Desert Storm - overview, data & statistics


MarKoz81

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The following is a collection of maps, tables and quotations from publicly available sources with heavy emphasis on Government Accountability Office's report "Operation Desert Storm - Evaluation of the Air Campaign".

I divided the whole set into five posts:
  1. air superiority over Iraq - air-to-air combat
  2. air superiority over Iraq - surface-to-air defenses of Iraq
  3. logistics and general data on sorties
  4. data on ground airstrikes, effectiveness and munitions use
  5. data on effectiveness of stealth aircraft and precision-guided munitions
It was originally prepared for a different topic but I extracted information that is relevant to any considerations of aerial conflict over Taiwan. It is a lot of data, much of it is not presented for convenience, but it is the best example of a large scale, intensive aerial campaign against a theoretically competent opponent that involved all main system families and technologies that could be used in a hypothetical Taiwan scenario except drones. I did not include data on coalition SAM performance because the systems have been upgraded and improved since then.

Some of the data shown might be contradictory as it is often gathered from different sources. Numbered tables are from GAO report.

960px_Coalition.jpg

Table of Iraqi aircraft includes data on losses - number of aircraft in the first column, share of pre-war total in the second column.

960px_IAF.jpg

Next table shows approximate numerical comparison of aircraft by role and by radar range:

640px_ODS OOB.jpg
Next are maps of main targets of aerial strikes and locations of strikes on the first day of air campaign as well as diagram listing number of sorties flown by coalition on the first day:

960px_ODS targets.jpg

Last is the map of Iraq with indicative range lines offset from Saudi border every 100km and indicative maximum ranges of BVR missiles carried by main fighter types - for better understanding of spatial relationships in the conflict.

1280px_ODS map 1.jpg

continued
 

MarKoz81

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Kari was the name of a French-designed and built integrated command system ordered after the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor.

GAO - Operation Desert Storm - Evaluation of the Air Campaign[GAO][p35]
Contrary to widespread prewar and postwar claims, the Iraqi IADS was not “robust” or “state of the art.” Rather, its computers were limited in their capacity to monitor incoming threats; the system was vulnerable to disruption by attacks on a relatively few key nodes; and its design was [DELETED]. IADS had been designed to counter limited threats from theeast (Iran) and west (Israel), not an attack from a coalition that included nearly 1,600 U.S. combat aircraft primarily from the south, hundreds of cruise missiles, and the most advanced technologies in the world.

All of Iraq's airspace was divided into three sectors (a fourth was established in Kuwait after the invasion), each managed by a local command centre, which in turn were subordinate to the main command centre in Baghdad. Each sector was only able to manage 120 aircraft.

All information between the elements of the system was exchanged through command centres and the main centre in Baghdad. The elimination of these nodes crippled the entire system. There were no emergency links to rebuild the fragmented network. Nevertheless, Iraq based its entire doctrine on this system and throughout the 1980s pilots were taught tactics in which they were directed in combat by a ground command centre. This was a Soviet PVO solution taken to the extreme.

The Americans learned about the Kari system from the French engineers who designed and built it and adapted their tactics to exploit its weaknesses to the maximum.

Main search radars were the P-35 and P-37 (Bar Lock) - maximum range was 350km, effective range against RCS=1m2 was 180km [top]. Search radars for SAM batteries were the P-12 (Spoon Rest) and P-15 (Flat Face) [bottom].

960px_P-35+P-37+P-18+P-15.jpg

Medium and short range ground based air-defenses consisted of:
  • SA-2 - 60 (10 batteries, 6 launchers each)​
  • SA-3 - 64 (16 batteries, 4 launchers each)
  • SA-6 - 32 (8 batteries, 4 launchers each)
  • SA-8 - 60 (15 batteries, 4 launchers each)
  • Roland - 36 (9 batteries, 4 launchers each)
Illustrations below show typical plan of a SAM battery - relevant for airstrike effectiveness statistics:

SA-2
960px_S-75.jpg

SA-3 and SA-6
960px_S125+2K12.jpg

SA-8 and Roland
960px_SA-8&Roland.jpg

Last is map displaying maximum ranges of missiles (shaded circles - large: SA-2, small: SA-3) and effective ranges of search radars against fighter-sized targets (line circles). Also shown are maximum ranges of AGM-88 anti-radiation missiles.

