Kosovo — Airpower wins

AS AIR FORCES Monthly closed for press on June 4 a peace deal for the Kosovo conflict had been agreed to by the Yugoslav Parliament and President Slobodan Milosevic. Talks between the Yugoslav leadership and Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the European Union’s envoy in Belgrade, on June 2/3, finally saw the acceptance of the G8 peace proposals which includes all five NATO demands for ending hostilities.

Scepticism among NATO’s leaders as to the sincerity of the Yugoslavs to carry out their part of the bargain meant that air strikes would be continued until clear indications were received of Serbian troop withdrawals from Kosovo.

Providing the peace settlement takes effect, an international force of peace-keeping troops, including Russians, and up to 50,000 personnel from NATO countries, will enter Kosovo to safeguard returning ethnic Albanians. The Serbs will be allowed to protect heritage sites of particular importance to their culture. Of equal importance to the Serbs is the requirement for the Kosovo Liberation Army to disband, something which the peacekeeping force will have to ensure once it enters the province.

A return to peace in Europe is obviously very welcome but it should be noted that this peace has been won as no peace has been won before — by air power alone. The critics who have argued that ground troops would be needed have held to this position because that is the way wars have always been fought. Today, with such huge advances in precision guided munitions and weapons systems, it has been possible to systematically dismantle the Yugoslav war machine.

As NATO spokesmen warned at the beginning of the air strikes on March 24, it would take time, but now after over 72 days of the bombing campaign it appears to have worked.

However, as AFM commented last month, the initial strikes were modest due to the belief that Milosevic would back down quickly. Once it was obvious he would not, then more and more aircraft were called upon to step up the air strike campaign around the clock. The last aircraft to be called upon were moved into position in late May — 24 Marine Corps F/A-18Ds went to Taszar in Hungary, 36 USAF F-15Es from the 4th FW went to Balikesir AB in Turkey, 18 F-16CJS from the 20th FW went to Bandirma AB in Turkey and additional tankers went to Corlu AB also in Turkey. As a result, Milosevic was surrounded by well over 1,000 combat aircraft — with his Air Force incapacitated and his surface-to-air missile stocks running low, he was almost defenceless.

By late May, with improved weather conditions, NATO had increased the number of air strikes, targeting the Serb troops in Kosovo in particular. Attacks by dedicated ground attack aircraft, such as A-10A Thunderbolt Ms, were proving very successful in destroying armour, artillery and other vehicles — which in turn was demoralising the Serb troops.

It is too early to draw conclusions or make authoritative statements on the execution of the NATO effort against Yugoslavia. But during the first ‘air-only war’ Western and NATO training, aircraft, weapons, tactics and resolve proved to be more than a match for the Soviet style doctrine and equipment of Yugoslavia, a point which will not be lost on Western manufacturers at the Paris Airshow between June 13-20.

Yes, there were mistakes made, but as is pointed out in the Allied Force update article on page 18 of this issue, the media has been too quick to believe Serb propaganda and television reports. The number of stray weapons amounts to less than 1% of the total dropped by NATO — another figure unequalled in the history of warfare.

Interestingly, it appears that only two NATO aircraft, the F-117A on March 27 (Stealth Down! June, p66) and the F-16CG on May 2, have been lost during the conflict. However, these were both reported by Serbian television and had come down on Serbian territory -have there been more?

All wars, of course, represent cause for concern but the Kosovo conflict has brought war to the doorstep of Western Europe, something that has been unthinkable since the ending of the Cold War.

We must hope that the political leaders of every nation will strive to be more tolerant of the many ethnic groups within their societies, and that closer ties between neighbouring countries will ultimately lead to greater security.

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