DEATH FROM ABOVE: I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR during Desert Storm

CSC 1997

Subject Area - Aviation




MAP iv



Initial Deployment and Planning 5

The Great Void -- beyond the first three days of the ATO 9

The Offensive Mission, Commander's Intent, and Concept of Operations 14


Attrition or Battlespace Shaping 18 TACAIR Shaping Innovations 23

I MEF's Plan to Shape the Battlespace 24

Promulgation of the MEF's Plan 28

Supporting the Ground Offensive 32

Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I) 34


Baptism by Fire 38

A Word on Khafji 41

Finding Them and Killing Them -- Execution without the Plan 42

Support for the Grunt 44


The Marine Corps' new Paradigm 46

MEF as a Warfighter -- Only with the TACC 47

The MEF & TACAIR -- The plan is only good if the players know it 49

BDA -- You need to plan to get it 51

Train the way you Fight 52






Title: DEATH FROM ABOVE: I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR during Desert Storm

Author: Major Jurgen M. Lukas, United States Marine Corps

Thesis: By an evolutionary process, I MEF developed an air plan to shape its battlespace during Desert Storm. However, the plan was neither promulgated to the lowest level, nor was the command and control architecture adequate to support its execution. As a result, the MEF's plan was never really executed, neither was Marine TACAIR utilized as effectively as it might have been. Despite these shortcomings, the lessons learned by I MEF's experience have paved the way for many of today's Marine Corps warfighting concepts such as the "single battle," battlespace shaping, and the "Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) as a warfighter." As a result of the lessons learned during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and these new warfighting concepts, the criticality of the effective utilization of Marine TACAIR within the MEF's single battle has become more evident than ever before.

Background: This paper analyzes those operations conducted by I MEF which make the Marine Corps unique among America's armed forces -- the Marine Air-Ground Task Force's (MAGTF) capability to shape its battlespace and to conduct combined arms operations utilizing its organic tactical aviation (TACAIR) assets. The discussion begins with an explanation of how I MEF's planning process evolved from the initial deployment for Desert Shield to the opening air strikes of Desert Storm. This explanation focuses on the fact that I MEF was hampered by a total lack of Marine Corps doctrine and experience in corps level operations. Terms and concepts such as battlespace shaping and the "single battle" were not even in the Marine Corps' vocabulary in 1990, neither was the MEF considered to be a warfighter by its major subordinate commands. Next, the MEF's plan to prepare the battlespace for decisive ground operations is discussed. This discussion becomes the central theme of the paper. The problems encountered by the MEF and its subordinate commands, as well as the tactical innovations and plans developed to combat those problems are analyzed. Specifically, the problems of battlespace intelligence, targeting, combat assessment, command and control, and most importantly plans promulgation are developed. This analysis is followed by a study of events from the supporting aircrew's perspective. In this section of the paper, the dichotomy between the MEF's plan and the actual execution of the Marine Corps' airwar is discussed. The study is concluded by the submission of several lessons and implications drawn from I MEF's Gulf War experience, which are intended to fuel further discussion and study on the evolution of TACAIR's role and function within the Marine Corps.

Recommendation: This paper seeks to illustrate only a fraction of the lessons to be learned from the MEF's use of TACAIR in Desert Storm. There are many others with no less import and relevance yet to be examined. It is the author's hope that this paper has awakened a renewed interest in the subject and that its further study will benefit the ongoing evolution of TACAIR's role in the Marine Corps. The Marine Air-Ground Task Force's (MAGTF) capability to shape its battlespace and to conduct combined-arms operations utilizing its organic tactical aviation (TACAIR) assets that make it unique among America's armed forces. The conduct of these unique capabilities by I MEF and its subordinate commands during the Gulf War is what made Desert Shield and Desert Storm a capstone event in Marine Corps' history. This is true, not because every aspect of I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR was executed correctly, but because of the lessons which can be learned by studying the mistakes that were made and why they occurred. As a result of the recognition of these mistakes, I MEF's role in Desert Storm has become the driving force behind much of the developing Marine Corps doctrine and operational concepts. However, doctrine and operational concepts will not by themselves ensure that the mistakes made in the Gulf War are not repeated. With that in mind the following summation of the lessons illustrated by this study is offered.

In order for the MEF to effectively utilize its ACE in the single battle to shape the battlespace and to conduct decisive operations, whether it is operating in a joint, multinational, or unilateral environment, it must recognize and act upon the following requirements:

1. Adequately structure the MAGTF C3I architecture to allow the MEF commander to influence the battle by direct access to his aviation assets (the MEF physically or electronically co-located with the TACC).

2. Ensure thorough promulgation of the plan of execution to include commander's intent and planning methodology. Additionally, at the TACAIR operator level, a better understanding of the importance of knowing the plan must be achieved in order for Marine TACAIR to reach its potential in the MAGTF's single battle.

3. Adequately plan for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of battle damage assessment in order to know how the MEF is doing in its efforts to shape the battlespace and ultimately to know when shaping operations can give way to decisive actions.

4. Marine TACAIR must recognize the fundamental importance of the armed reconnaissance mission and how it relates to the MEF commander's single battle.

5. The MEF must train in peacetime the way it will fight in war. MEF and subordinate staffs must focus on and train for their combat responsibilities.

Only when these requirements have been met will the MAGTF be ready to be a warfighter -- because next time the enemy might fight back.


1. Initial Target Precedence List[1] page 12

2. Marine Corps Single Battle Concept[2] page 13

3. Shaping page 18

4. Iraqi Positions in Southern KTO[3] page 19

5. MEF Air Targeting PDE Cycle page 21

6. Shaping (description)[4] page 22

7. I MEF Artillery Boxes[5] page 25

8. I MEF Maneuver Boxes[6] page 25

9. I MEF Ground Offensive-Phase IV Stage A[7] page 32

10. Supporting the Ground Offensive-"push CAS"[8] page 33

11. Fire Support Coordination Lines[9] page 33

12. Marine Corps Single Battle Concept[10] page 47

13. Shaping Assessment[11] page 51










1. Introduction -- 26 Feb 91 5. Conclusion -- 24 Feb 91

2. Chapter 2 -- 26 Jan 91 6. Battle of Khafji -- 30- 31 Jan

3. Chapter 3 -- 1 Feb 91 7. Highway of Death -- 26 Feb 91

4. Chapter 4 -- 24 Feb 91


I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR during Desert Storm


For nothing can seem foul to those that win.

-William Shakespeare, King Henry,

in King Henry IV, pt.1, act 5, sc. 1.

26 February 1991, approximately 1400:

I was leading Major "Boomer" Knutzen, our squadron Ops.O., back from our second Armed Recce mission of the day. The weather had been very restrictive (3-4,000' overcast with rain -- not a good place to be with AAA in the area), but the Iraqis were fleeing in droves from their positions in and around Kuwait City. Finding them and killing them had been easy, and there were many more targets out there. So after some inter-cockpit deliberations, we diverted into Jubayl to refuel, rearm, and talk the TACC into letting us go out again. After quickly going through the pits and getting five Mk-83s each, "Boomer" walked over to the TACC to give them a debrief and get the "ok" for one more flight. In less than 30 minutes we were airborne heading back into Kuwait... The weather got better as we went north past Ali Al Salem Air Base just west of Kuwait City and the highway going toward Basra. We called the FastFAC working the highway (later known as the "Highway of Death"), but he was busy with other aircraft, so we proceeded a little bit west and found a column of tanks and APCs moving along a dirt road toward the north. The airspace belonged to the ABCCC, so after getting their frequency from the FastFAC, I called them, gave them our position in AF 5 Northeast and got clearance to attack. I rolled in on the lead tank and dropped 2 Mk-83s; one hit short, but the second hit the top of the tank. After that, the column dispersed in all directions and we easily picked-off most of the rest, ending our attacks with multiple strafing runs before heading back to Bahrain. Two days later the war was over -- we had won.[12]

In the aftermath of welcome home parties, yellow ribbons, awards, accolades and ticker-tape parades, much has been said and written about the Gulf War. Of late it has come under considerable scrutiny and has been called a "Hollow Victory."[13] After all, Saddam is still in power. The Iraqis really did not fight back. The coalition forces enjoyed all the benefits of technology, had the time to use it, and in the end, American combat loses were only 148 killed in action during the entire war.[14]

Although the war against Iraq may have been an isolated and unique situation, its impact and significance should not be underestimated. Many of the lessons learned during the conflict are being used to form joint/service warfighting doctrine and force structure. Within the Marine Corps the lessons learned are being used to develop new concepts and procedures such as: the "single battle," battlespace shaping, and the "Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) as a warfighter." Concepts which, as they are understood today, did not even exist when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. At almost every level of Marine Corps operations, hardware is being procured and training has been tailored to incorporate the experience and lessons of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Yet despite these fundamental changes, the Marine Corps has not done a formal, public analysis of its performance during the war.

Unfortunately, no single monograph can hope to accomplish this task. It is the purpose of this paper to analyze only one aspect of the Marine Corps' performance during Desert Storm, specifically, those operations conducted by I MEF which make the Marine Corps unique among America's armed forces -- the Marine Air-Ground Task Force's (MAGTF) capability to shape its battlespace and to conduct combined-arms operations utilizing its organic tactical aviation (TACAIR) assets. Through original documentation, interviews of participants, and personal experience this paper will examine I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR. The primary focus will be on the MEF's plan to shape the battlespace, how well that plan was promulgated at the operator level, and how it was executed by the Marine aircrews flying the missions. The command and control architecture, to include intelligence and battle damage assessment (BDA) support, will also be examined. Finally, this paper will suggest some lessons and implications for the present and future Marine Corps. Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) and other "joint" arguments will not be discussed. The MAGTF must look inward to resolve its own warfighting concerns before fully integrating into the joint world. Reference to specific individuals will be avoided as much as possible. It is important to know what happened and the resulting consequences, instead of who is to blame. Notwithstanding, personalities do count. In the Gulf War, as in all military endeavors, the personalities involved had more influence on the final outcome than any service doctrine or military principle.

Not all the missions went quite as well as the one described in the beginning of this introduction. A static defending enemy is hard to find in the open featureless desert. For the vast majority of aircrew and staff personnel, this was their first combat experience and there were many unknowns and uncertainties. For both aircrew and staff officers, there was much on the job training. MEF and wing staffs struggled to find the best way to plan the biggest air war the Marine Corps had been involved in since World War II without the benefit of adequate service doctrine. Aircrew had to struggle with imperfect knowledge of both the enemy and the plans devised to defeat him. This paper will show that, eventually, the MEF developed an air plan to shape its battlespace. However, the plan was neither promulgated to the lowest level, nor was the command and control architecture adequate to support its execution. As a result, the MEF's plan was never really executed, neither was Marine TACAIR utilized as effectively as it might have been. A word of caution before continuing; lest we be too critical -- it must be remembered that hindsight is always 20 / 20 and it is easy to know all the answers when you are not being shot at.



