In addition to the JTFME surface combatants, the United States routinely maintained an aircraft carrier battle group (CVBG) in the Indian Ocean (Figure VII-2) This battle group was tethered to the Persian Gulf region, requiring it to be in a position ready to respond to a crisis within a designated time period to support the National Command Authorities. As the Middle East political climate changed, this tether was shortened when tensions rose and lengthened during periods of stability
The eight forward-deployed JTFME ships in the Persian Gulf, along with the USS Independence (CV 62) CVBG in the Indian Ocean and the USS D. D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) CVBG in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, were the only sustainable US combat forces nearby when Iraq invaded Kuwait. By 7 August, the Independence and Eisenhower battle groups (and embarked air wings) were operating under Commander-in-Chief, Central Command (CINCCENT) control. Eventually, the Persian Gulf conflict brought together the largest naval force assembled in a single theater since World War II.
This chapter first discusses the importance of sea control in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and then reviews the planning and execution of Operation Desert Storm's maritime campaign, which was conducted to support the theater campaign. In this report, the maritime campaign is addressed by warfare area: antisurface warfare (ASUW), antiair warfare (AAW), countermine warfare, naval gunfire support (NGFS), and amphibious warfare. Each naval warfare area generally presents the specific Iraqi capabilities, followed by a discussion of Coalition capabilities in that area, and then a chronological description of significant operations. Also included is a discussion of the role US submarines played in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This chapter concludes with a maritime campaign summary followed by an observations section that lists significant accomplishments, shortcomings, and issues. (Chapter IV discusses Maritime Interception Operations (M10) and Chapter VI discusses naval aviation's contributions to the air campaign.)
The Importance of Sea Control
As the Coalition formed and plans were developed to restore the
independence of Kuwait, the Navy set about classic naval missions -
sea control and power projection. During the Persian Gulf conflict,
the United States deployed more than 165 ships, including six carrier
battle groups with embarked air wings, to the Persian Gulf, Arabian,
Red, and eastern Mediterranean Seas. Other Coalition nations deployed
more than 65 ships to Southwest Asia (SWA). As a result, the
Coalition's control of the seas was never in question and naval forces
made significant contributions to operations against Iraq.
Sea control allowed the Coalition to isolate Iraq from outside support. Maritime Interception Operations cut off Iraqi trade. In addition, sea control assured the free use of the sea lines of communication for the deployment of Coalition forces. Sealift carried 95 percent of the cargo required for Operations Desert Shield and Storm. As demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq War, mines, missile-firing patrol boats, antiship-missile-firing aircraft, and land-based antiship missile systems were capable of damaging and disrupting seaborne commerce. Without control of the sea and the airspace over it, that cargo would have been at risk, slowing the deployment of forces and support equipment, threatening US ability to charter foreign merchant vessels, and substantially increasing shipping costs. Because Coalition naval forces controlled the seas, this sealift effort was never challenged.
Control of the seas also permitted carrier battle groups to make maximum use of their mobility. Mobility is one of the carrier battle group's greater advantages. The America CVBG, initially used during the Strategic Air Campaign against targets in western Iraq, moved from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf in early February. This redeployment reinforced the Persian Gulf battle force's participation in tactical operations against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Similarly, repositioning the Persian Gulf battle force to operating areas farther north reduced the range to targets, thereby increasing the sortie rate of aircraft flying from those carriers. Mobility also made it possible to diversify attack axes against Iraq (from the Red Sea, GCC states, and the Persian Gulf), and provided the Coalition aircraft operating bases out of range of Iraq's short-range ballistic missile and chemical warfare threats.
Establishing control over the Persian Gulf also prevented Iraq from mounting small-scale surprise attacks against the coastlines of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. During the Iran-Iraq War, both sides demonstrated the ability to attack both ships in the Persian Gulf and coastal facilities. Thus, Coalition naval forces were required to maintain constant vigilance against attacks from Iraq and Iran. At the same time, naval forces in the Persian Gulf added depth to the air defenses protecting Gulf states and the right flank of Coalition forces.
Finally, establishing sea control in the Gulf was an essential prerequisite to any amphibious operations against the Iraqi left flank in Kuwait. Although an amphibious assault never occurred, preparations for such an assault were part of the theater campaign's deception. The threat of amphibious attack induced the Iraqis to fortify the coast, diverting manpower and material from the area of the Coalition's actual assault.
The maritime campaign highlighted the crucial importance of the ability to:
NAVCENT Operation Desert Storm Command Organization
As plans were developed for offensive operations, additional strike
forces were deployed to the theater to augment forces already in
place. This deployment of additional forces permitted Naval Forces
Component, Central Command (NAVCENT) to restructure the command
organization and form two carrier battle forces. Ultimately, six CVBGs
were merged into these battle forces. Initially, the USS Midway (CV
41), USS Ranger(CV 61), and USS Theodore R. Roosevelt (CV 71) battle
groups comprised the Persian Gulf Battle Force, with Commander,
Carrier Group (COMCARGRU) 5 aboard USS Midway as battle force
commander. The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and
USS America battle groups formed the Red Sea Battle Force, with
COMCARGRU 2 aboard USS John F. Kennedy as commander. In February, USS
America joined the Persian Gulf battle force to provide more strike
assets to support the anticipated ground offensive.
In addition to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf battle forces, NAVCENT controlled other task forces (Figure VII-3). The Commander, Middle East Force (CMEF) maintained operational control of the extensive US Maritime Interception Force, as well as the US mine countermeasure (MCM) forces and the Middle East Force surface combatant squadron in the Persian Gulf. The amphibious task force (ATF), which included the Marine Corps (USMC) landing force embarked in amphibious ships, also was under NAVCENT control. During some operations, NAVCENT controlled the surface combatants and submarines in the Mediterranean Strike Group. NAVCENT also coordinated with the Navy's Atlantic, European, and Pacific fleets, which provided various forms of support (e.g., logistics, communications, intelligence, and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) assets) to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
During Operation Desert Storm, NAVCENT exercised overall control of all warfare areas at sea, with Navy air strikes against occupied Kuwait conducted under the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) concept. NAVCENT assigned sea control and strike warfare tasks to his battle force commanders. Amphibious warfare tasks were assigned to the Commander, Amphibious Task Force (CATF) and the Commander, Landing Force (CLF) which comprised the ATF. NAVCENT's naval forces at sea implemented command and control (C2), for the most part, through the Navy's standardized Composite Warfare Commander (CWC) concept. This concept embodies a basic organizational structure, which enables the CWCs (who were the battle force and task force commanders during Operation Desert Storm) to wage combat operations against air, surface, and subsurface threats to accomplish primary missions (such as sea control, strike warfare, or amphibious operations). During Operation Desert Storm, NAVCENT assigned missions to the battle force and task force CWCs, who planned and directed the execution of those missions.
To conduct combat operations, the CWC designates subordinate warfare commanders within his command organization (Figure VII-4), who are responsible to the CWC for conducting strike warfare, AAW, ASUW, and antisubmarine warfare (ASW). (ASW was not used in Operation Desert Storm). The warfare commanders are responsible for collecting, evaluating, and disseminating tactical information; executing assigned missions; and, at the CWC's discretion, are delegated authority to respond to threats. A wide range of options exist for the delegation of command authority to the warfare commanders. Regardless of the amount of authority delegated, the CWC always retains the option to overrule his subordinate commanders' decisions, if required.
The Maritime Campaign Plan
The key pedestals of CINCCENT's theater campaign plan were the air
campaign, the ground campaign, and an amphibious invasion, which
evolved into part of the theater campaign's deception. In addition to
supporting the air campaign, NAVCENT's other primary objective was
developing and maintaining this amphibious invasion capability. Even
though an amphibious invasion did not occur, the amphibious invasion
threat had to be credible to induce Iraq to commit a substantial part
of its military forces to defending against this threat. In addition
to maintaining a well trained ATF, conducting amphibious operations
first required extensive efforts in ASUW, mine countermeasures (MCM),
and NGFS. Along with the amphibious invasion, NAVCENT was responsible
for defending the coastlines of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain,
Oman and the adjoining maritime areas. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq
had demonstrated capabilities that could threaten Coalition ports,
such as Ad-Dammam and Al-Jubayl, as well as Coalition naval forces
operating in the Gulf.
To support CINCCENT's theater campaign plan, NAVCENT's major tasks during Operation Desert Storm phases I and II (Strategic Air Campaign and Establishment of Air Superiority over the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO)) were:
To accomplish these tasks, NAVCENT assigned the following primary missions to his battle force commanders in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea:
Antisurface Warfare (ASUW)
ASUW played an important role in the liberation of Kuwait. While
Coalition naval forces continued M10, the Navy, with assistance from
the British Royal Navy, the Kuwaiti Navy, and the Royal Saudi Naval
Force (RSNF) destroyed the Iraqi Navy. By using an aggressive and
offensive ASUW concept during Operation Desert Storm, Coalition naval
forces found and destroyed Iraqi naval vessels significantly beyond
the range of enemy antiship missiles.
The Iraqi Threat
The Iraqi Navy and Air Force antiship capabilities posed a threat to
Coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The principal Iraqi port
facilities and naval bases from which surface combatants could operate
were concentrated near Al-Basrah, along the banks of the Shatt
Al-'Arab, Iraq's only outlet to the Persian Gulf. Iraq also had the
potential to use Kuwaiti ports and facilities, as well as several oil
platforms in the northern Persian Gulf, as bases for small boat
operations (Figure VII-6).
During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi F-1s conducted successful long range attacks against southern Persian Gulf shipping. In the Persian Gulf conflict, the principal Iraqi naval strength was its ability to conduct small scale, small boat operations, including missile attacks, mine warfare, and terrorist attacks against shipping in the northern Persian Gulf. The 13 Iraqi missile boats posed another lethal threat to Coalition naval forces and shipping. Iraq's missile boat inventory consisted of seven ex-Soviet Osa missile boats carrying Styx missiles (maximum range of 42 mile-s), five captured Kuwaiti TNC-45 and one FPB-57 missile boats carrying Exocet missiles (maximum range of 96 miles). This ASUW capability was used successfully during the Iran-Iraq War against at least one Iranian combatant and several merchant ships in the northern Persian Gulf. The rest of the approximately 165 Iraqi naval vessels were mostly small patrol boats, supplemented by minelaying boats and other specialized craft, such as hovercraft, Polnocny class amphibious tank landing ships, and auxiliary ships. The Iraqi Navy also operated one frigate, but this vessel historically had been used as a training ship and was not assessed as a serious threat.
