For all but the resolutely sightless, it is now obvious that air combat determines the outcome in modern war. In the early hours of March 20, the salvo aimed at [Saddam Hussein] himself was preceded by nearly a month of air attacks in and around Baghdad -- to say nothing of a decade or so of bombing in connection with enforcing the no-fly zones. So it's incorrect to say that, unlike Desert Storm 12 years before, there was no independent air campaign in advance of the jump off of our ground forces from Kuwait. Because of this aerial preparation, Iraq's air defenses stayed mostly silent and our aircraft were able to begin reducing opposing ground forces immediately. Army and Marine Corps formations, judged by "experts" to be much too small for the job, captured Baghdad in just 22 days, and with comparatively light casualties. Not only did coalition air power systematically disorganize Iraq's ground forces, it did so at small cost. It was more dangerous to be an embedded reporter than to fly combat sorties.
The Patriot air defense missile seems to be performing well after modifications that corrected earlier deficiencies. Too bad, as both the aircraft it shot down this time were friendly. We will eventually learn the technical reason for this, probably a software glitch. But it's hard to figure out why Patriot crews should be so quick on the draw. First, the Iraqi air force was simply not present for duty. More important, air defense is a "system of systems," with friendly fighter aircraft also responsible for preventing air attack. For 50 years -- indeed, since the establishment of a separate Air Force -- the battle for control of the air has been fought well away from our ground forces -- over the Yalu, over Hanoi, over Baghdad. No U.S. soldier has been attacked by an enemy aircraft since the early 1950s, a period that encompasses fully half the history of powered flight.
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