GEOINT IN THE GULF WAR
Understanding the power of GEOINT in the post-Cold War era
The Gulf War began Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered his country’s army to invade Kuwait -- triggering a global response. Less than a year earlier, the long, bitter Cold War was finally reaching its end. The crumbling of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, signaled the end of the half-century clash between the Western world and the Communist Bloc. Hussein’s actions in August 1990 presented a new global conflict, especially for American defense and intelligence agencies still equipped to fight in the Cold War era. For NGA’s predecessor organizations, the Defense Mapping Agency and the National Photographic Interpretation Center, the Gulf War demonstrated the need for change.
Adding context to conflict
Competing for political and economic dominance in the Persian Gulf region, Iraq and Iran engaged in the Iraq-Iran War, 1980 – 1988. After eight years of war, Iraq and Iran began peace talks. By the summer of 1990, after nearly two years of attempting to negotiate peace, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered to host peace talks in Cairo with Hussein and Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to assist in ending the decade-long conflict. These negotiations were halted on Aug. 2, 1990, when Hussein authorized Iraqi troops to invade Kuwait. Ultimately, the tense relations between these nations impeded post-war peace talks and led to the Gulf War.
Upon hearing about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, U.S. President George H.W. Bush denounced the actions and began coordinating with diplomats around the globe to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf. In the coming days, Bush met with several diplomats from nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria to assess all possible options for responding to Hussein’s aggression. Together, these leaders formed a joint effort to oppose Hussein’s offensive against Kuwait and prohibit him from taking further aggressive actions in the Persian Gulf.
Preparing for war
While cementing relations with international diplomats, Bush also worked with the National Security Council on preparing for war in the Middle East. Appointed by President Bush as the lead military commander for the operation, U.S. Army Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf, then director of the U.S. Central Command, began deploying troops to Saudi Arabia Aug. 8. Between August 1990 and January 1991, Schwarzkopf oversaw the planning for what would become Operation Desert Storm.
During the planning phase, the U.S. military acquired and disseminated thousands of Global Positioning System units across the deployed forces to enhance navigation. U.S. CENTCOM received support from both Government and commercial satellites throughout the conflict enhancing navigation and understanding of the battlefield among U.S. and allied forces. Despite these technological advances, troops still relied upon hard copy maps produced by DMA.
To meet this new demand, DMA pivoted to around-the-clock operations as employees worked 10- to 12-hour shifts, six days a week. This work included updating existing charts and maps of the Persian Gulf, ensuring military planners had the most current and accurate information. In addition, several new products were quickly turned out to support impending air and ground campaigns. These included 19 different versions of Escape and Evasion Charts (EVCs) and a distinctive blood chit that guaranteed a monetary reward for assisting service members in avoiding capture. For these two products, alone, DMA contributed approximately 257,000 EVCs and 25,000 blood chits to Operation Desert Storm.
Over the next several months, NGA will share historical highlights and insights from the Gulf War in remembrance of how this conflict shaped the future of geospatial intelligence.
Interested in learning more about the Gulf War?
Check out these resources:
- Read this Desert Storm NGA Pathfinder article .
- Test your Gulf War knowledge with this quiz .
- Learn more about NGA predecessor organizations, the Defense Mapping Agency and the National Photographic Interpretation Center
- Watch President Bush’s Aug. 2, 1990 press conference .