Cyber Crucible

Task Force Normandy: The Deep Operation that Started Operation Desert Storm

Col. Paul E. Berg and Kenneth E. Tilley

This is a reprint of Chapter 8 from Deep Maneuver: Historical Case Studies of Maneuver in Large-Scale Combat Operations, part of The Large-Scale Combat Operations Series.


Operations in the deep area involve efforts to prevent uncommitted or out of contact enemy maneuver forces from being committed in a coherent manner or preventing enemy enabling capabilities, such as fires and air defense, from creating effects in the close area.1

- Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations


"One of the smallest yet most successful and important Joint-Army-Air Force operations in the initial strikes in Operation Desert Storm was Task Force Normandy."2 During the opening hours in the Iraqi desert on 17 January 1991, Task Force Normandy consisted of eight Army AH-64 Apache helicopters working with four Air Force MH-53J Pave Low helicopters were on a mission to destroy two Iraqi early warning (EW) radar sites with the purpose to blind Iraqi air defense and open a twenty-mile wide air corridor in the opening minutes of the air campaign.3 The task force operation was named Normandy after the site of the 101st Airborne Division's famous airborne insertion on D-Day during World War II.4 This operation created an unobstructed pathway for a plethora of fast moving Navy and Air Force bombers to fly deep into Iraq and destroy key targets to start Operation Desert Storm. Operation Desert Shield/Desert Shield were the largest combat operations in US military history since the Vietnam War.5

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered his Army to invade and occupy their neighbor border country of Kuwait in early August 1990 with approximately 300,000 troops, because he accused Kuwait of "siphoning crude oil from common border oil fields and accused them of keeping oil prices low to assist Western oil-buying nations" in addition claimed "Kuwait was an artificial state carved out of Iraqi coast by Western colonies."6 General Norman Schwarzkopf was Commander-in-Chief of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and led the United Nations and US first phase response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait by establishing a deterrent defensive force to prevent the Iraqi Army from continuing into Saudi Arabia. This defensive posture also established valuable time for the UN and US militaries to build up more forces to mount a major offensive to forcefully remove Saddam's forces if he did not withdraw his forces from Kuwait. The name given to the initial defensive operation was Operation Desert Shield.7 Hussein defied United Nations Security Council demands to withdraw from Kuwait by mid-January 1991.

Mission Analysis

As UN and US forces were establishing Operation Desert Shield, the Iraqi Army's immediate threat into Saudi Arabia declined. This opportunity allowed an initial planning cell from the US Air Force's 20th Special Operations Squadron (20 SOS) to start planning an air campaign, with an essential task of penetrating Iraq's air defenses and allow freedom of maneuver for UN and US aircraft to conduct deep operations into Iraq to reduce risk management to crews.8 The 20 SOS was commanded by Lt. Col. (USAF) Rich Comer from 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) at Hurlbert Field, Florida, and consisted of multiple MH-53J Pave Lows helicopters in Saudi Arabia to provide area coverage - their primary mission for search and rescue operations.9

The Iraqi defense system consisted of French and Soviet air defense equipment. The Iraqis had built an integrated air defense system that included medium- and long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and short-range anti-aircraft artillery pieces. The multi-layered defense system established overlapping coverage against high fixed-wing aircraft and low rotary wing aircraft. The Iraqis were only able to establish this defense system through powerful EW radars that provided essential enemy air threat critical information regarding size, direction of attack, and speed axis of any enemy force.10 The Iraqi security operations centers (SOC) would receive the early warning information and determine what air defense asset to use to maximize effects. If a task force could destroy several EW sites, that effort could cripple SOC's capability to integrate air defense system against enemy air. The tactical challenge was that the SOC's were usually deep inside Iraq and well defended, and to minimize causalities during any future air campaign, a military operation must take out the eyes and ears of the Iraqi air defense system.11

The new arrival of global positioning system (GPS) technology played a pivotal role in the mission analysis. GPS technology started in 1980s with a global network of GPS satellites launched into space orbit.12 The new network of GPS technology allowed accuracy up to 100 meters in Southwest Asia 24 hours a day with the aircraft that were GPS-enabled. This technological navigational advantage gave certain aircraft (mainly special operations aircraft like the MH-53J Pave Lows) an unparalleled precision of navigation during day, night, and instrument weather conditions.13

