Strategic Air Power in Desert Storm

By Finn, Chris | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Strategic Air Power in Desert Storm


Finn, Chris, Air & Space Power Journal


Strategic Air Power in Desert Storm by John Andreas Olsen. Frank Cass (http://www.frankcass.com), Taylor & Francis Group, 11 New Fetter Lane, London, EC4P 4EE, United Kingdom, 2003, 256 pages, $36.95 (softcover).

The debate as to whether offensive air power armed with conventional weapons can, independently of land or maritime operations, achieve strategic effect is as old as the application of air power itself. The first phase of the debate started with the creation of the Royal Air Force's Independent Force in 1918 and culminated in the arguments about the effectiveness of the combined bomber offensive against Germany and the strategic bombing offensive against Japan in World War II. For the next 45 years of the Cold War, strategic was synonymous with nuclear. However, all this was to change in the autumn of 1990 with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Operation Desert Storm in early 1991 to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty. Whilst a number of books have been written on the use of air power in Desert Storm, not the least being the authoritative Gulf War Air Power Survey, all have concentrated on the war or the air campaign as a whole. In addition, all characterised the strategic air campaign as being against the leadership, power generation, fuel and lubricants production, transportation infrastructure, and target sets of the Iraqi Integrated Air Defense System. What is different about John Olsen's treatment of the subject is that he concentrates only on the genuinely strategic aspects of the air campaignthat is, those attacks that tended to induce "strategic paralysis" on the regime and, to a lesser extent, on the counter-Scud operations.

In chapter 1, Olsen looks at the political and air power doctrinal background, explaining the primacy of the air/land doctrine within the US tactical air forces. Chapter 2, "The Genesis of the Strategic Air Campaign Plan," is also, to some extent, a scene-setter as it covers the philosophical differences between the standpoints of the author of the Instant Thunder plan, Col John A. Warden, who saw air power as providing a war-winning and indeed regime-toppling capability, and those of Gen H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who in August 1990 only wanted a retaliatory option, and his air component commander, Gen Charles A. Horner, who saw the forthcoming air war primarily in terms of providing support to the inevitable land battle. Chapter 3 covers the evolution of the strategic air campaign plan, from the production of the Instant Thunder plan in August 1990 through its evolution into phase one of a much broader campaign plan that was finally executed the following year. …

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