To minimize casualties, destruction of the Iraqi surface threat was considered a prerequisite for moving the carrier battle force in the Gulf farther north to bring naval air power closer to targets and to prepare for amphibious operations. Iraqi surface threats also had to be eliminated to allow US and United Kingdom (UK) minesweepers and minehunting ships unimpeded access into enemy waters to clear lanes through the Iraqi minefields for amphibious operations or for NGFS. Other high-priority ASUW targets included land-based Silkworm antiship cruise missile batteries (using an active seeker with a 68-mile range), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and aircraft capable of launching air-to-surface missiles. At the beginning of the conflict, Iraq had approximately 50 Silkworm missiles and seven launchers.
ASUW Command and Control
The battle force ASUW commander was tasked with neutralizing Iraqi
naval forces in the northern Persian Gulf, as well as defending
Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf and the GCC states' coastlines.
Ensuring adequate surveillance for offensive ASUW, fleet defense, and
coastal defense operations was a crucial concern of the Persian Gulf
battle force ASUW commander. Continuous coverage of the surface vessel
traffic in the entire Gulf was required and 24-mile exclusion zones
for Iraqi combatants were established around each carrier and combat
logistics force operating area.
At first, ASUW operations were directed by Commander, Destroyer Squadron (COMDESRON) 15 aboard USS Midway. In accordance with the maritime campaign plan, the ASUW commander set out the following objectives:
The ASUW commander appointed several subordinate ASUW commanders to control specific operating areas and carry out these objectives. In the northern Persian Gulf, ASUW operations were directed by COMDESRON 35 embarked in USS Leftwich (DD 984), while the Commanding Officer of USS Wisconsin (BB 64) controlled the south/central Persian Gulf operating areas. A Canadian naval commander was assigned as the subordinate ASUW commander for the underway replenishment area and was responsible for protecting Coalition combat logistics ships.
After USS Ranger's arrival in the Persian Gulf on 15 January, responsibility for ASUW in the Persian Gulf shifted on 21 January to COMCARGRU 7, embarked in USS Ranger. COMCARGRU 7 adopted a more aggressive plan to eliminate the Iraqi naval threat as quickly as possible. To reflect this new offensive ASUW strategy, the ASUW objectives were changed to:
COMCARGRU 7 continued to use local ASUW commanders, but modified the command structure and operating areas. COMDESRON 7, embarked in USS P. F. Foster (DD 964), became the northern Persian Gulf local ASUW commander and was primarily responsible for conducting offensive operations against Iraqi naval forces. The Commanding Officer of USS Ranger was the south/central Persian Gulf local ASUW commander and was tasked to provide fleet defense of the Coalition naval forces. The Canadian naval force commander remained in control of the underway replenishment area.
Coalition ASUW Capabilities
Assets used in ASUW operations included carrier-based aircraft
(A-6E, F/A-18, F-14, and S-3A/B), maritime patrol aircraft (P-3C and
British Nimrod), ground-based Coalition combat air patrol (CAP)
aircraft (e.q., Canadian CF-18), helicopters (Navy SH-60B, British
Lynx, and Army OH-58D), and Coalition surface combatants. The
following section briefly describes these ASUW assets. Some assets,
such as MPA and helicopters, were under the ASUW commander's control.
Other assets, such as strike fighter, and E-2C airborne early warning
(AEW) aircraft, also were used by other warfare commanders, who
coordinated the use of these limited resources.
To increase the emphasis of offensive ASUW, the Persian Gulf battle force ASUW commander began ASR and armed scout missions on 21 January. Carrier-based A-6 and F/A-18 aircraft were used in ASR missions to search for and engage Iraqi surface vessels. However, since A-6s and F/A-1 8s also were the primary Navy strike aircraft used in the air campaign, ASR sorties were limited. S-3 aircraft conducted armed scout missions in the central Gulf and provided surveillance when maritime patrol aircraft were unable to support ASUW operations. S-3 aircraft actually engaged Iraqi naval forces twice during Operation Desert Storm and destroyed one enemy patrol boat. F-14 aircraft were not specifically launched for ASUW missions, but occasionally supported ASUW engagements when not engaged during CAP missions.
Surface surveillance in the northern Gulf was maintained by maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) - US P-3C from Masirah, and UK Nimrod aircraft from Seeb. These aircraft patrolled specified search areas near the aircraft carriers and surface ships. P-3C and Nimrod aircraft, which normally have a primary ASW mission provided over-the-horizon (OTH) detection of targets. The aircraft then were able to prioritize surface contacts so Coalition aircraft could evaluate them efficiently. MPA also directed ASR aircraft to targets, and provided battle damage assessments (BDA) About 66 percent of all ASUW engagements were supported by MPA, primarily in the open Gulf south of Bubiyan Island. Engagements north of Bubiyan Island usually were initiated by ASR aircraft against targets of opportunity.
The ASUW commander also used ground-based Coalition aircraft, such as Canadian CF-18s, assigned to CAP duties over the Persian Gulf, to engage Iraqi naval vessels. Their use depended on AAW mission priorities, aircraft availability, and whether the CAP was within range of Iraqi surface combatants.
Helicopters were used extensively for ASUW operations. The battle force ASUW commander normally had two to five British Lynx, 10 to 23 SH-60Bs, and four OH-58Ds available for ASUW operations. The primary ASUW missions for the helicopters operating in the northern Persian Gulf were mine surveillance, surface surveillance and tracking, oil slick reconnaissance, and offensive ASUW engagements.
Mine surveillance was a primary helicopter mission until 23 January. Visual surveillance was conducted over Coalition ship operating areas. Between 24 January and 4 February, the primary mission of northern Gulf helicopters shifted to surface search, surveillance, and tracking of Iraqi naval combatants. The helicopters were instructed to find and interdict Iraqi patrol boats and minelayers, search oil platforms for evidence of Iraqi military activity, and conduct quick reaction engagements against Iraqi surface vessels.
Coalition helicopters operating in the northern Persian Gulf participated extensively in offensive ASUW engagements. These offensive operations most commonly used a tactic which took advantage of the SH-60B's superior electronic surveillance measures and radar capability and the British Lynx's radar-guided missile capability. The OH-58Ds were used primarily against armed oil platforms and land targets.
Oil slick reconnaissance (i.e., monitoring the spread of oil spills caused by Iraq's environmental terrorism) became the highest priority for northern Gulf helicopters beginning 5 February. Helicopters were required to record on videotape the affected oil terminals and the extent of sea contamination. This mission was conducted to help contain the spreading oil slick, to report on the oil flow situation, and to document Iraq's use of oil as an act of environmental terrorism.
In addition to the US and the GCC states' navies, surface combatants from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK) participated in ASUW operations. Only US, UK, Kuwaiti, and Saudi surface combatants were involved in offensive ASUW operations against the Iraqi Navy. The GCC navies patrolled their coastal waters and defended Coalition facilities near shore against possible surprise attacks by Iraqi special forces operating from small boats. Other Coalition surface combatants provided fleet defense and protected the aircraft carriers and combat logistics forces. For example, France placed one frigate under US operational control on 15 February to carry out escort missions for the Coalition's combat logistics ships; however it was not authorized to engage in offensive operations.
Destruction of the Iraqi Navy
The first ASUW strike occurred on 18 January when strike aircraft
from USS Ranger and USS Midway engaged and damaged two Iraqi gunboats,
including an unconfirmed TNC-45 class missile boat, as well as a
Sawahil class service craft supporting Iraqi forces operating from oil
Also on 18 January, several strike aircraft flying over the northern Gulf reported taking fire from Iraqi forces on oil platforms in the Ad-Dawrah offshore oil field, about 40 miles off of the Kuwaiti coast. The field's 11 oil rigs were along approach and departure routes used by Coalition aircraft to strike targets in Iraq Nine platforms were believed to be occupied by Iraqi troops, who also were using them to spy on Coalition ship and aircraft movements. USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and embarked OH-58Ds, scouted the oil field and identified targets. That night, within range of Iraqi Silkworm missiles and near Iraqi combatant ships and aircraft armed with Exocet antiship missiles, USS Nicholas and the Kuwaiti fast attack craft Istiqlal (P5702) conducted the first surface engagement of the war. Masked by darkness and emitting no electronic transmissions, USS Nicholas approached the platforms from the south. Over the horizon, the helicopter pilots, wearing night-vision devices, readied air-to-surface missiles. Flying low, the OH-58Ds, along with a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter and USS Nicholas' SH-60B, reached the targets -two platforms believed to be heavily armed and out of range of USS Nicholas' 76-mm gun. The OH-58D and Lynx helicopters attacked the platform with guided missiles. As an ammunition stockpile on the platform exploded, six Iraqi soldiers attempted to escape by using a Zodiac rubber boat. Istiqlal later captured them.
Soon after the helicopter attack, USS Nicholas and Istiqlal shelled nine of the 11 armed platforms to destroy remaining fortifications. The Coalition forces then picked up 23 Iraqis and landed a SEAL platoon on the platforms. Upon inspection, caches of shoulder-fired SAMs and a long range radio were discovered. The operation successfully removed a SAM threat to Coalition air forces, destroyed Iraqi surveillance posts, and captured the first enemy prisoners of war (EPWs) in Operation Desert Storm.
In an attempt to isolate Iraqi naval combatants in the northern Persian Gulf from the port facilities and naval bases at Al-Basrah, Az-Zubayr, and Umm Qasr (and to prevent more Iraqi vessels from leaving these bases), a mining operation was conducted 18 January at the mouth of the Khawr Az-Zubayr river. The entrance to this river is on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border northwest of Bubiyan Island. Iraqi naval vessels which used this waterway were mostly fast patrol boats similar in size to a Soviet Osa class patrol boat. The mission involved 18 aircraft from USS Ranger, including four A-6s carrying Mark 36 Destructor mines. Forty-two of the 48 mines were successfully dropped on four separate locations. Six mines on one aircraft failed to release and the aircraft diverted to Shaikh Isa, Bahrain, to download the ordnance before returning to USS Ranger. One A-6 was shot down during the mission. Because no BDA was available, it was not possible to determine the effectiveness of the mining.
On the night of 22 January, a P-3C detected and tracked an Iraqi tanker carrying a hovercraft. The Iraqi merchant vessel had been conducting electronic warfare operations and was thought to be supporting small boats operating in the area. It also was suspected of carrying refined fuel, which could be used to ignite a crude oil spill. A-6s from USS Midway attacked the tanker as the hovercraft launched from the ship and took cover near the Mina Al-Bakr oil terminal. An A-6 then flushed the hovercraft away from the oil terminal and sank it with Rockeye cluster bombs.