Col. Jessie Johnson, Commander of US Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), initially had Col. (USAF) George Gray, Commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW), and his staff planners target on two Iraqi EW radar sites that were positioned in the proposed air attack corridor, but total simultaneous destruction of these sites was critical to mission success. These EW sites had to be destroyed at the same time to prevent any warning or alert to the larger Iraqi air defense systems. Due to the overlapping of EW coverage, destroying only one EW site would still leave enough capability to threaten future attacking air forces.14 During this timeframe of planning, intelligence assets had identified that the Iraqis tactically moved the three radar sites 20, 27, and 40 miles, respectively, farther back into Iraq and hardened the sites.15




During initial mission planning using only the MH-53Js because of their enabled GPS navigation, the helicopters could attack the two EW sites with their 50-caliber machine guns. Colonel Johnson briefed this initial plan to General Schwarzkopf, who only approved the concept for further planning. However, Lieutenant Colonel Comer was not convinced of success of this initial plan, because he believed "that the 50-caliber machine guns would not be powerful enough to satisfactorily destroy the sites."16 In addition, the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment (SOAR) contacted Col. George Gray and recommended Army MH-60s armed with 2.75-inch rockets and 7.62-mm mini-guns would be better for the mission accomplishment than the Pave Lows. Colonel Gray and Lieutenant Colonel Comer "rejected that proposal believing that, in reality, the Army special operations aviators were just looking for a way to block the Pave Low guys from being in the mission."17

The initial planners recommended three courses of action (COAs) to achieve the objective: COA #1 was to insert special operation forces on the ground; COA #2 was to have Air Force Pave Low helicopters attack and destroy the EW sites only using their .50-caliber machine guns; and COA #3 used cruise missiles.18 Each of the COAs involved a certain high risk and mission failure that something might survive or be missed. The planners all agreed that the use of helicopters was the best option "because their pilots could loiter on station, assess damage, and reengage targets until they were sure nothing was left."19 The helicopter was the best answer to destroy the objective, assess damage, re-engage, and provide a rescue option for any downed aircraft scenarios; however, which ones, what type, and how many was the next step.

The best aircraft for navigation would be the Pave Lows, but the most accurate helicopter to destroy the EW sites was determined to be the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The AH-64 Apache helicopter was a new attack platform that was the replacement for the US Army's Vietnam era AH-1 Cobra helicopter. Lieutenant Colonel Comer further discussed the mission and also highly recommended the mission include Army AH-64s with Hellfire missiles, Hydra-70 rockets, and 30-mm machine guns to do the job. The AH-64 Apache could carry a mix of weapons that could assure destruction of both hard and soft targets. The Apaches did not have GPS navigation capability like the Pave Lows, and flying nap-of-the-earth (NOE) in the desert and night was high-risk. The key for mission success was destroying two Iraqi EW sites simultaneously attacking both sites at the same determined time. This scenario required two aircraft teams to maintain arrival at night at the objective on time, which the Apaches were unable to do alone with its navigational capabilities. The Apaches needed assistance in precision navigation to get to the objective on time where they would have the ability to do what they did best by destroying the objective.20




As the plan was maturing to a Pave Low and Apache mix, CENTCOM intelligence reported three Iraqi EW sites had consolidated into two sites and moved 10 miles closer to the border.21 The result was a hybrid option using Pave Lows with Apaches; the Pave Lows' onboard GPS assured precise navigation, while their terrain-following radar could provide the safety for the Apaches to maintain precise speed along the route. The planners took their modified plan of Pave Low and Apache mix to Colonel Johnson at SOCCENT. Colonel Johnson updated General Schwarzkopf, who then approved the use of Apaches from the 101st Airborne Division and cleared them collectively to start training.22

On 25 September 1990, Colonel Johnson called in Lt. Col. Richard A. Cody, commander of the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Brigade, to discuss the mission capability and assurance of success and who were also co-located at King Fahd Airport.23 After the meeting, Lieutenant Colonel Comer met with Lieutenant Colonel Cody, and they began planning the mission in detail not knowing when the D-Day (day of the operation) or H-hour (designated hour of the attack) was expected to be. The Task Force was officially called Task Force Normandy.24

