How the concept of Effects-Based Operations evolved during the 1991 Gulf war
Lt Gen. David A. Deptula (retd)
The concept of Effects-Based Thinking and Effects-Based Operations developed during the planning for Operation Desert Storm in the August of 1990, though the terminology gained currency around 1999-2000.
In 1988, I was assigned to the Pentagon and ended up working in the Air Force Doctrine office. Four months later, Col John Warden joined as the new directorate chief. The organisational structure then was complex but very interesting historically.
Gen. Mike Dugan, who was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for Operations, thought highly of Warden and brought him into the Pentagon. Warden was made the directorate chief of an organisation called War-fighting Concepts Development. Within the directorate of War-fighting Concepts Development were five divisions:
- Long-range Planning;
- Air Force Doctrine (this is where I was assigned);
- Checkmate (an internal red-team/wargaming division); and
- Resources and War Plans
John Warden and I connected intellectually. We had the same perspective; and one of the principal shortcomings that we saw at that time from a military planning perspective was that even inside the Air Force, airpower was regarded as a support force for the Army. In fact, the commander of Tactical Air Command at the time, General Bob Russ, had made a statement that the two functions of Tactical Air Command were 1) Continental air defence; and 2) Support of the Army ground manoeuvre.
John and I, particularly since I was in the doctrine division, were developing joint doctrine at that time. I was the Air Force action officer working on Joint Pub 3-01, which was joint doctrine for interdiction operations. At the time, the service representatives would meet together and we would discuss our different perspectives and what was most appropriate to include in joint doctrine. I worked with John on developing strategies, theories and ideas about the independent use of airpower. Not independent like just by itself, but thinking about airpower as a key force and not just a supporting force. We developed a lot of different plans and theories. One was called Battlefield Air Operations. This looked at airpower as a manoeuvre arm in the third dimension. You know armies like to draw these big maps with arrows on a two-dimensional map, so we viewed battlefield operations as something coming from the sky. It was a concept beyond close air support and beyond what was called at the time battlefield air interdiction — a concept that incorporated both as an operational level air manoeuvre arm.
Another initiative we came up with was a theory of Composite Training and Air Formations. Beyond that, I did a lot of additional study of what went on during World War II, the desired outcomes, and we began to talk about the importance of creating desired effects, and the importance of that kind of focus. It was an approach that moved beyond the traditional ground-centric view of attrition and annihilation as the only means to accomplish military ends.
With this background let us fast forward to August 1990. John Warden was on vacation on a cruise in the Caribbean. I was visiting my mom and my dad down in southern Florida when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
We both got back to the Pentagon very quickly. On August 6, we got together, just John and me talking about what could be done. I suggested to him that we should put together some air options. We were on the Air Staff, and in our system of organisation, it was not our responsibility to provide actual planning for contingency operations. That is the responsibility of the combatant commands, in this case the US Central Command. Nevertheless, I said let’s do some brainstorming and explore some planning options.
We met in the location of one of our divisions, Checkmate. We began thinking about the immediate options. In other words, what could we do to halt Saddam Hussein if he doesn’t stop in Kuwait? If he continues roving further into Saudi Arabia. What is the greatest amount of impact or effect we could have to halt his movement and get him to stop? So that was our original planning premise.
The next day, General Schwarzkopf, the commander of US Central Command, called General Dugan, the US Air Force Chief of Staff, who was out of town. General Loh, who was the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, took the call and spoke with Schwarzkopf who told him that he needed some help. Schwarzkopf needed somebody thinking about a plan for how to use airpower against Saddam. Loh knew Warden and that we were doing some initial planning, but now we were officially authorised to continue planning by the combatant commander.
I was a Lieutenant Colonel by this time and an Air Force Weapon’s School graduate. In all my historical reading, airpower — while not the only force that would be involved — could have an enormous impact, particularly in the initial stages of any operation. One needs to understand that if we are talking about days or even weeks, we were not going to be able to bring in large numbers of ground or naval forces.
