HomeNewsArticle Display

Operation Desert Storm: 25 years later, AMC doing more with less

Timeline of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm key events. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Master Sgt. Franz Chenet)

Timeline of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm key events. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Master Sgt. Franz Chenet)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Iraqi forces attacked Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, setting into motion a massive military response from a coalition of nations to protect Saudi Arabia from invasion with Operation Desert Shield. After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw from Kuwait, Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991, and soon concluded with a ceasefire at the end of February.

Twenty-five years later, Mobility Air Forces are continuing to fuel the fight and provide airlift with most of the same airframes the Air Force used during Desert Storm.

Jan. 17 marks the 25th anniversary of the total force performing the most rapid airlift movement in history. Nearly 472,800 people and approximately 465,000 tons of cargo were deployed to the Persian Gulf in eight months.

The buildup

Airlift and air refueling enabled the rapid arrival of the first U.S. forces in Desert Shield. Two F-15 Eagle squadrons from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 7, 1990.

Military Airlift Command launched its first airlift mission that day as well, a C-141 mission from Charleston AFB, South Carolina, carrying airlift control elements.

Within the next 24 hours, ALCEs were in place in Saudi Arabia to manage the airlift flow. The ALCE personnel and cargo were carried on 37 C-141s, 10 C-5 Galaxies and 10 C-130 Hercules missions. U.S. Transportation Command completed the largest unit deployment ever via air with 412 strategic airlift aircraft. From Aug. 8-26, the Strategic Airlift Command airlifted the 82nd Airborne Division to Saudi Arabia while simultaneously moving the 101st Airborne Division from Aug. 17-25.

In a little more than two months, the XVIII Airborne Corps, consisting of an airborne division, an air-assault division, two heavy divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, and the requisite array of combat support and combat service support assets, deployed. The arriving inventory included more than 120,000 troops, 700 tanks, 1,400 armored fighting vehicles, and 600 artillery pieces.

Not long into the operation, a lack of spare parts impeded the buildup to Desert Storm. To help cope with priority deliveries, TRANSCOM established a special code 9AU and an airlift system to support. On Oct. 30, 1990, Mobility Air Forces began a special airlift operation called Desert Express to provide daily delivery of spare parts considered absolutely crucial to the war effort.

This was a new concept of airlift operations, which involved C-141 deliveries from Charleston AFB to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. With a stop for refueling, the journey took about 17 hours one way, according to a document titled "So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast: United States Transportation Command and Strategic Deployment for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm."

On Dec. 23, the airlift sustainment backlog peaked 10,300 tons. On Feb. 13, USTRANSCOM began flying a second C-141 flight per day to tackle the backlog until it was discontinued May 20, 1991. By the end of the war, Desert Express flew nearly 135 missions.

Operation Desert Storm

Directed by USTRANSCOM, the Military Airlift Command managed the Desert Shield/Desert Storm strategic airlift. MAC’s active-duty force joined with MAC-gained aircraft and crews from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard to make up a total strategic airlift force.

The "surge" of total force and the first activation of the Civilian Reserve Airlift Fleet was essential to the Desert Shield/Desert Storm success. There were 12,894 strategic airlift missions during both operations.

Commercial airline augmentation was also crucial to the airlift effort. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet was activated for the first time during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and flew 3,309 missions.

Altogether, commercial aircraft delivered 321,005 passengers and 145,225 tons of cargo, including 64 percent of passenger movements, according to the USTRANSCOM historical document.

On the military airlift side, the C-130 supported intra-theater needs and is credited with 1,193 tactical airlift missions. More than 145 C-130 aircraft deployed in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The C-130s flew 46,500 sorties and moved more than 209,000 people and 300,000 tons of supplies within the theater.

The C-141 was called the "workhorse" of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, according to the USTRANSCOM document. It flew 8,536 strategic airlift missions, followed by the C-5 with 3,770; the KC-10 with 379 and the C-9 with 209. The C-141 and C-5 accounted for 361,147 tons, or 66 percent of the cargo airlifted in support of the Gulf War.