The mission concept was that the Pave Low helicopters were going to lead and navigate using their GPS technology and terrain-following radar and the Apaches would follow to the release point then move on to the objectives. The Pave Lows would also be available to search and rescue any Apache crewmen should any aircraft get shot down.25

The identified immediate challenges of this package of Joint aircraft were the Apaches' fuel load constraint. With a full weapons load (Hellfires, rockets, and 30-mm), the Apaches could barely fly the mission with internal fuel and would have no margin for error if needed to avoid unexpected threats or bad weather. A crewmember flight engineer Tech Sgt. (USAF) Jeff Morrison recommended one option that "a Pave Low could ground transfer fuel from its tanks to the affected Apache and also could assure the necessary equipment was aboard each Pave Low."26 An additional option was to establish a forward arming and refueling point (FARP) inside Iraq; this was quickly abandoned because of its complexities and fears from Desert One (a failed 1980 Joint aviation mission in Iran that resulted in two destroyed aircraft and killed eight crewmen). The approved recommendation was to use an external fuel tank that replaced one 2.75-inch rocket pod.27

Another challenge was how to identify the release point; some of the best solutions came from enlisted crewmembers. One of the Pave Low gunners recommended that "they lead the Apaches to a pre-designated position (release point) and then mark it with chemical night lights."28 The Apache pilots could identify the chemical sticks position and update their Doppler systems for the final run into their targets.

There would be two flights of aircraft to destroy the EW sites. Each flight (Red Team and White Team) would consist of two MH-53s that would lead and navigate four Apaches each to the site and also provide combat recovery support. Lieutenant Colonel Cody selected his aircrews in December to conduct the mission into two teams of four Apaches.29 Lieutenant Colonel Cody had twenty-four Apache crews and picked only eight but commented any of the twenty-four could have completed the mission; crews averaged 26-years-old and include three warrant officers out of flight school. Lieutenant Colonel Comer would lead the Red Team to the western radar site and Lieutenant Colonel Cody would lead the White Team to the other radar site.30

Through the next three months in the fall of 1990, they would train in the Saudi Arabian desert for the mission. The Apaches received permission to only six Hellfire live-fire ranges in the Saudi desert. The crews on the mission were not briefed on specific targets or locations until two days before execution; also, there would be one trained spare AH-64 and one UH-60 with four mechanics trained available on standby if needed.31

The White Team consisted of 20th Pave Low crews of Capt. Michael Kingsley and Maj. Robert Leonik and Apache crews of Lt. Col. Dick Cody, Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Stewmom, Lt. Tom Drew, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tim Zarnowski, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ronald Rodriguez, Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Miller, Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Jones, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas O'Neill.32

The Red Team consisted of 20th Pave Low crews of Capt. Corby Martin and Maj. Ben Pulsifer, and the Apache crews consisted of Capt. Newman Shufflebarger, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tom Roderick, Warrant Officer 1 Tim Vincent, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shawn Hoban, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lewis Hall, and Warrant Officer 1 Jerry Orsburn. The spare Apache consisted of Lt. Tim Devito and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Ivey.33

The maintenance crew aircraft selected in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Terry Seanor and Capt. David Parker, along with intelligence officer Lt. Russ Stinger, mechanics Staff Sgt. Robert Sparks and Staff Sgt. John Frady.34 Their mission would be to conduct downed aircraft recovery duties if an aircraft crashed or was shot down.

