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Tenth anniversary of the Gulf War: A look back
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was 10 years ago Tuesday that the United States led a military coalition against Iraq, starting with an air campaign that changed the nature of modern warfare.
The air assault that launched the Gulf War began one day after the expiration of a United Nations' deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.
The first planes to bomb Baghdad in the early morning darkness were U.S. Air Force F-117s. The radar-evading stealth aircraft were both the embodiment of superior U.S. weapons technology, and the harbinger of a new high-tech war.
"The Gulf War set a mark on the wall for the conduct of warfare. People now expect conflict to be short duration, decisive, with a minimum of casualties," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Dave Deptula.
Correspondents witnessed raids
Ten years ago, Deptula was a young Air Force lieutenant colonel and part of the team of military planners who holed up for months plotting the air attack against Iraq. One of the original targeting maps adorns his Pentagon office.
CNN correspondents were eyewitnesses to the first strike against the Iraqi capital.
"Wow! Holy Cow, that was a large airburst, filling the sky," CNN's John Holliman reported in a live broadcast on January 16, 1991.
"I think, John, that airburst took out a telecommunications center," said CNN's Peter Arnett, who was watching from the same hotel window in downtown Baghdad.
"Actually our first bit of battle damage assessment, the most important feedback we got that night was provided by CNN, when they went off the air ...," said Deptula.
When David French, a CNN anchor in Washington, reported that he thought the network was having a technical problem that night, he was inadvertantly giving the Pentagon information.
"What it showed us was what had been hit was a critical telecommunication center," said Deptula.
Air attack lasted six weeks
Six weeks of bombing were followed by a four-day ground campaign before Iraq surrendered. The Gulf War proved what stealth technology, combined with precision weapons, could accomplish, according to Deptula.
"In the past, when we didn't have stealth and precision, it required many aircraft to attack one target," he said. "Today, we have moved into an era in which we can attack many targets with just one aircraft."
Smart bombs made up only 7 percent of what was dropped on Iraq. By 1999, when the United States led a NATO bombardment of Serbia, the percentage had increased to 30 percent, and U.S. casualties, which were low in the Gulf War, dropped to zero in Yugoslavia, something unprecedented in air combat.
That technological edge is what has allowed the United States to enforce no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq with virtual impunity. Over 200,000 sorties have been flown over Iraq since the war, without the loss of a single aircraft, although at a cost of roughly $2 billion per year.
F-22 combines stealth with supersonic speed
Deptula was fired upon while flying an F-15 over Iraq in the late 1990s, when he was in charge of operations in the Northern no-fly zone. He cautions even the best technology can't beat the odds:
"The longer and longer we engage in overseas activities like that the higher and higher the probability becomes that something is going to go wrong," he said.
As for what's next, Deptula now heads the Air Force office that's pushing the $200-million F-22, as just what the U.S. needs to keep its advantage over the rest of the world. The F-22 combines stealth with the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds.
Still on the drawing board -- remote-controlled fighters, where pilots sit safely at a computer on the ground.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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