Gen. Hansford T. Johnson, the MAC commander at the time, compared the first few weeks of deployment effort to airlifting a small city.

"We moved, in essence, a Midwestern town the size of Lafayette, Indiana, or Jefferson City, Missouri," Johnson was quoted as saying in the MAC history book. "In addition, we've also moved the equivalent of all their cars, trucks, foodstuffs, stocks, household goods and water supply."

The Strategic Airlift Command led refueling missions during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

"Once the deployment order was given on Aug. 7, 1990, tankers played an integral role in getting forces and aircraft to the deployed theater of operations," retired Air Force Gen. Kenneth Keller, the former SAC director of operations, said during a 2009 AMC Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series.

Seven B-52Gs from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, dropped the first bombs to initiate Operation Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991. The bombers launched 35 conventional air launch cruise missiles, flew 14,000 miles for more than 35 hours without landing.

These were the first combat sorties launched for the liberation of Kuwait in support of Operation Desert Storm, and it marked the longest combat sortie flight totaling 14,000 miles in 35 hours and 24 minutes. This mission required multiple four inflight refuels outbound and four returning, according to the Air Force Global Strike Command.

"Without the phenomenal tanker support we had for the war, we could not have accomplished what we did," retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Caruana said in the Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series. Caruana was the U.S. Central Air Forces' air campaign planner and commander during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Tankers flew 4,967 sorties and off-loaded more than 28.2 million gallons of fuel to 14,588 receivers during the 132 days of Desert Shield buildup, according to the Air Force History Office document "Seventy-Five Years of Inflight Refueling." The 43 days of Desert Storm included 15,434 sorties and dispensed 110.2 million gallons of fuel to U.S. and allied aircraft.

"Desert Shield and Desert Storm demonstrated the U.S. Air Force's capability to respond to crisis and contingency situations in times of intense demand with limited resources," said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, the AMC commander. "Today, Headquarters AMC planners evaluate these operations to determine more efficient methods of providing rapid global mobility and enhance AMC's agility."

Evolution of Air Mobility Command

Following Desert Storm, SAC and MAC merged to form Air Mobility Command. One constant through the years is the demand for rapid global mobility through aeromedical evacuation, airlift and aerial refueling. Today, AMC is meeting high demands with a smaller force and older fleet.

In the past 25 years, AMC retired the C-141B/C and the C-9A; made improvements to current airframes, C-5, KC-135 Stratotanker, C-130 and C-17 Globemaster III; and adopted a new airframe, the KC-46 Pegasus.

Mobility Airmen are off-loading more fuel now in support of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant than what was offloaded when U.S. forces were on the ground in Iraq, operating with only 27 percent of the KC-135 fleet size originally assigned to AMC in 1992.

During 2010, at the height of Operation Enduring Freedom, Mobility Air Forces moved 856,208 short tons of cargo -- the most in OEF history, compared to 543,548 short tons moved in the Gulf War. That same year, AMC had 429 aircraft assigned, less than half of the number of aircraft assigned at its inception in 1992.

"For the past 25 years since Desert Storm and Desert Shield, the (United States) has been in a state of continuous conflict," said Terry Johnson, the Air Mobility Command’s air, space and information operations deputy director on Scott AFB, Illinois. "As we come out of Southwest Asia and shift from a constant state of continuous conflict, (Air Mobility Command's) focus needs to return to maintaining readiness especially after a period of fiscal austerity.”

Today, there’s one Mobility Air Forces departure every 2.8 minutes, every day, 365 days per year.

"The Air Force puts the 'rapid' in global mobility," Gen. Everhart said. "AMC is still required to support an increasingly demanding operations tempo while preserving the capability to surge if called upon. Without our total force and Civil Reserve Air Fleet partners, surge operations would be almost impossible."

