Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the start of Operation Desert Storm, the US-led coalition war to reverse Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and prevent the seizure of other neighboring Persian Gulf States. United Nations resolutions and a US ultimatum demanded President Saddam Hussein withdraw his forces from Kuwait. When he did not comply, Desert Storm was unleashed. The first aircraft to launch on Jan. 16, 1991, were B-52 bombers from Barksdale AFB, La., armed with a then-secret weapon, the AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile, the first to use satellite guidance. Navy ship-launched Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles were also in the mix, as were F-117 stealth attack aircraft, never previously flown against modern air defenses, which began what would become routine strikes on heavily-protected Baghdad. The weapons released struck high-value targets in Iraq, including radars and command-and-control nodes, beginning a six-week air campaign by some 1,800 aircraft from 12 countries. The air campaign destroyed Iraqi infrastructure, troop formations, and hundreds of individual armored vehicles. It was followed by a 100-hour ground war, prosecuted by some 540,000 troops from 31 countries, which saw all Iraqi forces expelled from Kuwait. Desert Storm introduced stealth, precision-guided munitions, widespread use of space assets, and parallel warfare to the practice of modern war. It was followed by 12 years of aerial blockade of Iraq, called Northern and Southern Watch, which came to an end when the US launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. (See also 25 Years at War from the January issue of Air Force Magazine.)
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.