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Technology Lessons

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Technology has always been closely linked to airpower, and in this war high-tech air weapons dominated. For years, critics maintained the emphasis on technology was misguided and that the equipment would not work in combat. This war proved the opposite. Several categories of air weaponry made the victory possible.

Stealth technology works better than most had anticipated. The F-117 was the premier strategic bomber of the war, striking over 30% of the targets during the first two days and all the targets in Baghdad throughout the war; yet it comprised less than 3% of the air assets. The F-117 drew the most difficult targets because of its near invulnerability: not one aircraft was lost or even sustained battle damage. It is likely the Iraqis never knew it was overhead until the bombs impacted. In one sense, the F-117 combat employment has returned airwar to the days before radar.

Another important technological innovation is precision guided munitions (PGMs). PGMs have contributed to the efficiency of airwar by reducing the number of bombs needed to neutralize a target. The laser and television guided bombs of the Coalition seldom missed, even though the Iraqis made extensive use of camouflage, deception and decoys. Precision reduces the large number of sorties needed. The ability of PGMs to penetrate and destroy hardened targets was so impressive that concrete may become obsolete.

Electronic warfare (EW) was another advance used extensively in the Gulf War. Specialized aircraft like the EA-6B 'Prowler' were used to either jam or actively destroy Iraqi air defenses. The jammers confused enemy radars or prevented communications between Iraqi interceptors and their ground controllers. In addition, F/A-18s and other aircraft carried antiradiation missiles that homed on radar emissions. These missiles were so effective that Iraqi defenders were afraid to turn on their radars for fear they would immediately be targeted and destroyed. As a result of EW operations, the Iraqis were largely unable to see or react to air strikes.

For decades, airmen have attempted to strip away the protection of darkness from the enemy, and in this war Coalition airpower owned the night. Systems such as FLIR, LANTIRN, and night vision goggles allowed airmen to acquire and attack targets easily both by day and night.

Intelligence was of crucial importance in Desert Storm. It has long been a truism that the key to airpower is targeting, and the key to targeting is intelligence. This war demonstrated that linkage. If a PGM is now capable of hitting a specific office in a large headquarters complex, then intelligence must know the correct office. The inability to eliminate entirely the Iraqi nuclear research capability was a failure of intelligence, not execution.


The Gulf War seems to indicate we are moving into a new era in warfare. Past centuries have been dominated by ground and sea forces; the 21st century will be dominated by air forces.


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