1280px_ODS map 2.jpg

continued
 

MarKoz81

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The clip below is a good introduction into the size and scope of the air operations

The Operations Room - Desert Storm - The Air War, Day 1


Number of sorties (not airstrkes!) flown by select USAF aircraft during Operation Desert Storm:

640px_sorties.jpg
Number of support sorties during the weeks of operations:

CAP - Combat Air Patrol
SEAD - Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses

960px_missions.jpg

The scale of the operation would be impossible without constant and extensive support from aerial refueling aircraft:

640px_refueling.jpg

Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm was also a tremendous airlift operation but only a portion of the total effort was directed to air operations. Nevertheless it is useful to know the size of the transported materiel.

From: Gulf War Air Power Survey[p.236]
The airlift that brought the forces to the region, along with the supplies to sustain them, was the greatest such airlift in history. On the basis of a common measure for airlift capacity, millions of ton-miles per day (MTM) the product of aircraft cargo weight in tons and the distance flown), Desert Shield/Desert Storm activity far surpassed earlier airlifts:

Peak period of Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 17 MTM/day
1973 airlift to Israel during Arab-Israeli War: 4.4 MTM/day
Operation Just Cause, to Panama, 1989: 2.0 MTM/day
Berlin airlift, 1948-1949: 1.7 MTM/day
“Hump” airlift of WW II: 0.9 MTM/day


Next is the proportion of day and night airstrike missions flown by select aircraft - relevant for effectiveness statistics:

960px_day+night missions.jpg

Last is the table of total losses and the list of air-to-air engagements

960px_losses.jpg


17.01
2 F-15C vs 2 MiG-29 (2 MiG-29 by AIM-7)
2 F-15C vs 3 Mirage F1 (3 Mirage F1)
2 F-18 vs 2 MiG-25 (1 F-18 by R-40)
2 F-18 vs 2 MiG-21 (1 MiG-21 by AIM-7, 1 MiG-21 by AIM-9)
? F-15E vs 2 MiG-29 (1 MiG-29 by crash)
1 EF-111E vs ? Mirage F1 (1 Mirage F1 by crash)
2 F-15C vs 2 MiG-25 (no losses)
1 F-111, 1 B-52G vs 1 MiG-29 (1 F-111, 1 B-52G damage)

19.01
2 F-15C vs 2 MiG-25 (2 MiG-25 by AIM-7)
2 F-15C vs 2 MiG-29 (1 MiG-29 by AIM-7, 1 MiG-29 by crash)
2 F-15C vs 2 Mirage F1 (2 Mirage F1 by AIM-7)

24.01
2 F-15C (SA) vs 2 Mirage F1 (2 Mirage F1 by AIM-9)

26.01
4 F-15C vs 3 Mirage F1 (3 Mirage F1 by AIM-7)

27.01
2 F-15C vs 3 MiG-23, 1 Mirage F1 (3 MiG-23, 1 Mirage F1 by AIM-7, AIM-9)

29.01
1 F-15C vs 1 MiG-23 (1 MiG-23 by AIM-7)
1 F-15C vs 1 MiG-23 (1 MiG-23 by AIM-7)

30.01
4 F-15C vs 2 MiG-25 (1 F-15C damage)

6.02
1 F-15C vs 2 MiG-21 (2 MiG-21 by AIM-7)
1 F-15C vs 2 Su-25 (2 Su-25 by AIM-9)

7.02
1 F-15C vs 2 Su-22, 1 Su-7 (2 Su-22, 1 Su-7 by AIM-7)
continued
 

MarKoz81

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Registered Member
Effectiveness of airstrikes - data from GAO report. I direct your attention to this set of data because it involves detailed breakdown of targets, aircraft types as well as whether guided or unguided munitions were used. This is the best publicly available data on the effectiveness of a recent air operation that is all the more interesting because it dismisses many of the claims made by USAF in "Gulf War Air Power Survey".

Definition of target categories, mission types and methods of success assessment

1280px_GAO target category.jpg
Number of strikes and delivered munitions by aircraft type:

Apologies for the color scheme - grayscale was in the GAO report PDF and it is not consistent enough to be changed to color. It can be understood if you follow the ordering of categories from the bottom - the colors in graphs correspond to the order of aircraft types in the key.


