Denying Flight

Lon O Nordeen and C Scott Barnes look at the build-up to the United Nations’ Operation Deny Flight, and the problems of enforcing it for the NATO combat aircraft involved.

THE UNITED NATIONS, the European Community, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and individually sponsored initiatives by the United States, France, Italy, Greece, Iran and others have united in on effort to end the war in the former Yugoslavia, with particular emphasis on Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims.

Many diplomats have tried their hands at resolving the conflict, the roots of which go back a thousand years to when the Islamic Ottoman Empire swept into trie Balkans and remained there as rulers until the empire’s collapse during World War One. The ethnic polarisation the Nazi forces unleashed during World War Two was held in check by the communist government that followed. The recent demise of European communism and the desire for an ethnic homeland sparked the current series of land-grabbing and age-old score-settling conflicts as the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia violently fractured into the current and potentially new mini-nations of the Balkans.

The former Yugoslavia’s primary military goal was to survive, and if possible defeat a Soviet 1968 Czechoslovakia-style invasion. It recognised the need to become self-sufficient in arms production, since any war with the Soviets would cut off Soviet and Warsaw Pact military supplies. The Yugoslavians acquired numerous co-production and licence agreements to produce military hardware. Some equipment was imported, but the Yugoslavians were very adept at creating their own military-industrial complex that produced main battle tanks like the M-84A (Soviet T-72), which has been widely exported to countries like Iraq, Libya and Kuwait, Galeb G-4M jet fighters, artillery pieces, rocket launchers and other systems.

Total military exports during the 1980s ran to about US$2 billion a year. When civil war broke out in 1991, the defence and military production facilities, which were scattered throughout the different regions, were either seized, looted and/or relocated. The UN arms embargo has had limited effect on those groups that gained control of these facilities.

Based on the Soviet theory of an adequate air defence umbrella, the Yugoslavians developed, procured and fielded born Soviet and Western manufactured anti-aircraft systems. These include the highly mobile SA-3 Goa, SA-6 Gainful, SA-7 Grail, SA-9 Gaskin, ZSU-23-4 and both radar and non-radar controlled 20mm, 23mm, 30mm and 40mm gun systems. Since the summer of 1991 wars of Croatian and Slovenian independence, these systems have been used extensively to shoot down both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The tally to date for all sides is 45 fixed wing aircraft, not including the (notarised hang-glider shot down on February 4,1992, and 30 helicopters.

The Bosnian Serbs have the upper hand in air combat capability with about 50 combat aircraft, including the MiG-21 Fishbed for reconnaissance, Orao and J-21 Jastreb attack aircraft and about 20 SA-341/342 Gazelle and Mil Mi-8 Hip helicopters used in attack, reconnaissance, case vac and troop transport missions. The Serbian Air Force has MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-23 Floggers (from Iraq), J-21 Jastrebs, J-22 Galebs and MiG-29 Fulcrums (for Belgrade air defence). The Croatian Air Force operating in Bosnia is limited to a few fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft they have acquired via defections from the federal air force and those few aircraft used in police service prior to the civil war. The Bosnian Muslims, on the other hand, have no aerial assets.

Since the Serbian (Yugoslavian) Air Force and the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina have most of the air resources, the no-fly zone was meant to restrict any air activity that puts the Bosnian Muslims at risk. The Croats have used their air force to attack, on a limited scale, high-value Serbian targets. The Serbian Air Force tried hard to locate and destroy the Croatian armed Antonov An-2 Colts, but managed to destroy several ‘non-combat’ biplanes because they were expertly camouflaged and none were caught on the ground. Additionally, the Croats have also been fighting the Muslims, and the no-fly zone is intended to keep them grounded as well.

The United Nations’ sanctioned air exclusion zone (AEZ), except for pre-authorised humanitarian missions, was approved on September 15, 1992. However, no provision was created to enforce it. This loop-hole allowed the Bosnian Serbs and federal Serbian forces to have a free hand deploying their air forces to a favourable tactical advantage. The Serbs attacked during the day in multiple sorties and the Croats counter-attacked at night with a sortie or two. Since September 1992, over 500 violations have been noted.

