The Impact of Desert Storm

The Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars.

Up to this point many Europeans believed that Napoleon may have been unstoppable. Twenty-seven British ships defeated thirty-three French and Spanish under the French. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost. It was one of the greatest one-sided victories in the history of warfare.

Desert Storm was like the Battle of Trafalgar with the Allied Coalition easily defeating a much larger and more experienced Iraqi Army.


Joint Operations in Desert Storm

During Desert Storm, the air and the ground forces essentially fought in tandem, not as a seamless whole. It is a good example on how to properly phase a campaign. The planners ‘phase’ operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield had a dynamic effect on the planning processes used by the United States in the Global War on Terrorism.


The first major combat test for School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) graduates was Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. The school built its reputation for producing excellent planners. However, it wasn’t until Operation Desert Storm that SAMS graduates earned the moniker of “Jedi Knight”, due partly to their efforts in planning the invasion.

Since then, SAMS graduates have participated in nearly every U.S. military operation as well as military operations other than war, such as relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina. Today, the school produces “leaders with the flexibility of mind to solve complex operational and strategic problems in peace, conflict, and war, ” (Army).

Shortly after General Norman Schwarzkopf arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1990, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Carl Vuono offered him the use of some SAMS graduates. Schwarzkopf accepted. These SAMS planners became known as “Schwarzkopf’s famous ‘Jedi Knights.’ This small Jedi Knight team dramatically shaped the outlines of Operation Desert Storm. But the efforts of SAMS graduates were not limited to the initial planning effort until after the war was concluded.

Eighty-two graduates were participating in a wide array of command and planning tasks, in the theater by February 1991. These efforts established SAMS in the minds of the leadership of the Army as a place to turn to for superb planners.

The Leaders of Desert Storm

General Schwarzkopf is best known for his leadership in the Gulf War. Like Eisenhower, he knew how to keep tensions down and allies working together, as he did with the situation with Israel. One thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf’s handling of the Saudi’s in particular, on the ground as it were masterful especially for a General trying to prepare for war. Where he really shined was in phasing the air war to set the conditions for the ground campaign.

 General Norman Schwarzkopf
General Norman Schwarzkopf

General Chuck Horner, who became Commander in Chief, Central Command (Forward) CINCCENTFWD noted in his book, written with Tom Clancy,  that everywhere he initially went, the staffs’ “efforts lacked order and focus…missing essential details such as basing logistics and sortie rates.” Horner’s essential task was to understand the intent of General Schwarzkopf and the National Command Authority, and to focus the effort of the CENTCOM team to deploy and employ forces in a logical way that would accomplish the national strategic goals, something that would be hard to do in any environment much less one where you are at war.

DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM air power was used throughout the campaign from bridge busting, and artillery and tank killing, to SCUD chasing and sustaining sortie rates to cover attacking ground forces. The integration of joint planning with tactical air control parties with flanking units is discussed was key in the campaign. Although it is very difficult to measure the effectiveness of operations as they are happening the air campaign was also aimed at psychologically disabling the enemy by bombing them back to the Stone Age.

Desert Storm
Desert Storm Map

General Horner’s bottom line is that “the impact of airpower on the enemy was underestimated, and the ability of airpower to destroy a deployed enemy was overestimated,” (Clancy & Horner, 1999).

Some critics were harsh on Scwarzkopf handling of the Gulf War by saying instead of penning in Iraqi forces at the time and destroying them, Schwarzkopf’s war plan pushed them out like a cork popped from a bottle. Later, of course, some of these Republican Guard units lived to fight another day in the next Iraq war, starting in 2003.

From Desert Storm, we get a clear idea of the Powell Doctrine—the idea that force should only be used when linked to political objectives. By embracing the so called “Powell Doctrine” Schwarzkopf had designed a military strategy for a liberated Kuwait that had clear objectives and avoided what he thought would drag us into an unneeded quagmire. All of this was accomplished using his Joint Staff.

The Impact of Desert Storm

This was a task familiar to each of them—a structured problem—and they communicated their intent and began to build orders by using Joint Operations as the key to make the most of the small force that went into Iraq. An emphasis on “precision firepower, special forces, psychological operations, and jointness”―as opposed to the purported traditional dependence on overwhelming force, mass, and concentration―and the resultant qualities of “speed, maneuver, flexibility, and surprise” characterize this so-called new approach (Boot, 2003)

In the eyes of the world the status of America’s power and influence may have begun to wane due to a restraining economy and two long and costly wars but our security responsibilities have continued to grow. The complexity of these missions from Bosnia, Kosovo, to Iraq and Afghanistan has only blurred more and more of these operational lines. This is most complex in stability operations.

In his book “Waging Modern” by General Wesley Clark he says in war there is another idea that a military leader should have clear military objectives for the way that Joint Force should be employed with overwhelming force and with clear objectives.

General Clark writes talks about the tensions and competing demands of senior military leaders trying to bridge the divide between politics and military operations. He also clearly explains the linkages between our national security strategy (NSS) and national military strategy (NMS).

The integrated approach to warfighting is necessary to achieve true unity of effort in a comprehensive approach to stability operations is attained through close, continuous coordination and cooperation among the actors involved. This is necessary to overcome internal discord, inadequate structures and procedures, incompatible or underdeveloped communications infrastructure, cultural differences, and bureaucratic and personnel limitations.

Desert Storm Painting


Army, U. S. (n.d.). Command and General Staff College Circular 350-1. Leavenworth, KS : United States Army Combined Arms Center and School.

Boot, M. (July/August 2003). The New American Way of War. Foreign Affairs Vol. 82, No. 4,, 41-58.

Clancy, T., & Horner, C. (1999). Every Man A Tiger. New York : G. P. Putman’s Sons.

Clark, W. K. (2001). Waging Modern War, . New York: Public Affairs.

Schwarzkopf, N. (1992). It Doesn’t Take a Hero : The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. New York: Bantam Doubleday Press.