1280px_GAO strikes category.jpg

Success rate of airstrikes by target category and aircraft type:

1280px_GAO FS and NFS.jpg
Cost of airstrikes by target and aircraft type:

1280px_GAO mission + sortie cost.jpg
Number and cost of munitions expended during airstrikes:

1280px_GAO weapon cost.jpg

continued
 

MarKoz81

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Last part describes the discrepancy between propaganda (later used in 1990s budget wars) and disinformation and the reality of both intended use and effectiveness of stealth aircraft and precision-guided munitions.

Graphic below shows how USAF promoted the concept of stealth precision strikes to US Congress:

640px_GAO Fig II.4.jpg

GAO findings:

GAO[p.90-92]
In figure II.4, the use of the stealthy F-117 in Desert Storm is depicted as having several positive effects: it reduces the number of aircraft employed on a mission, thereby reducing overall costs; it reduces the number of aircraft and pilots at risk; and it increases the number of missions that can be tasked without increasing the number of aircraft.31 However, following our review of after-action reports and interviews with F-117 pilots and planners, we found that this depiction does not adequately convey the (1) specific operating procedures required by the F-117, (2) modifications in tactics during the campaign to better achieve surprise, and (3) support, in addition to tanking, that it received.

In addition to its low observable features, the F-117 achieves stealthy flight through the avoidance of daylight, active sensors or communications, and enemy air defense radars. [DELETED] Every F-117 strike mission in Desert Storm was carried out at night.

[DELETED]

Stealth Requires Extensive Mission Planning. Each pilot has an individual mission plan tailored to the assigned target and the threats that surround the target. Because F-117s are not “invisible” to radar but, rather, as the AirForce points out, are “low observable,” a computerized mission planning system [DELETED]. [DELETED]

[...]


In sum, the claim that the F-117s consistently achieved tactical surprise is not fully consistent with the information we obtained. The absence of AAA prior to F-117 bomb impact was not universally observed and was not unique to the F-117. [DELETED]

In contrast to the Air Force illustration to the Congress that F-117s require only tanker support in combat (see fig. II.4), Desert Storm reports and participants stated explicitly that the F-117s did, in fact, receive more than just tanker support in Desert Storm. At the end of 1991, after press accounts stated that the Air Force had exaggerated the degree to which F-117s operated without defense suppression and jamming support, Air Force officials then concurred that standoff jamming from EF-111s had been employed from time to time in conjunction with F-117 strikes.This position—that the F-117 did, in fact, benefit from jamming on occasion—is more consistent with the title V report than with the Air Force’s testimony in April 1991 that failed to note nontanking combat support having been provided to F-117s in Desert Storm.

As discussed previously, the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) lessons-learned report unambiguously describes how jamming assets were incorporated in F-117 tactics and operations. Pilot interviews and portions of the lessons-learned report also suggest that F-117s, occasionally, benefited from fighter support aircraft. [DELETED]

In terms of air-to-air fighter support, the Air Force states that there was typically little or none provided for the F-117s. The Desert Storm “Lessons Learned” section of the F-117 Tactical Employment manual is unclear on this issue, stating (on p. 3-29) that

“Unit coordination with the F-15s occurred each day. While we never had any F-15s tied to us, we had to make sure they understood our general plan for the night.”

In addition, several pilots we interviewed believed that air-to-air, F-15 aircraft were in a position to challenge any Iraqi interceptors that would have posed a threat to the F-117s.


GAO[p.133-134]
We examined the F-117 database to evaluate whether it supported the claim that the F-117s had hit all 37 targets to which they had been tasked during the first night of the air campaign. These data show that only 57 percent of the targets were hit on the first night.Further, approximately half of the reported bomb hits (16 of 31) did not have corroborating documentation or were in conflict with other available data. (See table III.13.)

GAO[p.137]
In sum, the claim that the F-117s were responsible for collapsing the IADS on the first night appears open to question because (1) the F-117s did not hit 40 percent of their tasked targets on the first night and (2) of the 11 IADS-related targets attacked by F-117s and assessed by DIA, 8 were assessed as needing additional strikes. In addition, the Missions database shows that 167 other platforms (such as A-10s, F-4Gs, and F/A-18s) also struck 18 air defense-related targets (IOCs, SOCs, and radars) on the first night.