The UN and the EC sponsored a number of ceasefires, only to have them come and go without any let-up in the fighting. The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) acting as peacekeepers, and EC humanitarian forces, were on the ground and mixed in among the Serbs, Muslims and Croats. These troops and humanitarians, many from EC and NATO nations, were considered at risk if the Serbs wanted to retaliate or hold them hostage against any air action taken by the UN, EC or NATO.

The world’s collective conscience began to stir as more and more information came out about the Muslims suffering. In December 1992, the US asked NATO to enforce the AEZ, but it was refused by a vote of 13-3. NATO did, however, vote to enforce the zone if the UN Security Council passed an enforcement resolution. By December 20, the US and Britain said they favoured enforcing the AEZ. Since Britain was the last permanent member of the Security Council to oppose force in Serbia, this opened the door for a UN resolution to enforce the no-fry zone. The following day, the EC threatened Serbia with total isolation, including a land and sea blockade.

By early January 1993, Serbia said its air defences were on full alert. Britain prepared to send the carrier Ark Royal to the Adriatic and the US carrier USS John F Kennedy was approaching the Adriatic. On January 14, 1993, the US complained that delays in enforcing the AEZ were lessening the impact of the zone. The UN reported that of 28 violations of the no-fly zone between December 23-31, 1992, 19 were by Croatian or Bosnian Serb aircraft and seven were by Serbia. Then on January 15, the US and European allies agreed on the draft of a UN resolution to enforce the zone. NATO formally offered to conduct the enforcement operation — the first time it has accepted a military mission outside of its borders.

NATO immediately began to position its forces by sending the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the Adriatic. France moved eight Jaguar strike fighters and four Mirage 2000 fighters to Corsica for possible duty in Serbia. UN Secretary General Ghali gave permission for the US to use air drops when necessary to deliver supplies to besieged Muslim towns. The Netherlands offered F-16 fighter escorts, while NATO E-3 Sentry AWACS planes would monitor the air drop flights. On February 27, the US sent C-130s to drop explanatory leaflets over Bosnia, in preparation for the next day when three US C-130s would air drop food and medicine to the people of Cerska.

On March 13, three Serbian propeller-driven (UTVA-66) planes dropped bombs on Muslim villages, near Srebrenica; the UN confirmed this as a violation of the AEZ. The UN Security Council condemned the Serbian bombings on the 13th, but did not move to enforce the zone. The Serbian Air Force denied violation of the zone by suggesting that privately-owned planes were involved.

The UN Security Council, on March 31, passed a resolution to enforce the AEZ over Bosnia, to become effective from April 7. NATO established rules that pilots could open fire only after repeatedly warning an illegal flight. The Bosnian Serbs said the NATO decision to enforce the zone construed aggression against them. UN forces assembled included: US — 12 F-15Cs at Aviano, 12 F/A-18As on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, five KC-135 tankers; Netherlands — 18 F-16As (six with reconnaissance pods) at Verona; France — ten Mirage 2000Cs and four Mirage F1Cs at Cervio; and five NATO AWACS aircraft. Turkey would deploy a squadron of 18 F-16A fighters to Ghedi Air Base in Italy. The British sent a further eight Tornado F.3s from Leeming to Gioia del Colle and two VC10 tankers to join the operation.

The air combat ability this NATO aerial armada brings to bear on any air activity can be summarised by a brief look at individual capabilities.

F-15C Eagle

The 53rd Fighter Squadron, Bitburg, Germany, brings a lot of experience gained during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, where it was credited with 12 kills. It shot down three MiG-21s, three MiG-23s, a Mirage F.1EO, two Su-22s, two Su-25s and a PC-9. The Su-22 and PC-9 kills were violators of a UN-imposed AEZ after Desert Storm. The standard configuration for the F-15C is four AIM-7F/M Sparrows on the fuselage, four AIM-9L/M Sidewinders on outboard wing pylons, three 600 gal (2,271 lit) fuel tanks on the centreline and inboard pylons, and a GE M-61 20mm cannon. The AIM-7F/M can be replaced by the newly-fielded and combat successful (kills over Iraq) AIM-120 AMRAAM.