As a starting point for our planning process we used John’s Five Rings theory, which is a good strategic model for approaching any military challenge. The five key strategic elements of any organisation are: leadership; key essential systems; infrastructure; population; and military forces. Each of these could be considered as strategic centres of gravity. My assignment was to identify the next level of operational centres of gravity that support or allow each one of the strategic levels to operate. What we did, and this is sort of a model I built later on, was that the tactical level centres of gravity are those that support the operational centres, and those became the individual targets.
Jumping ahead, that was the model that I used in building what I later invented as the Master Attack Plan planning process. But now let me go back to the basement of the Pentagon (where the Checkmate division was located) in August 1990. We were looking for key elements — how could we paralyse, isolate, halt, stop and negate any further Iraqi military aggression? The intelligence planners at the time told us that there were two key command and control facilities in Iraq. The Air Defence Operations Centre in Baghdad and what they called the Sector Operations Centre, at Tallil air base in South East Iraq. Basically they told us if we could destroy these two facilities, we would blind the Iraqi air force and they wouldn’t be able to react.
The F-117 had just recently become unclassified, so a whole lot of people didn’t know much about it. It carried two types of weapons — the GBU-27, which was a penetrating 2000-pound bomb, and a GBU-10 which was a 2000-pound explosive. The intelligence people told us that the Air Defence Operations Centres were virtually identical to one another and Saddam had built them to be nuclear hardened due to his concern that the Iranians might use nukes against them in the Iran-Iraq war.
A bit about these structures: There were two command bunkers in the basement and then there was essentially 37 feet of steel, concrete, dirt and stone on top to protect them. The intelligence folks said we could destroy them, but it would take a combination of eight GBU-27s and 10s. At the time, for force planning, we were allocated 16 F-117s. There are two structures, two bunkers in each, eight weapons for each bunker, that’s 16 weapons per target. The F-117 carries two weapons. So we use up all the F-117 we have allocated to put eight weapons on each side of the command centres to destroy the bunkers. The significance of the targets was worth the effort so that is what we initially planned and what made up our original attack plan on August 16. The next day we were scheduled to go down to Tampa, Florida to brief General Schwarzkopf at his headquarters on the operations plan that we had developed over the previous 10 days. Our thought was that we would hand over this operations plan along with the attack flow for the first 24 hours to General Schwarzkopf, and that would be our contribution to the effort and we’d be finished with our task.
But when we went to brief Schwarzkopf — we called our plan Instant Thunder — he told us to go over to Saudi Arabia and brief General Horner on the plan. Gen Horner was Schwarzkopf’s air component commander and he had been sent to Riyadh by Schwarzkopf to oversee the bed down of forces arriving in the area. So, the next day we get stuffed in the back of a RC-135 that was on its way to Riyadh.
The next part of the story demonstrates why human interaction and personal relationships are very important. Horner did not like Warden at all for a number of reasons that I don’t need to get into. But when I was a Captain at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 1984, I was an F-15 instructor pilot. Our new air division commander at the time was Brigadier Gen. Chuck Horner, and I ended up being his instructor. The bottom line is I knew Horner and Horner knew and trusted me.
Horner sent Warden home, but he kept me in theatre. The next day, a one-star by the name of Buster Glosson shows up. Glosson — who has another interesting back story — had done some things that the previous Chief of Staff of Air Force didn’t like. As a result, he had assigned him to what he thought was the furthest distance away from any possible action. He had assigned him to be the Deputy Commander of the Joint Task Force Mideast, onboard the USS La Salle in Manama, Bahrain — the definition of sleepy hollow.
But what happens? Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. All of a sudden, the Mideast becomes the centrepiece of attention worldwide. Horner knew he needed somebody to do offensive planning. He knew Buster so he brings Buster to Riyadh. The next day I am the one who gives the Instant Thunder briefing to Glosson. Glosson is then assigned by Horner to be in charge of offensive air campaign planning and I become his chief planner. We worked in a small conference room next to Gen. Horner’s office in a very highly secret planning cell which became known as the ‘Black Hole.’