17 January 1991, approximately 0600:

Well, the war has started. Day 1 Wave 1 just got back, and we were driving to our first combat brief wearing gas masks because of an Iraqi scud attack -- not a real good way to start a war. LtCol. "Smut" Stuart, my squadron CO, is the mission commander for Day 1 Wave 2, but I had been briefing the mission since we started planning in September. After an additional short period in a make-shift sandbag bomb shelter because of another scud attack, I started the brief for a 24 plane strike against the IOC at Tallil -- you could have heard a pin drop...The strike took off from Shaikh Isa without further problems, maintaining radio silence. We had planned and rehearsed this thing since early September and now it was really happening...The weather was perfect. We all made the tanker rendezvous, and soon we were entering Iraqi airspace. Almost immediately the radio crackled with an emergency call from the crew of a British Tornado which had been hit by a SAM. The crew was ejecting and needed help -- my heart was now where my throat used to be...I could see our target from 50 miles away. Soon I heard "Walt" Garrison's "Magnum" call, signifying that the SEAD package was firing the first HARMs. Shortly thereafter, "Smut" signaled for our attack formation and we rolled-in from 30,000 feet. I made a quick aim point adjustment and dropped 2 Mk-84 2,000 pound bombs. Pulling out at 14,000 feet (a little lower than planned!), I looked behind me to see the bombs impacting on target (it was the first time I had ever seen bombs hit a real target). By now, the perfect weather had given way to small white smoke puffs and long smoke trails (only later would we realize that it wasn't a change in the weather, but Iraqi AAA and SAMs -- who knew, none of us had seen it before)...I made a call to my wingman, "Otis" Day, to make sure he saw me and turned to join on "Smut" as we climbed to 40,000 feet to start our egress back towards home. I took one more look behind me to see the other bombs impacting and shortly thereafter the last guy called "off target"...The AWACS called the area clear of enemy aircraft and soon we were safe back over Saudi Arabia...Later, Intel reports would indicate that the IOC at Tallil ceased to be operational after our strike.[15]

Initial Deployment and Planning

On 8 August 1990, six days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, LtGen Walter E. Boomer took command of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. He found that his staff was undermanned and untrained. In fact the staff as a whole had not been involved in a MEF level field exercise for over two years.[16] This situation was not uncommon within the Marine Corps. The Marines had not conducted a MEF (Army corps equivalent) combat operation in nearly a generation. Forty-five years had passed since a Marine general had commanded a corps-sized unit with two or more maneuvering divisions. In recent history Marine operational emphasis had been placed on smaller brigade or battalion sized operations. In fact, the possibility of a MEF going to war seemed so remote that it had all but been removed from the Marine Corps' Command and Staff College curriculum.[17] Only the Army had doctrine to support a corps sized combat operation, and that was based on an European campaign against the Soviet Union.[18] Nothing had been written or practiced to prepare I MEF for the crisis in which it would now be involved.

I MEF was the Marine component command, Marine Forces Central Command (MARCENT) for the US Central Command (CENTCOM). It was CENTCOM's job to solve the crisis caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The initial defensive operation would be called Desert Shield. The ensuing deployment and force build-up would result in LtGen Boomer commanding two full divisions and a heavily reinforced aircraft wing, a force equivalent to almost two-thirds of the Marine Corps' combat power -- a position he, his staff, and the Marine Corps in general had not planned for.[19]

Luckily, earlier that summer several I MEF staff officers participated in a CENTCOM wargame called Operation Internal Look. The scenario had been remarkably similar to what was now happening in the Gulf, so I MEF was not totally unprepared for the rapid deployment of its forces to the region and its initial defensive mission. By 3 September 1990, LtGen Boomer had set up his initial headquarters in the port of Jubayl, Saudi Arabia. Once established in theater, he and his staff were busy integrating their rapidly growing force into CENTCOM's defensive plan, and beginning the early planning of the offensive operation called Desert Storm.[20]

Desert Storm was to take place only if the sanctions which had been placed on Iraq by the United Nations did not force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. If executed, Desert Storm was to be conducted in four phases:

Phase 1: Strategic Air Offensive

Phase 2: Air Superiority in the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO)

Phase 3: Attrition of Enemy Ground Forces

Phase 4: Ground Offensive

Phase 1 was to attack the strategic center of gravity, Saddam Hussein and his ability to adequately communicate with and lead his forces. This phase also aimed to destroy Iraq's war making infrastructure and national resolve. Phase 2 was to be conducted almost simultaneously and would allow Coalition Air Forces free reign over the KTO. Next, Phase 3 was to attrite Iraq's operational centers of gravity, the Republican Guard and the armor and artillery heavy ground forces occupying Kuwait, paving the way for a ground offensive. The ground war was to liberate Kuwait and to destroy the Republican Guard.[21] The Marines of I MEF were to participate in all four phases of Desert Storm, but the initial planning revolved around Phase 1 -- the strategic air offensive and the role Marine aviation was to play in it.

The 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), commanded by MajGen Royal N. Moore, was the air combat element (ACE) of the MEF. As such, 3d MAW was the MEF's fighting force for the first three phases of Desert Storm, and the traditional supporting arm of the Marines' ground offensive plans for Phase 4. MajGen Moore's ACE was the largest Marine Aircraft Wing ever assembled. At the height of the Gulf War 3d MAW would be comprised of six Marine Aircraft Groups with a total of over 35 squadrons, a Marine Aviation Command and Control System (MACCS) totaling 18 squadrons, battalions and detachments, over 16,000 Marines and almost 500 combat aircraft.[22] It contained every type of aircraft in the Marine Corps' inventory. Assembled very quickly, with ad hoc staff augmentation, 3d MAW commanded units from all three active duty Marine aircraft wings, the 1st Marine Brigade and from the Marine Corps reserve.[23]

The MEF's (and 3d MAW's) interface with CENTCOM's JFACC was established early in the planning phase of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Prior to deployment there were no formal written agreements between the Marines and CENTCOM regarding the apportionment of Marine aviation for use by the JFACC. By 20 August, a verbal agreement had been made between the two commands. The agreement called for 50% of all F/A-18s, all the A-6Es and EA-6Bs, and two KC-130s, but none of 3d MAW's AV-8B's to be given to the JFACC for utilization in the first 36 hours of Phase 1 of Desert Storm. In this way the MEF and the ACE assured the reasonable application of Marine air power by the JFACC, while at the same time husbanding their assets for the other three phases of the planned offensive. For the defensive operations during Desert Shield, the Marine F/A-18s of Marine Aircraft Group-11 (MAG) were tasked with providing a 24-hour defensive combat air patrol (CAP) in the north Arabian Gulf. This continuous Marine CAP provided the MEF with its own integrated air defense system for Desert Shield -- keeping with the tradition of Marines supporting Marines in combat. In addition to flying the north Gulf CAP, Marine TACAIR was busy planning air support operations for the Marine and coalition ground forces, in case the Iraqis moved further south, and planning for Phase 1 of the proposed offensive operations[24]

The first 36-hours of Desert Storm-Phase 1 and the corresponding air tasking order (ATO) were planned very early in the fall of 1990.[25] The Marine portion of the plan was to include multiple, large, joint/combined strikes against targets in southeastern Iraq and northern Kuwait. These strikes were planned, rehearsed and re-planned throughout the fall and early winter of 1990-91. This phase of the offensive became the focus of effort for wing, group, and squadron planners. JFACC and Marine planners alike became so confident that most genuinely felt that this phase of the offensive alone would cause Iraq's defeat.[26] As Dr. Cochran states in the Gulf War Air Power Survey: Planning Report, "by concentrating all of the CENTAF planner's efforts towards the first phase of the overall theater campaign plan, they implicitly stated their vision that air power alone could prevail and would bring victory within the first week."[27] This mindset may have caused the MEF, its ACE, and the aircrew planning the missions to pay less attention than they should have to what would happen after the first few days of the ATO.

The Great Void -- beyond the first three days of the ATO

Officially the MEF did not start planning for offensive operations until 5 October, when LtGen Boomer directed a "special team to begin planning for an offensive operation."[28] However, planning had been going on from the very beginning of the crisis. Aside from the planning for Phase 1, which has already been discussed, the targeting cell for the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) had been established on 18 August and tasked with developing policies and procedures for decisive combat operations. The 7th MEB had been the initial Marine command element in theater and was subsumed by the MEF on 6 September. The MEB targeting cell then became the MARCENT / I MEF targeting cell. This initial planning group consisted of only three officers -- an artillery lieutenant colonel, an artillery major, and an infantry captain. Targeting had never been a high priority for the Marine Corps, and as a result no real doctrine or procedures existed to help this initial planning cell.[29] Concepts used today to plan this type of targeting, the single battle and battlespace shaping, were not even in the Marine Corps' vocabulary. Furthermore, since the MEF relied almost exclusively on its organic TACAIR to target the opposing Iraqi forces, the cell lacked the aviation experience necessary to make adequate planning decisions. Despite these handicaps, this group spent the next four months in a self-training and planning process to devise I MEF's offensive targeting plan, with their focus on Phase 3 and Phase 4 of CENTCOM's campaign plan. Their offensive targeting for Phase 3 was to set the conditions for successful Phase 4 operations (the ground offensive), where it was envisioned that close air support (CAS) would become the focus.[30]

Concurrent with the initial targeting plan, the MEF and its subordinate commands planned for the eventuality of defensive or offensive ground operations. Interface between the MEF's ground combat element (GCE) and the ACE was continuous throughout the entire Desert Shield period. Several Marine and joint CAS seminars were held to discuss policies and procedures. The ACE also hosted visits by the GCE tactical air control parties (TACP) and direct air support center (DASC) personnel at Shaikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain. Although these meetings were valuable and productive, detailed planning was made difficult by the uncertain ground scheme of maneuver and ever changing force structure.

As part of the planning for possible ground operations, the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) the Marine landing force for NAVCENT in I MEF's area of operations, conducted an Amphibious exercise called Imminent Thunder in November of 1990. During Imminent Thunder the MEF tested its CAS operating procedures and command and control architecture in preparation for either defensive or offensive ground operations.[31] Poor weather hampered the exercise, but all aviation functions were conducted. Communications between the MACCS, GCE and air assets were very poor and at times it seemed few air controllers knew what was going on. Furthermore, CAS procedures proved very difficult to execute in the desert environment. Traditional marking of CAS targets was not possible because the area being utilized was not a live-fire range. So CAS "talk-on" procedures were attempted, to direct attacking aircraft onto mock targets. The results were dismal at best. The anticipated surface-to-air threat and resulting tactics caused attacking aircraft to loiter above the target at about 15,000 feet. At this altitude the aircraft were next to invisible to the TACP personnel trying to direct the simulated attacks. Furthermore, for the TACPs to describe and direct attacks on a target within the featureless desert terrain proved next to impossible. "Imminent Thunder" was a real "wake-up" call to the problems that could be anticipated if the GCE really needed CAS. Fortunately that need never truly materialized, because the problems of poor communications and the inability to mark the targets were never adequately resolved. As Col. Manfred Rietsch, commanding officer of MAG-11, stated in his Battle Assessment Team interview after the war, "We couldn't talk to them and they couldn't mark targets. Unless they can do those two things it's almost not worth doing."[32]

On 1 January 1991, the MEF targeting cell briefed its initial Phase 3 and Phase 4 plan to LtGen Boomer. This initial targeting plan and the corresponding operations plan (OPLAN) was approved by the MEF commanding general. Unlike what is prescribed by today's Marine Corps planning process, the MEF's OPLAN hinged almost entirely on the ground scheme of maneuver and was not in keeping with the contemporary single battle concept. Furthermore, the initial targeting plan was merely a list of targets to be attacked by Marine and JFACC assets; as such, the initial target precedence list did not constitute a comprehensive plan to shape the battlespace. However, by the middle of January 1991, the MEF and subordinate staffs received heavy augmentation from MAWTS-1, the Marine Corps University and other commands throughout the Marine Corps. Under direction of LtGen Boomer and his new deputy commander MajGen Hearney, this new staff revised the initial targeting plan to encompass the additional planning expertise, increased force structure, changing enemy situation as a consequence of the initial air war phases, and resulting overall offensive plan. This revision did not happen overnight, but was an evolutionary process which continued until the end of the campaign.

