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Context of 'February 17, 2004: Air Force Reveals Plans for Array of New Weapons'

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One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm.One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A modernization program of the 1st Air Force’s air operation centers, which include NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is started. Over the next several years, Litton Data Systems is tasked with computerizing the way the Air National Guard accomplishes its air sovereignty mission, which is the surveillance of US skies in coordination with the FAA. Until now, flight plans from the FAA have been “compiled in logs and have to be searched by hand to identify aircraft,” according to National Guard magazine. “The new system will mean fewer manual inquiries and phone contact with FAA officials about commercial aircraft. The FAA flight plan is now hooked up via computer with the new R/SAOCs [Regional/Sector Air Operation Centers] so operators can easily track friendly aircraft through our air space without having to get someone on the phone or thumb through written log books of flight plans. Composite air pictures are now shown in real time on the screen with no delay in transmission. Plans on the screen are shown as they are happening.” The software also allows computer simulations to be used for training purposes, so operators can “go through a situation at their terminals as if it were happening.” Col. Dan Navin, the special assistant to the commander of 1st Air Force, says, “It will enhance our ability to do what many say is the most important job of the Air Force, and that is air sovereignty.” The new systems should be fully operational in all seven 1st Air Force air operation centers by 2003. [National Guard, 9/1997] It is possible that this software is being used on the morning of 9/11, when a NORAD training exercise will include simulated information, known as “inject,” being shown on its radar screens (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, 1st Air Force, Air National Guard, Litton Data Systems

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing.An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. [Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 159th Fighter Wing, Randy Riccardi, Jeff Woelbling, Southeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US Air Force releases its 2003 Transformation Flight Plan in which it describes an array of new weapons, many offensive, that it intends to develop over the next decade. The planned arsenal would include air-launched missiles designed to destroy low orbiting satellites, ground- and space- based lasers for attacking missiles and satellites, and “hypervelocity rod bundles” (also known as “Rods from God”) that would be launched from space at targets on the ground. [US Department of the Air Force, 11/2003 pdf file; Center for Defense Information, 2/19/2004; Wired News, 2/20/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15/2004; Popular Mechanics, 6/2004]

Timeline Tags: US Military

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