Desert Storm - overview, data & statistics


AndrewS

Colonel
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

Desert Storm involved approximately 1668 coalition combat aircraft. That's looks roughly the size of the entire Chinese combat air fleet.

Looking at the Desert Storm bases, they look mostly around 800-1200km from their targets.
I'd call it at least 600 Chinese combat aircraft which can comfortably operate to Taiwan without airborne refuelling.
And given the difference in precision guided weapons and also drones these days, they should be able to match the 272 Air Interdiction sorties per day seen during Desert Storm.

But of course, the Chinese Air Force could easily use 200 airborne tankers to add aircraft based further away, or to extend Chinese air patrols offshore.
 

AndrewS

Colonel
Registered Member
@MarKoz81

Also, you're looking at Eastern Theatre Command units.

But Southern Theatre Command has a number of fighter airbases which are the same distance to Taiwan eg Foshan, Huiyang

Plus I noticed Shantou seems to have transferred from Southern Theatre Command to Eastern Theatre Command
 

MarKoz81

New Member
Registered Member
Q&A

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

Below is map with indicative distances from bases to targets near Baghdad and Kirkuk (red) and at the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border (blue) where majority of ground forces were located

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SCS2.jpg

USAF forces by location:

Incirlik, Turkey - 22 F-111E, 24 F-15C, 37 F-16C
Al Taif, Saudi Arabia - 66 F-111F
Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (n. Jeddah) - 24 F-15C
Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia (n. Riyadh) - 48 F-15E, 24 F-15C, 40 F-16A
Dharham, Saudi Arabia (n. Dammam) - 48 F-15C
King Fahd, Saudi Arabia (n. Dammam)- 144 A-10C
Al Dhafra, UAE (n. Abu Dhabi) - 72 F-16C
Al Minnad, UAE (n. Dubai) - 72 F-16C
Shaik Isa, Bahrain - 48 F-4G
Doha, Qatar - 24 F-16C

USN forces in the Persian Gulf: Midway (CV-41), Independence (CV-42), Saratoga (CV-60). Ranger (CV-61), America (CV-66), Kennedy (CV-67), Eisenhower (CVN-69), Roosevelt (CVN-71)

Aerial refueling operations (Gulf War Air Survey)
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The data from the Survey (see previous post) indicates that regular air-to-ground missions - typically classified as "air interdiction" - did not constitute the largest share of aerial refueling operations .

The largest share of aerial refueling came from long-duration patrols - E-3s, B-52s (from Guam and Diego Garcia), F-15C and F-14As. F-16s despite having largest number of sorties (~14k) took less than half of the fuel (89m lbs.) that F-15Cs took with 12k sorties. (198m lbs.) The standard air-to-air loadout of a F-15C was 4 AIM-7Ms and 3 external tanks and despite that they took 12k lbs per refueling event. It must have been caused by the duration of patrol and the altitude which was kept high for the purposes of giving the fighters energy advantage.

The F-16 has a very short combat radius of ~700km clean and ~500km with moderate loadout. To be able to operate from bases in UAE where 144 F-16s were stationed they would have to carry 3 tanks and perform one refueling on the way back. Even then they would not be able to go much further than the area immediately beyond Kuwait's border.

Now, for comparison see the indicative distances to Taipei and Kao-Hsiung from select bases in Eastern and Southern theaters.

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I don't think airbases on the immediate coast would be ideal for the beginning of Taiwan operation. There is simply too much risk involved so the initial airstrikes would have to be performed from greater distances. This brings them closer in line with ODS distances and does nothing to resolve the question of air superiority and AEW patrols remaining in the air for prolonged periods of time out of tactical necessity.

I think while it is incorrect to directly extrapolate from ODS data the operation remains a very good primer for understanding the issues of planning, logistics and effectiveness - and that's why I post the data. You are not supposed to treat ODS as a set of ready answers but as a useful and informative guide to finding approximate solutions to the hypothetical Taiwan operation.

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

If you look at the data on munitions in Desert Storm you'll see that 297 Tomahawks and 35 conventional ALCMs were launched. Additionally 50-60 ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles were launched by US Army. The overall number of missiles is close to 400 and it still required the entire air campaign with cited FS/NFS ratios and tons and tons of bombs.

A missile is essentially a disposable attack aircraft. There's nothing special about it compared to a bomb other than conditions of delivery. In actual war numbers matter and while missiles are useful for planning of operations they can't replace payload on target over time. The enemy is working to fix the damage as fast as you can deal it.