One of the first things I did was look at what were the key elements, targets that we had to hit in order to paralyse the whole Iraq leadership decision-making and military enterprise. Every day we were getting new targets, new intelligence, new resources and new airplanes and weapons… Air Force, Army, and Navy forces were flowing into theatre. There was a constant juggling of factors that affected our plans. I was doing all the planning with a pen and a yellow legal pad. A guy at the end of the table had an early version of laptop computer. Every hour, I gave him my updated planning pages and he would go down and update his computer that would incorporate the planning factors for logistics support. I was doing all the force application planning and he was building the support elements, the tankers, and associated other support.
And after a while it became pretty chaotic due to the fact that there were so many changes. I said look, here’s what we are going to do, I am going to go through four to five hours of planning and then I will post that latest version of the attack plan on this clipboard. I named it the ‘Master Attack Plan,’ and that’s how the term and process came about.
Because the plans were so highly classified and we didn’t have secure internet like we have today, and they became too large and sensitive to send by fax, we needed to deliver hard-copies of the plans to all the participating units. Additionally, the senior Navy and Marine commanders had not seen the overall plan. So, on 30 August 1990 Buster Glosson and I got on a C-21, which is a small passenger jet and we flew to Manama, Bahrain to brief the Navy component commander, at that time Admiral Mauz, and the Marine component commander Major General Royal T. Moore, on-board the USS La Salle.
You cannot imagine the intensity of the effort that went into the planning of the attacks. I was awake 20 hours a day planning. There was no time for study. One day I am in the Pentagon and two weeks later I am in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, doing war planning. I did get a couple of books to read on the flight over. I grabbed one on the Iran-Iraq war before I went on the airplane going there, and took along some maps, but after arriving in theater there was not a lot of time for research and study.
The flight from Riyadh to Manama was about three hours. So, I thought I had some time to read a study on the Iraqi air defence system that the European Command had accomplished that I requested from the intelligence guys. General Glosson has an extraordinarily outgoing personality and as I was his chief planner and we were sitting right next to each other on the airplane, there was no time to read, because we were talking about everything — ideas, thoughts on what we are going to do next, different commanders at the different air bases in the region, personalities, who is going to work, who’s not and so on.
Once in Manama, we briefed Admiral Mauz and General Moore. When we were finished we went back to the airbase to return to Riyadh the same day. Just as we took-off on the C-21 the airplane fills up with smoke so we turn around and return to Manama. What had happened was there was an electric fire behind the instrument panel. Now I had some time to read that report on the Iraqi air defense system as we sat in a little hut near the runway waiting for another airplane to come pick us up and fly back to Riyadh.
I started reading, and lo and behold, here is what I found out. There were not just two air defence sector operation centres in Iraq, there were five. And each one of them had three to seven interceptor operation centres associated with them. The whole system was networked and any one of those elements could pick up the entire tracking load. It was built by the French and called the QARI system, which is IRAQ backwards. And so now, instead of two key targets, there are more like 30-35. The question now was — what do we do?
The next day I am sitting in our ‘Black Hole’ planning room with some very non-cooperative intelligence people. We were going back and forth having this discussion about what to do about this challenge, and they are telling me, ‘look, you are making this too hard for yourself. Just tell us the level of destruction that you want of each target and give us the priority in terms of the target, we will do the weaponeering, figure it out and get back to you.’
I said, well look, ‘what happens if you don’t get to all of these interceptor operation centres and sector operations centres the first day?’ Oh, we will go the next day then. I said no, you don’t understand. I need to be able to paralyse all at one time. They tell me that I can’t do that. We go back and forth in this discussion. That exact same day we were having this discussion, the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander, Al Whitley, who was the commander of the F-117 unit, was in Riyadh visiting with Gen. Horner, asking for targeting support, because he was not getting much support from the Intel people either.
