Operation Desert Storm Victory Parade
Operation Desert Storm ended in a decisive victory for the United States and its coalition partners. Iraq had the 4th largest military in the world. The Iraqi military had modern equipment and Iraqi forces had years of combat experience from fighting Iran. Iraq also had a stockpile of chemical weapons. The magnitude of the U.S. effort was such that Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney authorized the National Defense Service Medal for all those who served in the military during the time.
In June 1991 there was a World War II style victory parade on the Washington Mall. The late General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, who commanded the coalition forces, led the parade. Troop formations marched and ground equipment rolled down Constitution Avenue. Aircraft that flew Desert Storm missions flew overhead. A small group of anti-war protestors attempted to disrupt the parade. Spectators lined the parade route. It was difficult to get a good look at the troops and ground equipment for those who failed to come early. Spectators had an excellent view of the aircraft from almost any vantage point. There was a USAF F-15 tail number AF85-114, a USAF F-16 tail number AF79-317, and a USMC AV-8B Harrier, Bu. Number 162943 on static display near the Lincoln Memorial. The pilot’s name on the F-15 was Captain Cesar Rodriguez. The markings showed the MiG-23 and MiG-29 Captain Rodriguez shot down during Operation Desert Storm.[i]
[i] Lt. Colonel Cesar Antonio “Rico” Rodriguez shot down a MiG-29 over Serbia during the Kosovo campaign, Operation Allied Force. Col. Rodriguez was the director of operations for the 332nd AEW during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Proving Ground
To many people Desert Storm confirmed many claims and exploded some myths. At the start of Operation Desert Shield Saddam Hussein is quoted as stating; “The United States depends on air power and air power has never been decisive in the history of wars.” While some still believe this to others Desert Storm made Saddam Hussein’s statement laughable. Desert Storm disproved a number of objections to having women in combat roles. Among these myths was the belief women casualties would be more disturbing than men casualties to the American populace. The professional performance of women in Operation Desert Storm gave momentum for women serving in more roles in the United States and armed forces throughout the world.
The F-117 Nighthawk proved stealth technology. The F-117 was the only major combat aircraft type that flew in Desert Storm without losses.[i] In air-air combat the F-15 Eagles shot down 34 fixed wing aircraft, including 5 MiG-29s, without a loss to enemy aircraft. They also shot down 3 helicopters. In contrast the F/A-18s shot down two MiG-21s and one F/A-18 fell to an enemy fighter. Unknown at the time an Iraqi fighter also shot down a Royal Air Force Tornado. Many called the A-10 a SLAT (Slow Low Aerial Target). The A-10 proved it could survive over a battlefield where the enemy had sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons. The USAF lost 3 A-10s to enemy action. The Patriot missile system proved the viability of shooting down a missile with a missile. The effectiveness of the Patriot against the SCUD missiles was exaggerated. The F-111 had a troubled history. It was supposed to be a joint service aircraft but the U.S. Navy withdrew from the program. When the USAF deployed it to Vietnam in 1968 it soon lost two F-111s to mechanical failures. The Air Force withdrew the aircraft from Vietnam and didn’t reintroduce it until 1972. F-111s flew in Operation El Dorado Canyon. Anti-aircraft shot one down and there were questions if its use was to make El Dorado Canyon a joint service operation rather than military necessity. Operation Desert Storm vindicated the F-111. During Operation Desert Storm F-111s destroyed 949 armored vehicles, 252 artillery pieces, 243 aircraft shelters, 4 aircraft on the ground, two ships, and numerous other targets. On the other side of the ledger Operation Desert Storm added to the B-1B Lancer controversy. President Jimmy Carter killed the B-1 program. President Ronald Reagan resurrected the program. The B-1B wasn’t used in Operation Desert Storm and its detractors pointed to this as proof the B-1B was a useless aircraft.
[i] No B-52s were lost to enemy action. An accident claimed a B-52.
While the victory parade marked the end of Operation Desert Storm it was not the end of U.S. military involvement with Iraq. Desert Storm was the beginning. Except for a respite from 2012 – August 2014 the U.S. military has been carrying out operations, of various intensity, in Iraq ever since. Arguably it was the respite that enabled terrorist forces to gain control over much of Iraq. The B-1B flew its first combat missions over Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. The Patriot missile system which many proclaimed a great success in Operation Desert Storm shot down an RAF Tornado and a U.S. Navy F/A-18 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.