After these initial actions in the northern Gulf and the capture of the Ad-Dawrah oil platforms, the pace of ASUW operations accelerated. On 24 January, A-6s from USS Theodore R. Roosevelt destroyed an Iraqi minelayer and another patrol boat. Also on 24 January, the Saudi Arabian patrol boat Faisal (517) launched a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile against a reported Iraqi utility craft with unknown results. Near Qaruh Island, a second enemy minelayer, attempting to evade an A-6E, sank after hitting one of its own mines.
Around noon on 24 January, OH-58Ds operating from USS Curts (FFG 38) attempted to rescue 22 Iraqis from the minelayer sunk near Qaruh Island. As the helicopters assisted the survivors, Iraqi forces on the island fired on the helicopters. The helicopters returned fire, and USS Curts maneuvered closer to the island and attacked the positions with 76-mm guns, beginning a six-hour operation to retake the first parcel of Kuwaiti territory. SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 landed on Qaruh aboard helicopters from USS Leftwich. With USS Nicholas and USS Curts covering the island, the SEALs reclaimed the island and raised the Kuwaiti flag. The Coalition forces captured 67 EPWs during the battle and obtained intelligence about Iraqi minefields in the area.
"The high point for me was when I saw the Kuwaiti flag flying over its own territory."
- Commanding Officer, USS Curts
On 29 January, Royal Air Force Jaguars detected 15 Iraqi fast patrol boats attempting to move from Ras Al-Qul'ayah to Mina Al-Saud as part of an apparent combined operation to attack the port of Ras Al-Khafji. Lynx helicopters from HMS Gloucester(D 96), Cardiff(D 108), and Brazen (F 91) located and engaged the Iraqi boats with Sea Skua missiles, leaving two sunk or damaged, and scattered the rest of the flotilla. Coalition aircraft then sank or severely damaged 10 more of the 15 small boats.
On the night of 29 January, a moonless night with restricted visibility caused by weather and oil fires, an A-6E on an armed surface reconnaissance mission located four suspicious vessels south of Al-Faw Peninsula. With their lights out, the vessels were headed toward Iranian coastal waters. The antisurface warfare commander assigned tactical control of the A-6 to an E-2C, which was in the area on an early warning mission. The vessels were identified as patrol boats, but their nationality could not be determined immediately. Several navies operated small boats in the northern Gulf so suspected enemy vessels had to be identified positively before they could be engaged. Time was crucial to prevent Iraqi vessels from escaping to Iran, but fire from friendly forces, or an international incident involving Iran, had to be prevented.
Using available intelligence, the E-2C positively identified the vessels as hostile and authorized the A-6 to attack. The A-6 dropped a 500-lb laser-guided bomb (LGB) and guided it to a direct hit on the leading vessel. The other Iraqi boats scattered, but the A-6 continued to attack, dropping another bomb on a second boat. The second direct hit destroyed the superstructure and caused the boat to go dead in the water. Meanwhile the E-2C located an F/A-18 to assist in the attack and directed it to the targets. The A-6E teamed with the F/A-18 to guide a 500-lb LGB dropped by the F/A-18 to a direct hit on the third boat. By this time both aircraft had expended their ordnance and the fourth Iraqi patrol boat continued its escape to Iran.
The E-2C contacted fighter control which released two Canadian CF-18 on CAP that had just completed refueling from a tanker. The E-2C assumed tactical control of the Canadian aircraft and directed them to the last gunboat. Since the CF-18s were configured for a combat air patrol mission, they did not have any bombs, but attacked the Iraqi gunboat with strafing runs using 20-mm guns. Three Iraqi patrol boats were found capsized (a FPB-53, FPB-70, and a TNC-45). The fourth Iraqi vessel, an Osa patrol boat, later was located in an Iranian port with substantial strafing damage to its superstructure.
On 31 January, Coalition helicopters captured 20 EPWs on the Mina Al-Bakr oil platform after the Iraqis fled a sinking Iraqi Polnocny class amphibious ship, which had been laying mines when Coalition aircraft attacked. During that operation, a Lynx helicopter severely damaged an Iraqi TNC-45 combatant attempting to prevent the capture.
"With the burning Polnocny combatant only a mile away, the EPWs were searched and hoisted aboard the helos. Each helo picked up 10 EPWs with the mission completed well after dark. "
- Pilot, HS-12, CVW-5, USS Midway
On 16 February, an SH-60B helicopter from USS P. F. Foster located an Iraqi patrol boat operating with an Iraqi merchant ship and directed the Kuwaiti patrol boat Istiqlal to the target. Istiqlal fired an Exocet missile and its 76-mm 9 unagainst the patrol boat, causing an explosion and unknown damage.
ASUW forces also attacked land-based Silkworm antiship missile sites, which threatened Coalition naval forces. On 18 February, USS Jarrett's (FFG 33) SH-60B directed two OH-58Ds to a suspected Silkworm missile site on Faylaka Island. The OH-58Ds fired Hellfire missiles and reportedly destroyed a launcher.
On 20 February, the crew of a Navy S-3 aircraft from USS T. R. Roosevelt, but under the tactical control of USS Valley Forge (CG 50) engaged and destroyed an Iraqi gunboat with three 500-lb bombs, becoming the first S-3 crew to sink a hostile surface vessel in combat.
"We could identify the speed boat between Bubiyan Island and Iran. As the two Mk 82 500-lb bombs came off the aircraft, I quickly broke left and pumped out several flares in our defense. We realized that we had become the first Viking crew to sink a surface boat in combat."
- Pilot, VS-24, CVW-8,
USS Theodore Roosevelt
Antiair Warfare (AAW)
The limited reaction times caused by the relatively short distances
between Iraqi airfields and Coalition naval forces made it necessary
to rely primarily on airborne, forward-positioned CAPs instead of
deck-launched or ground-launched interceptors. Although both the Red
Sea battle force and Persian gulf battle force conducted AAW
operations during Operation Desert Storm, this discussion focuses
primarily on Persian Gulf operations. The relatively constrained
Persian Gulf airspace resulted in using CAP aircraft in small, fixed
operating areas. This geographical limit and the requirement for
positive target identification before engagement prevented the use of
standard fleet air defense tactics, including long-range indication
and warning, layered air and SAM defenses, and beyond-visual-range
engagements. Instead, fixed CAP stations were established in the
central and northern Persian Gulf; these stations were manned 24 hours
a day and were designed to respond quickly to an Iraqi air raid.
The Iraqi Threat
The Coalition's AAW operations in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf were
influenced by the Iraqi antiship capabilities. During the Iran-lraq
War, Iraqi aircraft had used coordinated long-range antiship missile
attacks with in-flight refueling. Furthermore, during Operation Desert
Shield, Iraq practiced its antiship tactics in several large-scale
exercises over Iraq and the northern Persian Gulf. Iraq had four types
of airborne antiship-capable platforms. Each of the 32 strike-capable
F-1 aircraft could fire two Exocet missiles. Iraq's four B-6D
long-range bomber aircraft carried air-launched Silkworm missiles.
However, these Chinese-made bombers were not deemed a significant
threat because of their large size, slow speed, and ineffective
navigatlon equipment. Iraq also had 25 Su-24s, capable of carrying the
AS-7, 9, and 14 air-to-surface missiles, rockets, and laser-guided and
general purpose bombs. The Su-24 also had the potential to use a
sophisticated electronic countermeasure system. The French-built Super
Frelon helicopter could launch two Exocet missiles and had been used
by Iraq during the Iran-lraq War in an antiship role before the F-1
AAW Command and Control
Since cruisers had trained and performed routinely in the role of
Battle Force AAW commander, Aegis and New Threat Upgrade (NTU)
cruisers were selected as AAW commanders in both the Red Sea and
Persian Gulf. USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS Worden (CG 18)
alternated as AAW commander in the Persian Gulf. The AAW commander's
primary mission was to establish and maintain air superiority over the
Persian Gulf. To accomplish this mission, the following objectives
Day-to-day AAW command and control were concerned mostly with the tasks of air control and deconfliction. Air controllers kept track of hundreds of aircraft entering the Red Sea and the northern Persian Gulf every day, including transiting Coalition strike aircraft, CAP, airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, tankers, ASUW aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters, and special mission aircraft. Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf shared AAW information over a high frequency radio data link. This Persian Gulf data link was interfaced with a larger, theater-wide data link, which included airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft and ground-based Coalition air defense sites.
"Bunker Hill's control of more than 65,000 combat sorties with zero blue-on-blue [friendly] engagements is a benchmark I doubt will ever be exceeded."
- US Naval Surface Group
Western Pacific Commander
Coalition AAW Capabilities
AAW detection requirements in the Persian Gulf were particularly
complex and demanding. Substantial numbers of ships were dedicated
partially or totally to AAW responsibilities. For example, on 15
February, excluding the four aircraft carriers operating in the Gulf,
21 surface combatants, including six Aegis and three NTU cruisers and
12 US, UK, Australian, Spanish, and Italian destroyers and frigates,
were under the AAW commander's control for AAW defense of Coalition
naval forces. In addition to providing complete AAW surveillance,
radar picket ships controlled hundreds of aircraft and helicopters in
multiple warfare missions. For example, during the amphibious exercise
Imminent Thunder, USS Bunker Hill's Aegis combat system, operated by
well-trained shipboard air controllers, safely controlled more than 40
aircraft operating simultaneously in the amphibious objective area.
AAW ships also controlled Coalition CAP aircraft over the Persian Gulf
and Red Sea.
The E-2C, an all-weather, carrier-based AEW and command and control aircraft, provided AEW coverage, some CAP control, and relayed communications for CVBGs in the northern and central Persian Gulf. At least one E-2C was kept airborne continuously during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Of the approximately 18,120 sorties flown by carrier-based aircraft during Operation Desert Storm, about 21 percent were devoted to defensive counter air missions. Of these, 67 percent were flown by F-14s and 33 percent were flown by F/A-18s. Canadian CF-18 squadrons played an important role by manning one of the northern Persian Gulf CAP stations continuously from early October until the start of the war and then supplementing those stations through the end of hostilities.
Despite some degradation in performance because of weather and near-land operations, the complementary capabilities of the air search radars in NTU and Aegis cruisers, and the E-2 AEW aircraft provided complete coverage of air contacts in the Persian Gulf. (Since the E-2C was designed for open ocean operations, the aircraft's radar system experienced expected reductions in detection because of land clutter and weather effects. This limitation required the extensive use of surface platforms to ensure optimum airspace radar surveillance.)