I didn’t know a whole lot about the F-117 as I mentioned before, so I approach Col Whitley, introduce myself and say, ‘Hey sir, what is the real accuracy of F-117?’ His response is, ‘Dave, to date we have had 35 live drops and 34 of them were direct hits.’ I said okay, that’s pretty good. That’s all I need to know. So, I go back and I am thinking about this a little bit more. I am arguing with the Intel guys and we are in the Royal Saudi Air Force Headquarters building, which is a really long building, several hundred feet long. I am arguing with the Intel guys and finally I say, look, a 2,000-pound bomb could go off on the other side of this building. We wouldn’t be dead, but we sure as hell wouldn’t be sitting here drinking our coffee, continuing our conversation. We would leave. And most likely, we wouldn’t come back tomorrow.
And then, a light bulb went off in my head — we don’t need to put 16 weapons in each one of these air defense sector operations centre buildings — we will need just one. Because I just need to create the effect that, you know, you are under fire. The impact would be that those people won’t come back to work the next day. This would free up 32 other weapons that I could then spread across the entire air defence system network.
Now the numbers of F-117 were changing at this time. We started with 16. By the time we got to the start of the war, we had 30. But the philosophy was what I just described. I wasn’t interested in destruction anymore. I just wanted to create an effect and that is to have these air defence headquarters and interceptor operation centres, warning centres to not operate. I didn’t care whether they were destroyed or not.
After the war I built a briefing where I explained the actual attack with the rationale for all the targeting. Of significant importance was the combination of the new technologies of precision and low observable stealth aircraft that didn’t require a whole lot of force packaging. That combination of capabilities allowed me to expand the target base I could attack in a given period of time. But it was not just stealth and precision that were important to the success of the plan. It was also this effects-based approach to planning that I applied that created the impact that we had. In the first 24 hours, we basically shut down their eyes and ears; and that allowed the rest of the air attack forces to conduct their attacks with little if any coordinated or effective resistance from the Iraqi Air Force.
Now you have to have feedback after the attack to determine how successful or not we were. In that regard, I was not interested in destruction. Besides, with one of these penetrating munitions, when you see the photos from the war of the hardened aircraft shelters, you just see a little pin-prick, you see a little hole, but when you look inside in it — destruction. But from these IOCs and sector operation centres, what I needed was information about whether they have resumed work or not. So, I asked the representative from what at that time was called Electronic Security Command to report to me every day if there were any emissions coming out of any of these IOCs or sector operation centres. If there were no emissions, I would not target them.
As I said, I didn’t care about destruction. I just wanted to make sure that they were not communicating with anybody, and if they were, then they would get a visit from an F-117 that night. That is what I used as my feedback mechanism — it was an effects-based approach.
I applied this philosophy to each one of the 12 target sets, which made up the operational level centres of gravity. For each of the 12 target sets there were a number of targets under each one of them.
Let me give you another example that reinforces this effects-based approach. It involves the electric target set. On 15 February 2001, I got a report from Central Command intelligence saying we had not accomplished our objectives in the electric target set, because we had not achieved a certain level percentage of destruction against each of the 26 power plants in that target set.
Now this was February 15th. By the 3rd or 4th day of the conflict back on 20/21 January 1991, there was not an electron flowing in the entire Iraqi power grid. Accordingly, I stopped targeting the electric target sites. Why would I want to continue to bomb them? We had this thought through. John and I both thought about this in the very beginning of the planning effort, as we both wanted to limit destruction.
Think back to the horrible destruction during World War II. We had to go back in and rebuild everything. So, number one, this wasn’t a war against the people of Iraq; number two, we wanted to minimise damage, so we could assist in reconstruction of the infrastructure as rapidly as possible; and number three, use that fact as the means to get the people to help us in overthrowing Saddam.
Even though we had those ideas, it was difficult to put that element of the plan into action, because the Central Command leadership did not have that philosophy. Nobody really did, they were just thinking about blowing stuff up.
(The writer retired from the United States Air Force. He is currently dean of the Mitchell Institute, The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies)