational art for at least three reasons. First, they were too busy with frontier, constabulary, and imperial police functions to give much thought to subjects they considered esoteric. Second, they never had a peacetime force structure large enough to experience practical training beyond the tactical level. Third, they thought they would have ample time to mobilize in the face of a truly formidable adversary - and would acquire the intellectual skills necessary to fight one while doing so. The 1970s and 1980s, following upon the operational myopia of the New Look and the paramilitary and tactical preoccupations of Vietnam, represented a unique departure from this pattern. Given our post–DESERT STORM spate of constabulary responsibilities, radical armed forces downsizing, and cost cutting, as well as the reluctance to contemplate a near-peer adversary, are we reverting to our original habits? Where is the major headquarters that drives its officers to contemplate and rehearse an operational plan from the highest-ranking general through the lowest-ranking lieutenant - as did EUCOM and USAREUR at their Cold War pinnacles?
In fairness to our ancestors, it must be pointed out that after paying an initial price in blood, they became reasonably adept at the operational art - even if they never conceptualized it as such. The Vicksburg Campaign, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the Normandy Breakout all offer useful lessons in campaign execution - as do many other battles Americans have fought on similar scale. American leaders proved creative enough to quickly overcome their shortcomings, in part because
they were educated men who read widely enough to profit from experiences other than their own and in part because they had been exposed to the working mechanics of planning and execution in the Army school system. Contributing to such possible creativity is, after all, the purpose of this collection of readings - in keeping with the historian’s responsibility to be the memory of institutions that might otherwise forget. It seems unlikely that in the near term we will be able to overcome the forces driving us away from 1991 levels of proficiency in the operational art. We hope the combination of professional reading habits, school instruction, creative use of simulations, and the innate adaptability of our officers and soldiers will enable us to again master the operational art quickly enough when our next occasion to use it comes. If so, the results at that time will resemble the relative bloodlessness of DESERT STORM rather than the bloodshed of Kasserine Pass.
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