I don't think PLA would waste missiles on anything except the absolutely necessary targets. They're simply too expensive to be used against Taiwan considering that the operation might result in a longer conflict including limited armed conflict with the US - especially if PLA doesn't conserve best munitions as deterrent. Those missiles might be better used against e.g. USMC outposts on Taiwan.

There is another factor that you forgot to consider - missiles are not resources which are as easily and quickly moved between locations as aircraft. Rocket units have their designated areas of operation and designated roles in those areas so they could only be massed temporarily. As you can imagine temporarily massing ground units for the purpose of strike against Taiwan is significantly harder than temporarily massing aircraft - especially if aerial refueling assets are available in sufficient number. If ground-based long-range air defenses of Taiwan are disabled - even temporarily - then H-6 fleet is sufficient to perform a massed strike with stand-off weapons that would be more effective than missiles. Driving all those trucks until they are in range? That's not a good idea for achieving surprise.


And apparently precision-guided munitions were 35x more likely to hit their targets during Desert Storm

A similar claim is contradicted by the findings in GAO report. The effectiveness of PGMs was greatly exaggerated by both USAF and the manufacturers and data is clear on that. It's all in the tables I posted earlier.

PGMs are great for the kind of warfare that followed after Gulf War - when minimizing collateral damage, exposure of own forces, and operational cost is essential to continuing the wars of aggression. Gulf War was very expensive. Iraq War in 2003 was achieved with fewer resources, not to mention the rest of GWOT operations. Those would be impossible without PGMs but they were not in the same category as even the Gulf War, the "parade war" as PLA's analysts called it.

The evolution of technology - most notably increasing ranges of anti-air missiles and sensors - will require stand-off weapons and greater use of PGMs but it won't be an order of magnitude reduction. I would expect a third of munitions used in ODS-equivalent, maybe a quarter, but not fewer because the accuracy of those weapons can also be affected by counter-measures. Restrikes will happen if only to ensure that the target remains neutralized just like they happened in ODS.

Finally the sheer number of potential targets will force the PGMs to be economical and that means PGMs that are as effective as unguided munitions in ODS due to distances of deployment. They won't be top of the line because numbers matter. At this point PLA guidance technology is matched by enemy's counter-measure technology. It's not the same kind of disparity as US and Iraq in 1991 and likely won't be for the next 10-20 years.

A few words about the numbers on the ground.

The number of identified targets (Gulf War Air Power Survey)



2021-10-15 19_40_13-DTIC_ADA279741.pdf - Adobe Reader.jpg
The middle column "known 16 Jan 91" is relevant for Desert Storm aerial operations. It shows the total number of targets which should be correlated with the data on effectiveness of strikes from GAO report if you are interested how many attempts were necessary.

Deployment of Iraqi ground forces (ibid.)

2021-10-15 19_37_43-DTIC_ADA279741.pdf - Adobe Reader.jpg

Compare this with the number of Fully Successful / Not Fully Successful sorties and the data on restrikes.

That's a lot of weapons that once expended can't be replaced quickly enough for another operation - like a hypothetical US involvement.

One of the most misunderstood lessons from recent conflicts is that while air combat evolves very rapidly and the number of casualties in air-to-air drops precipitously since the 70s - and a lot of that has to do with introduction of ARH BVR missiles - the effectiveness of airstrikes on ground targets, especially armored or reinforced positions remains the same as in WW2 which is very low.

USAF did not achieve the efficiency it claimed in Desert Storm and it did not achieve the efficiency in Serbia. Air power has decisive role in affecting enemy's decision-making and initiative but not combat capability. It can limit enemy logistics but can't break prepared defenses. For that ground operation is necessary and because ground operations take more time any preceding or simultaneous air operation would have to bring sufficient resources to suppress enemy defenses. That means even more weapons which means even more PGMs which means cheaper and simpler PGMs so that they can be used when needed and in sufficient quantities.

Let's not forget - 30+ years of USAF PR might have confused ordinary people but it couldn't have confused professional planners. Air power does not win wars. Never did. Never will. And if you don't believe me - ask the Taliban. Air power is the enabler, not the solution. No matter what the pilots might think of themselves it's all about the humble grunt on the ground.
 
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sequ

Junior Member
Registered Member
Air power is the enabler, not the solution. No matter what the pilots might think of themselves it's all about the humble grunt on the ground.
Which in the case of ODS got so demoralized after a month of bombing that they surrendered en masse at the first contact on the ground.
 