Challenges of Joint Operations

Joint operations always come with longstanding challenges in bringing multi-service agencies together to work as a team. The Apache and Pave Low crews had never worked with each other before this mission, and each aircraft had different service troop, training, and procedures (TTPs). In addition, between inter-service aircrews there was a natural and mutual mistrust within the aviation community. Additional differences in equipment were that the Apaches operated at night using infrared and needed no ambient light while Pave Lows used night vision goggles (NVG), which required some ambient light; each aircraft had to find ways to accommodate the equipment differences.35




Operational security (OPSEC) of the future Task Force Normandy mission was of critical concern to assure covert training specifics and avoid any suspicion. The Army and Air Force crews were not informed of the details or the exact target until hours before the mission. Both Lieutenant Colonel Cody and Lieutenant Colonel Comer conducted all training almost 700 miles away from the actual objective; the crews never practiced the actual route; the movements to the actual operational base were classified; the Air Force and army crews planned to fly separately to the staging base at King Khalid Military City.36

As each aircraft type were conducting successful training flights in the fall independently, the pressure from Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and CENTCOM on the decision of the Apache to complete the mission over other aircraft had to overcome doubt by the staff, because this was the first time the AH-64 Apache were in combat and had not been fully tested. One of the final training scenarios from higher to confirm the choice of the Apache was tasked to fly a 1,000-mile specified route at night, arrive at a gunnery range undetected and blow up some targets at a precise time down to the exact second. Lieutenant Colonel Cody and his selected crews performed, unaware CENTCOM staff was present. The 1-101st battalion operations officer (S3) was in the range tower with the CENTCOM staff and with fifteen seconds to go, no one in the tower could see or hear the Apaches in the darkness as they were passing the tower; a CENTCOM staff officer asked the S3 where the Apaches were; within three seconds to go the S3 said, "I guess they are not going to make it?" and instantly the area around the tower lit up as all four Apaches fired at the exact designated time.37 That demonstration clinched the decision: if the Apaches could sneak that close to the people who knew they were coming and were looking for them, then they had the stealth for the real mission. All doubts were erased that the Apache could do the mission.

After three months of training, Colonel Johnson personally briefed General Schwarzkopf in late October "that Task Force Normandy was ready to execute its mission to destroy two Iraqi EW sites . . . and Colonel Johnson assured him that the mission would be 100 percent successful;" then Schwarzkopf replied, "Okay, Colonel, then you get to start the war."38 The date of the mission was still undetermined and would be decided by President George H.W. Bush.

The week before Christmas 1990, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, and the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), Honorable Dick Cheney, flew to Riyadh to review the CENTCOM war plans personally. As General Schwarzkopf was briefing the Task Force Normandy mission to the SECDEF, he brought in Colonel Johnson and Colonel Gray and pointedly asked if they could guarantee 100-percent success; both answered yes.39

Task Force Normandy held a final rehearsal on 10 January 1991 and it went as planned and flawless which involved actual timing and distances to identify any errors. Lieutenant Colonel Comer said "We were eager for the mission to fly . . . not since Desert One in Iran had special operations helicopters been given a better chance for a good mission."40 On 14 January, the Apaches and Pave Lows departed separately to Al Jouf, which was a Joint airfield about 130 miles south of the Iraqi border.

During the final exercise, Lieutenant Colonel Comer spoke with Joint Special Operations Command's (JSOC) air component commander and noticed that Lt. Col. Doug Brown, the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) did his best to ensure that the aviation unit of choice for the upcoming mission was his unit and not the 20th SOS. Lieutenant Colonel Comer identified the differences in capabilities between the aircraft types to JSOC and almost lost the mission due to preference to Brown's unit, but in the end, Comer kept the mission.41

On the afternoon of 16 January 1991, all last-minute diplomatic UN and Allied efforts to avert any future combat failed as the United Nations January deadline to Saddam Hussein came and went. President Bush secretly declared D-Day, the start of the air war against Iraq, as 17 January 1991, and the entire world held its breath in anticipation of the war.42 To set the conditions for the war and open an air corridor for bombers and fighters, General Schwarzkopf approved the Task Force Normandy mission to destroy two early-warning radar stations on early morning of 17 January 1991. CENTCOM notified all of its forces that the war would start the next morning at 0300.43

At 2130, Lieutenant Colonel Comer and Cody held a final mission update brief for all the Apache and Pave Low crews. The crews were highly professional and had been well trained and knew the significance of their mission to the future large-scale combat operations that were going to happen next. At 2330, crews began pre-flight checklists and at midnight they started engines.44

