- - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

American troops are back in Iraq. About 500 have been assigned to protect the U.S. Embassy and Baghdad’s airport; the remainder will be assessing the state of the fight between Iraq’s government and rebels from the Islamic State.

With U.S. troops potentially in harm’s way once again, it’s worth remembering how we’ve protected them in Iraq in the past.

I am a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq had the fourth-largest army in the world and the U.S. Army wasn’t even in the top 10. The Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait were experienced combat veterans, fresh from an eight-year war with Iran. America’s military, on the other hand, had not fought a full-scale combat operation since Vietnam. Iraq’s oil wealth and long-standing Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union gave Saddam Hussein the best Soviet-surrogate military that money could buy.

With that backdrop, the nightly news warned that America would suffer tens of thousands of casualties if we engaged this superior foe. For much of America’s media, it was assumed we were about to repeat the “quagmire” of Vietnam.

What no one realized at the time was that the Tomahawk cruise missile would set the stage for one of the quickest and most lopsided victories in the history of warfare — a victory that was sealed in the opening hour of the first night of the air campaign.

During that hour, hundreds of Tomahawks were launched, knocking out Iraq’s command and control. Prior to the Gulf War, wars concentrated action along the front lines where two forces faced off with headquarters commanding and controlling from behind. The losing side would hear explosions getting closer to their headquarters until it was overrun by an advancing enemy or they surrendered.

Tomahawk changed that. In every military conflict where Tomahawk has led the start of hostilities, our enemy’s headquarters have been first to experience the explosions of war as Tomahawks destroy their command-and-control assets. Libya is a recent case in point.

Communications are first to go because there can be no control without them. Since our enemies tend to be totalitarian, their militaries are especially vulnerable, since their tactical leadership dares not make decisions without orders from on high.

Without central communications from their military leaders, supplies never left their stockpiles. As the air campaign shook the ground for a month, Iraqi troops were left to huddle in the desert without direction or encouragement, or reliable resupplies of food, water and medicine.

The Tomahawk barrage made it impossible for Iraq’s military command structure to recover, leaving some million-and-a-half Iraqi troops stranded throughout the Gulf War theater.

Not surprisingly, well over a million troops either fled or surrendered. The remaining Iraqi troops suffered huge losses.

What did this mean for American and allied troops? You can measure it in bullets — or rather, bullets never fired. Assuming each Iraqi soldier started with about 100 rounds of ammunition — about 100 million rounds of Iraqi ammunition were never fired at our troops as a result of Tomahawk’s early barrages. Likewise, millions of rounds were not fired against Iraqi forces, either.

American forces endured fewer than 150 battle-related deaths in Operation Desert Storm. Our allies suffered fewer than 100 battle-related deaths combined. It is no exaggeration to say that Tomahawk’s unique capabilities saved the lives and limbs of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and tens of thousands of American and allied soldiers in the Gulf War.

I have dedicated my postwar career to the Tomahawk project because I am dedicated to safeguarding the next generation of American troops. Since 1991, Tomahawk has evolved to become more precise and more adaptable, and it remains the nation’s weapon of choice for first strike. It is not hard to see why.

Mike Roller is a systems engineer and Tomahawk weapon system ship and submarine integrator for Raytheon Missile Systems.

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