AndrewS

Colonel
Registered Member
A missile is essentially a disposable attack aircraft. There's nothing special about it compared to a bomb other than conditions of delivery. In actual war numbers matter and while missiles are useful for planning of operations they can't replace payload on target over time. The enemy is working to fix the damage as fast as you can deal it.

I don't think PLA would waste missiles on anything except the absolutely necessary targets. They're simply too expensive to be used against Taiwan considering that the operation might result in a longer conflict including limited armed conflict with the US - especially if PLA doesn't conserve best munitions as deterrent. Those missiles might be better used against e.g. USMC outposts on Taiwan.

There is another factor that you forgot to consider - missiles are not resources which are as easily and quickly moved between locations as aircraft. Rocket units have their designated areas of operation and designated roles in those areas so they could only be massed temporarily. As you can imagine temporarily massing ground units for the purpose of strike against Taiwan is significantly harder than temporarily massing aircraft - especially if aerial refueling assets are available in sufficient number. If ground-based long-range air defenses of Taiwan are disabled - even temporarily - then H-6 fleet is sufficient to perform a massed strike with stand-off weapons that would be more effective than missiles. Driving all those trucks until they are in range? That's not a good idea for achieving surprise.

Ballistic missiles have the advantage of hypersonic speeds and being difficult to intercept.
That is very useful if you want to shut down a runway and trap airplanes on the ground or in their mountain airbases.

IIRC, the runway repair record is 3 hours held by Taiwan

So after a ballistic missile strike, the Chinese Air Force could expect at least 3 hours where further strike operations could be conducted on Taiwanese airbases, with minimal interference by the Taiwanese Air Force.

Remember that the vast majority of China's ballistic missiles only have the range to reach Taiwan, Korea and Okinawa.
IIRC, they are already based at their desired operating locations.

Furthermore, these Chinese ballistic missiles (comparable to SCUDs) are probably $1-$2 million each. If 2 PAC-3s are launched at each missile, that would cost $4 million. So the cost of ballistic missile defence is far higher than the cost of the incoming missiles.

---

Also note the range of various powered weapons like the SLAM-ER (270km and $0.5M) or JASSM (370km and $0.8M)
Given the width of the Taiwan Strait, you could launch these from trucks based on the Chinese mainland, which is a far cheaper option than using an H-6 or any aircraft
Come to think of it, the MLRS-launched ATACMS is another example. It has a range of 300km and costs $0.7M

So I see a Taiwan contingency being composed roughly in the following stages

Air superiority
Attacks on airbases, air defences, critical targets

Uses expensive ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, MLRS-type rockets, etc
China always has the initiative on launching an airbase runway denial attack

With the runways disabled, that buys 3+ hours for the Chinese Air Force to clear the skies of enemy aircraft, conduct SEAD operations and to conduct follow-on attacks

GPS/INS guided glide bombs (like the SDB-1 or JDAM-ER) look like the sweet spot in terms of range (up to 110km) and low costs ($30K-$40K). Because they are so cheap, it doesn't matter if they get shot down by SAMs, because you want the air defence systems to expose themselves. Accuracy is good enough for all sorts of worthwhile targets on airbases for example and I expect JH-7s to be primarily tasked with this

90% of Taiwan's population (and presumably military targets) lies within 25km of the coast, within range of glide-bombs launched safely offshore. So this just repeats until the Chinese Air Force obtains air superiority. I give it a maximum of 1 week.

At that point, attack UCAVs like the CH-series or Wing-Loong can start flying missions over Taiwan

---

China currently only has a handful of airborne tankers, although I expect this to change in the next 5 years with the Y-20U airborne tanker.
 

AndrewS

Colonel
Registered Member
A similar claim is contradicted by the findings in GAO report. The effectiveness of PGMs was greatly exaggerated by both USAF and the manufacturers and data is clear on that. It's all in the tables I posted earlier.

PGMs are great for the kind of warfare that followed after Gulf War - when minimizing collateral damage, exposure of own forces, and operational cost is essential to continuing the wars of aggression. Gulf War was very expensive. Iraq War in 2003 was achieved with fewer resources, not to mention the rest of GWOT operations. Those would be impossible without PGMs but they were not in the same category as even the Gulf War, the "parade war" as PLA's analysts called it.

