HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

The Approaching Storm

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --

Starting next week and continuing through February, Malmstrom is recognizing the 30th Anniversary of Operation DESERT STORM or the Persian Gulf War (I).  DESERT STORM marks the first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of stealth and space systems support capabilities against a modern, integrated air defense. While we often recognize key historical dates surrounding U.S. and Air Force heritage, it is rare that we get to observe an entire conflict in one campaign.

On August 2, 1990, 100,000 Iraqi troops invaded oil-rich Kuwait. At the time, Iraq’s Army was the fourth largest in the world. Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, claimed Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province. The next day, President George H.W. Bush would announce that the U.S. was sending Navy ships to the Persian Gulf. Four days after the invasion, the United Nations authorized economic sanctions against Iraq and President Bush authorized the deployment of U.S. military forces to defend Saudi Arabia in what would be known as Operation DESERT SHIELD.  Air Force C-141 and C-5 transports delivered the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as the initial ground force. By mid-September, UK and French allies began deploying troops to Saudi Arabia.

The DESERT SHIELD airlift was so immense, it eclipsed the Berlin Airlift as the greatest air deployment in history.  From August 7 – November 8 it carried defensive forces into theater and from November 9 – January 1991 delivered counteroffensive forces. The numbers were impressive—7 thousand miles, 20,500 strategic airlift missions, 534,000 personnel and 542,000 tons of cargo.

Of note to those following the development of the U.S. Space Force, The Persian Gulf war represented the first major employment of space support capabilities. Coalition air, ground, and naval forces were greatly aided and made more combat lethal due to employment of space technology. In addition to using more than 60 military satellites, the forces used commercial and civil sector systems as well. Space-based satellites supported weather operations, early warning of SCUD launches, global communications, and navigation in the combat-debut of the Global Positioning System. Many historians call Desert Storm “the first space war” due to extensive use of space-based capabilities in military operations. Space is no longer a benign environment. It is a warfighting domain that is increasingly competitive, congested, and contested.

The U.S. Congress would authorize the use of military force on January 12, 1991. DESERT SHIELD became DESRT STORM at 1:00 a.m. on January 17, 1991 when three Air Force MH-53J Pave Low special operations helicopters led nine Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters on the first strike mission. Within hours the 2,700 aircraft from 14 nations which comprised the Central Command Air Forces overwhelmed Iraqi air defenses. In the initial phase of the air campaign, the Air Force used an arsenal of more than 30 aircraft types flying more than 69,000 sorties to propel the Air Force to gain and maintain control of the air domain. In what was the longest combat mission, seven B-52Gs flew non-stop from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to strike Iraqi power stations and communication facilities using Air Launched Cruise Missiles. The round trip was 35 hours and covered 14,000 miles.

The first week of the air campaign was focused on attaining air supremacy and striking Iraqi command and control facilities. U.S. forces brought new weapons to the fight, including stealth aircraft, global positioning system devices, and precision guided technologies – these proved essential in neutralizing Iraq’s more than 700 combat aircraft, sophisticated air defense, and anti-aircraft artillery pieces. Subsequent weeks were devoted to reducing enemy combat power and interdicting supplies setting the conditions for the success of the ground campaign February 24-28. Ultimately, coalition aircraft flew 118,661 sorties in the 44-day air campaign, of which the Air Force flew about 60 percent. The direct contributions of a strategic air campaign, supported by the employment of revolutionary technology by Total Force Airmen, Guardians and the Coalition, enabled battlefield success. The Air Force’s post-Vietnam investments in emerging technologies was critical to the successful air campaign in Iraq.

Malmstrom played a role in the success of the air campaign as well.  How does an ICBM base do that?  Well, in addition to the usual individual augmentee deployments, Malmstrom was home to the 301st Air Refueling Wing. By August 30, less than a month into Operation DESERT SHIELD, the wing provided three KC-135R stratotankers to the 1702nd Air Refueling Squadron (Provisional), part of the 1702nd Air Refueling Wing (provisional), 7th Air Division. The wing was headquartered at Seeb International Airport in Muscat, Oman.

President Bush announced that Kuwait had been liberated on February 27, 1991, and that offensive operations would cease on February 28, 1991 at 4:00 a.m. Operation DESERT STORM unofficially ended on March 1, 1991 with the cease-fire plan negotiated in Safwan, Iraq, and would officially end with the signing of armistice by the coalition forces and the Iraqi army on April 11, 1991. It would take another seven months for all the Iraqi-started Kuwaiti oil field fires to be extinguished.

“People reference Desert Storm as the first space war,” said General John W. “Jay” Raymond, in a 2017 Popular Mechanics story. “It really was the first time that we took strategic space information and integrated it into a theater of operations…Going through a desert, at night, without roads and maps – it was all enabled by GPS.”

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.