Prior to this augmentation, the MEF staff was not adequately manned to provide the necessary staff functions to plan and execute operations at this level of warfare. Their late arrival and the criticality of the assigned mission forced this "new" ad hoc staff to form, organize and coalesce very rapidly. The new staff had to accomplish this without the benefit of an established MEF staff organizational structure, staff training program, or specific doctrine to cover the MEF's role in shaping and deep operations.[33] To compound this problem, the number and seniority of augmentees to both the MEF and Wing staffs was such that duplication of effort and competing initiatives were almost inevitable. Lastly, the issue of battlespace shaping versus enemy force attrition had, up to that point, never been studied by the Marine Corps or the military establishment as a whole. The concepts of shaping the battlespace and the MEF's role in the "single battle" as they are understood today did not even exist. It was, in fact, new ground for the MEF and its subordinate commands. As a result these concepts evolved from, but were never fully implemented during the war.[34]

Despite the ongoing planning for CENTCOM's strategic air offensive and the MEF's air support procedures and targeting of Iraqi forces, the question of how operations were to be conducted following Phase 1 (and before ground operations) was not being answered at the operator (squadron/battalion) level prior to the commencement of hostilities on 17 January 1991. This was due in part to the overconfidence in the effectiveness of the strategic air plan (Phase 1), the late arrival of an experienced planning staff at the MEF and wing level, and the lack of established planning doctrine. It was also due to the shifting force structure, since final approval to augment CENTCOM's forces in preparation for offensive operations did not come until 7 November, and finally due to the evolving mission directives of CENTCOM, which were based on these arriving augment forces.[35]

For those of us flying the north Gulf CAP, planning the first strikes of the strategic air plan, and working out CAS procedures, the real likelihood of war was still remote at the beginning of January 1991. Perhaps that is the real reason that we did not have a plan -- we were just not scared enough. The bottom line is that what was missing, as the war approached, was a plan to shape the MEF's battlespace during Phase 3 of the campaign in order to successfully conduct decisive ground operations in Phase 4 should they be required to fulfill the commander-in-chief's (CINC) mission, and in turn the MEF's mission.

The Offensive Mission, Commander's Intent and Concept of Operations






Based on the CINC's directive issued in mid-November 1990 and the assignment of the supporting attack for Phase 4 - the ground offensive, to MARCENT, the Marines were to achieve the following mission:

1. Fix and destroy Iraqi forces in zone.

2. Prevent reinforcement of Iraqi forces in the west.

3. Block retreat of Iraqi forces from southeast Kuwait and Kuwait City.

4. Assist Arab forces in passing through MARCENT to enter Kuwait City.[37]

Following an analysis of these mission objectives and integration of reinforcements which recently arrived in theater from II MEF and the 1st MEB, LtGen Boomer issued his

commander's intent:

1. Penetrate Iraqi forward defenses in two places.

2. Bypass all enemy forces east of Burqan and Ahmadi oil fields.

3. Exploit the penetration rapidly with combined arms.

4. Consolidate our gains and assist Arab forces in entering Kuwait City.[38]

The assigned mission, commander's intent, and overall four phase CENTCOM campaign plan gave the impetus for detailed planning by the MEF and subordinate staffs. While the MEF OPLAN for Operation Desert Storm was approved by LtGen Boomer on 1 January, the OPLAN changed twice during the execution of the air war, with the final plan for the MEF's ground offensive being approved on 14 February.[39] This second change to the MEF OPLAN called for two division breaches of the Iraqi defenses in Kuwait to be conducted by the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions respectively. These changes in the MEF's OPLAN, and developments during Phase 1 and 2 of the campaign, resulted in planning for air support and battlespace shaping to continue and evolve until the start of the ground offensive on 24 February. Priorities and commander's intent for the ACE in support of the MEF changed and evolved accordingly.

For MajGen Moore and the ACE staff the overriding precept was the conservation of aviation assets for Phase 4. This was based on MajGen Moore's belief that Phases 1, 2, and 3 would last longer than the JFACC predicted, and on the overarching ethos of Marine aviation -- supporting the Marine on the ground. In this context, the following concepts of operations were developed by 3d MAW starting in December of 1990.

For Phase 1, the ACE's concept of operations was for the AV-8Bs to attack Iraqi forces in Kuwait according to the MEF's targeting priorities (for the Marine Corps, this in effect began Phase 3- Attrition of Enemy Ground Forces, before any detailed planning was conducted ). At the same time F/A-18, A-6, EA-6B, and KC-130 assets (above those in direct support requirements of the MEF) would support JFACC tasking, striking targets in southern Iraq. This approximated 75 percent of available F/A-18 and EA-6B aircraft.[40]

For Phase 2, F/A-18 and EA-6B support to the JFACC was reduced to 50 percent of available aircraft, while MEF objectives were to be met through approximately four large aircraft packages, in addition to section and division size missions. All F/A-18Ds were to operate as FastFACs to support AV-8B missions in Kuwait. During this phase, A-6Es were to be used exclusively for night, solo, armed recce and interdiction missions to provide continuous night observation/attack over the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO) as a hedge against an Iraqi assault on Marine ground forces and to prevent Iraqi movement within the KTO.[41]

During Phase 3, the level of JFACC support decreased to 25% of available F/A-18 and EA-6Bs. MEF strikes changed to predominantly division and section sized armed recce missions, which were assigned a geographical area with last known target location. Authority was also granted to hit targets of opportunity if the assigned targets were not located. As the ground offensive neared, what would now be called battlespace shaping efforts were to be increased, with specific "prep fires" in the following sequence:

a. Concentrate on the breach frontages.

b. Shift deep to the Iraqi indirect fire systems and armor counterattack forces.

c. Shift back to the breach frontage just prior to the penetration with napalm and fuel air explosives (FAE).

d.      Shift back to the Iraqi indirect fire systems.[42]

Lastly, for Phase 4 the ACE's intent was to provide continuous support for all functions of Marine aviation for a two division ground assault, with support "weighted" to the 1st Division as they penetrate the barrier fields, due to the vulnerability of their right flank and the quantity of indirect fire threats. The concept of operations for this intent was to provide three days of surge operations as ground forces moved into attack positions, proceeded through the breach sites and continued their attack. Priority throughout the ground war was to provide CAS with 100% of all Marine TACAIR assets. CAS was to be provided utilizing a "push CAS" system with a division of F/A-18s and a section of AV-8Bs arriving every seven and one-half minutes. All aircraft were to be sent to a "main" CAS stack to support the two division front. All aircraft that were not utilized for CAS were to be directed to secondary, east and west, stacks to perform armed recce and interdiction with the targeting priorities of:

a. Long range indirect fire systems

b. Mechanized counterattack forces

c.       Other targets of opportunity[43]

Knowing this, we can now turn to the details of the MEF and ACE plan to shape the battlespace and conduct decisive operations.




26 January 1991, approximately 0630:

I was a few hours away from briefing and leading a 24 plane strike against a JFACC assigned target just south of Basra. I just couldn't believe we were going to send 24 Hornets, plus EW and tanker support, against a "possible" scud site, with no real Intel or pictures. It was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. I had already gone to see Group Ops to ask them to change the target to something we could find and hit, and they were checking on it with the wing... A half hour before the brief, I made one last stop at the Group before going to the briefing room. Much to my surprise, the wing had approved a change to a MEF target. We were now going after Iraqi troop positions and a C2 node in southern Kuwait -- now that at least sounded more like a target, even if we still did not have a good target description or photographs. It was going to be the first major strike into southern Kuwait for MAG-11, so we scrambled to change the plan; briefed a little late, but launched on time...The weather was perfect, and we had no indications of enemy radar as we entered Kuwaiti airspace. To avoid AAA

and hand-held SAMs, the planned release altitude was about 14,000 feet. Four miles from the target I started my attack. I put the pipper on my pre-planned aim point, but saw only one truck, an oil line, a road intersection, and a lot of sand. Without something better to aim at, I dropped on my aim point. Everyone dropped their bombs and we all got safely back to Bahrain...I never did find out what the mission BDA was.[44]

Attrition or Battlespace Shaping







The commonly accepted force ratio for an attacking force against a defending force in prepared positions is 3 to 1

in favor of the attacker. What I

MEF's two division GCE faced as

Phase 4 - the Ground Offensive,

loomed near at the end of January

1990, was a force ratio of 1 to 7.

Furthermore, the roughly fourteen

Iraqi divisions in southern Kuwait were

supported by large numbers of indirect fire

weapons, in the form of field artillery and surface-to-surface rockets, most of which could out-range the Marine Corps' organic artillery.[45] This force ratio was totally unacceptable to LtGen Boomer, whose intention was to fight the "deep" battle for the MEF in order to "shape" the enemy in preparation for the decisive close battle to be fought by his division commanders.[46] As stated in the commander's intent and concept of operations outlined in chapter 1, the MEF's fighting force for this "deep" battle was the ACE, augmented by JFACC assets. In order to direct his staff's and subordinate commanders' efforts, LtGen Boomer, in concert with CINCCENT, directed that a 50% reduction of Iraqi forces in the southern KTO be achieved prior to beginning the ground offensive. Specific USMARCENT battle damage requirements to be achieved by G-day (day ground offensive begins) were:

ARTILLERY - 50% (406)

FROGS/MRLS - 100% (82)

TANKS - 50% (690)

APCs - 50% (584)

INFANTRY [at breach site] - 50%[47]

note: Numbers in parenthesis indicate intelligence estimate of actual

number of Iraqi equipment in southern KTO.[48]

It was far easier to establish this requirement than to attain the goal.

The USMARCENT attrition guidance was the first thing that had to be studied and understood. As the air war progressed through Phases 1 and 2 at the end of January 1991, the large strike packages targeting fixed sites met with great success. These missions benefited from reliable targeting information, and because they were static, attaining battle damage assessment on these targets was relatively easy. However, as the targeting priorities shifted toward mobile positions such as indirect fire weapons, armor, and troop concentrations, assessment of mission results became more difficult to determine. The initial concept of attrition was understood to mean physical destruction of individual units and their warfighting equipment. Through study of the mission results from the first two weeks of the war, the MEF staff in the G-3 and the FSCC determined that physical destruction to the level demanded by the commanding general's battle damage requirements would be all but impossible due to the excessive number of TACAIR sorties and ordnance required to attain this goal[49] The problem was further exacerbated by the planners' initial assumptions that the individual Iraqi units being targeted according to the MEF's plan could be located by the assigned strike mission, accurately struck with the appropriate ordnance, and that battle damage assessment for each mission could be gained in such a way as to make timely re-attack possible if deemed necessary.

In practice this became next to impossible. Although targeting intelligence support at the MEF level had relatively accurate, reliable information, by the time the mission was assigned and flown the target was often no longer in the same location, or was camouflaged in such a manner as to make targeting identification impossible.[50] The Iraqi military proved to be masters at camouflage. Often artillery and armor were virtually buried in sand and covered with netting, thereby further complicating the aircrew and planners' efforts.[51] These Iraqi defensive preparations and movement, and the institutional delays associated with intelligence acquisition and the ATO cycle made the MEF staff's PLANNING - DECISION - EXECUTION (PDE) cycle for targeting Iraqi positions in Kuwait far too long to be effective.[52]

This PDE cycle was executed in the following manner and timeline. On Day-1 (Monday), a decision was made to target a specific unit based on the general targeting plan. The proposed target was then submitted to the intelligence collection community, who allocated collection assets for it on Day-2 (Tuesday). Ideally the collection process was conducted immediately, analyzed, and disseminated back to the MEF targeting staff in the G-3 by Day-4 (Thursday). The intelligence was evaluated, the target validated, and finally submitted to the ACE in time for the 36-hour MEF ATO cycle, for inclusion on the ATO to be flown on Day-6 (Saturday) . Post mission BDA would than be collected from various sources to determine effects and effectiveness of the mission.[53] The information was analyzed on Day-7 (Sunday), and then depending on that analysis this seven to ten day cycle was repeated. This process proved very cumbersome and prone to inaccuracies.[54] There was no guarantee that the desired target could be validated in time for submission to the ATO process. Then, if it was validated on Day-4, there was no guarantee that it would in fact still be a valid target by Day-6 when the ATO was executed (weather and other circumstances permitting -- the "fog" of war). Additionally, the possibility of the aircrew striking a different target altogether was very high, based on Iraqi movement, camouflage and deception schemes.[55] Lastly, the MEF's ability to ascertain BDA from such a mission was very limited. Immediate collection assets other than the attacking aircrew were not available, and aircrew BDA was inherently inaccurate other than in those instances where catastrophic destruction of the target was observed. Likewise, national and CENTCOM assets were in short supply and faced competing demands by the other component commanders.[56]









These problems associated with attriting Iraqi forces caused the MEF, subordinate staffs, and the corresponding

commanders to shift their efforts to

developing courses of action which

more closely resembled today's

shaping concepts.[57] Instead of

attempting to attrite the entire

southern KTO, the focus shifted to

what the desired picture was for the MEF's battlespace in context with the proposed scheme of maneuver for the ground offensive. Targeting priorities shifted to reflect those Iraqi assets which could "range" specific parts of the battlespace, and innovative operational and tactical concepts were developed to support this new shaping scheme.[58]

TACAIR Shaping Innovations

The first targeting priority shift and tactical innovation was the result of MajGen Myatt's (Commanding General, 1st Marine Division) concern for the number of Iraqi indirect fire weapons which were able to range his probable breach site on the southern Kuwaiti border. MajGen Myatt's aim was to defeat the "mind" and "will to fight" of the Iraqi artillerymen, by convincing them that they would be attacked by Marine aircraft every time they tried to fire their guns.[59] To achieve this aim 12 combined arms artillery raids were conducted between 19 January and 22 February 1991. During these "raids" Marine artillery units would, under the cover of darkness, position themselves close to the southern Kuwaiti border in order to range known Iraqi artillery positions. Once in position they would fire on the Iraqi artillery units and retreat south out of range of returning Iraqi fire. When the Iraqi artillery returned fire, their position would be calculated using counter-battery fire radar, and relayed to an awaiting ACE strike team consisting of a F/A-18D FastFAC, an EA-6B and F/A-18 or A-6 attack aircraft. This counter-fire strike team known as "quick fire," would then locate the firing Iraqi artillery position and destroy it. These missions proved extremely successful. The Iraqi artillery, which was so difficult to locate during normal attack missions, was easily spotted and attacked during these night raids both because of the known location and because of easy visual acquisition of their muzzle flashes with night vision devices. The success of these missions was evident when a Marine remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), equipped with a forward looking infrared camera (FLIR), taped Iraqi artillerymen abandoning their position when they heard a Marine F/A-18 flying overhead at night.[60]

The use of the two-seat F/A-18D in an exclusive role of FastFAC, or forward air controller airborne (FAC(A)), was another tactical innovation to aid in the MEF's efforts to shape the battlespace, both before and during the ground war. These aircraft launched with a single-seat F/A-18A or C escort into the southern KTO to locate targets and direct attacking aircraft. Upon arrival in the KTO, the FastFAC made final coordination with the TACC and DASC on the status of assigned targets or kill boxes.[61] They then located suitable targets and directed incoming attack missions on to those targets. If the assigned target was not locatable, or attack was precluded due to restrictive weather or smoke from burning oil wells, the FastFAC would reconnoiter the assigned kill box until a suitable target was found.[62] The FastFAC's familiarity with the southern KTO, due to the frequency and duration of their missions, and their direct link with the DASC and TACC also made them an essential reconnaissance asset for the MEF and ACE staffs, and for the aircrew flying within the KTO. As the MEF's shaping efforts progressed throughout the air war, the F/A-18D made it possible to make real-time targeting decisions and divert attacking aircraft to higher priority targets. They also aided the BDA collection effort by being able to positively identify targets, often using binoculars, and analyzing bomb impact effectiveness on those targets and reporting their findings to both the TACC and the DASC.[63]

I MEF's Plan to Shape the Battlespace

The preceding two tactical innovations greatly aided the MEF's shaping efforts. However, by the end of January progress towards the MEF commander's shaping objectives was still deemed too slow and unreliable. Under the direction of MajGen Hearney, the MEF staff sought to find a systematic approach to shape the Iraqi forces in preparation for the ground offensive. The apparent answer came from studying intelligence, post-mission and BDA reports. Over time, these reports indicated that Iraqi forces were moving in a repetitive fashion within the KTO. Every three to five days Iraqi artillery, armor, and mechanized forces moved in a triangular pattern, returning consistently to the same three, prepared positions, but varying the exact pattern and time-span for each movement. These pattern analyses offered the MEF air targeting staff an opportunity to provide Marine and coalition aircrew with valuable targeting information. Instead of validating and assigning specific targets inside the established JFACC "kill box" system, the MEF further organized the KTO into artillery ("A") and maneuver ("M") unit boxes which outlined the area within which these units were shifting positions.[64]

The MEF's new "shaping" procedure was first implemented on 6 February, which roughly coincided with the official start of Phase 3-Attrition of Enemy Ground Forces, of the air war. The start of Phase 3 called for a renewed emphasis on shaping the MEF's battlespace. Only a week before, at the morning staff briefing on 28 January 1991, LtGen Boomer called for a "full-court press" of all available assets. For the commanding general of I MEF, time was running out to "shape" the battlespace for his GCE commanders.[65] Up to this point, the MEF's intelligence picture of the KTO indicated that little damage had been done to the defending Iraqi forces. The gloomy intelligence assessment, combined with the rapidly approaching date for the ground offensive caused a renewed sense of urgency within the MEF. The MEF's sense of urgency was quickly transmitted to the ACE, which shifted its TACAIR concept of operations to increase battlespace shaping efforts as outlined in chapter 1. Armed with the resulting increase in TACAIR missions, the MEF planners sought to increase shaping efficiency by initially assigning specific targets within each "A" and "M" box, with the understanding that the aircrew were to use these boxes to find suitable targets if the primary target could not be found.[66] The entire process was based on targeting priorities set at nightly meetings chaired by MajGen Hearney, who had been given direction by the MEF commander to supervise the shaping plan.[67]

The MEF's shaping scheme was further improved on 16 February, when the MEF air planners started to include a written "narrative of intent" along with the targeted "A" and "M" boxes. This communication of intent was accompanied by a statement which said, " list should be considered a planning aid vice restrictive...," meaning that aircrew were at liberty to strike any suitable target within the assigned box. The intent narrative for 16 February read: "Focus on A2, A3, and A4 which contain artillery which could interfere with the breaching precedence is artillery, maneuver units (precedence to remain in effect until notified otherwise)." The wording of these intent statements was meant to educate participating aircrew as to the MEF commander's targeting priorities and concerns based on his knowledge of the final ground offensive plan, which LtGen Boomer approved on 14 February. As such, the addition of these statements was deemed crucial. After 21 February, the "A" and "M" box designations were chiefly used to describe the nature of the desired targets allowing assigned aircrew to find and engage their own targets based on the MEF's priorities.[68]

The final developmental phase of the MEF's "A" and "M" boxes came on 24 February, the day the ground offensive began. The commander's intent narrative for this day included a mission order to the ACE to protect the MEF's left flank. The full narrative read as follows: "Focus on A8, A10, A11, M9 and M18. "A" areas contain artillery that can range the exploitation force. MEF intent is to protect the left flank with 3d MAW airpower..." By doing so, the MEF had moved into a new phase of maneuver warfare precepts, by assigning its ACE, the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, as a maneuver element of the MEF.[69]

In concert with the "A" and "M" box shaping scheme, the MEF also developed a concept of operations to use TACAIR as part of the MEF's overall deception plan. Deception was an integral part of the MEF plan for Desert Storm. The threat of an amphibious attack by the Marine Expeditionary Brigade afloat and the creation of a "phantom" task force shortly before the ground offensive began, were all part of a plan to confuse the enemy as to the location of the actual Marine attack.[70] The threat of an amphibious landing alone caused the Iraqis enough concern to divert several divisions to the coast and hold them there until well after the ground offensive had begun.[71] Furthermore, the 2d Light Armored Infantry Battalion (2d LAI), commanded by LtCol. Keith Holcomb, spent a considerable amount of time behind enemy lines between 19 and 24 February. 2d LAI's mission was to reconnoiter the area around the Iraqi obstacle belts, draw enemy fire, and engage Iraqi units. 2d LAI's action confused the Iraqis, and caused them to think that the ground war had already started.[72] During this period, 2d LAI used more CAS than any other Marine unit during Desert Storm, calling in 117 CAS sorties to destroy tanks, artillery, buildings, and oil trenches.[73]

Aside from these more conventional forms of deception, the MEF air planning staff also devised a pattern of strike missions within the KTO for the specific purpose of confusing the enemy as to the exact location and intent of the Marine ground offensive. "False" targets were simply forwarded to the ACE for submission into the ATO process, and hence flown. In this way the MEF hoped to "shape" the enemy by causing him to divert his defenses away from the actual breaching sites.[74]

Promulgation of the MEF's Plan

The letter and spirit of the MEF's plan to shape its battlespace was not communicated to the aircrew flying the shaping missions. Whether this was due to unfamiliarity with the MEF's role in the air war, pre-occupation with the strategic air campaign, the late arrival of the MEF's and Wing's planning staffs, differences in opinion on the targeting priorities between the staffs, the often myopic TACAIR training syllabus, or the convoluted C3I architecture, is unclear. Numerous personal, telephonic, and electronic mail interviews with Marine TACAIR aircrew who flew during Desert Storm were conducted as part of the research for this paper, and all indicate that the MEF's plan, and specifically the employment of the much vaunted "A" and "M" boxes, was never adequately communicated and hence never effectively used during Desert Storm.[75] The tragedy of this revelation is that a plan that is not communicated is no plan at all.