The F-15C Multi-Stage Improvement Programme (MSIP) has an APG-63 radar with multi-track while scan look-down, shoot-down capability, giving it the best capability of all the fighters in the region. Even though they have flown a lot over European terrain, they would still have a hard time tracking and shooting down a Gazelle-size target, especially in light of the ever present anti-aircraft defence available to the ground forces. No jet-jock wants to be downed by a SA-7.

F/A-18 Hornet

The F/A-18 normally flies with a 600 gal centreline fuel tank, two wing tip mounted AIM-9L/M Sidewinders, two AIM-7F/M Sparrows on the fuselage stations and a GE M-61 20mm cannon.

For night missions one or both of the FUR AAS-38 target tracking and AAR-50 (TINS) navigation pods are mounted on the fuselage, replacing either one or both AIM-7s. The Hornet would also be used if any bombing missions were planned. The Hornet has the APG-65 radar system optimised for both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and has some look-down shoot-down capability. The F/A-18 has great manoeuvrability for operating in mountainous terrain tracking and intercepting a low and slow target.

The F/A-18 pilots are used to being down in the weeds and may have the best opportunity of getting in and shooting down a target, then getting out without being tagged by ground fire. They are noted for flying with their finger on the chaff and flare dispenser, just in case someone fires at them. During Desert Storm two F/A-18Cs from the USS Sarologo (VFA-81) downed two Iraqi MiG-21 s by shooting them in the lips (nose on shot) with IR and radar missiles and keeping their 8,000lb (3,628kg) bomb load on their wings.

Tornado F.3

The Tornado F.3s which were deployed during Desert Storm, had one attempted engagement against an Iraqi Mirage F.1. The F.3 carries four belly-mounted Skyflash radar missiles, three AIM-9L/Ms on the outboard wing pylons, two 330 gal (1,500 lit) fuel tanks on the inboard pylons, two Tracer ALE-40 chaff and flare dispensers beneath the engine bays, a Phimat chaff pod on the right outboard AIM-9 rail and a 27mm cannon.

F-16 Falcon

The Dutch F-16A has the APG-66 radar with good look-down shoot-down capability. It carries the AIM-9L/M on its wing tips, ALQ-131 or ALQ-119 ECM pods, two 600 gal fuel tanks on the inboard pylons, two additional AIM-9L/Ms can be carried on the outboard pylons and a GE M-61 20mm cannon. Like the F/A-18, the F-16 is optimised for air-to-air operations. If a bombing campaign begins, the F-16 carries a wide variety of wing pylon-mounted Mk-82, Mk-84 and cluster type bombs.

Mirage 2000

The 2000’s standard fit is a 317 gal (1,200 lit) centreline fuel tank, two Matra Super R530D radar missiles, two Matra Magic 2 infra-red air-to-air missiles and a 30mm cannon. However, mounting two 400 gal (1,700 lit) fuel tanks and Magic 2 AAMs with a clean centreline increases the 2000’s station time. Its RDI pulse-doppler air-to-air radar has a look-down capability. The 2000 has some ability against low and slow targets.

Vectored by AWACS to an An-2 or Gazelle-type target, the 2000 would, due to its delta configuration, still have a hard time getting down in the ground clutter environment to effect a kill.

The 2000 would be better suited against higher altitude MiG-23 and MiG-29 fighters if the conflict became a shooting war between NATO and Belgrade’s air force.

Mirage F.1

The Mirage F.1 carries two 1,200 lit underwing fuel tanks on the inboard pylons, a Berem ECM pod on the left and a DB3163 Remora ECM pod on the right outboard pylons, two Magic 2 IR air-to-air missiles on the wing tips and a 30mm cannon. The F.l, like the 2000, is better against medium and higher altitude targets.


If the political situation demanded air strikes, the Jaguar, along with the F/A-18 and the F-16 are on hand. The Jaguar is deployed with a Barem ECM pod on the left outboard pylon and a Phimat chaff pod on the right, 264 gal (1,000 lit) centre fuel tank and side-by-side bomb racks mounted on the inboard wing pylons, which can be loaded with either 550lb (250kg) low-drag general purpose (LDGP) or Belouga cluster bombs.

