Operation Desert Storm:

Operation Desert Storm Air War

PEMD-96-10: Published: Jul 2, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of Operation Desert Storm's air campaign, focusing on: (1) the effectiveness of aircraft and weapons systems in achieving objectives; (2) whether campaign data support post-conflict weapon system performance claims; (3) the contributions and limitations of advanced technologies; and (4) whether the conditions encountered in Desert Storm limit the lessons learned.

GAO found that: (1) target identification, battle damage assessment (BDA), target information dissemination, and intelligence gathering limitations led to higher mission costs and reduced effectiveness; (2) weapons systems' effectiveness during Desert Storm could not be fully analyzed because many systems could not be used in adverse weather conditions and were not used at their optimal altitudes; (3) the air campaign's success resulted from the availability of a mix of strike and support aircraft and munitions that had a wide range of capabilities; (4) data could not support the contention that higher-cost aircraft were generally more effective or capable than lower-cost aircraft; (5) the number of attack and strike aircraft available by 2000 will decrease due to the scheduled retirement of many Desert Storm aircraft; (6) although the Department of Defense (DOD) did not achieve its one-target, one-bomb efficiency goal, and the success rate of guided munitions could not be validated by campaign data, guided munitions accounted for most of the campaign's munitions costs; (7) the effectiveness of many systems that incorporate complex or advanced technologies may be limited in future missions, since many of these systems require specific operating conditions to operate effectively; and (8) many of DOD and manufacturers' postwar claims about weapon system performance were overstated, misleading, inconsistent, or unverifiable.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD was actively researching new and enhanced target search, acquisition and discrimination sensors to overcome some of the sensor shortcomings observed in Operation Desert Storm. These are under development and await testing.

    Recommendation: In light of the shortcomings of the sensors in Desert Storm, the Secretary of Defense should analyze and identify DOD's need to enhance the capabilities of existing and planned sensors to effectively locate, discriminate, and acquire targets in varying weather conditions and at different altitudes. Furthermore, the Secretary should ensure that any new sensors or enhancements of existing ones are tested under fully realistic operational conditions that are at least as stressful as the conditions that impeded capabilities in Desert Storm.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD: (1) created an organization to work out issues, consolidate reporting, and provide leadership; (2) developed DOD-wide doctrine, tactics, and procedures; (3) established more rigorous and realistic BDA training and exercises; and (4) developed and deployed better means to disseminate BDA. DOD acknowledges that additional problems remain with improving BDA timeliness and accuracy, developing nonlethal BDA functional damage indicators (particularly for weapons that produce nontraditional effects), and cultivating intelligence sources to identify and validate strategic targets. Because timely and accurate BDA is crucial for the efficient employment of high-cost guided munitions, it is important that acquisition plans take fully into account actual BDA collection and dissemination capabilities before making a final determination of the quantity of such munitions to be acquired. Initiatives to enhance analytical capability and communication of intelligence are being implemented.

    Recommendation: In light of the shortcomings in BDA exhibited during Desert Storm and BDA importance to strike planning, the BDA problems that DOD officials acknowledge continue today despite DOD postwar initiatives need to be addressed. These problems include timeliness, accuracy, capacity, assessment of functional damage, and cultivating intelligence sources to identify and validate strategic targets. The Secretary of Defense should expand DOD current efforts to include such activities so that BDA problems can be fully resolved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that the Joint Staff will be (1) conducting a followup to the Deep Attack Weapons Mix Study and (2) establishing an office to coordinate assessment of joint weapon requirements. DOD's actions were in partial compliance with the recommendation in GAO/NSIAD-99-32 that the Department reevaluate the assumptions used in guided weapon requirements determination processes to better reflect the new international situation, realistic target sets, enhanced weapon effectiveness, proper weapon selection, and use of advanced tactics; and reevaluate the planned guided weapon acquisition programs in light of existing capabilities and the current budgetary and security environment.

    Recommendation: In light of the quantities and mix of guided and unguided munitions that proved successful in Desert Storm, the services' increasing reliance on guided munitions to conduct asymmetrical warfare may not be appropriate. The Secretary of Defense should reconsider DOD's proposed mix of guided and unguided munitions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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