Criticism Of The JFAAC During Desert Storm
SUBJECT AREA - Aviation
Military Issues Paper Outline
Topic: Criticism of the Joint Force Air Component
Commander's (JFACC) performance during Desert Storm
A. Authority of the JFACC
B. Historical rationale for the JFACC
II. Marine criticism of the JFACC
A. Implications of the Omnibus Agreement
B. Findings of the Marine CENTAF liaison officer
A. ARCENT/MARCENT criticism of target servicing
B. JFC vs JFACC priorities
IV. Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL)
A. Definition and use
B. Controversy over escape of two Republican Guard
C. Permissive vs restrictive control measure
V. Implications for future joint operations
A. Revalidation of the JFACC concept
B. Improved education/information flow key to improve
C. Joint doctrine needed to solve the deep battle
Title: Criticism of the JFACC during Desert Storm
Author: Major Stephen M. Mayberry, United States Air Force
Thesis: Much of the criticism directed at the Joint Force
Air Component Commander (JFACC) over his performance during
Desert Storm was caused by misperceptions and individual
service doctrines and agendas.
Background: Desert Storm was the first test of the JFACC
concept since implementation of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols
Defense Reorganization Act. Although the air campaign was
considered by most to be an unqualified success, much of the
criticism leveled at the JFACC was the result of the actions
of others. Marine criticism was based on an unjustified
fear of losing control of their aviation assets. Concerns
raised by ground commanders over target servicing was often
caused by their misunderstanding of the targeting process
and by decisions made by the Joint Force Commander (JFC).
Misuse of the Fire Support Coordination Line directly
contributed to the escape of two divisions of the Republican
Guards. The JFACC is a functional component commander.
Misunderstandings of the JFACC role will continue until it
becomes clear to all that the JFACC is responsible to the
JFC, not the other service or functional component
Recommendation: Place increased emphasis on the role of the
JFACC in joint operations through increased education and
training, and formulate joint doctrine which clearly
delineates the changeover of responsibility point for the
close and deep battles.
Criticism of the JFACC during Desert Storm
The 1991 Persian Gulf War was a showcase for the
tremendous effects that modern airpower can have on a
campaign. However, one of the most controversial aspects
before, during, and after the war has been the role of the
Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC). This paper
will examine the historical rationale for the establishment
of a JFACC during joint operations. It will look at the
role of the JFACC during Desert Storm and evaluate some of
the criticisms directed at the JFACC from both a concept and
targeting perspective. The paper will then examine the
issue of the Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL) and the
part this line played in the controversial escape of several
Republican Guards divisions on the fourth day of the ground
operation. It will conclude with lessons learned from the
JFACC concept as it relates to future joint operations.
Who is the JFACC and where does he get his power?
Joint Pub 1-02 states that the JFACC:
... derives authority from the joint force commander who
has the authority to exercise operational control,
assign missions, direct coordination among subordinate
commanders, redirect and organize forces to achieve
unity of effort in the accomplishment of the overall
mission...The joint force air component commander's
responsibilities will be assigned by the joint force
commander (normally these would include, but not be
limited to, planning, coordination, allocation, and
tasking based on the joint commander's apportionment
Simply stated, the JFACC's role is to provide the joint
force commander (JFC) with a cohesive air operation to
complement the JFC's overall theater campaign plan.
While the JFACC name may be new, the concept of
centralizing the control of airpower is not. In World War
II, individual army ground units were given their own
organic air support during initial operations in North
Africa. Strong opposition by German ground and air forces
exploited the decentralized air effort which was not able to
effectively mass and concentrate airpower against the enemy.
The American defeat at the Kasserine Pass in February 1943
can be directly attributed to this decentralization.
General Spaatz recognized this failure and reorganized the
Army Air Forces under the centralized control of the North
African Air Forces. American airpower then began having an
immediate impact on the battlefield.2 Control was further
centralized by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister
Churchill at the Casablanca Conference. Combining American
and British assets under an overall Allied air commander,
Air Marshall Tedder, led to better control and coordination
of the joint airpower effort.3
Vietnam, on the other hand, provides the antithesis.
There was no centralized control. Geographic division of
target areas (the Route Pack system) between the services, a
number of higher headquarters directing the air effort, and
a dysfunctional targeting process that originated in
Washington DC were all symptoms of decentralization. The
product was a incohesive air campaign and an ineffective
application of airpower.4
The JFACC concept is a result of lessons learned from
these past successes and failures. Desert Storm marked a
return to the concept of centralized control that was proven
successful during World War II. It was also the first
large-scale joint military effort since the passing of the
1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act and
provided the first combat test of the JFACC concept.
Lt Gen Horner was designated the JFACC by the JFC, Gen
Schwarzkopf, in accordance with CENTCOM's pre-war plans.
The JFACC was directed by the JFC to "coordinate, plan,
deconflict and execute the overall theater air campaign to
meet General Schwarzkopf's guidance and objectives."5 The
air campaign was designed to satisfy the goals of the JFC
and was executed to an unparalleled degree of success.
Despite the success of the air campaign however, the
JFACC performance during the operation has come under much
attack, most notably from the Marine Corps. The basis for
much of this criticism is centered on the Marine concept of
how a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is to be employed
in a joint operation. Marine Corps doctrine is quite clear
Regarding the employment of Marine forces, there are
two consistent principles: The MAGTF should be
assigned an area of responsibility and it should not
be split up.6
These principles are not a problem if a MAGTF is
employed by itself in a classic amphibious-type or stand-
alone operation. The conflict arises when the MAGTF becomes
part of a larger theater campaign. The question from a
joint air perspective becomes one of whether or not the
JFACC can exercise control over Marine air assets. It is
over this point that the Marine misunderstanding and
criticism of the JFACC occurs.
The Marines point to the 1986 Omnibus Agreement as
their justification for retaining control of their air
assets. This agreement deals with the command and control
of USMC TACAIR assets during sustained operations ashore.
It reaffirms the integrity of the MAGTF but also points out
that the JFC has the ultimate responsibility and authority
to accomplish his assigned mission. A 1986 letter from the
Commandant of the Marine Corps clearly stated the intent of
Quite clearly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorse the
integrity of the MAGTF. The bottom line is that the
Joint Force Commander is in charge. If he personally
believes that he has priority missions for any, repeat
any, Marine TACAIR, he has the authority to utilize
them as he sees fit.7
The major point of the JFACC controversy is one of
perceptions. The Marines see the JFACC as an Air Force
attempt to run the war based on the dominance of the air
battle. I say Air Force because under current procedures
the owner of the preponderance of air assets will be
designated the JFACC. In any joint operation requiring
substantial airpower it will likely be an Air Force JFACC
the majority of the time. The Air Force also recognizes the
power of the JFC. The authority the JFACC possesses is
the authority the JFC has given him.
Marine distrust of the Air Force JFACC and the
perceived need to protect their MAGTF doctrine was the real
problem during Desert Storm. The following is excerpted
from the Marine Corps CENTAF liaison officer's Desert
Shield/Desert Storm After Action Report:
To those who had day to day dealings with the Air
Force it readily became obvious that the JFACC's
primary concern was to coordinate the efforts of
theater aviation, deconflict airspace, and increase the
efficiency of the air campaign. Marines have
maintained that the JFACC role, as defined by the Air
Force, was to "control" Marine air. The Marine
definition has maintained that the JFACC's role is
strictly to coordinate the air effort. In fact it was
the Marine definition of the JFACC that came to pass.
Even so, the Marine Aircraft Wing maintained its
detachment from most of the coordinating effort
initiated by the JFACC...For the most part, the Wing
could have achieved the same objectives without
alienating the JFACC and fostering the idea that the
Marines are hard to get along with in a joint
Despite the differences of opinion over the amount of
control the JFACC could exercise over the other services'
assets, it did not become a major factor during Desert
Storm. This was mainly because the coalition possessed an
abundance of air assets. When additional reinforcements
were ordered to the Gulf to provide the offensive option,
Schwarzkopf received an additional 300 USAF aircraft and two
aircraft carriers over what he had requested.9 This
additional firepower allowed the Marines to maintain their
focus of effort on the battlefield in front of their ground
forces. The extra aircraft also allowed the JFACC the
ability to "trade" sorties with the Marines. Marine air
would be tasked to hit a theater interdiction target while
the USAF would provide A-10 or F-16 support to plug the hole
created by the JFACC tasking.10
Another of the controversies that arose from Desert
Storm was that of targeting. The Army component (ARCENT)
wanted its subordinate corps commanders to have
responsibility for shaping the battlefield with a dedicated
number of interdiction sorties allocated to each corps every
day.11 Such an arrangement would have been a return to the
flawed concept of decentralization disproven in the early
North African campaign during World War II.
Army Corps commanders complained that an adequate
number of their nominated targets were not being struck.
Investigation shows a number of reasons for this perception,
none of which can be directly attributable to the JFACC.
