Gulf War–Air Campaign, January 16 – February 28, 1991

Editor: Michael Spilling and Consultant Editor: Chris McNab

Gulf War–Air Campaign, January 16 – February 28, 1991

In the wake of Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, an American-led multinational Coalition deployed to Saudi Arabia. To force an Iraqi withdrawal, the Coalition initiated an aerial campaign on the night of January 16–17, 1991, which lasted for 43 days until the ceasefire on February 28. The Coalition ground campaign lasted for only 100 hours of this 43-day period.

Gulf War–Air Campaign

USAF aircraft of the 4th Fighter Wing fly over Kuwaiti oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. By US Air Force. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

The Coalition air forces deployed 2330 aircraft, whereas the Iraqis fielded just 820, mostly inferior Soviet-supplied equipment. The overall Coalition air war delivered 88,000 tons of munitions in over 100,000 sorties. The campaign also comprised four overlapping phases: a strategic air campaign, a battle to win air superiority over Kuwait, attacks on the Iraqi ground forces and, from 24 February, attacks supporting the unfolding ground offensive. In the war’s first hours, based on the innovative Instant Thunder plan, American F-117A Nighthawk Stealth aircraft flew undetected by Iraqi radars to target strategic enemy command facilities in Baghdad.

Attacking Kari during the Gulf War–Air Campaign

Following this, Coalition aircraft attacked the infrastructures associated with the enemy’s sophisticated ‘Kari’ air defense system to gain control of the skies, so that aerial operations could be mounted without fear of casualties being caused by enemy aircraft attacks or SAM responses. In phase three, Coalition aircraft attacked Iraqi ground forces to inflict casualties and lower their morale, as well as smash their logistical and command capabilities. Finally, once the ground war commenced, Coalition air forces attacked enemy front-line forces, interdicted Iraqi lines of communication and performed reconnaissance missions.

This sophisticated Coalition air war was hugely effective. It degraded overall Iraqi command and control capability by 90 per cent, smashed their ability to move, destroyed literally hundreds of vehicles and inflicted 40 per cent casualties on the enemy’s ground forces, making a significant contribution to the Coalition victory.


Dr. Chris McNab is the editor of AMERICAN BATTLES & CAMPAIGNS: A Chronicle, from 1622-Present and is an experienced specialist in wilderness and urban survival techniques. He has published over 20 books including: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere. An encyclopedia of military and civilian survival techniques for all environments. Special Forces Endurance Techniques, First Aid Survival Manual, and The Handbook of Urban Survival.

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