by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
1/15/2016 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- 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, Operation Desert Shield gave
way to Operation Desert Storm Jan. 17, 1991 (Jan. 16 in the U.S.), and
concluded with a cease fire Feb. 28.
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 Operation 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
THE BUILD UP
Airlift and air refueling enabled the rapid arrival of the first U.S.
forces in Operation Desert Shield. Two F-15 Eagle Squadrons from Langley
Air Force Base, Virginia, arrived at Saudi Arabia 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, ALCE's were in place in Saudi Arabia to manage
the airlift flow. The ALCE personnel and cargo were carried on 37
C-141s, 10 C-5s and 10 C-130 missions. United States 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 build-up, lack of spare parts impeded the build-up to
Operation Desert Storm. To help cope with priority deliveries,
USTRANSCOM 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
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, MAC managed the Desert Shield/Desert Storm
strategic airlift. Military Airlift Command'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 Operation Desert Shield/Storm
success. There were 12,894 strategic airlift missions during both
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 historical document "So Many, So Much, So Far, So Fast: United
States Transportation Command and Strategic Deployment for Operation
Desert Shield/Desert Storm."
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 and 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.
Air Force Gen. Hansford T. Johnson, 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."
SAC led refueling mission during Operation Desert Shield and 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," said Air Force Gen. (ret.) Kenneth Keller, former SAC
director of operations during a 2009 AMC Tanker Living Legends Speaker
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 Air Force Global Strike Command.
"Without the phenomenal tanker support we had for the war, we could not
have accomplished what we did," said Air Force Lt. Gen. (ret.) Patrick
Caruana in the Tanker Living Legends Speaker Series. Caruana was the
U.S. Central Air Forces' air campaign planner and commander during
Desert Shield and 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 build
up, according to the Air Force History Office document "Sevety-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
"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, 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, C-130 and C-17; and
adopted a new airframe, the KC-46.
Mobility Airmen are off-loading more fuel now in support of the fight
against the Islamic State 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, Air, Space, and Information Operations deputy director, Air
Mobility Command on Scott Air Force Base, 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 is one Mobility Air Force departure every 2.8 minutes, every day, 365 days per year.
"The Air Force puts the 'rapid' in global mobility," said Everhart. "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."