First, ARCENT intelligence was running two to three days
behind that of Central Command's (CENTCOM). Some of the
targets had already been hit and were awaiting battle damage
assessment (BDA). Second, if the nominated target was
antiaircraft artillery (AAA) or surface-to-air missiles
(SAM's), the target was not considered valid if the target
date was more than a few days old. This consideration was
due to the mobility of the targeted systems. The extensive
number of suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions
operating across the theater remedied this situation.
AAA/SAM threats were targeted for elimination as they were
detected. Finally, many of the nominated targets, such as
infantry battalions, were not considered suitable for air
strikes because of their dispersed and entrenched nature.12
Another source of the tension between ground commanders
and the JFACC was in fact caused by decisions made by Gen
Schwarzkopf. The JFACC executed the air war in accordance
with the JFC's guidance. At times the JFC contradicted his
own guidance. In a 31 January 91 message to Lt Gen Horner,
Gen Schwarzkopf noted that:
Target development and nomination during the early
phases of the campaign were clearly led by
the... (JFACC). As we move into battlefield
preparation, maneuver commander input into the target
selection process becomes even more important.
Therefore the opportunity for corps and subordinate
commanders to plan for and receive air sorties to fly
against targets of their choosing must increase.13
Yet with finite resources available, Gen Schwarzkopf
directed that sorties be continually directed at the
Republican Guards, at the expense of front-line targets
nominated by ARCENT and MARCENT commanders. Additionally,
many of the ground commanders wanted to see more emphasis
placed on taking out enemy artillery pieces versus tanks,
but the JFC shared the JFACC's belief in the importance of
tank-killing.14 In fact, Gen Schwarzkopf was so adamant
about this point that he personally prohibited Brig Gen
Glosson, head of the JFACC's "Black Hole" planning cell,
from targeting frontline artillery until just prior to the
ground offensive to prevent it from being replaced.15
Targeting conflicts are going to arise in any war.
Corps commanders have a very understandable interest in the
threat that stands in front of them. However, the corps
commander does not always have the theater-wide perspective
that the JFC and the JFACC possess. Decentralizing control
of air assets to the corps level would severely limit the
inherent flexibility of airpower.
There were numerous examples during Desert Storm where
mission effectiveness would have been hampered had the JFACC
not had the ability to shift assets as the situation
warranted. Scud hunting became a priority mission for
mainly political reasons. Centralized control made it
possible to shift response to these missions without having
to release aircraft that had been dedicated to fulfilling
other missions. Weather diverts were another example.
Many times adverse weather in one corps sector would
preclude strikes while weather in other areas was less
restrictive. Centralized control made the divert of strikes
to targets in other than the planned sector possible in an
Another misperception during Desert Storm was that the
Air Force, through the JFACC, placed more emphasis on deep
operations instead of the battlefield preparations favored
by the ground commanders. The original air concept called
for two weeks of deep strikes aimed at Iraq's command and
control centers, key industries, and elements of Iraq's
nuclear, biological, and chemical proliferation programs.
Review of the sorties flown, however, shows that after day
five of the air operation, in excess of fifty percent of the
sorties were directed at battlefield preparation targets.
That percentage would increase every day from day five
forward.17 The perception that the Air Force JFACC was not
concerned enough about the upcoming ground operation is
incorrect. In fact, the emphasis of the air attacks shifted
from Phase I strategic targets to battlefield preparation
targets earlier than the original JFC-approved air campaign
plan called for.
It cannot be stressed enough that it is that JFC who
must ultimately decide on any facet of the campaign, be it
land, sea, or air. There were times when conflicts did
arise between the JFACC and the JFC. One such case is the
employment of the B-52's. The JFACC and his staff wanted to
employ the B-52's primarily against areas where their large
bomb capacity would have the most effect such as supply
depot areas. The ground commanders wanted to see the B-52's
attacking the enemy troop concentrations opposite their
positions, primarily for psychological reasons. Schwarzkopf
agreed with his ground commanders and the B-52's were
primarily employed in this role.18 This decision just
serves to reinforce the fact that the war is fought by the
JFC and the JFACC is just one of his tools. If the JFC
wants to override the advice of his JFACC, or any of his
commanders, it is his prerogative to do so.
Probably the biggest complaint between the ground
commanders and the JFACC occurred over the use of the FSCL.
The FSCL is a control measure that the ground commander
uses to integrate his ground maneuver with supporting
fires. The FSCL is placed at some point in front of
advancing friendly troops. The area between the FLOT
(forward line of own troops) and the FSCL belongs to the
ground commander as the supported commander. The area
beyond the FSCL belongs to the JFACC for theater
interdiction and he is now the supported commander.
The significance of the FSCL is this: air attacks
occurring on the friendly side of the FSCL require
coordination with the ground commander, usually through a
forward air controller, because it is the ground commander
who has the troops at risk in the area. This arrangement
allows for positive control of close air support sorties and
helps prevent the possibility of fratricide. Air attacks
past the FSCL do not require coordination (although it is
still desirable). Ground-based fires past the FSCL must be
made in coordination with the JFACC as he is the one who now
has the troops at risk.
Placement of the FSCL is a corps-level decision to
support the commanders scheme of maneuver and his natural
desire to employ organic fires.19 On the fourth day of the
ground operation, 27 February, VII Corps placed the FSCL
fifty miles in front of their own position to circumvent the
need to coordinate fires with the JFACC. This placed the
FSCL north of the Euphrates River and contributed
significantly to the much-publicized escape of the Hammurabi
and Medina Divisions of the Republican Guards. Overwhelming
air attacks could not be brought to bear because of the
requirement to coordinate every sortie inside the FSCL.20
The issue of the FSCL as a permissive or restrictive
control measure is one that will likely confront every JFC.
Both ground and air commanders prefer to operate with the
maximum amount of freedom from each other. However, there
has to be some place for the changeover of primary
responsibility, whether it is the FSCL or some other
designated boundary, to protect the respective forces and to
allow them to operate at maximum effectiveness.21 Since
there are well defined rear area boundaries and lateral
boundaries between ground forces, it is not unreasonable to
assume the need for a forward boundary that supports the
requirements of both the air and ground commanders.
What implications does the JFACC performance in Desert
Storm provide for future joint operations? Most important
is that the JFACC concept works. Gen Horner's performance
during the conflict once again validated the principle that
a single air component commander can produce a more cohesive
air plan than would have been otherwise possible. The JFACC
has a superior view of the battlefield and is better able to
shift priorities to meet the desires of the JFC or to react
to unforeseen situations. He was able to generate 2000 to
3000 sorties per day into a geographically constrained
theater without one "blue on blue" air-to-air or ground-to-
Controversies did arise over individual service
doctrines, and will no doubt continue to surface, but having
a JFACC provided a single point for resolving many of the
issues. Issues that could not be worked out by the JFACC
and the service component commanders were settled where they
should be--by the JFC.
The JFACC had the luxury of an abundance of airpower to
adequately satisfy the requirements of the theater campaign
and the supported ground commanders. The same case may not
be true in the future as the military continues to downsize.
The future JFACC may be faced with the prospect of
recommending to the JFC that, for example, Marine close air
support be shifted away from Marine ground troops, even if
in contact, to support a more pressing need for Army or
coalition forces. Future JFC's, JFACC's, as well as ground
component commanders have to be aware of this possibility.
A second point to consider is the need for better joint
education and training concerning the targeting process and
an improved flow of information between the components.
This is important for a number of reasons. First, all of
the participants in the targeting process must understand
how the process works. All the components must know how to
nominate targets and what validation requirements must be
met to ensure the target remains current. Validation
usually varies by a number of factors including type of
target and type of weapon system requested for the mission.
A second requirement exists for the service components
to provide liaison officers to the JFACC staff. Liaison
officers will provide assistance in prioritizing the
targets which are of importance to the ground commander.
These officers will also provide their components with a
clear picture of the JFC's intent for the air operation and
the JFACC's plan to comply with this intent. Liaison
officers can also flow information to the component
commanders on the status of their nominated targets. These
exchanges would have reduced much of the confusion and
misunderstanding that existed during Desert Storm.
There is also the need for a better flow of
intelligence information throughout the theater. The
targeting process becomes inefficient when the service
components and the joint headquarters are not using the most
current information available to make their decisions.
Lastly, joint doctrine is needed to solve the deep
battle dilemma. Joint doctrine is clear in designating the
JFACC as the supported commander for the theater
interdiction effort. What is not clear is where this deep
battle begins. All the services intend to fight the deep
battle or deep operations, but the question remains, how
deep is deep? Does the deep battle begin at the FSCL or at
the forward boundary of the ground commander's AO? It is
possible to have interdiction targets in one AO that will
affect the maneuver plan in an adjacent AO. If the
interdiction line is placed at the FSCL, then reasonable
restraints must be placed on its location and movement in
order to take advantage of the capabilities of both
the attacking ground and air forces.