Mission Execution

Because their flight times required different departures, the "White Team" Apaches left first from Al Jouf Airfield at 0100; the first "White" Pave Low lifted at 0113. The "White Team" Pave Lows linked with their Apaches to fly the eastern target now designated "California." The Red team led seven minutes later and crews joined their four Apaches en route for the western target designated "Nevada."45 Lieutenant Colonel Comer flew as a copilot in Red Team in a Pave Low and maintained communications with Colonel Gray and Colonel Johnson at SOCCENT command center. Lt. Col. Dick Cody was a copilot with White Team in an Apache. There were also two MH-60's for combat rescue support (55th SOS), one UH-60 with Apache mechanics, and one spare Apache if needed up in orbit north of Arar.46




The Red and White Teams avoided any ground lighting to preserve operational security. The Red Team encountered an unexpected observation post that was extremely brightly lit, which required them to divert the route slightly and noticed small arms fire that had no effect. When the White Team neared the border, they drew a missile fired by an Iraqi assumed by the response to the sounds of the helicopters.47 At 0212, Task Force Normandy crossed into Iraq, varying their flight paths to avoid known or suspected enemy observation posts or Bedouin locations. The western target was 13 miles farther; the eastern target, twenty-three miles.48

Both teams flew in radio silence and crossed the border at 120 knots at an altitude of 75 feet and from forty kilometers out, crews could make out lights near the objective.49 The Iraqis had left the lights on at the objective. The flight slowed to 80 knots and descended to fifty feet as they approached the release point. Two minutes later, the Pave Lows slowed to a hover and dropped green chemical stick to the ground to mark release point and then turned south. As the Pave Lows departed south and went into a holding pattern - ready to provide combat search and rescue (CSAR) or extra firing power if needed - the Apaches slowly passed over the chemical lights and updated their Doppler navigational systems for the final ten-mile run to their individual targets. Task Force Normandy arrived into firing position exactly ninety seconds early.50 Lieutenant Colonel Cody commented that, "the waiting after they were already in Iraq made him old before his time."51

The Apaches achieved complete surprise on the Iraqi EW sites. The Apache crews also saw enemy troops around the structures. Suddenly, the lights began to go off and one of the pilots commented, "I think they know we are here" as the Apache crews turned on their ranging lasers.52 The radars were turned up looking for fixed winged aircraft, not expecting slow moving helicopters. At exactly 0237:50, White Team Apache pilot 2nd Lt. Tom Drew keyed his radio and broadcast, "Party in 10" and Red Team broadcast "Joy."53 Precisely ten seconds later, all crews began firing their Hellfire missiles. Twenty seconds later, the deadly weapons began to detonate against the structures. The generators were first, then the command bunkers, and finally, the radar dishes themselves. By hitting power sources first, the pilots would silence the radar site before it could alert the Iraqi central control headquarters in Baghdad.54 The enemy soldiers died in the melee. The intelligence-gathering aircraft high above monitored the sites and noted that all radar signals immediately ceased. Each of the Apaches had a primary target, along with another Apache's primary as a secondary target. Cody arranged primary and secondary targets to assure every piece of the EW site had redundant hits.55 The intent was to assure that nothing could be easily repaired. After all Hellfires were expended, the Apaches moved to four kilometers and started firing Multipurpose Sub-Munitions (MPSM) rockets and at four kilometers from the sites, they opened up with their 30-mm chain guns and riddled what remained of the compounds with every bullet they had.56 In addition some of the rockets fired were flechettes to tear up wires and cables connecting parts of the site; nothing would be repairable, the whole attack, from first to last shot took only a few minutes. Within four minutes, the radar sites and their bunkers were completely destroyed with full mission accomplishment, then Task Force Normandy turned for home. Cody transmitted "California A-A-A" to Comer, who then relayed the message to CENTCOM that the White Team target had been 100-percent destroyed and with no casualities.57 Comer reported "Nebraska A-A-A" to CENTCOM to signal the Red Team had 100-percent destruction of their site and no casualties.58 Task Force Normandy created a forty-kilometer corridor for Allied aircraft to begin Desert Storm's air operations. The sites were completely destroyed and would not reactivate during the war.59

