Cyrus, I can somewhat see where you are going but I think you may still be hedging a bet that in the next conflict, the air power will “get them bad guys”. I agree that, yes air power did a good bit. They hit a lot of deep targets within Iraq, they quite possibly demoralized forces and they knocked out 40%, (according to Press) of Iraq’s armored forces.
But Cyrus, your giving air power too much credit. Let’s take a closer look on air power’s effectiveness.
First, there were clear indications that air power’s strategy of decapitation for six weeks prior to major ground operations did not accomplish its goal. This goal, the death of Iraqi leadership and/or the complete breakdown of Iraqi military communications, command and control. We know that key leadership made it out unscathed. Press clearly shows that the Iraqi’s were able to mount a retreat and additionally reposition defensive forces to meet the Coalition left hook. Even over a six week period we must begin to question the value spent in launching sorties, both in time spent and dollar cost, as compared to launching ground forces forward. It could be argued that the air campaign had reached its likely full potential over that six weeks and more time would not necessarily lead to much more progress.
Second, Press explains that many of the forward positioned stocks of supplies (XVIII Corps finds) and the defensively positioned armor of Iraqi forces were largely undisturbed by air power (Amazingly even in open desert!). Majority of the Iraqi armored forces eliminated were on the move, in retreat, on open road. Kind of reminds us of the similar experience we recently had in Afghanistan. Stephen Biddle provides us the vivid examples of a small, small area where concentrated air power still rendered not nearly the destructive effectiveness they sold us on. Imaging taking that air power and diluting it over a much larger theater of Iraq and Kuwait!
Third, if air power failed in any of its missions overall it was the mission to protect the land forces’ penetrating advance through the enemy lines. Robert Pape is clear that this is where air power can earn its money in Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War. Pape predicts just what Press shows, air power is less effective against defensive forces. Pape goes further and says that air power should be used to protect the flanks of an attacking force by concentrating its firepower against the repositioning defensive forces maneuvering to meet the attacker. Air power missed this completely in the first engagement in the Gulf. The attacking forces ended up eliminating this counterattacking force itself. What if the Iraqi’s were armed with better armor? What if they had longer ranged fire power? I bet we may not be gloating over the small number of soldiers killed in that conflict now if the Iraqi’s were better equipped. It is clear that air power failed miserably in neutralizing that counterattack and covering the attacking force’s flank.
Cyrus, I’m baffled too. Maybe it was intelligence that failed to point the airpower in the right direction. Maybe it was that they were occupied on other targets. I don’t know. But I know that, had our ground forces not been better equipped, I think they would have had a tough and bloody slog through that attack and that air power, or lack thereof, would be shouldering a large blame for it.
Try this on Cyrus, for an interesting read: