Operation Desert Storm:

Evaluation of the Air Campaign

NSIAD-97-134: Published: Jun 12, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Operation Desert Storm air campaign, focusing on the: (1) use and performance of aircraft, munitions, and missiles employed during the air campaign; (2) validity of Department of Defense (DOD) and manufacturer claims, particularly those for weapon systems utilizing advanced technology; (3) relationship between cost and performance of weapon systems; and (4) extent that Desert Storm air campaign objectives were met. DOD unclassified approximately 85 percent of the originally classified material in the in the classified report and GAO has included that material in this version of the study. The best available data did not permit GAO to either: (1) make a comprehensive system-by-system quantitative comparison of aircraft and weapon effectiveness; or (2) validate some of the key performance claims for certain weapon systems.

GAO noted that: (1) air power clearly achieved many of Desert Storm's objectives but fell short of fully achieving others; (2) the available quantitative and qualitative data indicate that air power damage to several major target sets was more limited than DOD's title V report to the Congress stated; (3) these data show clear success against the oil and electrical target categories, but less success against Iraqi air defense, command, control, and communications, and lines of communication; (4) success against nuclear-related, mobile Scud, and Republican Guard targets was the least measurable; (5) the lessons that can be learned from Desert Storm are limited because of the unique conditions, the strike tactics employed by the coalition, the limited Iraqi response, and limited data on weapon system effectiveness; (6) the strong likelihood of campaign success enabled U.S. commanders to favor strike tactics that maximized aircraft and pilot survivability rather than weapon system effectiveness; (7) the Iraqis employed few, if any, electronic countermeasures and presented almost no air-to-air opposition; (8) as a result, Desert Storm did not consistently or rigorously test all the performance parameters of aircraft and weapon systems used in the air campaign; (9) many of DOD's and manufacturers' postwar claims about weapon system performance were overstated, misleading, inconsistent with the best available data, or unverifiable; (10) aircraft and pilot losses were historically low, partly owing to the use of medium- to high-altitude munition delivery tactics that nonetheless both reduced the accuracy of guided and unguided munitions and hindered target identification and acquisition; (11) air power was inhibited by the limited ability of aircraft sensors to identify and acquire targets, the failure to gather intelligence on critical targets, and the inability to collect and disseminate battle damage assessments (BDA) in a timely manner; (12) the contributions of guided weaponry incorporating advanced technologies and their delivery platforms were limited because the cooperative operating conditions they require were not consistently encountered; (13) the important contributions of stealth and laser-guided bombs were emphasized as was the need for more and better BDA and less attention was paid to the significant contributions of less-sophisticated systems and the performance of critical tasks such as the identification and acquisition of targets; and (14) there was no apparent link between the cost of aircraft and munitions and their performance in Desert Storm.

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