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Gulf Naval Lesson: Need for U.S. Control : Military: A British expert says the war showed the desirability of American operational authority over allied warships.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A key naval lesson of the Persian Gulf War is that the United States should maintain operational control over all allied warships in any future conflict, the editor of the authoritative Jane’s Fighting Ships said Monday.

Richard Sharpe, a retired British naval captain, argued that coalition naval forces cannot simply coordinate operations among themselves, as they did in the Gulf. The Pentagon’s allies must place themselves under a U.S. commander, he said.

Otherwise, Sharpe contended, joint operations that are only loosely coordinated could result in “blue-on-blue engagements”--that is, fighting between friendly forces.

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While land forces were under the control of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied navies operated only under the “coordination” of allied commanders until the shooting war broke out--at which point only British and Dutch forces immediately accepted American command.

“Only the United States,” Sharpe warned, “has the spread of capabilities to function alone against all potential maritime threats; others can only muster the necessary force levels by acting in coalition with each other and with the U.S. Navy.”

On the positive side, said the naval expert in introducing the 1991-92 edition of Jane’s, the allied naval forces were the “enabling factor” behind the success of the air and ground forces in winning the Gulf War.

Further, said Sharpe, the coalition navies “had an excellent war,” despite the fact that some achievements were overlooked.

“I don’t think the media gave the navies the predominance they deserved,” said Sharpe at a news conference marking Jane’s latest assessment of world naval forces.

In praising the allied naval “enabling factor,” the editor listed the various ways in which naval support was vital:

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* Naval presence. The immediate dispatch of two U.S. carrier groups after Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait provided “clear and immediate signals” that the United States would resist intrusion into Saudi Arabia, a dramatic increase over previous “ambiguous and inadequate” diplomatic warnings.

* Rapid deployment. Fast cargo ships and naval auxiliaries were able to bring U.S. Marines and their supplies to the Gulf within days, poised to land if needed.

* Blockade. Ships from 14 nations participated in the embargo, scrutinizing thousands of suspect ships and boarding hundreds in an operation that “weakened Iraq over a long period” because the Baghdad regime “ceased to be able to trade with the rest of the world.”

* Reinforcement. About 78% of vital supplies reached the coalition forces by sea-lift, guarded by naval forces. The United States alone landed 2.5 million tons of equipment and 3 million tons of fuel at Saudi ports.

* Attack. During Operation Desert Storm, 291 sea-launched cruise missiles were fired from U.S. ships and submarines, which proved that “any weapon system which can destroy targets without putting at risk the lives of its own forces is clearly going to be a decisive factor in favor of this method of delivery in the future.”

* Amphibious Operations. “By using the threat of massive amphibious landings as a key deception to cover the intended direction of his ground assault, the coalition commander achieved tactical surprise, cut casualties to a minimum and shortened the war.”

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However, Sharpe added wryly that Gen. Schwarzkopf’s deceptive strategy “will not quickly be forgiven by the U.S. Marines afloat in the assembled amphibious assault ships.” Although some of those Marines later played a part in the ground campaign, the long-awaited amphibious attack on Kuwait proved to be a successful feint.

* Ship-borne aircraft. Sharpe pointed out that in attacking land targets in Iraq, U.S. carrier aircraft were at a disadvantage compared to Air Force planes based in Saudi Arabia because of the longer strike distances from the lower Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Still, carrier warplanes launched 23% of all U.S. ground attack missions.

As to questions raised in Washington about the efficacy of carriers in the Gulf War, Sharpe said, “It was the worst possible war for Navy air because of distances and air cover needs.”

He also acknowledged that the U.S. Air Force had more modern planes and armaments than the Navy and were thus able to inflict more accurate damage.

As for the future, the Jane’s authority warned against the budgetary delusion of placing many ships in mothballs as a reserve fleet while counting them as part of the Navy.

“To most professional sailors, putting ships in reserve at six months’ notice is mere political blarney,” he said, “because modern ships and personnel cannot be readied for sea in that amount of time.”

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