Claims made by manufacturers promoting PGM:

1280px_ODS claims.jpg

GAO findings:

GAO[p20]
In Desert Storm, 92 percent of the munitions expended were unguided. On the assumption that this tonnage contributed to the successful outcome of the entire campaign—at a minimum by permitting nearly continuous attacks against both ground force and strategic targets for 38 days—it is evident that the same campaign accomplishments would have been difficult or impossible with aircraft dropping comparatively small numbers of precision-guided munitions (PGM).

GAO[p.124-125]
Figure III.1 shows that the “one-target, one-bomb” claim for Paveway III LGBs was not validated in a single case in this sample from Desert Storm. No fewer than two LGBs were dropped on each target; six or more were dropped on 20 percent of the targets; eight or more were dropped on 15 percent of the targets. The average dropped was four LGBs per target. Similarly, a DIA analysis of the effectiveness of 2,000-pound BLU-109/B (I-2000) LGBs dropped by F-117s and F-111Fs on Iraqi hardened aircraft shelters and bunkers found that many shelters were hit by more than one LGB, often as a result of insufficient BDA data prior to restrike.16 At Tallil airfield, for example, many bunkers “were targeted with two or more weapons.” (DIA, p. 28.) One bunker was hit by at least seven LGBs, although aircraft video showed that the required damage had been inflicted by the third and fourth bombs. As DIA noted, this meant that “two unnecessary restrikes using three more weapons were apparently conducted because complete information was not available, utilized, or properly understood/relayed.” (DIA, p. 49.) The DIA analysis also shows that one bomb was insufficient; four bombs were required to achieve the necessary damage.



Additionally one the main claims in the Gulf War Air Power Survey was on the decisive role of air power in destroying and degrading Iraqi ground force:

GAO findings:

GAO[p.147]
FSTC and CIA both found that the attrition of armored vehicles from guided munitions was probably less than was initially claimed for air power. FSTC personnel examined tanks that the Iraqis had left behind in the KTO.Of 163 tanks analyzed, 78 (48 percent) were abandoned intact by the Iraqis or were destroyed by Iraqi demolition, presumably to deny them to the coalition, while 85 (52 percent) had sustained 145 hits. Of these hits, only 28 (17 percent) were assessed as having come from air-to-ground munitions.

GAO[p.157-158]
The Iraqi ground forces were diverse in a number of ways: the better-equipped, elite Republican Guards were kept relatively far back from the front while the lesser supplied frontline troops were heavily composed of ethnic groups out of favor and out of power within Iraq. Evidence from interviews with Iraqi prisoners of war suggests it was not just the air campaign that destroyed the effectiveness of their ground forces: they characterized themselves not as “battle hardened” after 8 years of war with Iran but, rather, as “war weary.” U.S. Army intelligence summaries of the statements of prisoners stated the following:

“War weariness, harsh conditions, and lack of conviction of the justice of the invasion of Kuwait caused widespread desertion in the Iraqi Army prior to the air campaign, but in some units the genuine foot race north [that is, desertion] really commenced when the bombs began to fall.”59
 

drowingfish

Junior Member
Registered Member
amazing stuff, some of the GAO reports, such as cost reduction of stealth, and waste of munition as a result of incomplete target feedback gives a new perspective on how warfighting is viewed at higher levels.
 

MarKoz81

New Member
Registered Member
Continuing - some more data on Desert Storm and speculation on how it informs a hypothetical conflict over Taiwan.

-----------------------------------------------

From Gulf War Air Power Survey "volume 5, chronology" and "volume 3, logistics & support":

Daily breakdown of missions in main categories by USAF, USN and USMC aircraft

Categories:
  • AI - air interdiction
  • BAI - battlefield air interdiction
  • CAS - close air support
  • DCA - defensive counter-air (including escort)
  • CAP - combat air patrol
  • OCA - offensive counter-air
  • SEAD - suppression of enemy air defenses
  • ESC - escort
  • ESM - electronic support measures
  • EW - electronic warfare
  • FUEL - refueling
missions 1.jpg
this image is 1600 pixels wide and requires magnification for better legibility

These tables show the intensity of operations. I excluded other coalition countries because the UK forces had activities well below those of USMC and everyone else had symbolic participation in operations inside Iraqi airspace.

