Desert Storm’s Lessons for Today and the Future

The coalition victory over Iraqi forces in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm was a watershed moment for joint military operations in the modern era, and though today’s conflicts may appear different in scope and scale, there are many lessons to apply, Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF (Ret.) and Col. John Warden, USAF (Ret.) observed at a panel discussion Sept. 19 at ASC16. Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, served as the principal attack planner for the Desert Storm air campaign, and said modern military expectations were completely revamped in the aftermath of the war. The success of the air campaign revealed how precise airpower could be and informed higher expectations about casualties in a conflict as a result. Desert Storm also showed how a joint coalition air campaign could be commanded and controlled and how effects were more important than attriting forces. These lessons could be better applied today, Deptula said. Target vetting by some estimates takes betwe?en 45-60 days in Operation Inherent Resolve, a process nearly as long as the entire Desert Storm campaign, he noted. The US must be better at fighting smarter, Warden echoed, and attack enemies as if they were living systems—which require inputs such as power, food, supply, and other elements. Warden, the airpower theorist who led the creation of the attack plan for Desert Storm, noted ISIS only seems different in character than the Iraqi military of 1991. But it is still a system, he noted, and as such is prone to “systemic paralysis” no different than Saddam Hussein’s forces were 25 years ago.