It can also carry the AS-30L laser missile on the right inboard pylon and a centreline automatic tracker laser illumination system (ATLIS) designator pod if needed to take-out artillery sites. French Jaguars have had recent experience in Chad (1986) and Iraq. Both of these operations were over a flat desert, billiard table environment.

Potential Targets

On April 10, the UN suspended aid flights into Sarajevo for four days after spotting Serbian anti-aircraft guns that had been moved into the area. This may have been a reaction, by both the UN and the Serbs, to the NATO decision to enforce the AEZ. Serbia had also used its helicopters to move troops into positions around Srebrenica.

NATO planes began flying patrols for Operation Deny Flight over the AEZ on April 12. The USAF flew eight sorties, the USN flew 18, France flew six, and the Netherlands flew four. There were no incidents. A French Mirage 2000 crashed in the Adriatic after engine failure and the pilot was rescued.

What could NATO fighters expect to encounter during an enforcement mission? Serbia still has a formidable air defence and counter-air capability to mass against the 68 NATO fighters. US F-15 and USN F/A-18 fighter pilots, having just fought Iraqi MiG-21s and MiG-23s during Desert Storm know how to handle these aerial foes. The question was what type of air activity did the previous 500 violations represent? This was quickly answered on April 14, when the first contact was made by a Dutch F-16 tracking a small aircraft over southern Bosnia.

Supersonic jet fighters like the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, Mirage F.l and 2000, as pointed out, are not well equipped to fight low-flying, small, slow-moving aircraft especially when anti-aircraft systems, like 20-23-30-40mm cannons, ZSU-23-4s and SA-7s are in close proximity. Fighter pilots do not like to get down in the weeds to visually identify a target — they are exposed to too many hazards. Most fighters have a hard time shooting down targets like these. Even with a radar lock-on they are hard to visually acquire and identify. The Bosnian terrain is not helpful to fighter operations against An-2s and helicopters.

Two examples to consider: on January 7, 1992, it took a Yugoslavian Air Force MiG-21 Fishbed pilot four tries and four AA-8 Aphid infra-red air-to-air missiles to shoot down an Italian piloted EC AB-205 Huey helicopter near Zagreb, which was over the relatively flat Pannonian Plain, not the 9,000ft (2,743m) Danaric Alps that run through Bosnia.

The second example of fighter operations in mountainous terrain is the April 1981 Israeli F-16 downing of a Syrian Mi-8 Hip helicopter near Mt Sinn of the Shout Mountains at the north end of the Bekaa Valley. It took the F-16 multiple passes to shoot down the Hip which was simply flying down the valleys and gorges and not trying to out-manoeuvre the Falcon. It was when the Hip happened to fly down a long valley toward the nearby Rayak airfield that the F-16 finally got in behind it, acquired the IR lock-on and got the kill.

One thing the NATO planner must also consider is the fact that Serbian Soko SA-342L Gazelle helicopters are armed with SA-7 Grail Strela-2M missiles for the air-to-air role. The Serbians had about 100 Strela-armed SA-342Ls in 1991. In the Bosnian mountainous terrain the Strela-armed helicopters could establish aerial kill zones, launching their Strelas at the fighters when they came down to lower altitudes to engage other helicopters or small fixed-wing aircraft. Additionally, the Serbians can use their ground-launched Strelas to herd the fighters into an aerial kill zone where other ground-launched or helicopter-launched missiles and anti-aircraft guns could be fired at the fighters.

Historically, fighters have had the advantage over helicopters in air-to-air engagements. As helicopters gain more capability in this area, fighter pilots will need to consider this threat as well, especially in light of the Serbian air-to-air missile-armed Gazelles. The current fighter versus helicopter total is seen in Table 1.

Moreover, highly variegated terrain is not conducive to complete AWACS radar coverage, which would allow small radar cross-section aircraft like An-2s and helicopters to sneak in under and between radar coverage. Hungary announced it would allow AWACS flights over its territory to control fighter interceptions over Bosnia. This will help, but is essentially looking at the same terrain, albeit from the other side. Radar target tracking time and IR missile lock-ons are limited in this type of terrain. The fighters will almost need cooperative targets — flying straight and level at altitude — to affect a shoot down, while on the other hand, a potential target that knows a fighter is attacking, can use the ground and gullies to break the radar lock and confuse the IR seeker.