Refueling events during Desert Storm:

Total refueling sorties - day average per type:
  • KC-10 - 35 sorties, 240 flight hours, 222 aircraft refueled (6,34 avg.)
  • KC-135 - 215 sorties, 977 flight hours, 839 aircraft refueled (3,9 avg.)
KC-10 carries 365k lbs (165t) , KC-135 carriers 200k lbs.(90t).

Refueling events and fuel by type:
  • F-15 - 12 267 ref., 198,8 mn lbs.
  • B-52 - 2 166 ref., 137,2 mn lbs.
  • E-3 - 937 ref., 54,9 mn lbs.
  • RC-135 - 739 ref., 40,7 mn lbs.
  • F-16 - 14 081 ref., 88,9 mn lbs.
  • F-4G - 5 061 ref., 60,6 mn lbs.
Average refueling event per type:
  • B-52 63k lbs.
  • E-3 58k lbs.
  • RC-135 55k lbs.
  • F-15 16,2k lbs.
  • F-4G 12k lbs.
  • F-16 6,3k lbs.
I chose six positions with highest fuel expenditure. Other aircraft including all Navy aircraft have below 40 million. B-52s required refueling for flights from Diego Garcia. F-15s required intensive refueling for long-duration CAP missions.

Daily breakdown of missions by mission type and aircraft type

Yellow field below aircraft type shows number of aircraft deployed at the beginning of the operation. Every aircraft has two figures - the number of sorties in a given mission category and the ratio of sortie to airframe.

I included three most relevant categories for Taiwan scenario - refueling, OCA and non-battlefield interdiction because these three categories in Desert Storm had much higher numbers of participating aircraft, while other main categories - including DCA - all fit within current PLA numbers (see below):

missions 2.jpg
this image is 1600 pixels wide and requires magnification for better legibility

It is interesting that with few exceptions no aircraft is (statistically) flying more than a single sortie daily and on many days they don't fly at all which suggests that the fleet wasn't used as intensively as say Israeli Air Force in during the Six-Day War even in the first day of operations. Lower overall intensity of missions explains duration of operations and low reduction in mission-capable rate (MCR) at the end of the air campaign.

Comparison of Fully Mission-Capable Rate before deployment and Desert Storm average
  • RF-4C - 79,7% / 61,3%
  • EF-111A - 75,8% / 47,2%
  • F-16 - 90,7% / 80,8%
  • F-15C - 84,6% / 78,8%
This demonstrates that specialized aircraft - recon and EW - suffer from lower readiness because their main mission equipment is not as easily replaceable as combat equipment and is also more sensitive. Interestingly EA-6B retained mission capable-rate comparable (if lower) to other USN/USMC aircraft which shows that the EF-111A's design was responsible for significant drop in readiness.

The above data should give you some impression as to what numbers on a daily basis are needed for offensive air operations against a country that is relatively comparable to Taiwan.

Now some direct comparisons:

Ratios of aircraft deployed in Desert Storm to total inventory

ODS vs TAI 1.jpg

There is discrepancy between data provided by GAO and data from Wikipedia (also backed by the Survey) so I included both. The "all" column shows total inventory of aircraft available for all aerial formations (USAF, ANG, USN, USMC). The "proportion" column shows the share of deployed to TAI.

The most important figures to remember are: ~260 interdictor, ~420 multirole fighters and ~140 CAS aircraft which are used for attack missions in the OCA and AI categories.

PLAAF/PLANAF units per scramble (2020)

The table shows a list of brigades/regiments in each theater. The number of airframes is indicative only and is calculated by multiplying the number of units by standard 24 aircraft. Some obvious errors e.g. 240 J-11B are the consequence of this approach. The table does not include total inventory and what we know of production lots just the "active aircraft" in "active units" as listed by scramble.nl in 2020.

PLAAF 2020.jpg

The above table should be used as visual aid for imagining potential deployments of units from other theaters to ETO (Eastern Theater of Operations).


Ratios of aircraft available at Eastern theater command and PLA compared to ROCAF in 2020 and hypothetical 2024 state

This comparison attempts to juxtapose available forces of both PLAAF/PLANAF and Eastern Theater Command specifically with ROCAF in a manner that follows the tables for Desert Storm. This way it is easier to imagine the share of total inventory of select types and categories of aircraft that are committed to such hypothetical operation.

2024 scenario is hypothetical and changes to aircraft numbers are not based in any thorough analysis, just whatever seemed reasonable.