Significant Persian Gulf AAW Operations
The only attempted airborne attack mounted by Iraqi aircraft against
the Coalition occurred on 24 January. Two Iraqi F-1s, on a mission
against the oil production facility and port in Ad-Dammam, Saudi
Arabia, departed Iraqi airspace flying just to seaward of the Kuwaiti
coastline, the boundary between the USAF AWACS and fleet air defense
responsibilities. The AWACS aircraft directed four Saudi F-15s toward
the incoming Iraqi F-1s and a Saudi pilot successfully shot down the
two F-1s, thus thwarting the Iraqi attack before missiles were
launched (see Appendix I for more detail).
Only one actual antiair engagement against Iraqi missiles occurred during the hostilities. On 24 February, USS Missouri (BB 63), escorted by USS Jarrett and HMS Gloucester, approached within 10 miles of the Kuwaiti coast to provide naval gunfire support (NGFS) to advancing Coalition troops. As the battleship fired 16-inch guns in the early morning of 25 February, 10 USMC helicopters from USS Okinawa (LPH 3), along with the amphibious landing ship USS Portland (LSD 37), conducted a night heliborne amphibious feint near the Kuwaiti port of Ash Shuaybah.
Iraqis manning the Kuwait Silkworm missile sites reacted to the amphibious feint by firing two antiship missiles towards the USS Missouri and her escorts. The first missile landed between USS Missouri and USS Jarrett, possibly deceived by chaff fired by the two ships. The second missile was detected on radar by HMS Gloucester leaving the coastline 21 miles to the west and heading for USS Missouri. HMS Gloucester's crew identified the contact as a Silkworm missile, evaluated it as a direct threat to Coalition warships, and fired two Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles, which destroyed it.
The Silkworm activity then was reported to an E-2C, which assumed responsibility for coordinating an attack on the missile site. Using several intelligence assets, including an EP-3, the site was located and strike aircraft were directed to the target. An A-6E, evading heavy SAM and antiaircraft artillery activity near its target, dropped 12 Rockeye cluster bombs. Initial BDA reported heavy smoke from the target and all indications of Silkworm activity ceased. Later, reconnaissance confirmed the missile site's destruction.
The five months of Operation Desert Shield permitted Iraq to develop
an extensive coastal defense system in Kuwait. The Iraqi mine threat
affected almost all naval operations during the Persian Gulf Conflict.
After Operation Desert Storm began, the principal mission of Coalition
MCM assets was to clear a path to the Kuwaiti coast for NGFS and a
possible amphibious landing.
The Iraqi Threat
The bulk of Iraq's mine inventory consisted of Iraqi reproductions
of pre-World War I designed Russian contact mines. However, it also
included high-technology magnetic and acoustic influence mines
purchased from the Soviet Union and Italy. Specifically, Iraq had 11
types of mines including moored contact mines (e.g., the Myam, the
Soviet M-08, and a similar Iraqi-produced LUGM-145) and bottom
acoustic influence mines (e.g., the Italian Manta acoustic/magnetic
mine, the Soviet KMD magnetic influence mine, the Soviet UDM acoustic
influence mine, and the Iraqi-produced Sigeel acoustic influence
mine). Before Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Iraq was
estimated to have 1,000 to 2,000 mines. After the cease fire, Iraq
reported it had laid 1,167 mines during the conflict (Figure VII-13).
Iraq could deliver mines from surface and air platforms. Sea-based mine delivery platforms ranged from mine rail-equipped mine sweepers to landing craft, auxiliaries, and even small boats. As Iran had demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq War, practically any surface vessel could become a minelayer. Iraq's Super Frelon helicopter was assessed as its principal airborne minelaying asset. Other possible air delivery platforms included Hip helicopters and B-6 bombers.
Iraq's minelaying strategy seemed to focus on protecting its seaward flank from an amphibious assault. Iraq apparently started laying mines in the northern Persian Gulf in late November. The Iraqis used two principal methods of offshore mining operations. They laid fields of moored and bottom mines and single mine lines to protect logistics sea lines of communication and the Kuwaiti coast from amphibious assault. In addition, it appears the Iraqis deliberately may have set some mines adrift in the Persian Gulf, perhaps so the mines would drift in the southern currents and damage Coalition ships, or at least disrupt Coalition naval operations. The first drifting mine was discovered by Royal Saudi MCM forces in the Zuluf oil field on 21 December. Although it is possible some floating mines accidentally broke free from their moorings, there is evidence (e.g., no mooring chains and little marine growth or corrosion) that approximately 20 percent of the floating mines recovered and destroyed by Coalition MCM forces were set adrift intentionally.
Intelligence reports during the war indicated the Iraqis used small rubber boats, each carrying a maximum of four mines, to deploy the drifting mines. These small boats operated from Ras Al-Qul'ayah and probably set 20 mines adrift intentionally. After the Coalition's success in neutralizing the Iraqi Air Force, the drifting mines were viewed as the primary threat to Coalition naval vessels operating in the Gulf beyond antiship missile ranges. The drifting mine threat was a considerable concern to the aircraft carriers operating in the Gulf. The high-speed nature of the carrier flight operations reduced the effectiveness of mine watches and helicopter searches.
MCM Command and Control
NAVCENT established a US MCM Group (USMCMG) early in Operation
Desert Shield to respond to the Iraqi mine threat. This group operated
under Commander Middle East Force's (CMEF) control. The staff assigned
to the USMCMG commander were both active-duty personnel from other
naval commands and reservists. A British MCM force joined with the
USMCMG to conduct most MCM operations during Operation Desert Storm.
This British MCM group was under the operational control of the UK's
Senior Naval Officer Middle East, but tactical control was given to
the USMCMG commander.
MCM planning initially focused on supporting an amphibious assault north of Ash Shuaybah on the Kuwaiti coastline. CINCCENT made the final decision in early February to cancel this amphibious assault and directed NAVCENT to concentrate on an amphibious raid on Faylaka Island. MCM planning then shifted toward the new target. The mine clearance areas required for the Faylaka Island raid at first included a full set of fire support areas (FSA), a sea echelon area, and a cleared channel to the amphibious objective area. MCM objectives later were reduced to providing a safe path for USS Missourito position herself off Faylaka Island to provide NGFS and present the Iraqis with credible indications of an amphibious landing.
Coalition MCM Capabilities
The US mine warfare concept was designed around a European war
scenario which relied on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
allies to participate substantially in mine warfare operations,
especially in MCM. The Navy's MCM capabilities in the Persian Gulf
consisted of surface mine countermeasures (SMCM), aviation mine
countermeasures (AMCM), and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
(Special Operations Forces also were used for MCM operations and are
discussed in Appendix J.) SMCM capabilities included the newly
commissioned USS Avenger (MCM 1) class MCM ship and three 30-year-old
USS Aggressive and USS Acme (MSO 422 and 508) class minesweepers. The
AMCM capability consisted of six MH-53E AMCM helicopters. More than 20
US EOD teams and a 23-man Australian team also were deployed to
neutralize or destroy detected mines.
USS Avenger, the Navy's newest and most capable MCM ship, used the AN/SQQ-32 MCM sonar, a sophisticated mine-hunting sonar, to detect moored and bottom mines in shallow or deep waters. USS Avenger then used the AN/SLQ-48 mine neutralization system (MNS) to locate, examine, and destroy the detected mines. The MNS consists of a remotely piloted submersible vehicle equipped with sonar and two television cameras for locating mines, explosives for neutralizing mines, and cable cutters for cutting the mooring so the mine floats to the surface for destruction. The other US minesweepers used the AN/SQQ-14 MCM sonar to detect bottom and moored mines and mechanical minesweeping gear to cut mine cables.
AMCM helicopters towed a cable with a mechanical cutting device through the water, to cut a mine's mooring cable and release the mine to the surface. EOD teams or gunfire then detonated the mine. The helicopters also used acoustic and magnetic MCM sleds, which simulate a ship's propellers and magnetic signature to detonate influence mines.
The minesweepers USS Impervious (MSO 449), USS Adroit (MSO 503), USS Leader (MSO 490), and the MCM ship USS Avenger arrived in the theater 30 September on the Dutch heavy-lift ship Super Servant III. USS Adroit and USS Impervious were Naval Reserve Force minesweepers, which deployed to the Gulf augmented by Reserve crews. On 7 October, the six MH-53E AMCM helicopters arrived by USAF C-5A airlift. USS Tripoli (LPH 10), which had been part of the amphibious task force, was assigned to the USMCMG as a support ship for the AMCM helicopters and as the USMCMG command ship. The USMC landing force disembarked and off loaded its equipment as the USMCMG staff embarked in USS Tripoli on 22 January. In addition, two UAE-flagged vessels, Vivi and Celina, were contracted as support ships for EOD teams that accompanied the USMCMG. These forces, along with the EOD teams, formed the USMCMG, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
In addition to the US MCM assets, two other NATO countries and Saudi Arabia provided SMCM ships during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Royal Navy provided the most SMCM assets to the Coalition MCM effort. The UK initially deployed the Hunt Class mine hunters HMS Atherstone (M 38), HMS Cattistock (M31), and HMS Hurworth (M 39), along with the support ship HMS Herald (AGSH 138). Later, the mine hunters HMS Ledbury (M 30) and HMS Dulverton (M35) joined the MCM force. This UK MCM group operated closely with the USMCMG in clearing Iraqi mines in the northern Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Belgium contributed two Tripartite class mine hunters, Iris (M 920) and Myosotis (M 922), plus the support ship Zinnia (A 961). The Belgian MCM group operated mostly in the Gulf of Oman. Saudi Arabia's MCM ships included the minesweepers Addriyah (MSC 412), Al Quysumah (MSC 414), Al -Wadi'ah (MSC 416), and Safwa (MSC 418).
The SMCM and AMCM assets were responsible for clearing areas with water depths greater than 10 meters. The Coalition's MCM force provided the ability to survey the Persian Gulf open water areas, port approaches, harbors, potential amphibious objective areas, and sea lines of communication. The MCM force also had the ability to detect and counter all types of Iraqi bottom and moored mines.