Again on the 15th, NATO AWACS aircraft tracked a helicopter violating the AEZ, but storms kept fighters from intercepting it. Targets were becoming more available when, on April 20, USAF 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15s spotted a white cargo helicopter over Bosnia (Serbian helicopters are blue on the bottom and white on top). On the 23rd, NATO reported three violations of the zone (near Banja Luka and Kotorsko), but fighters could not reach the areas in time to intercept the aircraft. The next day, NATO aircraft tried to intercept illegal flights over Bosnia (Banja Luka and Derventa), but all had landed before fighters could arrive. Again on May 1, US F-15s intercepted two Bosnian Serb helicopters violating the AEZ, forcing one to leave Bosnia and the other to land.

Now that the zone enforcers are actually airborne, what will Serbia do if its aircraft are attacked and/or shot down? The UN wants all peacekeeping forces removed before the Serbs can affect retaliations for NATO air actions. Another twist in the plot are the rumours that Serbia had privately threatened to fire Scud missiles at Italian bases used for NATO patrols over the AEZ. Italian Defence Minister, Salvo Ando, called for a missile defence network to cover southern Europe by the end of the decade. Ando noted that by the year 2000 at least 15 countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East will have ballistic missiles able to reach Europe.

If Scud hunting becomes a reality, the best answer would be to involve the F-15E Strike Eagle. They gained a lot of Scud-hunting experience during Desert Storm using the E’s synthetic aperture side-looking radar ( SLR). Combined with AWACS and Joint-STARS, these three systems, used in conjunction, would have to find the Scuds as soon as possible to keep the conflict wholly within the former Yugoslavian borders. The F-15E carries three 600 gal fuel tanks on its centreline and inboard pylons, both types of LANTIRN pods on its inlet stations, Mk-20 CBUs on its conformal fuselage tanks, two AIM-9L/M AAMs and a GE M-61 20mm cannon.

To eliminate the Serbian air defence radar-controlled SAM systems NATO forces would need to add Wild Weasels, with their jamming capability, and AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles. The SA-3 Goa and SA-6 Gainful SAMs use the Flat Face, Low Blow, Long Track, Squat Eye, Straight Flush and Thin Skin acquisition, tracking and fire control radars.

NATO pilots regularly train against these systems and have just, like the fighter pilots, acquired recent experience defeating like systems over Iraq. These SAM systems are highly mobile and could pose a serious threat to NATO aircraft if not eliminated or electronically suppressed.

There have been calls by various individuals to eliminate the Serbian artillery, which has had a devastating effect on Bosnian Muslim cities. The aerial destruction of individual artillery tubes would be a difficult task without supporting ground troops. However, it could be done by RPV (remote piloted vehicle) mounted FLIRs that orbit an area of artillery operations.

Using FLIR to locate the hot tubes just after they fire would be a low-risk operation. Then the same RPV could laser-designate the target for laser guided munitions to destroy the artillery site. These laser munitions could come from a number of NATO laser capable aircraft already in the area, like the F/A-18, the Jaguar and the F-16 or other laser munitions systems could deployed.

Securing the area for peace calls for massive UN or NATO troop deployment and a time-line that could last for decades. A draft of the NATO peacekeeping plan calls for 60-70,000 troops, including 20,000 or more US troops (including Marines, paratroops, and mechanised units). Significantly, few troops have actually been pledged by NATO members.

Britain has 2,400 there, and France has 5,000, both would have to increase their forces to 10,000 men. Germany has constitutional problems. Turkey is a former occupying power. Belgium and Canada are already over committed. Greece and Israel have refused. Spain has 1,000 troops there and offered only 500 more. Portugal’s army is too small to send troops.

A NATO versus Serbia war has not started, and most political leaders have been attempting to stop the current war and not start a new one, but the forces are being gathered and who knows what could happen.

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