The radar facilities were destroyed 22 minutes before H-Hour (termed H-22), a timing that was based on the estimated time that the Iraqis' radar network could detect the "strike force" as it moved toward the border. The hole in the Iraqis' defense system reduced their ability to detect, identify, and respond to the Coalition attack.60

The Apaches had expended 27 Hellfire missiles, 100 Hydra-70 rockets, and 4,000 rounds of 30-mm cannon fire. They turned south, rejoined with the Pave Lows, and headed home. En route, crews observed what appeared to be the launch of two SA-7 missiles. Utilizing onboard defensive systems and some aggressive maneuvering, the crews managed to escape them. Outbound, Lieutenant Colonel Comer radioed a code-word message to SOCCENT headquarters reporting their complete success: "SOF targets destroyed."61 Colonel Johnson personally reported the results to General Schwarzkopf's command center. "Thank God!" the general responded.62

As the Task Force Normandy helicopters flew out of Iraq, strike aircraft roared toward Baghdad; at the Saudi border. The last danger for the aircraft was the need to stay low to the ground and not rise above 100 feet as the largest air armada since Vietnam raced toward Baghdad. A coalition of US and Allied aircraft began crossing Iraqi airspace which included the F-117 stealth fighter's first mission in combat and joined the attack along with dozens of F-15s and F-111s. British Toronado fighters along with Saudi and Kuwaiti F-15s also joined in the attack on Iraqi targets. The lights were so numerous in the total blackness that Lieutenant Colonel Comer called the formation aluminum overcast. After crossing the border, the Pave Lows disappeared to resume CSAR duties, the Apaches returned to their original base. The Apaches from the 1-101st had rejoined the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Eagle and landed at 1600.63

The Pave Low and Apache combination worked as planned and the training had fully paid off. The returning aircraft could see in the clear night air above the multiple formations of US and Allied fixed-winged aircraft heading for the radar gap. The pilots remembered how "you could look off to the south, and there were blinkers lined up . . . you could see a long way on goggles . . . there were anti-collision lights lined up; it looked like an LA freeway . . . then, all of a sudden, there were no more lights as each aircraft turned off their lights to enter Iraqi airspace."64 One F-15E fighter pilot wrote a thank-you letter to the crews of Task Force Normandy that said, "During our [flight intelligence] brief, we noticed our route of flight took us right over an active [radar] site. . . . We were told not to worry about it . . . We saw the explosions and your helicopters in our FLIR [forward-looking infrared radiometer] as we flew over you; there was immense relief."65

Operation Desert Storm in Effect

The shift noncommissioned officer on duty at the 101st Airborne Division main command post at Camp Eagle, King Fahd International Airport, Saudi Arabia, received a phone call just before 0200 on the 17th of January from the XVIII Airborne Corps G-3 staff informing him that the US Navy had launched 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles toward Iraqi targets at 0152 and passed a verbal order from ARCENT that stated "Operation Desert Storm is in effect."66 With this order, more than five months of training in the Saudi desert had come to a conclusion. The defense of Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression, Operation Desert Shield, had been mission accomplished, and the 101st Airborne Division immediately began implementing its role in the Liberation of Kuwait and the start of Operation Desert Storm.67

At 0635 on 16 January, seven B-52 bombers launched from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to be a participant in the first wave of aircraft bombers in Operation Desert Storm. These B-52's and others from the continental US had flown a 35-hour, 14,000-mile combat mission - which would be the longest air combat mission in history.68 The strategic air campaign was now in full swing as allied aircraft swarmed over Iraq and Kuwait. On 17 January, the Turkish government finally gave its approval to begin combat operations and Colonel Gray was relieved that he now had a personal recovery force for the northern part of the country for the rest of his Pave Lowes.69

As Task Force Normandy opened up the Iraqis' western flank to allow Coalition air to start precision bombing, Saddam Hussein continued to improve his defenses in Kuwait and had forty-one Iraqi divisional headquarters postured in defense.70 Saddam had increased five divisions since November, which were infantry divisions that joined the coastal and forward defenses and added an additional three regular army armored divisions to complete the formation of two regular army corps, which would serve as operational reserve.71