This is not to say that no effort was made to communicate the MEF's plans and intentions, and specifically those portions of its battlespace shaping plan involving the "A" and "M" boxes. On the contrary, MEF and ACE staff officers made frequent trips down to the MAG level to brief the personnel in these commands.[76] Unfortunately, full understanding of the intent and the concepts outlined was never achieved, and therefore was not promulgated to the aircrew level. The consequence of this deficiency is that for the most part 3d MAW's aircrew, to include those pilots and weapon systems officers (WSO) flying the F/A-18D FastFAC missions, were operating with less than a full understanding of the battlespace and their intended missions in it. The MEF's scheme to shape the battlespace was simply not being executed. Additionally, the MEF was apparently not aware of this deficiency in their shaping PDE process, further exacerbating their efforts since their intended course of action was not being performed. This shortfall could have been disastrous, had it not been for the volume, duration, and tenacity of the Marine TACAIR operations in the KTO -- quantity does have a quality all of its own.

The other specific aspect of the MEF's plan to shape its battlespace which was not communicated to the aircrew was the deception plan. The reasons that aircrew were unaware of the deception plan can certainly be explained for operational security reasons; it did, however, cause some significant real and potential problems for the MEF's battlespace shaping plans. The MEF's deception scheme to assign targets in areas where there may not have been any actual enemy forces for the purpose of deceiving the Iraqi military was virtually unknown to the TACAIR aircrews.[77] This shortfall caused considerable frustration for those aircrew assigned missions, via the ATO, to these "phantom" targets. Since there was normally nothing to bomb in the location specified on the ATO, the aircrew were forced either to bomb the "sand" or to find something else to bomb. In the first case, bombing sand further reduced the aircrews confidence in the targeting/intelligence support they were working with, causing most if not all to develop their own targeting and intelligence procedures. In the second case, the target that was actually attacked may have been in a location or of a nature which the MEF or ACE planners did not want attacked. An example of this is an Iraqi convoy that was hit by Marine TACAIR along a road that was going to be used by the Marine GCE during their ground offensive. The attack made the road impassable, and as such worked against the MEF's vision of the desired battlespace for ground operations.[78] As Clausewitz said over 150 years ago:

War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty ...War is the realm of chance. No other human activity gives it greater scope: no other has such incessant and varied dealings with his intruder.[79]

This example indicates that at least for the Gulf War, Clausewitz's theories still hold true. The other deception scheme which most aircrew were not aware of was the trans-border excursion by 2d LAI and other GCE units prior to the ground war. Again, aircrew interviews indicate that unless the specific aircrew was assigned (which normally occurred in flight) to support these operations by the command and control system, they were unaware that friendly ground units were operating behind enemy lines. The potential, even if remote, due to established procedures or aircrew common sense, did exist for a catastrophic fratricide incident as the result of a frustrated TACAIR aircrew's search for something recognizable to bomb. Luckily, this never occurred.

What the aircrew did know was that their mission was to attrite as much of the Iraqi forces in the southern KTO as they could. As LtCol George "Smut" Stuart (USMC Ret.), commanding officer of VMA-314 during the Gulf War, put it:

...I felt quite comfortable with what I was expected to do and what the mission was...The battlefield was quite fluid or at least unpredictable. I don't think that any CMDR. could, by mission, state his intent other than to say 'Go to this general area, find enemy arty or tanks and kill them.' Since, at least in my mind that was already said, there was no further need to repeat it.[80]

All aircrew were also thoroughly familiar with the targeting priorities and the ACE's concept of operations detailed in chapter 1. Once again, Marine pragmatism overcame both the deficiencies in the information Marine TACAIR aircrew were working with and the inherent complexities of war. The "job" of shaping the battlespace was accomplished, as proven by the GCE's swift victory during the ground war, but it was executed less by design than by circumstances. As will be discussed in the next chapter, Marine aircrew developed their own version of battlespace shaping, based on what they had been taught in peacetime and on the daily experiences of fighting the war.

The plan for supporting Phase 4, the ground war, was well promulgated and understood by all aircrew. This was predominately true because of the inherent Marine TACAIR ethos to support the Marine on the ground.

Supporting the Ground Offensive

The concept of operations for Phase 4 - the ground offensive, became a reality several days before the GCE crossed the line of departure on their way to liberate Kuwait. 3d MAW instituted the ACE ATO input and aircraft flow designed for the ground war several days before the ground offensive was scheduled to begin. This allowed the command and control organizations and aircrews enough time to become fully familiar with these new procedures. Additionally, the early incorporation of these procedures reduced advanced warning to the Iraqi forces as to the actual time and date for the beginning of the Marine and coalition ground advance. The "push CAS" concept utilized for the Phase 4 ATO proved very successful, both in providing actual close air support and in providing ample TACAIR to continue to shape the battlespace ahead of the advancing GCE.[81]

This "push CAS" methodology (aircraft elements reporting to the CAS stacks every seven and a half minutes) was made feasible by the large number of Marine TACAIR assets in theater. There was simply no need to "husband" aviation assets by keeping them on the ground using the conventional strip alert process. Furthermore, the anticipated fluidity of the mechanized, desert battlefield combined with a lack of confidence in the Marine command and control architecture made it necessary to ensure quick response time in case a requesting GCE unit needed immediate CAS. Due to the long distance between the TACAIR bases and the battlespace, normal Marine CAS alert procedures would have been unworkable. The 200-plus mile distance from Shaikh Isa, Bahrain, where MAG-11 F/A-18s were based, to the middle of the southern KTO took approximately 15 to 20 minutes flight time. This distance, and the associated communications delays between a ground unit in need of fixed-wing CAS and the supporting aviation assets, would have meant more than a 30-minute delay from the time CAS was requested to ordnance being delivered on target. As anyone who has been in this predicament will attest, 30-minutes is far too long when you are being shot at.

The "push CAS" concept, in conjunction with a command and control system augmented by an airborne DASC (DASC(A)), the before mentioned F/A-18D FastFAC, and a series of pre-planned airspace and fire support coordination line (FSCL) measures, all ensured that I MEF's GCE would have adequate air support during the ground offensive.[82] Although many of the problems encountered during exercise Imminent Thunder with aircraft to FAC communications and target marking were never resolved, a workable air support system was in place to support the GCE on G-day. As MajGen Myatt put it:

...Everyone in this Division recognizes the superb support provided by 3d MAW. This was also evident yesterday when CG 3d MAW and his key planners attended and participated in the sand table exercise of the 1st MARDIV offensive plan. As TF Ripper said after the exercise, history will show that never before has the air-ground coordination been as thorough and as close as it is for Operation Desert Storm.


Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I)

Development of I MEF's C3I architecture was as much an evolutionary process as the battlespace shaping concepts discussed earlier. Once again the Marines were hampered by a total lack of doctrine, structure, and equipment to support an operation as large and complex as Desert Shield and Desert Storm proved to be. Not only did the MEF have to control the operations of its ACE, GCE, and Combat Service Support Element (CSSE), it also had to tie-in with the joint command structure at CENTCOM (once again new ground for the MAGTF). This joint tie-in was especially critical for the MEF's air component which had to function within the JFACC command and control structure to be able to operate during both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. To overcome these difficulties, the normal peacetime mechanisms had to be "tailored" to fit the requirements forced upon the MEF.[83]

The primary concern was the MEF's ability to function within the doctrinal MACCS in order to command and control its primary warfighting asset, 3d MAW. To accomplish this the doctrinal MACCS structure was altered by moving the DASC to the MEF command post instead of having it doctrinally attached to the senior GCE fire support coordination center (FSCC). In fact, after the MEF staff received its augmentation in January of 1991, a separate MEF FSCC was formed to allow direction and coordination of targeting and fires within the MEF area of operations (AO). Each division within the GCE was then given a DASC detachment to perform the necessary air support coordination functions. The traditional ACE command post, the TACC, and all its organic C3I structure remained with MajGen. Moore at Jubayl, where it performed all its conventional functions and also served as a conduit for the MEF with the JFACC in order to make input into and receive the daily ATO. The remaining major component of the MACCS, the tactical air operations center (TAOC), was doctrinally tied to the TACC, and performed most of its normal function throughout the Gulf War. The only additions or innovations to this system were the F/A-18D FastFACs and, as the ground war approached, the DASC(A).[84]

This tailored C3I system worked, but was less efficient than it could have been. As stated earlier, the large number and the seniority of the staff augmentees to both the MEF and 3d MAW, although greatly beneficial to the normally undermanned staffs, invited duplication of effort. The MEF G-3 Air staff, the MEF FSCC staff, and the 3d MAW staff were all trying to make inputs into and keep track of the air war, often times with conflicting views of the MEF commander's priorities. At the same time the TACC and DASC were performing many of the same command and control functions, in an attempt to fulfill the desires of their respective supported senior commanders.[85] These problems were coupled with some traditional, ingrained views of the limited role of the MEF, held by most subordinate commanders and their staffs. The MEF had never operated as a warfighter before, and its function, particularly in relation to fighting the "deep" battle and battlespace shaping, was not clear. The fact that the TACC was not co-located with the MEF, where it could (and should ) have been used to fight the ACE in the "MEF's" war, is testimony to the novelty of I MEF's role in Desert Storm.[86] The Wing's mindset was illustrated in an interview with LtGen Moore published in the Marine Corps Gazette in October of 1991, in which LtGen Moore states,

... I was Gen Boomer's air commander and his principal adviser on the air battle. His headquarters was not equipped, nor should it have been, to receive the full air picture. It was my responsibility to keep him informed and I did.[87]

The obvious problem with this statement is that the MEF staff, under direction of its commanding general, was formulating the "deep" battle and battlespace shaping plans to be executed by the ACE. In effect, the MEF was trying to fight a war without having a command post capable of controlling it.

