Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lesson Learned From Allied Force

Today eDefense presented a look at the downing of a US Air Force F-117 by Yugoslav forces during Operation Allied Force in 1999, based on an interview with the commander of the SAM battery that managed to bring it down. Col. Dani Zoltan's battery was equipped with the SA-3 Goa air-defense system -- by all contemporary standards, and obsolete system. Yet even with this obsolete SAM system, Col. Dani's unit managed to bring down a supposedly "stealthy" US fighter, as well as an F-16.

But these two shootdowns weren't the only time US and NATO forces were shown up by their comparatively low-tech adversary. As noted by eDefense Editor-in-Chief Michael Puttre in a 2003 editorial, during Operation Allied Force, US pilots initially claimed to have destroyed 120 tanks, 220 armored personnel carriers, and 450 artillery pieces. The actual numbers, though, were just 14, 28, and 20, respectively. Yugoslav forces understood US reconnaissance and strike tactics, so they constructed wooden and canvas "tanks" and other such "targets" that fooled US forces, despite the high-tech capabilities of the US and its allies.

Another interesting aspect of the Kosovo air campaign, though one often overlooked, is the high rate of attrition among the much touted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Some 25 to 27 reconnaissance UAVs were lost during Operation Allied Force, of which 16 were US UAVs. Some of these losses were the result of accidents, but according to some reports, a significant number were actually shot down by Yugoslav forces. Of course, losing an unmanned aircraft is always preferrable to losing a manned one, but these losses, just like needlessly expending ordnance on fake tanks, still take take a toll on warfighting capabilties.

All of this just goes to show that you can't count out a technologically less advanced adversary. Sure, NATO forces eventually prevailed and in relatively short order (about 3 months), but imagine if the enemy had had more forces and more SAMs. How much longer would the campaign have lasted? How many more aircraft would have been lost? More importantly, how many service members would have had to make the ultimate sacrifice to accomplish the mission?

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