If used prudently, the FSCL is a reasonable line of
delineation between the ground and air components. As a
control measure it provides a means for concentrating the
most effective firepower available to defeat the enemy and
accomplish the JFC's objectives. Coordination between the
ground, air, and naval (if applicable) component commanders
should determine the initial placement and movement of the
FSCL. Component commanders possess a broader perspective of
the theater-wide battlefield and are in a better position to
determine the overall effect of the FSCL on meeting the
objectives of the operation. Significant differences of
opinion would be settled by the JFC in much the same manner
he currently resolves apportionment disputes.
With the continuing drawdown of the country's military
forces, no service possesses the capabilities to conduct
major operations alone. Joint operations are here to stay.
The JFC has been given the responsibility to accomplish the
assigned mission. As a commander and key player on the
JFC's team, the JFACC allows the JFC to effectively employ
airpower to accomplish campaign objectives. He is an
experienced airman who understands the unique capabilities
of airpower across service lines. The JFACC provides the
means for the JFC to ensure that his airpower assets are
molded into a cohesive, theater-wide air operation.
1U.S. Air Force, JFACC Primer (HQ USAF/XOXD, February 1994), 1.
2JFACC Primer, 3.
3Gen James H. Doolittle with Carroll V. Glines, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1992), 312-13.
4JFACC Primer, 5.
5JFACC Primer, 6.
6Fleet Marine Force Manual 1-2, The Role of the Marine Corps in the National Defense (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, June 1991), 6-4.
7Commandant United States Marine Corps White Letter No. 4-86 to An General Officers, All Commanding Officers, An Officers in Charge, subject: "1986 Omnibus Agreement for Command and Control of Marine TACAIR in Sustained Operations Ashore," 18 March 1986.
8USMC Liaison Officer, CENTAF, letter to Commander General, I Marine Expeditionary Force, subject: "Desert Shield/Desert Storm After Action Report," 18 March 1991.
9Maj Jeffrey E. Stambaugh, USAF, "JFACC: Key to Organizing Your Air Assets for
Victory" Parameters xxiv, no. 2(Spring 1994): 101.
10Lt Gen Royal N. Moore, Jr., USMC, "Marine Air: There When Needed," in U.S.
Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, comps. Maj Charles D. Melson, Evelyn A. Englander, Capt David A. Dawson (Washington, DC: 1992), 114.
11Col Richard B.H. Lewis, USAF, "JFACC Problems Associated With Battlefield
Preparation in Desert Storm" Airpower Journal, viii, no. 2 (Spring 1994): 16.
13Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey Summary Report
(Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 1993), 154.
19Field Manual 100-15, Corps Operation (Washington, DC: Department of the Army,
September 1989), 3-3.
21In his article "JFACC: Key to...,"May Stambaugh discusses a concept used in Korea called the Deep Battle Synchronization Line (DBSL). The DBSL defines the deep battle as all operations beyond the immediate vicinity of friendly ground forces anf further designates the JFACC as the (supported) commander responsible for the deep battle.
Commandant United States Marine Corps White Letter No. 4-86
to All General Officers, All Commanding Officers, All
Officers in Charge, subject '1986 Omnibus Agreement for
Command and Control of Marine TACAIR in Sustained
Operations Ashore," 18 March 1986
Doolittle, James H., Gen, with Carroll V. Glines. I Could
Never Be So Lucky Again. New York, NY: Bantam Books,
Field Manual 100-15. Corps Operations. Washington, DC:
Department of the Army. September 1989.
Fleet Marine Force Manual 1-2. The Role of the Marine Corps
in the National Defense. Washington, DC: Department of
the Navy. June 1991
Keaney, Thomas A., and Eliot A. Cohen. Gulf War Air Power
Survey Summary Report. Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 1993
Lewis, Richard B.H., Col, USAF. "JFACC Problems Associated
With Battlefield Preparation in Desert Storm." Airpower
Journal, viii, no. 1, (Spring 1994): 4-21
Moore, Royal N., Jr., Lt Gen, USMC. "Marine Air: There When
Needed." In U.S. Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-
1991: Anthology and Annotated Bibliography. Comps. Maj
Charles D. Melson, Evelyn A. Englander, Capt David A.
Dawson, 111-129, Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 1992
Stambaugh, Jeffrey E., Maj, USAF. "JFACC: Key to Organizing
Your Air Assets for Victory." Parameters, xxiv, no.
2(Spring 1994): 98-110
U.S. Air Force. JFACC Primer. Washington, DC: HQ USAF/XOXD,
USMC Liaison Officer, CENTAF, letter to Commander General, I
Marine Expeditionary Force, subject "Desert
Shield/Desert Storm After Action Report," 18 March 1991
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