Before the start of Operation Desert Storm, the US ability to gather
intelligence on Iraqi minefield locations, or observe and counter
Iraqi minelaying activity in international waters (considered a
hostile act under international law) was degraded by restrictions on
naval and air operations in the northern Persian Gulf. To avoid any
possibility of provoking Iraqi military action before Coalition
defensive and later offensive preparations were complete, CINCCENT
restricted naval surface forces in the Gulf to operating south of the
27 degrees 30'N parallel (approximately 72 miles south of the
Kuwaiti-Saudi border) until early January Similar restrictions kept
the flight paths of aircraft south of 27 degrees 45'N (approximately
55 miles south of the Kuwaiti-Saudi border) unless tactically required
to exceed that limit. Those restrictions precluded gathering
intelligence on Iraqi mining activity and also prevented NAVCENT from
acting to deter or counter Iraqi forces from setting mines adrift in
After the RSNF discovered the first drifting mine in December, the USMCMG found and destroyed six drifting mines before Operation Desert Storm started. On 24 January, the USMCMG left Abu Dhabi and conducted training and maintenance while enroute to its designated MCM operating area in the northern Persian Gulf. On 14 February, the oceanographic survey vessel HMS Herald and five Royal Navy mine hunters joined the USMCMG. This task force started its MCM operations on 16 February, 60 miles east of the Kuwaiti coast, working initially to clear a 15-mile long, 1,000 yard wide path to a 10-mile by 3.5-mile FSA south of Faylaka Island.
While sweeping toward the shore of Faylaka Island on 17 February, the MCM force was targeted by Iraqi Silkworm antiship missile fire control radars in Kuwait. The ships moved out of the missile's range while Coalition forces located and attacked the radar site. With the Silkworm missile threat diminished, the MCM forces began to move back to the previous minesweeping areas at 0240 on 18 February. At 0435, after operating for 11 hours in an undetected Iraqi minefield, USS Tripoli hit a moored contact mine in 30 meters of water. The explosion ripped a 16 foot by 20 foot hole below the water line. As USS Avenger and USS Leader attempted to assist the damaged warship, USS Princeton (CG 59), while unknowingly heading along a line of Manta mines, continued to provide air defense for the MCM Group. At 0715, USS Princeton actuated a Manta mine in 16 meters of water. A sympathetic actuation of another mine about 350 yards from USS Princeton occurred about three seconds later. These mine blasts caused substantial damage to USS Princeton, including a cracked superstructure, severe deck buckling, and a damaged propeller shaft and rudder. As damage control teams overcame fires and flooding aboard USS Tripoli and USS Princeton, the minesweepers USS Impervious, USS Leader, and USS Avenger searched for additional mines in the area. The minesweeper USS Adroit led the salvage ship USS Beaufort (ATS 2) toward USS Princeton; USS Beaufort then towed the damaged warship to safety.
USS Princeton restored her TLAM strike and Aegis AAW capabilities within two hours of the mine strike and reassumed duties as the local AAW commander, providing air defense for the Coalition MCM group for 30 additional hours until relieved. USS Tripoli was able to continue her mission for several days before being relieved by USS Lasalle (AGF 3) and USS New Orleans (LPH 11). The amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans detached from the ATF and provided the flight deck for AMCM helicopters while the USMCMG staff moved aboard USS Lasalle to continue coordinating the mine clearing operations. USS Tripoli then proceeded to Bahrain for repair.
Charts and intelligence captured from Iraqi forces showed the minefield where USS Tripoli and USS Princeton were hit was one of six in a 150-mile arc from Faylaka Island to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Within the arc, there were four additional mine lines, with more than 1,000 mines laid before Operation Desert Storm began.
The initial intelligence assessment, based on limited knowledge of Iraqi minelaying operations and on observations of the transit of an Iraqi merchant ship through the area, was that the Iraqis had placed their minefields closer to the coast. AS a result, Coalition MCM forces initially passed through the outermost minefield and started MCM operations near a second barrier of bottom mines. The USS Tripoli and USS Princeton incidents proved the initial assumption incorrect. The Coalition forces revised the MCM plan, extended the transit lanes 24 miles to the east, moved the MCM and NGFS task groups back out of the Iraqi minefield to unmined areas, and then resumed MCM operations.
USS Princeton Mine Incident
Commanding Officer, USS Princeton - "The ship was steaming slowly, barely maintaining steerage way in order to allow maximum reaction time if a mine was spotted. I had just told the crew that we had to be especially cautious and be on the lookout for mines because Tripoli had been hit just hours earlier. Just as I made that comment, the force of the mine explosion under the stern lifted up the ship and caused a whiplash. We on the bridge were moving up and down rapidly. We all grabbed on to something and tried to maintain our footing...My immediate reaction was that we had hit a mine. But the fact that the ship continued this violent motion for more than a second or two concerned me. I didn't expect the violent motion to continue as long as it did. At this point, both the Boatswain's Mate-of-the-Watch and I sounded General Quarters."
Two seconds after the mine exploded under the stern another mine exploded about 300 yards off the starboard bow. The combined effect of these two mines ripped the ship's superstructure in two at the amidships quarterdeck.
"My first reaction was to notify someone else that we had struck a mine. We had to keep the ship from sinking. Another immediate reaction was that this was what we had been preparing for months. I had total confidence that my crew would do the right thing - that they would do what they had been trained to do."
"The first report that came in was about the injured people on the forecastle. Petty Officer...was already there giving flrst aid to Petty Officer...who was the most seriously injured. Petty Officer...was standing right at the bullnose looking for mines when the blast went off under the stern. Petty Officer...was thrown 10 feet into the air."
Near the ship's stern, where the most serious damage occurred, the firemain ruptured and doused an electrical distribution switchboard, causing a major electrical fire hazard. The switchboard was remotely isolated after the rupture was reported to Damage Control Central. The mine blasts also ruptured fuel tanks, forcing damage control parties to work in a mixture of fuel and water. Automatic sprinklers near the after 5-inch gun mount activated which aggravated the ship's flooding problem. The crew installed and activated dewatering systems within 10 minutes of the explosions and thus reduced the danger of both fire and flooding.
Loss of cooling water to electronic equipment, due to ruptured pipin disabled the ship's combat systems. Damage control teams quickly isolated the ruptures and immediately began emergency repairs to the cooling water systems.
"Within two hours the combat systems and combat information center teams had their equipment back on line with the forward gun and missile systems ready to shoot Princeton reassumed duties as the local AAW commander and did not relinquish those duties until relieved by USS Valley Forge."
"As the day wore on I was concerned about drifting around in the mine field. So I made the decision to have the salvage ship, USS Beaufort, take us in tow, since our maneuverability was not good. Once under way, we moved slowly west with the minesweeper, USS Adroit, leading us, searching for mines. USS Beaufort continued to twist and turn, pulling us around the mines located by USS Adroit and marked by flares. Throughout the night, USS Adroit continued to lay flares. Near early morning, having run out of flares, she began marking the mines with chem-lights tied together. The teamwork of USS Adroit and USS Beaufort was superb."
"I felt the life of my ship and my men were in the hands of this small minesweeper's commanding officer and his crew. I directed USS Adroit to stay with us. I trusted him and I didn't want to let him go until I was clear of the danger area. All of us on USS Princeton owe a big debt to the officers and crew of USS Beaufort and USS Adroit. They were real pros."
After the cease-fire, MCM assets from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands joined the MCM group. This MCM force swept paths to Kuwait's ports and completed Persian Gulf mine clearing operations by 10 September 1991.
Impact of Iraq's Mine Warfare
Although the Iraqi minefields were not placed to maximize their
effectiveness and many mines were deployed improperly, mine warfare
had a considerable effect on Coalition maritime operations in the
Persian Gulf. Kuwait's relatively short coastline, combined with the
large Iraqi mine inventory, caused the Coalition MCM forces to plan
and conduct MCM operations in support of an amphibious landing through
dense minefields while vulnerable to missile, artillery, and small
boat attacks from fortified beaches. Considering hydrographic and
operational characteristics, an amphibious landing probably could only
occur between Kuwait City and Ras Al-Qul'ayah, along 30 miles of
Many deployed mines lacked sensors or batteries which prevented their proper operation. During MCM operations, 95 percent of the UDM-type acoustic influence mines were evaluated as inoperable. Several moored contact mines were recovered on the bottom and apparently 13 percent of the moored mines broke away from their moorings. However, even the poorly planned and improperly deployed minefields caused damage to two combatants and were one of several reasons the amphibious invasion was not conducted. (Other factors, such as collateral damage to Kuwait's infrastructure, risks to the landing force, and lack of a MARCENT requirement for a coastal supply route, are discussed in this chapter's Amphibious Warfare section.)
Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS)
In addition to playing a major role in launching TLAM strikes
against Iraq, the battleships USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri contri
buted the fi repower of 16-inch guns in support of Coalition ground
forces ashore. This NGFS marked the first time both battleships had
fired in combat since the Korean War. The 16-inch NGFS in Operation
Desert Storm also may have been an historical event-the final combat
operations of the battleship.
To defend against an amphibious landing by Coalition forces, Iraq
had positioned a large proportion of its troops and weapons along the
Kuwaiti coastline. This positioning exposed Iraqi forces to offshore
naval gunfire; however, the combination of local hydrographic features
and the Iraqi mine threat precluded the effective use of the 5-inch
gun against shore targets; therefore the battleship's 16-inch gun was
used primarily for NGFS. (The limited water depths in the area held
ships several miles off the coast, out of the 5-inch gun's effective
range, while the Iraqi mine threat prevented free movement of ships up
and down the coast).
NGFS missions were allocated to both amphibious forces and ground forces and were divided into four major target areas: the Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border area, the Ras Al-Qul'ayah area, the area north of Ash Shuaybah, and Faylaka Island (Figure VII-22). At the start of the theater campaign's battlefield preparation phase, neither battleship provided NGFS because of the mine threat and navigational hazards off the Kuwaiti coast. After the battle of Ras Al-Khafji, at least one battleship was stationed off the coast of Ras Al-Khafji at FSA RK2 (Figure VII-22) from 4 to 9 February. Until the start of the ground offensive, the battleships were on seven-hour alert to MARCENT requests for fire support. Durlng the ground offensive, the theater campaign plan required at least one battleship to provide NGFS to the Commander, Joint Forces Command-East (JFC-E) and MARCENT.
During Operation Desert Storm, battleship NGFS missions were generated in three ways: pre-arranged fires, self-determined targets of opportunity, and fires called for by ground forces. Before 15 February, NGFS missions focused more on command, control, and communications (C3) facilities, radar sites, and electronic warfare sites. Once the ground offensive began, the focus shifted to artillery positions, mortar batteries, ammunition storage facilities, logistics sites, Silkworm antiship missile batteries, and troops on beaches. Only six percent of the missions were fired in a direct support role responding to calls from ground forces. This small percentage was due primarily to MARCENT's inland position beyond NGFS range before the ground offensive and the rapid Coalition advance during the ground offensive.