The evolution of technology - most notably increasing ranges of anti-air missiles and sensors - will require stand-off weapons and greater use of PGMs but it won't be an order of magnitude reduction. I would expect a third of munitions used in ODS-equivalent, maybe a quarter, but not fewer because the accuracy of those weapons can also be affected by counter-measures. Restrikes will happen if only to ensure that the target remains neutralized just like they happened in ODS.

Finally the sheer number of potential targets will force the PGMs to be economical and that means PGMs that are as effective as unguided munitions in ODS due to distances of deployment. They won't be top of the line because numbers matter. At this point PLA guidance technology is matched by enemy's counter-measure technology. It's not the same kind of disparity as US and Iraq in 1991 and likely won't be for the next 10-20 years.

If the Chinese Air Force can clear enemy fighters, they should be able to destroy the air defences with SEAD operations.
That will require a fair number of relatively expensive HARM type missiles, but afterwards, unpowered glide bombs can be used against large numbers of fixed targets. And remember that the Chinese Air Force has to obtain complete and uncontested control of the air, before an invasion. In that case, attack aircraft will be able to fly at high-altitude safely and launch unpowered bombs.

See the approximate costs of unpowered GPS/INS PGMs

JDAM ($30K)
SDB-1 ($40K)
Paveway ($20K)

The US normally buys 40K JDAMs every year
South Korea recently purchased 8000 JDAM kits which cost around $26K each. That comes to $208million which is peanuts.

If the Chinese Air Force only bought 30K of these types of PGMs, that would cost less than $900 Million
That is way enough for the potential target set of fixed targets over Taiwan

Plus I expect UCAVs to be doing the majority of the ground-attack and surveillance, as they are better suited to this than manned aircraft. For mobile targets, you would have to use more expensive weapons like

Hellfires ($117K)
SDB-2 ($250K)

So I expect the Chinese Air Force to procure large numbers of these types of ground-attack weapons in the next 5 years
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
Registered Member
I think while it is incorrect to directly extrapolate from ODS data the operation remains a very good primer for understanding the issues of planning, logistics and effectiveness - and that's why I post the data. You are not supposed to treat ODS as a set of ready answers but as a useful and informative guide to finding approximate solutions to the hypothetical Taiwan operation.

Very good assessment of the gulf war, and I agree with this part very much -- that understanding a large scale, relatively recent air operation like ODS is important for understanding how those various factors and numbers jive together, which is important for understanding how a Taiwan continency might play out.

Some of my own thoughts with regards to how a Taiwan contingency would play out from the PLA side of things, over the years:

1. Available orbat for the Taiwan contingency -- when I've gamed out the Taiwan scenario before, I would usually give the Taiwan theater of operations 1/3 of the PLA's overall tactical fighter orbat during the initial stages of the contingency, where they would be frontloaded and forward deployed to the ETC. That is to say, I often would not leave the entire Taiwan contingency to only the normal peacetime air units in the ETC, but they would be augmented from some units drawn from other TCs.
This is only for tactical fighters by the way -- in terms of force multipliers like AEW&C and standoff EW and ELINT aircraft, I would give the ETC half of the total orbat the PLA has in service. In terms of bomber aircraft, most of the units themselves would remain at their own peacetime air bases, but the range of H-6K variant bombers and the range of their ALCMs, means that I often allocate virtually all of the H-6K fleet in service as contributing to the Taiwan contingency by conducting sorties from their normal peacetime bases but leveraging their relatively large combat radius and range of their ALCMs to conduct relatively low risk standoff strike missions well where the deployment of their munitions are done well within Chinese airspace.

2. Available basing -- this is somewhat more dicey, and I suppose it is a reflection of the flexibility of PLA deployments during wartime and the amount of risk one is willing to entertain. I personally would envision the PLA would try to deploy many of their tactical fighter aircraft in the ETC relatively close to Taiwan proper, partially to enable better response time, partially to allow for better time on station/combat radius.
The risk of this deployment of course is that they are subject to potential strikes from the ROC military, however this would be mitigated by having the ETC to be heavily guarded by one of the densest concentrations of modern land based air and missile defenses, as well as sea based AAW ships (navy operating in the strait) that the contemporary world has seen. This would be further mitigated by the PLA seeking to disperse their forces as much as possible as well, and to utilize a large number of civilian airports and more austere air bases as appropriate. Once more of the ROC's strike capability is destroyed or significantly crippled earlier on in the conflict (combat air fleet, units of long range missile forces that they have), then some of those defenses could start to be thinned out and returned to their original theaters.

