For the last part of Desert Shield simulations, I put the Iraqi attack aircraft against the most basic Coalition ground defenses. The experiment saw six Su-24s attacking a group of fuel tanks guarded by Vulcan and Stinger short-range defenses.
As unrealistic as this was, there were no fighters to cover the base. Instead, I wanted a “best-case” scenario for the Iraqis. The Fencers hit their targets but lost two of their number to the Stingers, representing unsustainable long-term attrition.
Next I added Patriot missiles, used for the original role of anti-aircraft warfare instead of the anti-missile work they were most known for. Whenever they had a clear idea of the targets, the Patriots essentially shut down any Iraqi bombing attempt by themselves. Even an attempt to launch anti-radar missiles at them was less than successful-because the Patriot shot down the few missiles too.
What does this indicate for air-to-ground operations? The first is a silver lining-that massed attacks on targets near the Kuwaiti border have a surprisingly good chance of getting through-of course, at a high cost. The dilemma of fly-high-and-miss or fly low and get shot down is extremely prevalent, and using one of their few PGM-capable platforms is putting even more stress on that already overworked fleet.
Once the Patriots arrive in theater, they add an even more dangerous weapon, doing for the air (assuming the F-15s haven’t done so already) what the arriving masses of Abrams tanks would do for the ground offensive-slam the door to Saudi Arabia and lock it.
Conclusion: Putting it all together
The experiments involved separate parts. rather than a gigantic whole. How could this unfold in the event of a real attack? Consider this ‘worst-case’ scenario. In support of the army’s push south, the air force bombs Saudi and American positions. Assume that (whatever the cost) the air superiority fighters distract the enemy, the bombers hit their targets, and they even manage to lob some Exocets.
What this means is getting a few ground attack sorties through in exchange for tremendous losses, and inflicting at most, a few hundred more casualties. As long as the Coalition doesn’t lose its nerve, the sea lines should be safe as long as they’re willing to pull a “Falklands” and keep the pressure up despite losses.
On land, there’s even more of a catch-22. The most lucrative targets (as opposed to troop formations that would either retreat or be overrun anyway) are deeper in Saudi Arabia. But going that far means running a gauntlet that isn’t there in the event of “easier” targets near the border. This is on top of well-known interservice rivalry issues that would make coordination between the Iraqi army and air force difficult.
As far as air and naval operations go, the absolute best the Iraqis can hope for is a “Jutland”-where they bloody their “captor”, but the cage is closed just as tight after the battle than before. (Also like Jutland, they would spin it as a propaganda victory in ignorance of strategic realities).