Compounding the above command and control problems were the associated problems of intelligence and battle damage assessment. Much has already been written about the poor intelligence available at all levels during the Gulf War. For the MEF commander, the quality of his intelligence (and his confidence in it) was so poor that he stated in a "Frontline" television interview about the Gulf War, broadcast on 9 and 10 January 1996:

The intelligence stunk. I mean it was lousy. We didn't have all the pictures we needed, the dissemination of the intelligence that we did have was not as good as it should have been, and we weren't as good even within our own units as we should have been about disseminating intelligence. That is an area that we really need to work on.[88]

Although this is probably an accurate assessment of intelligence during the Gulf War for all levels of command within I MEF, the problem was just as much with the Marine Corps as a whole as it was with the intelligence community specifically. The scope and complexity of the mission requirements placed upon the Marine Corps intelligence community by the Gulf War were far beyond its capability. Institutionally the Marine Corps has always paid lip service to Intelligence and the results were painfully obvious during Desert Storm. The same can be said for the Marine Corps' organic battle damage assessment capabilities. Frankly, the Marine Corps did not have any organic capability to accurately assess TACAIR inflicted battle damage before or during the war. The problems this posed for MEF and ACE planners, and the aircrew executing the missions, has already been addressed. The problem stemmed from the fact that no plan had been formulated to collect and validate BDA before the war started, so it should have been no surprise when it did not become available during hostilities.[89]



1 February 1991, approximately 1730:

Second hop for today...We were supposed to do night armed recce in a kill box, but I wanted to try something different; just flying around Kuwait looking for stuff really wasn't working for us. The skipper and I were going to have FLIRs so I briefed what I called a "H-K or hunter-killer" mission. We were to separate the division into two sections about 8 miles apart. I would lead and fly along the road from Wafra to the coastal road and look for arty or tanks with the FLIR. "Smut" and "Scorch" were to follow, and if I found something worth bombing I was going to direct the skipper onto the target and then do a re-attack...We were flying "lights-out" along the road, "Smut" was behind me and so far I had not found a thing except for what looked like an unguided SA-2 which flew between "Coma" and I. It really scared the hell out of us...Approaching the coastal road, I slewed the FLIR seeker-head further ahead of our flight path and spotted a column of 6 tanks moving north. I couldn't believe it -- tanks in the open! I called "Smut" to move east and approach the tanks from the south along the coastal road, while I slewed the FLIR onto the lead tank. The FLIR locked, and I called "Coma" to drop on my call from close formation (since we had so few FLIRs in the Group, he didn't have one)...The bombs impacted a little short and only the last 2 tanks stopped. "Coma" and I had to pull-off to the coast because of heavy AAA, but "Smut" found the tanks stopped at a highway cloverleaf intersection. "Smut" aimed his FLIR on a "bright," long target and dropped. It was a fuel truck, and when it blew, it turned night into day. "Smut" and "Scorch" were able to bomb visually from the fire ball, and destroyed what looked like the rest of the column. It made for great FLIR debriefing footage...It wasn't until after the war that I read an old A-4 TAC manual and discovered what I thought was my idea was actually a "route search" from the armed recce section in the manual. Too bad we hadn't trained for armed recce before the war...[90]

Baptism by Fire

Marine TACAIR had very few combat veterans still flying on active duty when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The vast majority, as in previous wars, were young captains and lieutenants who had not dropped a bomb in anger or faced the terror of an enemy SAM streaking toward their aircraft. As a result, the men who flew into Shaikh Isa Airbase on a hot, humid day in August of 1990 were anxious for their first taste of combat and apprehensive of the dangers of facing a combat hardened enemy who had recently completed eight years of brutal war. An enemy poised, even as they landed, to strike south and invade Saudi Arabia.[91]

The impending attack never came. As a result, the Marines of the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing had five and a half months to prepare for war. This "breathing space" was put to very good use. At the same time the initial I MEF targeting board was established and offensive planning began for the MEF, the aircrew of MAG-11 were being briefed on the beginnings of what would become Phase 1-Strategic Air Offensive of Desert Storm. As described in chapter 1, these initial missions were briefed and rehearsed numerous times during the fall and early winter of 1990. This robust combat training regiment allowed the aviators involved to mature into a warfighting team. 3d MAW was given the necessary time to train, bringing squadrons from all over the Marine Corps together, thereby enabling pilots from El Toro to fly with pilots from Cherry Point and Beaufort with familiarity and total confidence in each others abilities.

During this training phase, innovative high altitude tactics and SEAD procedures were developed which allowed Marine TACAIR to avoid or negate the Iraqi air defense system. These tactics were new to Marine tactical aviation, which had trained since the end of the Vietnam war for low altitude strikes and high threat (low altitude) CAS. Aerial re-fueling, mass launch and recovery procedures, and other essential combat tasks were practiced over and over again. Away from home and totally focused on the task, the aviators went through a learning experience much akin to a graduate level fighter weapons course. This would prove an invaluable education, one they would not have otherwise received. Concurrently, Marine F/A-18's were providing a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week combat air patrol. These patrols not only provided necessary air defense in the north Arabian Gulf, but also further sharpened the combat skills of the aviators involved by allowing them to fly almost daily under "combat" conditions. 3d MAW's five and a half month "weapons course" came to an end on 17 January 1991, when the first strategic missions were launched. These initial missions proved to the Marine aircrews that they could "do the job," and that the enemy was not quite as "tall" as he had been made out to be.[92]

Nothing builds confidence like success and when the first two days of the ATO had been flown only one aircraft loss had occurred.[93] This low combat casualty rate was in striking contrast to what most of the senior members of 3d MAW had expected.[94] The next two weeks brought a shift from the pre-planned strategic strikes so often rehearsed, to more dynamic missions against MEF targets in the southern KTO and against SCUD missile sites. The shift to more tactical targets brought with it increasing frustration for the aircrews, because the intelligence and targeting support they received was not adequate for these mobile targets. Mobile SCUDs proved next to impossible to find, and the high altitude tactics so effectively employed against large, fixed sites, made target acquisition extremely difficult against Iraqi ground forces. The aircrews' frustration was further increased by a MEF target list which never seemed to change. TACAIR aircrew were expecting results from the tons of ordnance expended, but the target list and the intelligence maps showed the same targets day in and day out. Not until the end of the second week of the war did those missions flying against targets in southern Kuwait find any real signs, other than sporadic SAMs and AAA, that the Iraqi army was even there.[95]

A Word on Khafji[96]

By the end of January the large strike packages of the initial strategic missions had given way to smaller division and section armed reconnaissance flights. These missions were often supported by F/A-18D FastFAC's, which up to that point had almost exclusively been used to support AV-8B missions against Iraqi forces in the KTO. Starting about the 27th of January, many of these missions came back reporting enemy movement and significantly more robust BDA. These reports were so good that they were at first deemed "inflated." As a result, on the evening of the 29th of January the aircrew of VMFA(AW)-121 were given a warning by MAG-11 to stop over-estimating BDA. That same evening, a returning FastFAC mission had given a detailed debrief of large Iraqi armor and mechanized formations moving south, close to the Saudi border. The debrief was dismissed as being overzealous, causing the ACE to loose a golden opportunity to stop the battle of Khafji from ever happening. This situation served to further disintegrate aircrew confidence in the intelligence support, and command and control system, they were operating with.[97] Clausewitz's "fog of war" was alive and well.

Despite this lost opportunity and increased frustration, the days before and during the Battle of Khafji served to reaffirm the aircrew's confidence in their ability to kill their assigned targets. Once the Iraqi attack was confirmed Marine and coalition TACAIR, with the aid of FastFACs and ground FACs, drove the Iraqi attack back destroying or disabling numerous enemy tanks, APCs, and other vehicles in the process. The lesson was learned -- if it moves, I can see it, and if I can see it, I can kill it. The problem now was where and how to find them.

Finding Them and Killing Them -- Execution without the Plan

"Your view of the battlespace is from where you sit," and the pilot's view was significantly different from that of the MEF planners.[98] At the same time the MEF planners were developing their "A" and "M" kill box methodology, Marine aircrew were executing their own form of targeting and "shaping." Because of the perceived unreliability of their intelligence support and lack of BDA feedback, aircrew were using each other to brief locations of enemy targets and surface-to-air threats. As one mission returned from the KTO, the next mission would seek out the returning aircrew and get a detailed debrief of what had "actually" been seen in the target area. The MEF targets and JFACC kill boxes assigned via the ATO were still reconnoitered and if found attacked first, but more often than not the assigned target could not be located so the flight would proceed to the areas where targets were known to exist. Mission BDA and reconnaissance observations would then be passed to the DASC or TACC by the strike aircrew themselves or the controlling FastFAC. The aircrews' pragmatic "can do" approach ultimately achieved the desired results. However, the command, control, and intelligence architecture formulated by the MEF and Wing often remained detached from the execution.[99] In effect we were operating inside our own PDE cycle or observation-orientation-decision-action (OODA) loop.

After the defeat of Iraqi forces at Khafji, the enemy once again sought refuge in prepared defensive positions, camouflage and deception. This lack of obvious targets, familiarity with the southern KTO, and the increasing confidence in their survivability caused Marine TACAIR aircrews to alter their tactics. With or without FastFAC support, armed recce and interdiction missions were increasingly lowering their search and attack flight altitudes. To ensure positive target identification, flight leads and FastFACs would frequently make high speed, low altitude passes over a suspected target to confirm whether it was an actual Iraqi position, a "dummy" sight, or a target which had already been struck. Often, the presence of enemy AAA would confirm the existence of a lucrative target. The flight would first attack and destroy the surface-to-air threat, thereby allowing an almost leisurely attack of the confirmed target. Additionally, for F/A-18 missions, the gun became a viable weapon. As "real" enemy positions were discovered, F/A-18 pilots would finish their attacks with strafing runs to ensure target destruction.

The mission most often conducted in the three weeks between Khafji and the beginning of the ground offensive was armed recce. This mission had been part of doctrinal Marine deep air support (DAS) for a long time, but had been absent from peacetime training in the F/A-18 community. As a result, the conduct of these missions became a matter of on the job training (OJT) for MAG-11 pilots. This OJT process, in the context of the C3I shortcomings and MEF shaping plan disconnect, was a significant drawback to the effectiveness of Marine TACAIR, and especially to the effectiveness of the F/A-18 community. Very few F/A-18 pilots had ever performed or even heard of armed recce before the war. To compound the problem, no set planning or execution procedures were available except for the recommendations of senior squadron pilots and weapons and tactics instructors, who by the time this deficiency was realized were busy in the conduct of their own missions. As a result, flight leads and wingmen learned by trial and error -- not the most efficient use of critical battlespace shaping assets.[100]

Support for the Grunt

Three to four days prior to the beginning of the ground offensive, Iraqi activity in the KTO started to increase once again. The increased enemy activity, coupled with a further increase in TACAIR shaping efforts and the ever increasing lethality of these missions (as a result of total familiarity with the KTO, refinement of tactics, and absolute confidence in TACAIR survivability) brought a corresponding increase in attrition of enemy forces. The plan to support the ground offensive was well disseminated among the aircrews of 3d MAW and they were ready to execute. By this time the ATO had changed to reflect the ACE's "push CAS" plan, and the resulting pressure on Iraqi forces proved devastating. The apparent affect on the Iraqi military was fortunate for the advancing Marine and coalition ground forces. On the morning of the 24th of February, G-day H-hour, the weather in the KTO, combined with the smoke emanating from hundreds of burning oil heads in southern Kuwait, was severe enough to make CAS for the attacking Marine divisions almost impossible.

This is not to say that TACAIR was not used to conduct close air support. It was, but not to the extent envisioned by Marine planners or by the supporting aircrews. The weather, which consisted of low overcasts and rain for most of the ground war, did at times break-up enough to allow TACAIR CAS to be conducted, but the anticipated critical need for air support never materialized. Instead the majority of Marine TACAIR was utilized to destroy those Iraqi units either not yet engaged by Marine and coalition ground forces or retreating north in the wake of the swiftly advancing offensive.

The highlight of these actions occurred on the 26th of February, when the remaining remnants of the Iraqi army in Kuwait was caught in a rout, in the desert and on the highway leading from Kuwait City to Basra, and summarily destroyed by predominantly Marine TACAIR.[101] To steal a phrase from a 1991 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article -- "Marine Air: There When Needed."[102]



24 February 1991 (G-day), approximately 0830:

"Scorch" and I were on our second hop for the day...This was a "push CAS" sortie

in support of the ground offensive. The weather had cleared a little since our first hop that morning, which meant we could now support the grunts...After having checked in with the DASC and DASC(A), we were orbiting at the west CAS stack looking for work. Comm. was a problem, so I switched to the FastFAC TAC frequency to see if they knew what was going on. The working FastFAC was Maj. "Jaws" White, whom I had known and flown with for many years, so I recognized his voice immediately. "Jaws" said that he had an Iraqi artillery position firing on Marines between the obstacle belts (he had gotten the call from a ground FAC via the "quick fire net"), he was "Bingo," and needed help -- NOW. I got his position, just south of Al Jaber, locked him on radar and flew to him...As we got above the F/A-18D, "Jaws" had his pilot salvo his remaining rockets on to the firing artillery position. As soon as I told him that I had "the bad guys," "Jaws" cleared us "hot," and bingoed home...I told "Scorch" to start our attack pattern and check my six as I rolled in on the right most arty. tube in the semi-circular position of six gun emplacements. I had 5 Mk-20 "Rockeye" and dropped only one on the first pass. As soon as the bomblets hit, the entire arty. position stopped firing and we could see guys running from the emplacements...[103]

The Marine Corps' new Paradigm

Despite the lack of a formal, public analysis of the Marine Corps' performance during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, many of the lessons learned by I MEF and its subordinate commands are being used to improve the combat effectiveness of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps University, the MAGTF Staff Training Program (MSTP), and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command's (MCCDC) doctrine branch are all developing and teaching operational concepts based on the Gulf War experience. The single battle, battlespace shaping, and the MEF as a warfighter are all concepts which have evolved since the end of Desert Storm. While these concepts and the impending Marine Corps doctrine which supports them have done much to correct the deficiencies in the way the Marine Corps thinks about warfighting, much must still be done to ensure the problems experienced by I MEF are not repeated during the next conflict.

The MEF as a Warfighter -- Only with the TACC

I MEF's success during Desert Storm "brought the Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) to the attention of the world."[104] It also brought with it a doctrinal shift in the way the Marine Corps intends to conduct the business of warfighting. Today there is no doubt that the MEF (or MAGTF) is a warfighter and that it will fight a single, phased battle. The significance of the MEF's warfighting role is first and foremost, that the ACE is no longer in a purely supporting role to the GCE's close battle. Instead, the ACE is now recognized as the MAGTF commander's principal tool to shape his battlespace in preparation for decisive actions and to influence those actions to ensure mission accomplishment. To fully harness these capabilities, the MAGTF commander must achieve a level of unity of command and purpose that insures his direct influence over the daily operations of the ACE. This does not mean that he becomes the de facto ACE commander. Instead, he must have the staff and C3I architecture to facilitate a coherent, seamless, and continuous flow of his intent for the single battle from planning to execution.

This paper argues that I MEF and LtGen. Boomer did not achieve this coherent transition from commander's intent to execution. This was due in large part to the physical separation of the MEF from the ACE. Had 3d MAW and its C3I architecture, namely the TACC, been co-located with the MEF the identified duplication of effort, dissemination of information delays, intelligence disconnects, and critical problems with the promulgation of the shaping plan could have been eliminated. Co-locating the TACC with the MEF would have ensured that a timely, clear picture of the battle was transmitted back into the PDE cycle. Only the TACC has the facilities and architecture to achieve this purpose. Through it the MEF commander would be able to literally "see" the battle unfold and be in a position to influence that battle in accord with his intent, allowing him to truly shape his battlespace.

In contrast with the ACE's C3I architecture during Desert Storm, the co-location of the MEF and the TACC would also have freed the DASC and its supporting elements to conduct their doctrinal duties without the added burden of trying to control shaping or deep operations. In this way, the MAGTF could in fact use the TACC to control its deep battle, perhaps eliminating the need for a separate agency to conduct these operations as has been suggested by several officers within the Marine Corps.[105]

The Marine Corps has historically relied on its ability to use its organic aviation assets to conduct combined-arms operations. The lessons of the Gulf War indicate that the Corps' reliance on its ACE is even more pronounced today. As MajGen Ray L. Smith, Deputy Commander II MEF, said during a recent lecture to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, "The primary instrument of warfare in America is the tactical aircraft."[106] The only way for the MEF to harness this instrument is through the TACC and the aviators it commands.

The MEF & TACAIR -- The plan is only good if the players know it.

If, as has been illustrated for the Gulf War, TACAIR is the MEF's primary instrument of warfare (or perhaps its "center of gravity"), then the aviators flying those tactical aircraft are the MEF commander's vital link to the successful execution of his single battle. By the very nature of their mission, TACAIR aviators are in a position to make daily, real-time decisions which will greatly influence the outcome of both shaping and decisive actions. What to bomb, what not to bomb, and perhaps even more importantly what to report back through the C3I system are all decisions which are made on every mission by every aviator involved, from the mission commander to the least experienced wingman. In order for these decisions to be in accord with the MEF commander's intent and with the thought process involved in formulating his plan of execution, the TACAIR aircrew involved must know not only the "letter" of the plan, but also the "spirit" of its intent, and the reasons for its design. If they do not know these vital pieces of information, the pragmatism of the aviators will force them to seek their own methodology. A methodology which may not always be in synch with the MEF's design for its battlespace. In short, in order for TACAIR to do its job, both in shaping and decisive actions, it must know the plan and the methodology and intent behind it. It is not enough to just know the plan or its intent during combat. The Marine Corps must take steps to ensure that everyone from the MEF staff to the first lieutenant flying the Harrier or Hornet realizes why knowing the plan is important and how they fit into the MEF's single battle. This realization needs to be accomplished in peacetime training, not as part of the experience gained during OJT in combat.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Marine Corps has been very successful at shifting its thought process to the precepts of the MEF as a warfighter. Institutions such as the MAGTF Staff Training Program (MSTP) and the Marine Corps University have made great strides in educating current and prospective MEF staffs on the principles of planning and executing the MEF's single battle. Developing doctrine and already established procedures are coming into place that will do much to standardize the way the Marine Corps thinks about warfare and how it will plan and conduct all the battlespace functions necessary for successful accomplishment of its mission within the single battle. Likewise, at the tactical level, the Marine aviation community has made great strides in improving the equipment and the training necessary to accomplish its six doctrinal functions (antiair warfare, offensive air support, assault support, air reconnaissance, electronic warfare and control of aircraft and missiles).[107] What is necessary now is to tie these two accomplishments together to form a warfighting team that is capable of producing the synergism necessary to win this nation's wars. The Marine Corps' single battle concepts and the capabilities of its organic tactical aviation assets must be combined in the daily training process of preparing Marine forces for combat. The MEF staffs must gain a more complete understanding of the capabilities and limitations of tactical aviation. This could perhaps prevent the overemphasis on strategic attack experienced during Desert Storm. Also, an increased understanding of aviation capabilities would ensure that the expectations of what TACAIR shaping can and can not accomplish are brought in line with the realities of war.[108] Likewise, the aviation community at all levels from wing staff to squadron ready room, must gain an increased appreciation for its role within the MEF's single battle. Simply reading the ATO and planning the mission are not enough. How and why that mission fits into the commander's intent must also be understood and factored into the planning and execution of that sortie. Only after these two requirements are met can the MEF or any other size organization truly function as a MAGTF. Everyone must know the plan and why it was formulated.

BDA -- You need to plan to get it

Very few aspects of the Gulf War have received more criticism than the lack of usable post-strike battle damage assessment. Like every other battlespace function and requirement, the collection and analysis of BDA must be planned for. Additionally, the necessary structure and hardware must be available before accurate assessments of the effectiveness of the warfighter's shaping operations can be made. The MEF staff and in turn the ACE must know at what level they are accomplishing the commander's intent for battlespace shaping. Only the ability to collect and analyze BDA for each and every target and thereby for the commander's targeting priorities as a whole, makes attaining this knowledge possible.

During Desert Storm this capability was not present within the MEF or for that matter within CENTCOM. No plan had been made for the organized collection and analysis of post-strike BDA. Furthermore, the body of knowledge to give aircrew and staff members alike the necessary tools to be able to know what to expect from BDA did not exist. Once again very few 3d MAW aircrew, or for that matter I MEF staff officers, had combat experience and thus neither were prepared to recognize the significance of battle damage collection, reporting, or assessment. This coupled with the C3I difficulties already discussed, made the accurate, timely dissemination of BDA impossible during Desert Storm.[109]

The lesson then is that if you want BDA, you need to plan for it. And, in addition to planning for it in wartime, the force structure and its training must be tailored accordingly in peacetime, in order to prevent this situation from repeating itself.

Train the way you Fight

Marine Aircraft Wing and Group staffs perform their peacetime, administrative functions quite well. Unfortunately, their real profession and the reason for their existence is to fight wars. Yet, they are neither organized nor trained to perform the necessary planning and execution functions required during combat. Planning and executing combat operations at the wing and group level is simply not practiced. Operational procedures, like how to conduct 24-hour operations, how to integrate ordnance requirements with availability, how to conduct large scale aircraft departure and recovery procedures, among many others are virtually not practiced or even thought about. The emphasis is being placed almost exclusively on squadron level training. While it is certainly necessary to have combat ready attack and fighter attack squadrons, it is equally necessary to have group and wing staffs capable of supervising the "fighting" of these assets. During the Gulf War the Marine Corps was given time, by the enemy, to correct this deficiency by augmenting the existing staffs, at all levels, with "duty" experts from all over the Corps. Even with this augmentation the I MEF staffs were never fully able to realize this potential -- they were not trained or prepared for the task.

