Episode 6 – Commanding the Air War: The Desert Storm Air Campaign 30 Years Later

Episode Summary

The Aerospace Advantage presents Commanding the Air War: The Desert Storm Air Campaign 30 Years Later, a conversation between Gen (Ret.) Chuck Horner and Lt Gen (Ret) Dave Deptula, the joint forces air component commander who led the air war and his chief offensive air campaign planner. These two individuals, along with a broad coalition team, guided 100,876 air sorties from January 17 to February 28, 1991.

This air campaign marked a turning point in warfare, seeing desired effects drive targeting across the entirety of Iraq, and more importantly, across all its regime key strategic and operational level centers of gravity. This winning approach contrasts sharply with those that evolved in the conflicts of the first decades of the 2000s, which saw our military become bogged down in nation-building.

Given the current security challenges facing the United States, the lessons of Desert Storm are more important than ever. 

Full Topic Guide

In part 2 of this Desert Storm special series, host Lt Col (Ret.) John Baum and co-host Col (Ret.) Rich Reynolds speak with the men who were key actors in the Desert Storm air war. Gen (Ret.) Chuck Horner and Lt Gen David Deptula discuss how their individual experiences shaped their actions during the conflict and noted airpower historian Dr Dick Hallion reflects upon key takeaways from the most successful air campaign in history.

Gen Horner describes his perspective as the lead air commander. This includes insights regarding engagement with allies, senior political leaders, and US commanders. General Horner’s experience in Vietnam also shaped his approach to leadership during this campaign.

Technology was a distinct factor in Desert Storm with stealth and precision dramatically affecting the outcome of the campaign.  Lt Gen Deptula offers his own story of how he used the concepts of stealth and precision to develop an effects-basedstrategy that allowed him to yield the greatest military impact in a rapid fashion. As this was the first full-scale use of stealth aircraft, this technology set a new baseline for future air warfare.

Airpower historian Dr Dick Hallion  joins the show and explains the unique role air commanders played providing unique options for collation leaders. He also reflects on the unique intersection between strategy, operational concepts, and technology during this campaign. His remarks conclude looking at the lasting impact of Desert Storm.  The episode wraps with Rich Reynolds emphasizing the importance of the people in warfare, that individual personalities drive the key events that ultimately yield the way we think and operate in war.

Time Marks

02:50 – Gen Chuck Horner describes his opening moves in Desert Storm

05:00 – Gen Horner breaks down the planning and military’s internal politics of the campaign

13:33 – Gen Horner describes working with the coalition forces

16:33 – The shadow of Vietnam still loomed over the planners, but Gen Horner explains how the leadership used lessons learned to succeed in Desert Storm

18:06 – Lt Gen Deptula explains how technology shaped the war

23:30 – Gen Horner and Lt Gen Deptula describe their experiences on day 1 of the war

28:15– Gen Horner’s lessons learned from Desert Storm

32:17 – Dr. Richard Hallion joins the show and describes how air power became a dominant concept in the military

37:01 – Dr. Hallion explains how the U.S. forgot some of the lessons of Desert Storm and how at a strategic level we need to leverage our aerospace advantage to fight conflicts in the future

40:15 – Desert Storms’ operating concepts influenced the concept of warfare around the globe


Host: Lt Col John “Slick” Baum, USAF, ret.

Co-host: Col Richard Reynolds, USAF, ret.

Producer: Daniel C. Rice

Executive Producer: Douglas Birkey

Guest: Gen Charles A. Horner, USAF, ret.

Guest: Lt Gen David Deptula, USAF, ret.

Guest: Dr. Richard P. Hallion, USAF, ret.

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