By Ms. Kari Hawkins (AMCOM)January 13, 2016
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For the U.S., Operation Desert Storm was a war won before it ever started.
With nearly six months of coalition build-up leading to the beginning of the war on Jan. 17, 1991, the U.S. and its allies developed a logistical strategy that set the stage for success. The U.S. placed the right missile, aviation and troop support systems in the right locations to defend its allies and their resources, and the war became a showcase of U.S. military strength.
Missile systems were at the heart of that strength, and the Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., the forerunner to the Aviation and Missile Command, led much of the logistical strategy. Twenty-five years later, the lessons learned through MICOM operations in support of Operation Desert Storm are still very much part of the technology, engineering and logistics related to the nation's missile systems.
"Before Jan. 17, MICOM had been at war for about six months during Operation Desert Shield, supporting the movement of troops into Saudi along the southern border of Iraq," said Jim Flinn, who served as director of MICOM's Missile Logistics Center at the time.
"We supported Patriot missile systems moving into Israel to encourage them to stay out of any conflict, which might break the U.S. coalition that included several Arab states. We moved MLRS, TOW, Hellfire and other combat missiles and rockets into the theater to prepare for eventual ground combat. By January 1991, support to all the U.S. and our Allied Forces in Israel, Turkey and Saudi was pretty much in place, logistics units and MICOM personnel were on the ground, logistics lines of communications and materiel flow were open. And, then we waited."
The difficult logistics work coordinated by MICOM and Redstone Arsenal during Operation Desert Shield gave the U.S. a winning hand in the war, said George Williams, who, as the senior executive service leader of the Program Executive Office for Tactical Missiles, was part of the MICOM team.
"By the time Operation Desert Storm started, we either had the systems there or we didn't. Our missiles we're in place and ready to go, and we were all anticipating the war," he said.
But, even as that six-month build-up defined the end result of Operation Desert Storm, it also set the course for the U.S. as it continued to develop an even stronger military.
We proved the technology. The systems we had developed worked and worked extremely well," said retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet, who led the Program Executive Office of Air Defense at Redstone.
"Operation Desert Storm put us on a path for advanced weaponry and new developments. It showed us we were on the right path, that missile defense was a reality and that we were capable of hitting a missile with a missile. What we did in 1991 led to the foundation of THAAD (Terminal high Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles using a hit-to-kill approach), and the belief in THAAD and ballistic missile defense."
Prior to Operation Desert Storm, ballistic missile defense was an unproven concept in war. Operation Desert Storm was indeed the first war where U.S. advanced missile technology was put to the test and it was proven that ballistic missile defense (a bullet hitting a bullet) was possible. It was also the largest military alliance since World War II, with the U.S.-led coalition of 34 nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdome and Egypt as leading contributors in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
It was the first war to introduce live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the U.S. network CNN; and was nicknamed Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.
"The Vietnam War was the living room war. People would come home every day from work and watch Vietnam on the news in their living rooms. Operation Desert Storm was the instantaneous war because you could watch it in real time," said Russ Rodgers, AMCOM's historian.
It was also the first war where the Global Positioning System was used to track and direct coalition troops through the desert. Other firsts for the U.S. -- time to train in the desert while Soldiers waited for war and instantaneous support once the war started from both the MICOM logistics assistance representatives stationed with troops to the employees back home at MICOM, Williams said.
"There was not too much to supply because we had all those months to prepare," he said. "This was the first war where we had satellite telegrams. So, commanders could just pick up the phone and call us and tell us what they needed. When they called for something, we were there to supply it. We were really responsive."
Williams also pointed out that this was the first war where GPS was used, and it made a great difference in keeping U.S. troops from getting lost in the desert.
"We overwhelmed them. The Iraqis didn't even understand the technology we were using," he said. "Saddam Hussein thought we would get lost in the desert. Instead, we took a left hook and ended up behind them. Another thing working in our favor was the speed we could move. The Iraqis were not prepared for the amount of speed and our situational awareness."
Although the war was a first for Patriot, many of the weapon systems deployed -- such as TOW, Hawk and Hellfire -- had already been used to some degree, Rodgers said.
"Operation Desert Storm became much like a test laboratory for us to use our missile systems in combat," he said. "And using missile systems in combination with armor, infantry and helicopters was absolutely deadly. Hellfire missiles on Apaches in the air and tanks below was a great combination that couldn't get beat. This was the first time we saw that kind of integration."
During the preparation for war, Drolet recalled the can-do hurry up nature of the work environment at MICOM and throughout Team Redstone leading up to Jan. 17, 1991.
"There was anxiety, anticipation and a certain degree of confidence," he said. "We didn't know when we would go from build-up to offense. We had deployed Stinger and Avenger and Patriot, and everyone was waiting to see what would happen to Patriot.
"There was a whole mix of feelings and a range of emotions as the war started. But, steadfast through the whole thing was a commitment to support the forces where they were and whatever they were doing. There was the normal give and take stress of battle. But it was a great capable team led by MICOM. We knew the systems, we understood the systems and we knew how to implement the technology. We had a whole team that was functioning very effectively and providing great support to Soldiers and to the battlefield. There was a lot of confidence developed during that time that's still in our Army today."
Throughout the months leading up to Operation Desert Storm, the Patriot missile system was deployed through the Southwest Asia region, with engagements of the system occurring almost daily.
"That helped us monitor how well the system was doing and allowed us to discover things that needed to be fixed or changed before we went to war," Drolet said.
"During those months, the legal community and the contracting community were probably the most responsive I ever saw them. It was a total team effort to make sure deployed forces were getting the equipment they needed and the supplies they needed. It was really commendable for all of Redstone Arsenal."
In addition to its anti-aircraft mission, Patriot was assigned to shoot down incoming Iraqi Scuds or short range ballistic missiles launched at Israel and Saudi Arabia. The first combat use of Patriot occurred Jan. 18, 1991, and Patriot engaged more than 40 hostile ballistic missiles during the war.
"There were some peculiar things with some of the flight paths of the Scuds that we were not anticipating," Drolet said. "But the system was adaptable and it adjusted very well. The whole community of air defense was involved and committed, and we were able to analyze very quickly and then respond. All of the team, including contractor Raytheon, came together very well."
Virtually every one of the Army's fielded missile systems managed and supported at Redstone Arsenal was sent to Southwest Asia, according to the AMCOM historian. Three general types of missiles were deployed: air defense (Avenger, Chaparral, Stinger, Hawk and Patriot); anti-armor (Dragon, TOW (tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided), Hellfire and Shillelagh; and artillery (Hydra-70, MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) and the Army TACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). Of these systems Patriot, Dragon, Hellfire, Hydra-70, MLRS, TOW and the Army TACMS were fired in combat. MICOM also supported other systems such as the Ground/Vehicle Laser Locator Designator, the Mast Mounted Sight, the M-901 Improved TOW Vehicle, the Forward Area Alerting Radar, and various night sights that provided coalition forces with a night-fighting capability not available to the opposing Iraqi army. In all, 24 different systems supported by MICOM were deployed in Operation Desert Storm.
"Every Soldier wanted their equipment to work and to function, and there was a whole network of people behind the scenes making that happen. Gen. (Norman) Schwarzkopf, Gen. (Colin) Powell and other leaders in the Army had a great appreciation of what a difference missile systems made in the war effort," Drolet said.