ODS vs TAI 2.jpg

Both in 2020 and 2024 the three main categories mentioned before - refueling, offensive counter-air and general air interdiction will fall short of required numbers of airframes. While the number of bombers, air-superiority fighters, EW and AEW aircraft as well as other auxiliary aircraft is sufficient (especially including temporary deployments) the key categories of interdictor and multirole/attack are low.

Simple hypothetical scenarios:

To replicate Desert Storm PLA would have to at minimum double the number of daily sorties to match ODS numbers. That however still would reflect an aerial operation which lasted for 38 days. This timeframe would not be available in the case of Taiwan save for some exceedingly unique circumstances like a major conflict in other part of the world that would absorb the US.

To reduce time by half to 19 days the number of sorties would have to increase fourfold or the number of aircraft redeployed from other regions would have to match ETO numbers to retain double rate of sorties over 19 days. Fourfold increase is theoretically possible based on Israeli experiences but it requires special training, preparation and will involve a much greater attrition rate due to equipment wear. It might be impossible to sustain such intensity over 19 days.

To reduce time of operations to 7-9 days the PLA would have to increase intensity eigh-fold which is impossible, or increase intensity fourfold while also temporarily doubling the number of aircraft (interdictor and multirole) in ETO. That seems workable but requires preparation and will have a greater impact on readiness immediately after the operation.

The above considerations assume the same attrition rate resulting from effectiveness of enemy defenses which was extremely low during Desert Storm. It may or may not be the case in a hypothetical Taiwan conflict.

None of the scenarios has sufficient number of refueling aircraft to facilitate complex aerial operations. ODS had over 220 large tankers employed for the duration of the conflict. That number was instrumental in not only facilitating optimal attack routes but maintaining effective DCA/CAP with very low numbers of fighters used as well as persistent AEW/EW cover.

In short while the current production rates make ODS-like operation possible in terms of fighter numbers the lack of sufficient aerial refueling fleet makes it impossible logistically. Since retaining initiative (ready aircraft in the air) is more important than mere number of strikes against targets (in case of surface-launched missiles replacing some of the airstrikes) it makes any intensive aerial campaign over Taiwan logistically unfeasible until at least matching numbers of tanker aircraft are achieved. Being able to strike with little preparation and respond to a dynamic situation in the air was key to achieving and retaining advantage and then supremacy over Iraq during the campaign. That included repeated airstrikes (re-strikes) on targets classified as "not fully successful" (see earlier posts.) However even achieving required number of tankers does not solve potential complications arising from increased intensity of operations, attrition etc.

In conclusion - the available data suggests that in the next several years a Desert Storm-like aerial operation over Taiwan is not a possibility with the main constraint being the number of available aerial refueling aircraft.
 

sequ

Junior Member
Registered Member
Continuing - some more data on Desert Storm and speculation on how it informs a hypothetical conflict over Taiwan.

-----------------------------------------------

From Gulf War Air Power Survey "volume 5, chronology" and "volume 3, logistics & support":

Daily breakdown of missions in main categories by USAF, USN and USMC aircraft

Categories:
  • AI - air interdiction
  • BAI - battlefield air interdiction
  • CAS - close air support
  • DCA - defensive counter-air (including escort)
  • CAP - combat air patrol
  • OCA - offensive counter-air
  • SEAD - suppression of enemy air defenses
  • ESC - escort
  • ESM - electronic support measures
  • EW - electronic warfare
  • FUEL - refueling
View attachment 78046
this image is 1600 pixels wide and requires magnification for better legibility

These tables show the intensity of operations. I excluded other coalition countries because the UK forces had activities well below those of USMC and everyone else had symbolic participation in operations inside Iraqi airspace.

Refueling events during Desert Storm:

Total refueling sorties - day average per type:
  • KC-10 - 35 sorties, 240 flight hours, 222 aircraft refueled (6,34 avg.)
  • KC-135 - 215 sorties, 977 flight hours, 839 aircraft refueled (3,9 avg.)
KC-10 carries 365k lbs (165t) , KC-135 carriers 200k lbs.(90t).