Military analysts assessed the defense strategy and assumed Saddam had decided to accept risk in the west due to terrain that a western attack would be too difficult and the route too long for the Coalition to consider an option. Saddam had residual forces of twenty-four divisions in Iraq, largely recently mobilized infantry units that possessed little military tactical value and further reinforcements were unlikely. In retrospect, Saddam had left the back door open, and from all appearances he had neither the capability nor the inclination to close it.72

By the end of operations on 26 February 1991, 24 Iraqi Divisions were destroyed; Iraqi Soldiers surrendered faster than CENTCOM could count them, but military police estimated POWs exceeding 30,000 soldiers; the 24th Infantry Division had outrun its fuel trucks; and President Bush ordered a ceasefire, which went into effect at 0800 on 28 February. By the ceasefire, the UN and US forces nearly destroyed the entire Iraqi ground force - 3,847 of their 4,280 tanks (90 percent) destroyed, more than half of the 2,880 armored personnel carriers and nearly 3,100 artillery pieces destroyed; only 5 to 7 of 43 combat divisions remained capable for any offensive operations, and there were about 60,000 Iraqi POWs being held. The US forces had lost 147 killed in action; Operation Desert Storm had been the fastest and most complete victory in American military history.73


Task Force Normandy succeeded beyond all expectations and set the conditions for the future fight with both radar sites completely destroyed and two days later an AC-130 gunship went to the radar sites to destroy anything left and found nothing left to shoot at. The casualty results of the first night of the air campaign were the real measures of success; in which planners expected high losses among aircraft deep in the heart of Iraq on the first night, but the losses did not occur.74




Task Force Normandy represented several successful lines of effort to the Army from lessons learned from the Vietnam War; the success was a testimonial to the Aviation branch's ability to attract and retain extremely high-quality aviators, train them to perfection, and let them be critical thinkers in highly stressful combat environments.75 The most important keys to their success were gains of key technology since the end of the Vietnam War; most important was the technological leap in capability that came with the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the laser-guided Hellfire missile, and night vision devices. After this initial combat mission of the Apache, those who doubted the performance of the Apache were silenced by the aircraft's ability to prepare and execute the missions at high levels of readiness for long periods under horrible environmental conditions. The most significant technological advantage over peer threats was precision navigation that came with the GPS; only a year or two earlier this mission would have seen impossible.76

Finally, Task Force Normandy showed the effects of dramatic changes in thinking about the dimensional multi-domain battlefield and how to organize and fight in it. Task Force Normandy proved the doctrinal ideas about deep attack operations in large-scale combat operations and aviation (in 1990s). This deep maneuver mission also proved the importance of moving toward joint integrated operations that was fundamentally in the thinking of future Army doctrine and the current continued concepts of large-scale combat operations.77 Task Force Normandy prevented the Iraqi Army from employing air defense fires by destroying the EW sites that disrupted enemy command and control (C2) and enabled Allied air forces to mass effects against key Iraqi capabilities to enable the rapid movement into Iraq, which provided an excellent example that defines large-scale combat operations of today.