Engage

Facebook Twitter
DYK: Aircraft have lifespans! Like humans, they require check-ups in the form of maintenance inspections to prolong their ability to fly. These "checks" prevent in-flight system failures which ultimately protects aircrew and passengers. Learn more from the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on what it takes to correct issues so aircraft can stay airborne.
WATCH: United States Air Force pilots talk about the importance of Exercise Saber Strike 18 as they refuel over the Baltic Sea on June 18, 2018. Saber Strike 18 is a long-standing training exercise designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. and our allies. The training focused on improving land and air operational capabilities between the U.S. and our NATO allies. (U.S. Air National Guard video by: Master Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf)
Check out some shots from yesterday's All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game in Washington, D.C. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals U.S. Army
Air Force and U.S. Army coed softball teams render military honors during the playing of the National Anthem during the All-Star Armed Services Classic Championship softball game, Washington, D.C., July 13, 2018. This event, part of MLB’s All-Star Week, pays tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Washington Nationals
Great way to lead by example!
The United States Air Force is facing a pilot shortage. To help solve the challenge, the Aircrew Crisis Task Force was recently created to provide strategic direction and actionable recommendations to senior leaders on how to solve the aircrew manning crisis. FULL STORY: https://go.usa.gov/xUb3z
Your United States Air Force news: ✓ A B-52 crew assists in a search and rescue operation off the coast of Guam ✓ An Afghan pilot class graduates in the Czech Republic ✓ The Air Force is using innovative approaches to training pilots to make the process faster and more efficient
Now that’s how weathermen work! Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly weather reconnaissance missions into Tropical Storm Chris and Tropical Storm Beryl. http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1569944/hurricane-hunters-fly-tropical-storms-beryl-chris/
The F-22 Raptor's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, coupled with improved supportability, represents an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities. The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft can involve a bit of a learning curve. Airmen at KadenaAirBase use past technology to help learn how to work with the undefeated Raptor. FULL STORY: http://www.kadena.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1567295/hard-to-raptor-head-around/
Help us out! Can you caption this photo?
The B-52 Stratofortress has sniper pods that provide improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilize surveillance for all missions, including close air support of ground forces. Air Force Global Strike Command crew members on a B-52 were able to spot a historic Pacific Island style canoe so that the U.S. Coast Guard could rescue the six passengers!
For the past 60 years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has continually helped us maintain a technological edge against our advarsaries. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory - AFRL, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.
SOUND ON! Celebrate freedom with the sound of freedom! Happy Independence Day!
During #ASC18, our #Airmen asked: Where are we today on developing new space operators & where will we be in the ne… https://t.co/a3IGP2gpnt
During #ASC18, our #Airmen asked: How do you see multi-domain command & control integrating with our allies?… https://t.co/GzyNIWKaWg
RT @AFResearchLab: Our team is showing off how fantastic our booth is this year! So come meet us at #booth601 for knowledge on what we do a…
RT @US_Stratcom: Gen Hyten: “All of our oaths start the same way, we swear an oath to the #Constitution, to a set of ideals written down on…
#ICYMI: @SecAFOfficial discussed the significance of the 70th Anniversary of the #BerlinAirlift during a commemorat… https://t.co/MLP7m1A1d1
.@SecAFOfficial: In his time, Billy Mitchell was the advocate for the #USAF we need. Now it's up to us -- all of us… https://t.co/5nfk096dpw
.@SecAFOfficial: I want to thank all of you for what you are doing to build a more lethal & ready #USAF, to field t… https://t.co/dVv7UUM3RI
.@SecAFOfficial: Over the past 6 months, #USAF acquisition has striped 56 yrs out of planned schedules in our acqui… https://t.co/6FgjTGUeVn
.@SecAFOfficial: By December of this year we will have closed that gap to zero. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: In September of 2016, the #USAF was short 4,000 maintainers. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: We have an obligation to our countrymen. To tell them, as those before us have done in their time,… https://t.co/xYAyI4NPe5
.@SecAFOfficial: The #USAF we need to implement the National Defense Strategy has 386 Operational Squadrons. #ASC18 https://t.co/tuoryyPTXF
.@SecAFOfficial: So, What will it take? 386. #ASC18
.@SecAFOfficial: The #USAF is too small for what the nation expects of us. 312 Operational Squadrons is not enough. #ASC18
#LIVE: @SecAFOfficial talks the "Air Force We Need" during the 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. #ASC18https://t.co/F67IXy9mQQ