Refueling events and fuel by type:
  • F-15 - 12 267 ref., 198,8 mn lbs.
  • B-52 - 2 166 ref., 137,2 mn lbs.
  • E-3 - 937 ref., 54,9 mn lbs.
  • RC-135 - 739 ref., 40,7 mn lbs.
  • F-16 - 14 081 ref., 88,9 mn lbs.
  • F-4G - 5 061 ref., 60,6 mn lbs.
Average refueling event per type:
  • B-52 63k lbs.
  • E-3 58k lbs.
  • RC-135 55k lbs.
  • F-15 16,2k lbs.
  • F-4G 12k lbs.
  • F-16 6,3k lbs.
I chose six positions with highest fuel expenditure. Other aircraft including all Navy aircraft have below 40 million. B-52s required refueling for flights from Diego Garcia. F-15s required intensive refueling for long-duration CAP missions.

Daily breakdown of missions by mission type and aircraft type

Yellow field below aircraft type shows number of aircraft deployed at the beginning of the operation. Every aircraft has two figures - the number of sorties in a given mission category and the ratio of sortie to airframe.

I included three most relevant categories for Taiwan scenario - refueling, OCA and non-battlefield interdiction because these three categories in Desert Storm had much higher numbers of participating aircraft, while other main categories - including DCA - all fit within current PLA numbers (see below):

View attachment 78047
this image is 1600 pixels wide and requires magnification for better legibility

It is interesting that with few exceptions no aircraft is (statistically) flying more than a single sortie daily and on many days they don't fly at all which suggests that the fleet wasn't used as intensively as say Israeli Air Force in during the Six-Day War even in the first day of operations. Lower overall intensity of missions explains duration of operations and low reduction in mission-capable rate (MCR) at the end of the air campaign.

Comparison of Fully Mission-Capable Rate before deployment and Desert Storm average
  • RF-4C - 79,7% / 61,3%
  • EF-111A - 75,8% / 47,2%
  • F-16 - 90,7% / 80,8%
  • F-15C - 84,6% / 78,8%
This demonstrates that specialized aircraft - recon and EW - suffer from lower readiness because their main mission equipment is not as easily replaceable as combat equipment and is also more sensitive. Interestingly EA-6B retained mission capable-rate comparable (if lower) to other USN/USMC aircraft which shows that the EF-111A's design was responsible for significant drop in readiness.

The above data should give you some impression as to what numbers on a daily basis are needed for offensive air operations against a country that is relatively comparable to Taiwan.

Now some direct comparisons:

Ratios of aircraft deployed in Desert Storm to total inventory

View attachment 78048

There is discrepancy between data provided by GAO and data from Wikipedia (also backed by the Survey) so I included both. The "all" column shows total inventory of aircraft available for all aerial formations (USAF, ANG, USN, USMC). The "proportion" column shows the share of deployed to TAI.

The most important figures to remember are: ~260 interdictor, ~420 multirole fighters and ~140 CAS aircraft which are used for attack missions in the OCA and AI categories.

PLAAF/PLANAF units per scramble (2020)

The table shows a list of brigades/regiments in each theater. The number of airframes is indicative only and is calculated by multiplying the number of units by standard 24 aircraft. Some obvious errors e.g. 240 J-11B are the consequence of this approach. The table does not include total inventory and what we know of production lots just the "active aircraft" in "active units" as listed by scramble.nl in 2020.

View attachment 78049

The above table should be used as visual aid for imagining potential deployments of units from other theaters to ETO (Eastern Theater of Operations).


Ratios of aircraft available at Eastern theater command and PLA compared to ROCAF in 2020 and hypothetical 2024 state

This comparison attempts to juxtapose available forces of both PLAAF/PLANAF and Eastern Theater Command specifically with ROCAF in a manner that follows the tables for Desert Storm. This way it is easier to imagine the share of total inventory of select types and categories of aircraft that are committed to such hypothetical operation.

2024 scenario is hypothetical and changes to aircraft numbers are not based in any thorough analysis, just whatever seemed reasonable.

View attachment 78050

Both in 2020 and 2024 the three main categories mentioned before - refueling, offensive counter-air and general air interdiction will fall short of required numbers of airframes. While the number of bombers, air-superiority fighters, EW and AEW aircraft as well as other auxiliary aircraft is sufficient (especially including temporary deployments) the key categories of interdictor and multirole/attack are low.

Simple hypothetical scenarios:

To replicate Desert Storm PLA would have to at minimum double the number of daily sorties to match ODS numbers. That however still would reflect an aerial operation which lasted for 38 days. This timeframe would not be available in the case of Taiwan save for some exceedingly unique circumstances like a major conflict in other part of the world that would absorb the US.