3. The role of ground launched missile systems -- I think any PLA air campaign in a Taiwan contingency would dovetail significantly with the ground launched missile/strike systems of the PLARF (and to an extent the PLAGF). While you are entirely correct in saying that ground launched systems are less flexible than air launched systems, and that there are certain ground launched missile systems that are far more appropriate to be reserved for a conflict with the US, I also think there are entire categories of weapons that are appropriate for a Taiwan contingency as well. Specifically, their large SRBM force (DF-11, 15, 16 variants), and also their new 370mm MLRS system that is entering service with PLAGF artillery brigades. Those systems would have little to no relevance for a conflict involving the US given their ranges, but are very appropriate for a Taiwan contingency.
The ability of these launch systems to be redeployed within the Chinese mainland, their relatively low profile (and therefore difficulty for ROC or outside forces to conduct ISR and/or perform strikes against them), and their relatively fast speed, makes me believe that any PLA operation in a Taiwan contingency would give the strike responsibility more to their ground launched standoff missile forces than the US did to its own standoff missile forces (Tomahawks, CALCMs) during ODS.
Of course, most of these standoff strike systems would be used against relatively more valuable targets (air bases, C4I centers, early warning sensors, large confirmed formations of materiel), but targeting those higher value targets would in turn allow the rest of the air fleet to conduct their mission in a far less strenuous manner than they otherwise would need, and there may be entire strike missions which do not need to be conducted by air and can be instead retasked to ground launched standoff strike missions, which helps free up sorties for those aircraft to do other missions with.



But I do agree with other overall thrusts of your argument:

1. A need for air refuelling capacity. This goes without saying, and would help to relieve virtually whatever aspect of the air operation one so desires depending on the tactical fighter type that it refuels. Whether it's increasing time on station, increasing combat radius, it's all beneficial.

2. A need for greater strike "capacity". You mentioned that the number of interdictor and attack aircraft is an aspect that the PLA was limited in, in your comparison, and I agree with that to an extent but I think dedicated aircraft numbers is less important for the PLA today when multirole aircraft, MALE hunter killer UAVs exist, and where modern munitions and sensors can augment the strike mission greatly. Specifically, I think procurement and integration of direct attack PGMs in the 250kg and 100kg class (with satellite and laser guidance at minimum) and multi-ejector racks can greatly enhance the strike capability of existing multirole aircraft going from older JH-7/As, to regular J-10As, to J-16s and J-10Cs -- but also for H-6Ks (we've seen a single H-6K carry 36 250kg dumb bombs before, so the physical compatibility is there). I also believe that development and proliferation of more capable tactical ISR systems would prove to be important force multipliers for the aerial strike capacity -- not only EO targeting pods, but also podded standoff synthetic aperture radar systems such as the US Dragon Eye. Podded SAR systems would allow even previously single role air superiority aircraft to provide vital ISR to contribute more to the strike mission (depending on the stage of the conflict), which would provide more dynamic, persistent air to ground ISR. The role of MALE hunter killer UAVs of course all goes without saying. I believe the lack of procurement of a large number of 250kg and 100kg PGMs and the lack of a robust and modern A2G ISR/SAR system that can be fitted to tactical fighters, are both significant (though not decisively massive) gaps in capability that PLA combat aviation suffers from in relation to a Taiwan contingency.



In any case, the assessment of numbers in ODS is very useful, and makes for useful comparison with how a PLA air operation in a Taiwan contingency may occur, but I do think there are significant differences in geography, basing, logistics, and strike system availability.
 

Mohsin77

Senior Member
Registered Member
No matter what the pilots might think of themselves it's all about the humble grunt on the ground.

That hasn't been true since the failure of Rommel in North Africa. The core-concept to master in warfare is that of maneuver. And the ultimate mobility is not on the ground, it is in the air. The 'grunt on the ground' is secondary.

The ground game of the Allies in 1991 is vastly over-rated. They constantly tripped over themselves and chose frontal attacks against fortified positions way too many times. Against a near-peer or competent foe, there would've been a lot more casualties. The primary aspect of this war that truly shocked all the war planners around the world was the application of new tools in Air Power (Stealth/CBUs/cruise missiles/PGMs) combined with 'Network Centric Warfare.' But this was a huge mistake by the US.

The strategic error the US made in 1991 was that it showed its cards to China and Russia for free, which immediately began Electronic and Cyber programs to destroy networks.
 
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