The time required to make up for peacetime staffing and training deficiencies may not be available in the next war. Therefore, it is important that the Marines take "training the way they fight" more seriously. At the wing and group level, this means training the current and future operations cells to do the functions that will be required of them in combat and not just tracking the daily flight schedule, unit training programs, or peacetime deployment schedules. Likewise, junior and senior aviation officers alike must be trained to perform within the MACCS architecture in those duties they will be performing in combat. Just the experience of standing a "watch" inside a TACC during an exercise would be beneficial. It would at least give a taste of the complexity of combat operations. This type of training was not routinely conducted before the Gulf War and the emphasis necessary to ensure its accomplishment is still not evident in Marine aircraft wings and groups. Without being honest about the impact of this shortfall, the emphasis to train the way we are going to fight will never be there.[110]

Before leaving this subject, a word must be said about the armed reconnaissance mission. It, too, was a source for much OJT during combat operations in Desert Storm. Armed recce has always been an important mission for tactical aviation. It accounted for approximately 80% of the missions flown in Vietnam and during Desert Storm. Yet, it is still not given the training emphasis needed to allow Marine TACAIR aircrew to become fully familiar with the functions and intent of this mission.[111] Even today approximately 40% to 50% of all TACAIR aircrew attending the Marine weapons and tactics instructor course taught at MAWTS-1 have not trained to this mission in their respective units. While the conduct of armed recce training has been part of the TACAIR training and readiness (T & R) syllabus for many years (at least for most aircraft communities), it is not routinely conducted as part of the normal squadron level training program. For the F/A-18 community, the inclusion of a meaningful armed recce section in the tactical manuals has only been a recent event.[112] Armed Reconnaissance is a mission whose value is forgotten after the succession of hostilities. This was true after Vietnam and it is once again the case in the aftermath of Desert Storm.[113]

The demonstrated importance of the TACAIR armed reconnaissance mission needs to be learned and assimilated into the Marine avaition training program. Without the ability to conduct coordinated, well planned and executed armed recce missions, the ACE's potential to shape the MEF's battlespace is diminished. Furthermore, only with complete familiarity of what to expect and not to expect during the conduct of these missions (something which can only be gained through consistent training), can the ACE hope to contribute to the operational assessment process required for the MEF's future planning. This is true because a great part of recognizing the significance of observations gained in the battlespace is knowing what to look for and why. This too was a shortfall during Desert Storm and was a contributing factor in the lack of accurate, usable BDA received by the MEF planners.

Today's world of dwindling resources and ever increasing military commitments make "training the way you fight" more important now than it has ever been before. The problem will not be resolved with a mere change in Marine Corps doctrine or training procedures -- it is an ethos issue and requires a paradigm shift in the way the Marine Corps views its priorities.


24 February 1991 (G-day), approximately 0430:

The weather was terrible. "Scorch" and I had been in the "goo" since shortly after take-off, and we are still in it at 35,000 feet approaching the CAS stack...I checked in with the DASC and he told me to hold at 24,000 -- what an idiot, there's icing down there (and besides we're on a pre-planned strike against an artillery position north of the 2d MARDIV breaching site). So I told him that I was descending to VMC (if I could!?) and that I would give him a PIREP if I got underneath the weather. The guy had the nerve to tell me that he does not have the authority to grant permission for my descent and that I'm now responsible. My response was that since I was the flight lead, I was always responsible ...We continued our descent and got clear at about 3,000 feet (at least from most of the clouds). It was raining and very hazy from the burning oil wells. "Scorch" and I could see the entire division moving around below us, and I kept thinking 'my god we can't support them in this -- they're going to get killed.' Between the weather, smoke, and burning oil wells, it looked like a picture of hell down there ...Once again I was the only one with a FLIR, so after giving the DASC a terse PIREP, I dropped "Scorch" off at the CAS stack INS point and told him to hold and wait for me. There was no need to drag him through this without a FLIR and buddy bombing was out of the question...I made my approach to the target as fast as I could. Flying alone at low altitude was no place to be (even lights-out). I designated the target with the INS and slued the FLIR on to what I thought was the target. At that low of a grazing angle the FLIR is really hard to use. I made a level delivery of all five "Rockeye" and got out of there as fast as I could... Exiting Kuwait to the west, I picked-up "Scorch," checked-out with the DASC, and flew home...We were IMC all the way and I don't remember ever feeling more scared -- there was no way we could fly CAS in that stuff... Luckily, the Iraqis never really fought back.[114]

Perhaps the most relevant reason to study the last war is to gain an appreciation, in peacetime, for the fact that the reality of the profession of arms is that it exists purely for the eventuality of going to war. Often the ability to focus on that fact is lost in the myriad of peacetime duties and requirements. Yet, the potential for another regional conflict is as high today as it has ever been. Since the end of the Gulf War, American armed forces have deployed over forty times to assist in security and humanitarian crises throughout the world.[115] It is reasonable to assume then that the MAGTF will deploy in harm's way again. It is for that eventuality that the lessons of the Gulf War need to be analyzed and taught to the generation of Marines who have not yet experienced combat first hand; not to fight the last war over again or to assume that the way it was done in the "Desert" is the way it should always be done, but to ensure that the mistakes made in that conflict are not repeated next time.

This paper has sought to illustrate only a fraction of the lessons to be learned from the MEF's use of TACAIR in Desert Storm. There are many others with no less import and relevance yet to be examined. It is the author's hope that this paper has awakened a renewed interest in the subject and that its further study will benefit the ongoing evolution of TACAIR's role in the Marine Corps. As stated in the introduction, it is the Marine Air-Ground Task Force's (MAGTF) capability to shape its battlespace and to conduct combined-arms operations utilizing its organic tactical aviation (TACAIR) assets that make it unique among America's armed forces. The conduct of these unique capabilities by I MEF and its subordinate commands during the Gulf War is what made Desert Shield and Desert Storm a capstone event in Marine Corps' history. This is true, not because every aspect of I MEF's use of Marine TACAIR was executed correctly, but because of the lessons which can be learned by studying the mistakes that were made and why they occurred. It is as a result of the recognition of these mistakes that I MEF's role in Desert Storm has become the driving force behind much of the developing Marine Corps doctrine and operational concepts. However, doctrine and operational concepts will not by themselves ensure that the mistakes made in the Gulf War are not repeated. With that in mind the following summation of the lessons illustrated by this study is offered.

In order for the MEF to effectively utilize its ACE in the single battle to shape the battlespace and to conduct decisive operations, whether it is operating in a joint, multinational, or unilateral environment, it must recognize and act upon the following requirements:

1. Adequately structure the MAGTF C3I architecture to allow the MEF commander to influence the battle by direct access to his aviation assets (the MEF physically or electronically co-located with the TACC).

2. Ensure thorough promulgation of the plan of execution, to include commander's intent and planning methodology. Additionally, at the TACAIR operator level, a better understanding of the importance of knowing the plan must be achieved in order for Marine TACAIR to reach its potential in the MAGTF's single battle.

3. Adequately plan for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of battle damage assessment in order to know how the MEF is doing in its efforts to shape the battlespace and ultimately to know when shaping operations can give way to decisive actions.

4. Marine TACAIR must recognize the fundamental importance of the armed reconnaissance mission and how it relates to the MEF commander's single battle.

5. The MEF must train in peacetime the way it will fight in war. MEF and subordinate staffs must focus on and train for their combat responsibilities.

Only when these requirements have been met will the MAGTF be ready to be a warfighter -- because next time the enemy might fight back.


AAA -- Anti-aircraft artillery

ABCCC -- Airborne command and control center.

AF 5 Northeast -- Refers to the northeast quarter of JFACC kill box AF 5.

APC -- Armored personal carrier, usually manufactured in the former Soviet Union.

Armed Recce -- Armed Reconnaissance. A mission with the primary purpose of locating and attacking targets of opportunity (FMFM 5-41).

ATO -- Air Tasking Order. Normally produced by the Joint Force Air Component

commander (JFACC).

Battlespace -- Air, land, and sea space determined by the maximum capabilities of a unit to acquire and dominate the enemy; includes area beyond the area of operations; it varies over time according to how the commander positions his assets (FM 100-5 Operations).

FastFAC -- Term used during Desert Storm for a F/A-18D aircraft acting as forward air controller airborne (FAC(A)). FastFAC were used to find targets and control attack missions.

HARM -- High speed anti-radiation missile.

Jubayl -- Jubayl Naval Air Facility, Saudi Arabia, served as the headquarters for the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing and was used as a F/A-18 forward arming and refueling point (FARP).

Mk-83 -- 1,000 pound general purpose bomb. For most Armed Recce missions the F/A-18 carried five Mk-83's or five Mk-20 "Rockeye" CBUs (cluster bomb unit).

NAVCENT -- Naval Central Command; CENTCOM's naval component.

OpsO. -- Operations Officer

Pits -- Aircraft refueling point

SAM -- Surface to air missile.

SEAD -- Suppression of enemy air defense.

Shaping -- Actions, both lethal and nonlethal, designed to create conditions for successful operations (MCWP 5-1 "MAGTF Planning" (Draft)).

Single battle -- According to the MAGTF Staff Training Program (MSTP), the single battle concept is defined as ..."At each echelon, the plan must support the senior commander's effort. All missions, intents, and objectives must be focused toward a common purpose...This concept exploits the combined arms nature of MAGTF operations in concert with the concept of maneuver warfare. The single battle results in the employment of all MAGTF assets in complementary maneuver, shaping, support, and force protection operations towards a common objective." (MSTP Planning Handbook)

TACAIR -- Tactical aircraft. Normally used to refer to fixed wing attack or fighter aircraft.

TACC -- Tactical air command center.

[1] LtCol Stephen W. Dade, USMC, "Adventures in Targeting," (Marine Corps Gazette. June 1992), A Line in the Sand, CD-ROM Data base, 10 November 1992.

[2] Col. T. E. Donovan, USMC, G-3 II MEF, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia," lecture presented to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, MCCDC, 7 January 1997.

[3] Donovan, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia."

[4] Maj W. D. Beydler, USMC, MSTP, "The Ace and Battlespace Shaping," lecture presented to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, MCCDC, 12 December 1996.

[5] Donovan, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia."

[6] Donovan, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia."

[7] Col T. E. Donovan, USMC, G-3 II MEF, "Planning for MEF Operations in Southwest Asia," Lecture presented to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, MCCDC, 7 January 1997.

[8] Col Harry Spies, USMC, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Requirements (USMC Issues), "Marine Aviation in Desert Storm - Chronology", personal notes. Col Spies served as the 3d MAW G-3 Plans officer during Desert Storm. Col Spies arrived in theater in early December 1990 as a staff augment on temporary duty from VMA(AW)-224.

[9] Donovan, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia."

[10] Donovan, "Battlespace Shaping in Southwest Asia."

[11] Beydler, "The Ace and Battlespace Shaping."

[12] This and all subsequent accounts are from missions flown by the author during Desert Storm. Information contained in these accounts was taken from the author's Desert Storm flight notes, official flight record book, and personal notes. During Desert Shield/Storm, the author served as the Assistant Operations Officer for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, flying the F/A-18A. The author ended the war with 45 combat missions; dropping a total of 128,000 pounds of ordnance. See Map on page ii for mission locations.

[13] Jeffrey Record, Hollow Victory: A Contrary View of the Gulf War, (New York: Brassey''s (US), Inc., 1993), title.

[14] Department of Defense, Defense 96 Almanac, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1996), 44.

[15] Author, Desert Storm combat mission recollection. See Map on page ii for mission locations.

[16] General Walter E. Boomer, USMC, "The General Officer Gulf War After Action Seminar", (A Line in the Sand, CD-ROM database).