U.S., NATO Pilots Face Air Defense Threat
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 24, 1999 If NATO air strikes are ordered, U.S. and NATO pilots will face a serious air defense threat in Yugoslavia, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said March 23.
About 200 U.S. aircraft are among the 350 to 400 NATO has assembled in Europe, poised to launch air strikes against Serb military forces to end aggression against Kosovar Albanians, Bacon said.
Allied pilots will have to contend with Yugoslavia's "fairly substantial and redundant" air defense system, built primarily with Soviet era equipment, he said. NATO officials take the threat posed by this system very seriously and will do their best to suppress it, he added.
At present, Serb forces are dispersing air defense assets in light of the imminent air strikes, Bacon said. The Serbs have SA-6 mobile missiles, SA-3 missiles, which can be moved but are more cumbersome, about 2,000 mobile anti- aircraft guns, and a range of shoulder-fired missiles for lower altitude planes. Yugoslavia has a relatively limited air force of about 60 to 80 fighter aircraft, Bacon added.
The Serb air defense system is well-integrated with fiber optic cables Bacon said. "Yugoslav air defense forces are well-trained, and well-equipped, although their equipment is somewhat older, and because Yugoslavia has been under economic sanctions for some time, it may not have been as well maintained as they would like."
Compared to Iraq, where U.S. and coalition pilots have dealt with air defenses almost daily since late December, Yugoslavia's terrain presents a different challenge. It's easier to hide air defense assets, Bacon said, but it's also harder to relocate and redeploy air defense assets.
Bacon noted that if an American pilot is shot down and captured, he would be considered "a victim of aggression" and specially trained rescue forces pre-positioned in the theater would attempt to get the pilot back as they did when U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia.
"We've had a lot of experience against these weapons," Bacon said. "But every country and every air defense system presents its own challenges and we take those challenges, very, very seriously."