Storm Over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War, by Richard P. Hallion, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, $16.95.
There is no one better qualified to write about the strategy and tactics of air power during the Gulf War than Dr. Richard “Dick” Hallion, chief historian for the U.S. Air Force. He had access to top-secret documents and could consult the Air Force’s extensive library for background, and he was able to talk with high-ranking officers who participated in Gulf War operations. Hallion’s book confirms the major lesson of Desert Storm: “Air power was the predominant agent in the coalition’s victory over Iraq.”
Hallion begins with a brief review of the use of air power from World War I through Vietnam, incorporating abundant facts and statistics. He describes the “uncertain steps” taken in Beirut, Lebanon, the invasion of the island of Grenada, the raid against Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Operation Just Cause in Panama, which resulted in the capture of the dictator Manuel Noriega. Hallon also discusses the view that future warfare will be “joint” warfare–with air power principally assertive. But he points out that, in Iraq, the objective was not achieved by air power alone.
The Iraqi threat, according to the author, was and presumably still is a “third world country with a first world military.” He lists its capabilities in terms of up-to-date air, navy and army weapons, modern airfields, redundant command structure, control and communications systems, a strong industrial base and strong transportation networks. He then describes the weapons that the coalition and joint forces had allied against Saddam Hussein. He also mentions those who were against American involvement in a Middle East war.
As a summary of what made the war decisive from a strategic standpoint, Hallion lists five categories: attacks on command and control, power generation, refined fuel and lubricants production, the transportation infrastructure and the Iraqi air force. He goes into detail about these strategies and points out that the war also revealed “an interesting synergy between airlift and strike operations.” He asks and answers pertinent questions and charges that have persisted in the war’s aftermath. Did stealth technology prove its value? Could cruise-missile attacks have substituted for manned aircraft? Was the ground war decisive? Could carrier-based air power have done more than it did? Did the GoldwaterNichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 make victory possible?
For the serious student of the Gulf War, there are seven appendices that go into great detail about the air, battlefield, strike and missile technology employed, battlefield information and control, the “smart” bomb, and space-based systems that marked Desert Storm as “America’s first comprehensive space-supported war.”
In the preface, Hallion says the book is not an integrated, authoritative history of the Gulf War because the history of its origins, progression and impact cannot be written yet, since “neither sufficient time has passed, nor are appropriate documentary materials (from all sides) available.” However, there is enough information packed into this report to convince air power doctrinaires that the best war strategy is one that targets things rather than people, allowing one nation to control another without destroying it.