  1. Department of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: 2017), 1-150.
  2. James W. Williams, A History of Army Aviation: From its Beginnings to the War on Terror (New York: Universe, 2005), 246.
  3. Jerome Martin, Victory from Above: Air Power Theory and the Conduct of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1994), 65; Robert H. Scales, Certain Victory: United States Army in the Gulf War (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army,1993), 168; US Army Aviation After Action Report: Aviation in Desert Shield/Storm, Fort Rucker, AL, Army Aviation Center, 1991, 4; Darrell Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue in Desert Storm (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University, Air University Press, 2006), 90; and 101st Aviation Brigade, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm Executive Summary, 1991, Fort Campbell, KY, 5.
  4. Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), "101st Airborne Division History for Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield; Command Report, 101st Airborne Division After-Action Report Notes, History of the 101," 1991, 11; Darrell, D. Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride: A History of the MH-53J Pave Low Helicopters in War and Peace (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, Air Force Research Institute, 2012), 329; Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 70; Special report "The US Army in Operation Desert Storm," Arlington, VA, The Institute of Land Warfare, June 1991, 12.
  5. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 246.
  6. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 11.
  7. Martin, Victory from Above, 22; CALL, "101st Airborne Division AAR," 11; US Army Aviation, Desert Storm, 4; and Thomas Taylor, Lightning in the Storm: the 101st Air Assault Division in the Gulf War, 1994 (New York: Hippocrene Books), 29.
  8. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 247.
  9. Williams, 247; Martin, Victory from Above, 286.
  10. Martin, 22.
  11. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 11; Williams, History of Army Aviation, 247.
  12. Matthew, Skeen, "The Global Positioning System: A Case Study in the Challenges of Transformation," Joint Forces Quarterly 51, 2008, 92; and Williams, History of Army Aviation, 246.
  13. Williams, 246.
  14. Williams, 247.
  15. Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride, 329.
  16. Whitcomb, 329.
  17. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 397.
  18. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 247; Martin, Victory from Above, 286.
  19. Martin, 286.
  20. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 247; Martin, 186.
  21. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 397.
  22. Whitcomb, 397; Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride, 71; Williams, History of Army Aviation, 248.
  23. Williams, 248; Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 397.
  24. Whitcomb, 297; CALL, "101st Airborne Division AAR," 11; Williams, 246.
  25. Martin, Certain Victory, 168; and Whitcomb, 397.
  26. Whitcomb, 397.
  27. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 248.
  28. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 397.
  29. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 11.
  30. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 250.
  31. Williams, 249.
  32. Taylor, Lightning in the Storm, 149; Richard Comer, "Operation Eager Anvil: Pave Low Leaders," 2016, Defense Media Network, www., 131.
  33. Taylor, Lightning in the Storm, 149.
  34. Discussion, Mr. Bobby Gunter, Fort Campbell, KY, with Ken Tilley, USAACE Historian, Fort Rucker, AL, 11 May 2018.
  35. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 249.
  36. Williams, 249.
  37. Williams, 249; and Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride, 71.
  38. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 298.
  39. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 249.
  40. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 299.
  41. Whitcomb, 298.
  42. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 97.
  43. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 306.
  44. Whitcomb, 306; Williams, History of Army Aviation, 250.
  45. Whitcomb, 306; Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride, 96.
  46. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 81; Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 306; Whitcomb, On A Steel Horse I Ride, 96.
  47. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 250.
  48. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 306-7.
  49. Scales, Certain Victory, 168.
  50. Scales, 168; Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 307.
  51. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 82; Oral History Interview, General Richard A. Cody, The West Point Center for Oral History, West Point New York, 28 July 2011.
  52. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 307.
  53. Whitcomb, 307; Scales, Certain Victory, 159; Taylor, Lightning in the Storm, 176; and Drew to Tilley, 3 May 2018.
  54. Scales, 159.
  55. Interview, Brian Stewmon, USAACE DOTD, with Ken Tilley, USAACE Historian, Fort Rucker, 24 April 2018.
  56. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 307; Williams, History of Army Aviation, 251.
  57. Interview, Ronald Rodrigues, PEO AVN, Redstone Arsenal, to Ken Tilley, USAACE Historian, Fort Rucker, AL, 4 May 2018.
  58. Interview, Jim Miller, USA CW4 (Retired), Ozark, AL with Ken Tilley, USAACE Historian, Fort Rucker, 10 May 2018.
  59. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 251; CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 85; Scales, Certain Victory, 159-60.
  60. Dick Cheney, "Final Report Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress," vol.1, Washington, DC, Department of Defense, April 1992, 152-56.
  61. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 307.
  62. Whitcomb, 307.
  63. CALL, History of the 101st Airborne, 86; Williams, History of Army Aviation, 251; and Taylor, Lightning in the Storm, 190-91.
  64. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 308.
  65. Whitcomb, 307.
  66. CALL, "101st Airborne Division History," 78.
  67. CALL, 79.
  68. Cheney, Final Report, 157.
  69. Whitcomb, Combat Search and Rescue, 309.
  70. Scales, Certain Victory, 160.
  71. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 252.
  72. Williams, 161.
  73. Williams, 252.
  74. Scales, Certain Victory, 160.
  75. Williams, History of Army Aviation, 256.
  76. Williams, 252.
  77. Williams, 252.