How America Crushed Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War
United Nations forces were able to quickly take out the Iraqi military in just 100 hours.
During the Gulf War thirty years ago, a massive U.S. air attack eliminated Iraqi aircraft, air defenses and large portions of its command-and-control infrastructure, paving the way for a large-scale ground invasion which ultimately liberated Kuwait.
The 100-hour ground war was both effective and successful due to the air war and the use of tactical deception. U.S. amphibious forces had been practicing maneuvers demonstrating shore attacks along the Kuwaiti coastline as a way to give the Iraqis the impression that that is how they would attack.
“The Iraqis saw these amphibious maneuvers because that is what we wanted them to see,” Gulf War A-10 pilot, now retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, (former) Director of Requirements for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, told The National Interest in an interesting anniversary special interview in 2016 at the 25th Anniversary of the Gulf War.
After relying upon deceptive amphibious assault training drills, the actual ground invasion included the famous “left hook” maneuver, wherein U.S. coalition forces attacked much further inland and were able to quickly advance with few casualties through thinner Iraqi defenses.
However, there were some famous tank battles in the open desert during the ground attack, wherein U.S. Army Abrams tanks fought against Iraqi Army T-72s. U.S. Army tanks destroyed large numbers or Iraqi tanks and fighting positions—in part because advanced thermal infrared imagers inside U.S. Army M1 Abrams battle tanks enabled crews to detect the signature of Iraqi tanks without needing ambient light. These tank battle victories, therefore, were in part simply defined by sensors and range, as U.S. tanks could target, fire upon and destroy Iraqi tanks without being seen.
Although this gave U.S. forces an advantage—as the Army was overwhelmingly victorious in Desert Storm tank battles—there were some tough engagements such as the Battle of Medina Ridge between the Army’s 1st Armored Division and Iraqi Republican Guard forces. In retrospect, those tank battles came to be known as both historic and defining, and it would not seem completely surprising to see how they may have inspired subsequent technical enhancements to the Abrams tank, which include the addition of newer kinds of long-range, high-resolution Forward Looking Infrared sensors. This kind of C4ISR dynamic aligns with other key elements of Gulf War successes to include the advent of certain kinds of GPS-precision targeting, force tracking technology and, perhaps most of all, the combat debut of stealth in the form of the F-117 Night Hawk.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.