Academic journal article McNair Papers

3. Moving the Force in Desert Storm

Academic journal article McNair Papers

3. Moving the Force in Desert Storm

Article excerpt

I can't give credit enough to the logisticians and the transporters who were able to pull this off.

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf February 27, 1991, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Pre-hostility estimates suggested that a potential adversary's armor columns could reach defensive positions near the Saudi Arabian port at Al-Jubayl in just 4 weeks (19 days of pre-hostility buildup and 9 more days of movement to reach the objective). (1) To counter this threat, planners calculated that adequate forces would take at least 17 weeks to deploy--too late to defend Saudi Arabia, much less deter aggression. (2)

The Army's lead elements launched their deployment to Saudi Arabia on August 7 (designated as C-day, for the first day of deployment). This began Phase I of the fastest buildup and movement of combat power across the greatest distances in history. (3) Distances were immense--7,000 airlift miles and 8,700 sealift miles from the east coast of the United States. During that first deployment phase, which lasted from August 7 until November 8, the United States moved about 1,000 aircraft, 60 Navy ships, 250,000 tons of supplies and equipment, and 240,000 military personnel to the Gulf. (4) By historical contrast, the United States airlifted 168,400 to Vietnam in 1965, during the most intense 1-year buildup of that conflict. (5) In the first month of the Korean Conflict, America sealifted 79,965 tons of equipment and cargo. (6) We moved over 2 1/2 times that amount--300,000 tons--during those first 30 days of the Gulf War]

While impressive in gross terms, these numbers conceal that it took over 1 1/2 months to get the first full heavy division, the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), in place. Nearly (7) months passed before a sustainable force, capable of offensive operations, was fully positioned, in large part because of transport limitations. (8) Hardly rapid!

On the other side of the coin was the success story- of the afloat pre-positioning ships--particularly those of the Marine Corps' Maritime Pre-positioning Squadrons (MPS) that were completely outfitted with two Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEB). Each squadron contains 30 days of supplies and equipment for a MEB of about 16,500 Marines. To deploy the Marines and marry them up with an MPS requires 249 C-141 sorties. Amazingly, it would take about 4,500 sorties to deploy a force of that size without the MPS ships. Arriving just 10 days after call-up, this was our most responsive means of delivering necessary supplies and equipment in the first days of Desert Shield. (9) The MPS ships took less than hall: the time to deliver their cargoes than if transported directly from the United States.


The massive amount of cargo and people to be moved to any theater in war requires an automated systems approach to plan and execute deployment. The purpose of the strategic planning process is to produce a scheme that will effectively project the right blend of combat and support forces to a theater of operations--in time. Joint planners incrementally synchronize the movement of forces because there isn't enough transport to move them all simultaneously. Terminal ports would be deluged unless this phasing were accomplished.

Running computer simulations of the transportation requirements (forces and cargo that must be moved, and the time line for their arrival), and capabilities (strategic lift assets allocated and available) produces the sort of information that allows automation to manage deployments more simply. If the simulations identify a transportation shortfall, planners devise ways to eliminate bottlenecks or redesign the plan to fit the limitations. Ultimately, they determine if forces will arrive on time and if support can be furnished.

Because the Saudi Arabian defense plan was not yet finalized, much of the deployment data had not yet been automated, so the deployment execution system was not brought on line as intended. …

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