NATO Strategy Backfires
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US troops out of Europe!
NATO Planes Shot down
Rinas Airport Incident
NATO Losses
NATO Strategy Backfires
The War


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avgust 20, 2008

















War: A few words about tactics

Much to NATO’s regret, the news of Yugoslav air defenses’ death was somewhat exaggerated. There can be no reasonable doubt that NATO lost several dozen aircraft and continues to lose both planes and personnel in attempts to suppress Yugoslavia’s formidable network of air defenses. Prior to the conflict, several major Western news agencies reviewed Yugoslavia’s air defense capabilities and many military experts agreed that NATO will be certain to encounter fierce resistance. Several days before the aggression begun, Pentagon’s official estimates showed that NATO expected to lose at least twelve aircraft in the first days of war, until they neutralize Yugoslavia’s air defenses. In several public presentations for the world media, NATO laid out a comprehensive, multistage plan, the first stage of which called for neutralization of Yugoslavia’s air defenses. Several weeks into the conflict NATO was forced to scrap this plan. After a press conference, during which NATO officials announced that they are comfortable with the way Yugoslav air defenses were suppressed, the unthinkable happened: United States Air Force lost one of its F-117A stealth bombers not far from Yugoslavia’s capital of Belgrade. This was the only loss admitted by NATO and only after the burning remains of the aircraft were shown on television worldwide. Since then, NATO decided to go ahead with the second phase of its campaign - low-level, low-speed attacks on Yugoslav army forces in Kosovo - even though the objectives of the first phase were far from being achieved. This extraordinary step by NATO command highlighted significant flaws in its original planning and military experts worldwide feared increasing losses among NATO aircraft.

To answer the question of why Yugoslavia’s air defenses were not suppressed, it would be a good idea to consider its strengths. A brief look at Yugoslavia’s air defense arsenal reveals one such important strength - diversity of weapons: Yugoslavia has anti-aircraft weapons of all shapes and sizes. Even though Serbs may lack the latest, most sophisticated SAM systems (a gap hopefully to be soon filled by Russia’s advanced S-300 SAM system), the systems they have are capable of defending Yugoslavia against any number of aircraft and any tactics employed by the enemy and especially against NATO approach of limited warfare. Perhaps the most important advantage of Yugoslav air defenses are its mobile assets - SAMs, AAA, and radars. It is known that Yugoslav military commanders expected that most of their stationary radars will be hit by NATO aircraft in the early days of the campaign: even if these radar are not being used, their locations are well-known to NATO. This is exactly what happened, in the first few days of air strikes, NATO aircraft and cruise missiles targeted Yugoslavia stationary radar installations and known stationary SAM sites. It would be reasonable to assume that most of such installations, locations of which were known to NATO planners, were heavily damaged or destroyed. However, this is where NATO’s success abruptly ended. Now NATO pilots were faced with a difficult task of tracking down Yugoslavia’s mobile radars, SAMs, and AAA systems. Yugoslav mobile radar are used for a very limited period of time, following which they are disengaged and relocated. This tactics may not provide Yugoslavia with around-the-clock, integrated air defenses, but seems sufficient to significantly hamper NATO's efforts.

Not hoping to destroy the mobile air defenses, NATO made emphasis on electronic suppression: scores of additional electronic warfare aircraft were deployed from the US to Yugoslavia. These efforts did not prove to be successful as was hoped, in larger part because Yugoslavia’s military commanders skillfully managed their mobile air defense assets and used older radars as decoys to distract a significant portion of NATO’s resources. In addition to these difficulties, NATO had to restrict its aircraft primarily to high-altitude missions in order to avoid Yugoslavia’s innumerable mobile AAA batteries and man-portable SAMs. This made targeting of Yugoslav mobile military equipment extremely difficult. Another major complication NATO encountered, was its inability to establish real-time surveillance and targeting via its fleet of reconnaissance aircraft, including a number of UAVs. Yugoslav air defenses were successful in destroying a number of US and German UAVs operating over its territory, these included an American Hunter UAV, of which the US had only seven. One month into the campaign and NATO managed to hit only a handful of Yugoslavia’s mobile military targets, including several tanks, APCs and aircraft. It became clear to NATO command that continuing with the second phase of the aggression was hopeless. Early in the war a Russian military expert estimated NATO's effectiveness against targets in Yugoslavia at only 15-20% and he said that NATO first and second phases of the aggression will fail. He was right. A new strategy was developed.

NATO begun targeting Yugoslavia’s infrastructure - oil refineries, manufacturing facilities, power stations, major bridges, and a number of other civilian targets - hoping mainly to raise fear among Yugoslav public and, to a lesser degree, to disrupt a flow of fuel, ammo and other supplies to Yugoslav forces in Kosovo and elsewhere. Once again, this new strategy backfired: psychological effect of the strikes on Yugoslav public was contrary to what was expected by NATO, and affecting country's infrastructure through selective bombing campaign was an exceptionally long-term strategy, allowing Yugoslav military sufficient time to adapt. Yugoslavia was able to successfully protect its military aircraft by using an extensive network of well-designed shelters. Yugoslavia’s two largest airbases of Slatina and Batanjaca were hit hard by NATO bombs and missiles, however, these and other airbases are equipped with aircraft shelters capable of absorbing even nuclear blasts. Runways at Yugoslav airbases were heavily damaged by NATO bombs, however, Yugoslavia has methods and technology allowing it to repair damaged runways in under an hour. NATO claimed that it has destroyed around six Yugoslav MiG-29 fighter aircraft, however, NATO was able to document the destruction of only two MiG-29s: one over Yugoslavia by a Dutch F-16 fighter and one over Bosnia by SFOR troops. According to the statements from NATO’s press service, several Yugoslav aircraft were hit on the runways, however, it is known for a fact that all Yugoslav aircraft were secured in shelters well before the campaign started. It is also known that Yugoslavia’s air force was quite inactive, limiting its activities to occasional harassing of NATO bombers and hunting for cruise missiles, although there was some significant Yugoslav air force activity near Pristina.

NATO does not have air supremacy over Yugoslavia. Resilience of Yugoslavia’s air defenses forced NATO to adopt an unusual tactics: NATO aircraft gather in large numbers outside of Yugoslavia’s borders and commence simultaneous but brief attacks against a limited number of pre-determined, mainly stationary civilian targets. This tactics is all about minimizing possible losses even if it means minimizing the effectiveness of strikes. Bombing of Yugoslavia’s fuel facilities was a priority for NATO aircraft in the recent days. NATO estimates that the remaining fuel will last Yugoslavia up to three months, while more realistic estimates suggest that there is enough fuel to last Yugoslav armed forces for as long as two years.   Even though NATO claimed to have destroyed up to 70% of Yugoslavia’s oil and related facilities, the country’s military is unlikely to run out of fuel.