On 4 February, USS Missouri, escorted by USS Curts using an advanced
mine avoidance sonar (a modified hull mounted SQS-56 sonar), threaded
through a mine cleared channel and unlighted navigational hazards to a
position close to the coast (FSA RK2). With Marines providing fire
control direction, USS Missouri's 16-inch guns fired 2,700-pound
shells onto Iraqi C3 bunkers, artillery emplacements, radar sites, and
other targets. Between 4 and 6 February, USS Missouri fired 112
16-inch shells, 12 five-inch shells, and successfully used an
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in support of combat missions.
USS Wisconsin, escorted by USS Nicholas, relieved USS Missouri on 6 February. On her first mission, the most recently recommissioned battleship fired 11 shells 19 miles to destroy an Iraqi artillery battery in southern Kuwait. Using an UAV for spotting, USS Wisconsin attacked tarqets ashore, as well as small boats which were used during Iraqi raids along the saudi coast. USS Wisconsin's guns opened fire again on 8 February, destroying Iraqi bunkers and artillery sites near Ras Al-Khafji.
"The US COV-10 observation aircraft spotted an Iraqi artillery post in southern Kuwait that had been harassing Coalition troops in Saudi Arabia. The plane relayed the coordinates to USS Wisconsin which silenced the enemy emplacement with 16-inch shells. The emplacement was hit at an estimated range of 19 miles from USS Wisconsin. After the shelling the pilot of the OV-10 reported back, 'Artillery destroyed.'"
- Intelligence Officer, USS Wisconsin
On 23 February, the night before the ground offensive started, USS Missouri's guns fired pyrotechnic shells onto Faylaka Island to convince Iraqi troops an amphibious invasion had begun. USS Wisconsin, accompanied by USS Mclnerney (FFG 8), moved in closer to the Kuwaiti coast to complement the deception. NGFS continued against Faylaka Island on 24 February to deceive the Iraqis that a large-scale amphibious assault was imminent.
As Coalition ground forces advanced around and through the Iraqi defenders in Kuwait, USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri's guns continued to support them. The battleships provided NGFS during the ground offensive to Joint Forces Command-East (JFC-E) on several occasions against dug-in Iraqi positions. On 26 February, the battleships provided support to the 1st Marine Division (MARDIV) when naval gunfire struck Iraqi tanks dug in at the Kuwait International Airport. USS Wisconsin fired the last NGFS of the war; together, both battleships passed the two million-pound mark in ordnance delivered on Iraqi targets by the cease-fire on 28 February.
Use of UAVs
The battleships used UAVs extensively in NGFS for target selection,
spotting, and BDA. The UAV accounted for 52 percent of spotting and
virtually all BDA support the battleships received. The battleships
were able to generate NGFS missions using organic UAV for spotting.
Targets of opportunity accounted for 30 percent of the total missions
and about 40 percent of the shells fired. Using an UAV in this manner
increased the battleship's flexibility to provide NGFS because it
allowed each battleship to receive real-time target acquisition and
BDA without relying on external spotting and intelligence assets.
In addition to direct support of NGFS missions, UAVs also were used to gather intelligence on Faylaka Island when national sensors were not available and weather prevented aircraft reconnaissance. Over Faylaka Island, USS Wisconsin's UAV recorded hundreds of Iraqi soldiers waving white flags - the first-ever surrender of enemy troops to an unmanned aircraft. After the cease-fire, UAVs monitored the coastline and outlying islands in reconnaissance support of occupying Coalition forces. Because UAVs were under direct tactical control of combat forces, they could respond quickly in dynamic situations. On one occasion, USS Wisconsin's UAV located two Iraqi patrol boats, which were sunk by aircraft directed to investigate.
Sixty-five percent of all the fire support missions and 90 percent
of all rounds fired recelved some degree of spotting support. When
spotting was not available for a misslon, only three or four rounds
were fired, usually to harass Iraqi artillery or troop positions.
Thetwo battleshipsfired 1,102 rounds of 16-inch shells in 83
individual missions. Approximately 2,166,000 pounds of ordnance were
delivered. The average range for the NGFS missions was approximately
22 miles, with all but 16 missions having ranges exceeding 18 miles.
BDA was obtained for 37 of the 52 missions where spotting was used. Damage was classified as light for 40 percent of these missions, while about 30 percent of the missions inflicted moderate to heavy damaqe or targets were evaluated as neutralized or destroyed. As expected, a higher percentage of point targets was destroyed, neutralized, or heavily damaged than area targets because area targets are made up of many, smaller individual targets. For point target missions with BDA available, 28 percent were classified as heavily damaged, neutralized, or destroyed.
A major maritime campaign component centered on preparing for and
executing amphibious operations during the ground offensive. For this
purpose, the USMC deployed the 4th and 5th Marine Expeditionary
Brigades (MEB) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operation
Capable) (MEU (SOC)) aboard amphibious ships to the Persian Gulf.
Continuous planning for amphibious operations started when the lead
elements of the 4th MEB and Amphibious Group 2 deployed to Southwest
Asia (SWA) from the US East Coast in mid-August. Concurrently, the
13th MEU (SOC), aboard ships of Amphibious Squadron 5, which already
were deployed to the Western Pacific, sailed for SWA. Upon its
arrival, this amphibious force joined the East Coast amphibious force
to form the amphibious task force (ATF). At the time of the these
deployments, the distinct possibility existed that an amphibious
assault would be required to defend against an Iraqi invasion of Saudi
Arabia. In fact, during the initial deployment of Operation Desert
Shield, the ATF provided CINCCENT's only forcible entry capability.
In the weeks leading up to the ground offensive, amphibious warfare planners afloat responded to tactical missions, which required them to develop plans ranging from large-scale amphibious assaults into Kuwait to raids and feints on islands and coastal areas. Additionally, as part of the theater campaign plan, the ATF conducted several well-publicized landings in Oman and the southern Persian Gulf. Finally, when the ground offensive began, the ATF conducted feints and raids and was ready to conduct a large-scale amphibious assault if required. Although a major amphibious operation was not conducted, the ATF played a crucial part in the overall success of Operation Desert Storm by fixing large numbers of Iraqi troops near the Kuwaiti coast and preventing their use in inland operations.
The Iraqi Threat
The unique geographic and military situation in the Persian Gulf
meant an amphibious assault would be conducted against a heavily
defended landing beach. The ATF was confronted with formidable coastal
and beach defenses. One observer, who later examined Iraqi defenses
along the Kuwait border, described them as more formidable than those
encountered by Marines during many of the World War II Central Pacific
battles. In the area close to shore, the Iraqis placed underwater
obstacles, mines and barbed wire to ensnare and disable landing craft
and vehicles. Between the low and high water marks, additional mines
and barbed wire were positioned to stop infantry. Behind the beaches,
the Iraqi defenders dug trench lines and bunkers, and, in the urban
areas from Ash Shuaybah north, fortified buildings. Berms, minefields,
antitank ditches, dug-in tanks and barbed wire blocked beach exits. To
the rear, artillery, and mobile reserves stood ready to counterattack
any Marines able to break through the beach defenses. At least three
enemy infantry divisions were assigned to defend the Kuwaiti coast
from Kuwait City south to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Additional Iraqi
infantry divisions defended the coast north of Kuwait City. These
forces were backed by the 5th Mechanized Division, in reserve near
Al-Ahmadi. Similar defenses existed on Faylaka Island, defended by the
Iraqi 440th Marine Brigade, and on Bubiyan Island.
Amphibious Warfare Planning
The ATF began preparations for offensive amphibious operations as
soon as it reached the theater in mid-September. This force provided
an important seaborne threat to the flank of Iraqi forces who, it was
feared, might attack Saudi Arabia along the main coastal road from Ras
Al-Khafji to Ad-Dammam. In late October, the ATF conducted amphibious
exercises at Ras Al-Madrakah, Oman, providing the opportunity to
rehearse generic landing plans. Meanwhile, the 13th MEU (SOC)
participated in Maritime Interception Operations and then left SWA on
10 November to conduct exercises in the Philippines. In mid-November,
the ATF conducted a highly publicized amphibious exercise along the
eastern Saudi Arabian coast, in conjunction with Exercise Imminent
Thunder, a final rehearsal of CINCCENT's defensive plans. This
exercise was the first in a continuous series of operations carefully
designed to deceive the Iraqi command as to the direction of the
Coalition's ground attack. A few weeks later, the ATF returned to Ras
Al-Madrakah to conduct Exercise Sea Soldier lll. By this time, the ATF
had received preliminary guidance that its assault objective during
the ground offensive would be along the Kuwaiti coast, precipitating
staff rehearsals and planning to counter the extensive Iraqi coast
As Operation Desert Storm approached, amphibious planning intensified . On 30 and 31 December, an amphibious planning conference was conducted aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), during which the evolving ground offensive plan, and the ATF's role in it, was discussed. MARCENT continued to express concern, and VII Corps later concurred, that if the ground campaign became extended, then a secure port on the Kuwaiti coastwould be needed to provide logisticsupport. I MEF had shifted more than 50 miles inland and MARCENT was concerned about the strain that position placed on logistics lines. Ratherthan trying to supportthe entire advance logistically from Saudi Arabia, MARCENT desired an amphibious landing to open a forward logistics base in Kuwait to take advantage of available sea-based logistics. The prospects for conducting an amphibious assault increased. Furthermore, the planning conference re-emphasized the ATF's requirement to plan for raids and feints along the Kuwaiti coast to fix Iraqi attention away from ground forces moving west.
On 6 January, NAVCENT issued a warning order directing the ATF to finalize plans for an amphibious assault on the Kuwaiti coast. The final plans for what had become known as Operation Desert Saber called for the ATF to conduct an amphibious assault north of Ash Shuaybah, establish the landing force ashore, and link up with MARCENT. The amphibious assault's objectives were to reduce the threat facing MARCENT by fixing enemy forces alonq the Kuwaiti coastline and destroying enemy forces in the beachhead area, and to seize the port facilities at Ash Shuaybah for sustained logistic support of MARCENT.
Based on the expected rate of advance of the ground offensive, the time needed to place amphibious forces into position after the ground campaign began, and the desire to fix as many Iraqi forces in coastal positions as possible, preliminary time lines scheduled the amphibious landing to take place four days after the ground offensive began. The plan envisioned the initial landinq would be north of the Ash Shuaybah refinery. The landing force would then attack to the south to secure the port. A potentially serious obstacle to the attack was a liquid natural gas plant near the port complex; the plant's explosive potential posed a serious danger to the landing force. The damage the plant's destruction might cause to the surrounding Kuwaiti infrastructure caused CINCCENT to place it on the list of targets prohibited from attack by Coalition forces during the air campaign. In addition, a large number of high-rise apartment complexes and condominiums near the waterfront provided the Iraqis excellent defensive positions from which to oppose the landing. They, too, were not on ClNCCENT's approved target list. These obstacles complicated the amphibious operations planning and decision making.