To reduce time by half to 19 days the number of sorties would have to increase fourfold or the number of aircraft redeployed from other regions would have to match ETO numbers to retain double rate of sorties over 19 days. Fourfold increase is theoretically possible based on Israeli experiences but it requires special training, preparation and will involve a much greater attrition rate due to equipment wear. It might be impossible to sustain such intensity over 19 days.

To reduce time of operations to 7-9 days the PLA would have to increase intensity eigh-fold which is impossible, or increase intensity fourfold while also temporarily doubling the number of aircraft (interdictor and multirole) in ETO. That seems workable but requires preparation and will have a greater impact on readiness immediately after the operation.

The above considerations assume the same attrition rate resulting from effectiveness of enemy defenses which was extremely low during Desert Storm. It may or may not be the case in a hypothetical Taiwan conflict.

None of the scenarios has sufficient number of refueling aircraft to facilitate complex aerial operations. ODS had over 220 large tankers employed for the duration of the conflict. That number was instrumental in not only facilitating optimal attack routes but maintaining effective DCA/CAP with very low numbers of fighters used as well as persistent AEW/EW cover.

In short while the current production rates make ODS-like operation possible in terms of fighter numbers the lack of sufficient aerial refueling fleet makes it impossible logistically. Since retaining initiative (ready aircraft in the air) is more important than mere number of strikes against targets (in case of surface-launched missiles replacing some of the airstrikes) it makes any intensive aerial campaign over Taiwan logistically unfeasible until at least matching numbers of tanker aircraft are achieved. Being able to strike with little preparation and respond to a dynamic situation in the air was key to achieving and retaining advantage and then supremacy over Iraq during the campaign. That included repeated airstrikes (re-strikes) on targets classified as "not fully successful" (see earlier posts.) However even achieving required number of tankers does not solve potential complications arising from increased intensity of operations, attrition etc.

In conclusion - the available data suggests that in the next several years a Desert Storm-like aerial operation over Taiwan is not a possibility with the main constraint being the number of available aerial refueling aircraft.

But what about the ballistic and cruise missiles the PLA has and how that lessens the need for air sorties?
 

AndrewS

Colonel
Registered Member
@MarKoz81

Great writeup. A couple of points

1. On aerial refuelling
If we assume 4 aircraft refueled per tanker, 600 sorties would benefit from a fleet of 150x Y20U tanker aircraft.

2. Unguided versus guided munitions
I see a total of 224k ground munitions delivered during Desert Storm.
Of that, 152k (67%) were unguided unitary dumb bombs
And apparently precision-guided munitions were 35x more likely to hit their targets during Desert Storm

Nowadays, low-cost guided bombs such as the SDB ($40K) or JDAM ($40K) are readily available.

So if you assume these low-cost guided weapons are readily available and run the numbers again, presumably 66% of all ground-attack missions flown during Desert Storm are no longer required.

If I look at the Air Interdiction numbers, they seem to average around 800 per day.
If 66% are no longer required due to the availability of precision guided weapons, then the PLAAF only needs 272 Air Interdiction sorties per day.
So you could match this if you have 100x JH-7 from Eastern Theatre Command plus all the H-6 bombers in China.

3. The Taiwan target set is a thin strip of land up to 40km from the coast

So low-cost guided glide bombs allow Chinese aircraft to safely launch at distances of 70-110km away from the target, and then immediately turn back towards the safety of the Chinese mainland. Airborne refueling should not be an issue as Chinese fighters would spend 2-10min over the waters of the Taiwan Straits. After they turn back, they should be able to cruise normally back to base, or divert to a runway if required.

That drastically reduces the effectiveness of Taiwanese air defence systems against aircraft
This also reduces the need for SEAD, fighter escorts and tanker aircraft
 
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Heliox

Junior Member
Registered Member
Thanks for the series of informative post @MarKoz81

Re: Tanker requirements.

With regard to the sorties run by the coalition in Desert Storm, how much of that was required due to the distances to the AOO, from the bases they were staging out of?

How much will the requirements of the PLAF be similar in a Taiwan Straits scenario?

Gut feeling tells me that the majority of ops the PLAF will run will probably not require AAR and as such, it may not be correct to straight extrapolate requirements based on raw data of ODS
 

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