Available amphibious forces more than doubled in mid-January. Amphibious Squadron 5, with the 1 3th MEU (SOC) embarked, returned to the Persian Gulf on 12 January. Amphibious Group 3 with the 5th MEB embarked, which had left California in early December, also arrived in the theater on 12 January, and was integrated immediately into the ATF. Amphibious forces then consisted of 36 ships (31 amphibious assault ships and five Military Sealift Command ships) carrying the landing force (the assault echelon of the 4th and 5th M EBs, and the 13th MEU (SOC). The landing force commander (CLF), preferring the flexibility the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) structure provided for multiple missions, opted to retain that structure for the subordinate units rather than attempt to combine them into one large MAGTF. The 13th MEU (SOC) was assigned the task of conducting advanced force operations and raids, while the 4th and 5th MEB remained capable of attacking separate objectives or, if necessary, joining as a single composite unit.
With the opening of the air campaign on 17 January, amphibious warfare planning and training accelerated. Along with 31 amphibious ships, the ATF also had one repairship, 17 Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and 13 Landing Craft Utility (LCU). The landing force had approximately 17,000 Marines, built around two regimental landing teams, with five infantry battalions, plus supporting arms, including tanks, antitank vehicles, and light armored vehicles (LAV). In addition to the LCUs and LCACs available within the ATF, ship-to-shore movement also could be supported by 115 assault amphibian vehicles (AAV). The landing force's Air Combat Element included 19AV-8Bs and 136 helicopters.
Exercises and planning surfaced several issues that needed resolution before the ATF could conduct an assault. Among them were problems of defining an amphibious objective area, given the expected close proximity of any landing to advancing Coalition ground forces; fire support and airspace coordination issues; and, link-up procedures in a rapidly moving ground offensive. Work around procedures were developed, however. Foremost among the ATF's concerns was integrating its plans into the air campaign, and ensuring the JFACC targeting process considered the ATF's needs. To accomplish this, an ATF targeting cell was formed, composed of both Navy and USMC officers, who developed targets and submitted reports and requests directly to the JFACC in Riyadh for incorporation into the ATO To assist NAVCENT, and to provide closer liaison between NAVCENT, MARCENT, and CINCCENT, the USMC sent a planning staff to NAVCENT's flagship, USS Blue Ridge. This planning staff helped with the complex coordination between the ATF and forces ashore.
Because amphibious ships also were deployed to other regions to respond to potential crises, the number of amphibious ships deployed to the Persian Gulf, although sizable, was not enough to load the full assault echelons of two MEBs. Normal USMC practice involves loading amphibious ships so crucial pieces of equipment, particularly helicopters, are not concentrated on one or a few ships. The distribution of amphibious forces during the deployment to the Gulf resulted in the concentration of most or all of a particular aircraft type on a single ship. This practice had some administrative and maintenance advantages during the buildup and required fewer support personnel and equipment. However, it limited flexibility and exposed the landing force to serious degradation if ATF ships were damaged or, as later occurred, detached from the ATF to support MCM operations. Furthermore, because of the unavailability of amphibious lift in the theater, some of 5th MEB's assault echelon equipment was loaded aboard two MSC ships that were unsuitable for amphibious assault operations.
An additional concern centered on the composition of the Assault Follow-On Echelon (AFOE), which carried supplies and equipment for 4th MEB's sustainment of operations once ashore. Initially, the AFOE was loaded on five MSC ships. These ships, none of which had been specifically designed for amphibious assaults, had only a limited capability to conduct in-stream unloading, and virtually no capability for logistics-over-the-shore operations. In addition, two ships required pier cranes for unloading cargo because of inadequate on board cranes. Moreover, Kuwaiti ports probably would not be available initially during an amphibious assault. These limitations severely reduced these ships' effectiveness in supporting an amphibious assault in such an austere operating environment. Because of the AFOE ships' operational shortfalls, they were unloaded in November and the equipment and supplies loaded onto two Maritime Prepositioning Squadron (MPS) roll-on/roll-off ships which had delivered their prepositioned equipment. These MPS ships were ideally configured for AFOE use because of their in-stream unloading capabilities.
Intelligence collection also became a concern during Operation Desert Storm. Because of competing theater requirements, the ATF was given lower priority for theater and national intelligence collection assets.
Near-shore and beach mines presented obstacles to the ATF. In an assault, AAVs emerging from the surf would be endangered, as would debarking infantrymen. The 4th and 5th MEB lacked the numbers and types of specialized engineer equipment available to the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. This shortage of mine clearing assets limited the size of planned initial surface assault waves, whose primary mission would be to clear the beaches. An amphibious assault would rely on heliborne waves that could secure the designated landing beaches from the rear. However, the primary USMC medium lift helicopter, the CH-46, had a limited range that would require the ATF ships to operate in areas suspected to be heavily mined.
An option considered for both a possible assault and a raid was an over-the-horizon (OTH) assault. The concept involves launching heliborne and surface assault waves at extended distances from the beach. OTH operations are practiced regularly as part of the MEU (SOC) training program and were demonstrated during Operation Eastern Exit in January when 4th MEB, unexpectedly tasked by CINCCENT, landed Marines in Mogadishu, Somalia, to protect and evacuate US citizens. In this operation, the 4th MEB used CH-53E helicopters launched from USS Trenton (LPD 14) 466 miles off Somalia's coast. An OTH assault requires both long-range helicopters and assault craft capable of open ocean operations, both of which the ATF had, but in limited numbers. Enough CH-53E and CH-53D heavy lift helicopters, with the required range, were available to lift an infantry battalion. The ATF's 17 LCACs, capable of high-speed, open-ocean operations, could land the assault elements of a battalion landing team, reinforced by the necessary tanks and LAVs. With ATF ships remaining well offshore to avoid detection, engagement by Iraqi defenses, and the mine threat, a smaller, but still potent landing force of about two reinforced battalions could be put ashore. This concept also would use extensive air support to shape landing zones and destroy beach defenses. An OTH amphibious assault with the available assets had risks, but was considered feasible. Several smaller raid packages also were planned using this concept.
Amphibious planning continued to focus on several options as the ATF adjusted to continuous changes in the military situation and a host of possible missions. In late January, the enlarged ATF conducted Exercise Sea Soldier IV in Oman. The exercise was again highly publicized to ensure the Iraqi command understood the Coalition's amphibious capabilities.
On 2 February, CINCCENT and MARCENT met with NAVCENT aboard USS Blue Ridge to discuss the timing and feasibility of amphibious plans. Estimates assumed the main assault would need 10 days of MCM operations to clear a path through Iraqi minefields and three to five days of NGFS and air strikes to neutralize Iraqi beach defenses. Shore bombardment and air strikes also would be needed before the landing to allow MCM forces to clear mines from near-shore waters well inside the range of Iraqi land-based artillery. Without a concentrated MCM effort, offshore mines essentially kept the ATF off the coast by as much as 72 miles. NAVCENT also pointed out the possibility of collateral damage to Kuwaiti territory from the NGFS and air strikes against the highly fortified beach front during MCM operations and the amphibious landing. The wholesale destruction of the Kuwaiti infrastructure that could result from necessary pre-assault operations, and the evident risks to the assaulting landing force, were serious considerations. On the other hand, since the start of Operation Desert Storm, USMC service support units and Navy Seabees had worked diligently to improve the overland transportation routes in their area of responsibility. The deployment of substantial USMC reinforcements also improved I Marine Expeditionary Force's (I MEF) logistics capabilities. MARCENT now believed the ground attack could be supported logistically without the need to open a coastal supply route.
As a result of these and other considerations, CINCCENT decided to exclude the amphibious assault from the initial ground attack, but the ATF was directed to prepare for a possible amphibious assault on Ash Shuaybah if the ground offensive required it, and to continue active operations as part of the theater campaign plan. Such an assault would be timed to coincide with I MEF's advance, and thus would be executed on short notice. Although planning for Operation Desert Saber continued as a contingency in case an assault proved necessary, the planning focus shifted. In an 8 February message to NAVCENT, CINCCENT noted, "an amphibious assault into Kuwait, or the credible threat to execute one, is an integral part of the overall campaign plan for Operation Desert Storm." CINCCENT also ordered NAVCENT to establish an amphibious objective area and begin pre-assault operations, including MCM, NGFS, deception measures, air and sea control, and threat suppression.
Although a large scale, preplanned assault against the Kuwaiti coast had been decided against, the ATF identified several possible raid targets, ranging from the Kuwaiti border to the Al-Faw Peninsula and began detailed planning for an attack on Faylaka Island. A week later, CINCCENT approved continued planning for NAVCENT's proposed option for an attack, raid, or demonstration against Faylaka Island, where intelligence sources estimated a 2,500-man brigade was stationed. The advantages of such an operation were that it could accomplish the objective of distracting Iraqi attention, continue to fix enemy forces along the coast, minimize collateral damage in Kuwait, and also reduce the required MCM effort.
In addition to exercises, the ATF conducted five amphibious
operations during Operation Desert Storm (Figure VII-30). On 29
January, the 13th MEU (SOC) raided Umm Al-Maradim Island off the
Kuwaiti coast. Amphibious operations supporting the ground offensive
were conducted from 20 to 26 February against Faylaka Island the Ash
Shuaybah port facility, and Bubiyan Island. The following section
briefly describes these amphibious operations as well as the landing
of the 5th MEB.
Umm Al-Maradim Island
Concurrently with Exercise Sea Soldier IV in mid-January, 1 3th MEU
(SOC) moved into the Persian Gulf, having received a warning order to
conduct a raid on Umm Al-Maradim Island off the Kuwaiti coast. To
support this operation, Kuwaiti Marines were transferred to USS
Okinawa to provide interpreter and EPW interrogation support as the
MEU (SOC) moved toward the objective area. As an Iraqi radar and
listening post, the island was thought to be occupied in company
strength. Having rehearsed the raid during the preceding week, 13th
MEU (SOC) assaulted the island on 29 January. For the Marines,
however, the raid turned out to be anticlimactic. A Navy A-6, followed
by Marine AH-1 helicopters overflew the island and reported it
apparently abandoned. When riflemen from C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th
Marines landed by helicopter a few hours later, they found no Iraqis.
Quickly removing documents and equipment found there, they destroyed
Iraqi heavy equipment that could not be removed and returned to the
ATF ships. Many documents provided intelligence on the extent of Iraqi
mining in the northern Persian Gulf. The raid demonstrated to the
Iraqis the capabilities of the amphibious forces, reinforced the
theater deception plan, and captured documents provided intelligence
for amphibious operations planning.
NAVCENT issued a warning order on 6 February for a raid on Faylaka
Island. The ATF was ordered to plan an OTH raid on the island as a
diversionary attack before the ground offensive began. The warning
order also specified the force was not to become embroiled in a fight
with Iraqi defenders if that would make withdrawal difficult.
On 11 February, NAVCENT ordered preliminary operations for the raid to begin. On 12 February, the ATF commanders met aboard USS Nassau (LHA 4) to work out the plan's final details. The final concept of operations was issued on 13 February. The plan called for landing a reduced infantry battalion (two companies) supported by LAVs, tanks, and High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles mounting TOW launchers and heavy machine guns. The raid's objectives were to destroy communications facilities, radar sites, and a command post that had been identified by intelligence sources, as well as to capture Iraqi troops.
A rehearsal was conducted 15 February as NAVCENT, CATF, and CLF briefed CINCCENT on the planned raid. After the meeting with CINCCENT, NAVCENT directed MCM operations to begin the next day. Approximately 48 hours later, on the morning of 18 February, USS Tripoli and USS Princeton struck mines.
Following these mine strikes, NAVCENT directed the ATF to examine the feasibility of conducting the raid from areas east of the Ad-Dawrah oil fields. MCM forces were staged from that area, and launching a raid from there would reduce the MCM requirements considerably. Although CLF judged the full scale raid was infeasible because of the extended ranges, a reduced raid was possible. Renewed planning centered on options requiring about half the original force and involving no more than one trip for each LCAC or helicopter. The final plan used heliborne forces from 1 3th M EU (SOC). On 20 February and continuing for the next two days, AV-8B attack aircraft from 4.h MEB, operating from the USS Nassau, attacked Faylaka Island. The scope of the raid was scaled back on 22 February and was called off completely on 23 February. NGFS continued as planned on 23 and 24 February to deceive the Iraqis into believing a full-scale amphibious assault was imminent.
Ash Shuaybah Port Facility
Late on 24 February, NAVCENT ordered the ATF to conduct a
demonstration or feint before dawn near Ash Shuaybah. Coalition ground
forces were advancing fasterthan expected and it was important to hold
Iraqi forces defending along the coast south of Kuwait City in
position and prevent them from moving into blocking positions or from
reinforcing other Iraqi forces further inland. At 0300, USS Missouri
conducted four NGFS missions in the areas around the simulated landing
beaches. Helicopters from 13th MEU (SOC), launched from USS Okinawa
about 0400, proceeded toward Al-Fintas on a heliborne feint, turned
away about three miles from the beach, and returned to the ship about
0450. In the early morning darkness on 25 February, 10 USMC
helicopters, some carrying EW emitters, dashed towards Ash Shuaybah,
turning away at the last moment within sight of beach defenders, while
USS Portland maneuvered offshore. The Iraqi response to the feint was
immediate - two Silkworm missiles were launched toward Coalition naval
forces. As described in detail earlier in this chapter, HMS Gloucester
shot down one missile and the other missile landed in the water. At
the same time, confused Iraqi antiaircraft batteries fired into the
Shortly before noon on 25 February, NAVCENT ordered additional
demonstrations, feints, or raids on Al-Faw and Faylaka Island because
of indications that Iraqi forces were moving from the Bubiyan Island
and Al-Faw regions. Again the ATF's objective was to hold the Iraqis
in their beach defenses. The next night, a combined Navy-USMC force of
helicopters, EW aircraft, and A-6Es carried out a feint towards
Bubiyan Island. When Iraqi defenses responded with flares and
antiaircraft artillery, the A-6Es attacked. Concurrently with this
feint, a smaller armed USMC helicopter force approached Faylaka
Island, firing rockets and machine guns. Again, the Iraqi response was
immediate, but confused.
Meanwhile, USMC AV-8Bs and AH-1W helicopter gunships from 4th and 5th MEB commenced operations in support of I MEF's attack into Kuwait. A detachment of six AV-8Bs from the USS Tarawa moved to a forward airfield at Tanajib to reduce response times for conducting deep and close air support missions, while the 4th MEB's AV-8Bs continued operating from USS Nassau. Both M EBs' helicopter gunships flew to forward sites near Al-Khanjar to support I MEF's advance.
Landing of 5th MEB
The largest direct contribution to the ground offensive by
amphibious forces, came from the 5th MEB, which began landing through
Al-Mish'ab and Al-Jubayl, Saudi Arabia on 24 February to assume the
mission of I MEF reserve. Although experiencing little active combat,
the MEB assisted in mopping up operations, EPW control, and security
duties, while providing the MEF commander, whose two Marine divisions
were fully committed, added tactical and operational flexibility.
Effectiveness of Amphibious Operations
Given the time required to conduct MCM operations, the potential for
extensive collateral damage to the Kuwaiti infrastructure, and the
risk to the landing force, coupled with the changing situation ashore,
CINCCENT opted not to execute a large-scale amphibious assault. The
ATF, trained and organized for amphibious landings, could have carried
out such an assault, although offshore mines and beach defenses may
have inflicted substantial casualties. Using the OTH concept, a
smaller landing was planned, which could have been conducted on short
notice, if required. Variations of this OTH assault plan were used to
conduct the amphibious feints. Both assault options presented the
Iraqis with a substantial threat to their seaward flank. In the end,
the successes of the theater deception plan and the relatively short
ground campaign made an amphibious assault unnecessary.
Since Iraq had no submarines, there was no submarine threat to
Coalition naval forces or merchant ships and ASW was not tested.
However, Navy nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN) played a role in
strike warfare and conducted a variety of missions in support of
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
On 19 January, USS Louisville became the first submarine to launch a TLAM in combat when she fired five missiles at targets in Iraq in support of the Strategic Air Campaign. This action was the first combat for US submarines since World War II. USS Louisville launched three more TLAMs from the Red Sea before being relieved by the USS Chicago (SSN 721) on 6 February.
Summary of the Maritime Campaign
Once Operation Desert Storm began, the Coalition's maritime campaign
in the northern Persian Gulf, including the liberation of the first
Kuwaiti territory, the capture of the first EPW, and the threat of an
amphibious assault, focused Iraqi attention to the sea rather than to
the desert to the west. Coalition naval forces in the Gulf also
provided the Coalition with a solid flank to protect the forces and
facilities on the Arabian Peninsula. The Coalition's naval presence
also reassured the friendly nations of the Gulf and deterred any
temptations Iran may have had to intervene directly or to allow Iraq
to exploit Iranian territorial waters and airspace to strike at
Coalition forces. This seagoing barrier was especially comforting in
the early days of the Iraqi Air Force's exodus to Iran, when the
implications of that action were uncertain.
Coalition naval forces essentially destroyed the Iraqi Navy in three weeks secured control of the northern Gulf, and maintained the region's sea LOC with minimal Iraqi interference. The destruction of the Iraqi naval threat limited Iraq's ability to lay additional mines in the area and let Coalition naval forces establish operating areas farther north, increasing the number of aircraft strike sorties that could be launched against targets ashore and permitting amphibious operations.
The Persian Gulf conflict presented an unprecedented AAW deconfliction challenge. All air operations over the Persian Gulf were conducted safely and successfully. From Operation Desert Shield through Operation Desert Storm, there was no AAW fire from friendly forces. Restricted geography, unusual radar propagation conditions, the proximity of the threat from Iraq, the large number of commercial airfields and air routes in the vicinity, and the limited time available to establish positive identification of potential hostile air contacts before their entry into engagement envelopes combined to form a most complex, demanding AAW environment. The Aegis and NTU AAW systems performed as designed to provide battle force commanders complete coverage of all air contacts.
The five months of Operation Desert Shield permitted the Iraqis to develop an extensive coastal defense system in Kuwait. The Iraqi mine threat affected almost all naval operations during the Persian Gulf Conflict. The Coalition's ability to conduct amphibious operations and NGFS was constrained by the minefields in the northern Persian Gulf. The mine threat also affected naval air strike operations because it forced the carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf to operate at greater ranges from targets in Iraq. The presence of drifting mines in the southern Gulf or within a major port in the Gulf could have severely limited the rapid force build up in Operation Desert Shield. Similarly, the mines laid in Kuwaiti ports could have affected seriously the Coalition's ability to shift logistics support rapidly to those ports.
NGFS was a useful contribution to the Coalition's efforts during Operation Desert Storm. NGFS from USS Wisconsin's 16-inch guns supported JFC-E's attack up the Kuwaiti coast, especially when they breached Iraqi defenses. USS Missouri's NGFS contributed to maintaining the credibility of the amphibious assault option, particularly after a 16-inch bombardment of Ras Al-Qul'ayah induced the Iraqi defenders to abandon fortified positions. USS Missouri also supported Marines at the Kuwait International Airport. The UAV proved to be an excellent complement to the battleships, allowing them to attack enemy targets without the need of outside assistance, particularly aircraft, for spotting.
The ATF's contribution to the theater campaign cannot be quantified, yet it was significant to the Coalition's success. Beginning in late October, the ATF carried out amphibious exercises and operations that focused the Iraqi command's attention to the coast of Kuwait. In large measure, Iraq's preoccupation with the defense of Kuwait, and particularly against an amphibious assault, facilitated the ground offensive's now famous left hook maneuver. The amphibious invasion was not an idle threat; had the ATF been directed to do so, it could have conducted a successful assault, although possibly with substantial casualties. The decision not to conduct that assault is a tribute to the success of the theater deception efforts. Since the ATF's presence was sufficient, the ATF accomplished its mission without having to fight. The flexibility of amphibious forces was demonstrated by the ATF's operations. Iraq's reactions, and refusal to evacuate coastal defenses even when ground forces were encircling the rear, testified to the effectiveness of these operations. In the same vein as the Coalition aircraft that bombed Iraqi forces, and the Coalition's ground forces that attacked through the desert, the ATF played a vital and integral role in Operation Desert Storm.
Although Iraq had no submarines and ASW was not tested, Navy nuclear powered attack submarines participated in the Strategic Air Campaign by launching TLAMs against many targets. Submarines also conducted such missions as intelligence and surveillance in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.