NATO Launches Rapid-Action Operation
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 17, 1998 Eighty-four allied aircraft from 14 NATO nations conducted air exercises over Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia June 15 to demonstrate NATO's ability to project power rapidly to the region.
The aircraft formed "a long wagon train" of "combat-capable aircraft flowing for 120 miles through the exercise air space," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Short, commander, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe.
Exercise Determined Falcon involved fighters, tankers, helicopters, tankers, reconnaissance and airborne early warning aircraft from 15 bases in Italy, Greece, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The aircraft flew over the Adriatic Sea before flying over Tirana, Albania's capital, and Skopje, FYROM capital, Short said. NATO officials said the planes flew about 15 miles from the two nations' borders with the Serbian province of Kosovo.
The exercise "came off like clockwork," Short said. It clearly showed NATO's ability to mass power rapidly and to move it where it's needed -- even regions where NATO does not normally operate, he said. "That is what air power is all about -- the inherent speed and flexibility to get it where it needs to be in a real hurry."
NATO defense leaders announced their intention to demonstrate allied air power only three days before launching the air exercise. Two NATO members, Luxembourg and Iceland, did not participate because they have no air forces, Short noted.
Concerned over the growing crisis in Kosovo, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana announced June 11 that the alliance was "ready to back up international diplomacy with military means." He said the continuing violence threatens to undermine negotiations and encourages extremism."
Short said the alliance's rapid action reflects its concern for maintaining peace and stability in the region. "They have taken this reasonably unique step to mass air power in three days to conduct this exercise," he said, noting military exercises normally take months of planning and coordination.
"We have done this in three days," he said. "That's a credit and a testimony to the capability of the aircrews that man the aircraft of the NATO allies ... and of the Combined Air Operations Center in Vicenza, [Italy]."
NATO defense ministers gathered in Brussels, Belgium, for meetings June 11 and 12, and they focused on Kosovo as their primary challenge. The ministers called for an end to violence and acts of provocation, and they announced NATO readiness to play its role in stabilizing the region.
"We condemn any use of violence for political ends by either the authorities in Belgrade or Kosovar Albanian extremists," the ministers stated in a press communique issued after the first day's North Atlantic Council meeting.
NATO supports a political solution to end the violence, enhance Kosovo's status, preserve the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and safeguard "human and civil rights for all inhabitants of Kosovo, whatever their ethnic origin," Solana said.
At a press conference, Solana outlined alliance efforts to contain the crisis, which threatens stability in the region and the NATO-led peace effort in Bosnia. He said NATO officials are already enhancing Partnership for Peace activities, conducting more exercises in the region and planning for possible preventive deployments.
Along with directing military authorities to conduct air exercises as quickly as possible, Solana said, NATO leaders also asked them to assess and develop a full range of military options, including the use of air power and the deployment of ground forces into Kosovo. Stopping the Serbian government's systematic campaign of violent repression and expulsion in Kosovo is the immediate goal, he said.
"The situation on the ground has continued to deteriorate," Solana said. "President [Slobodan] Milosevic has gone beyond the limits of tolerable behavior. So NATO must prepare to go further if required."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen called Kosovo an "urgent challenge" and said NATO is taking steps to ensure Milosevic knows indiscriminate use of force is unacceptable.
"Kosovo is more than an internal problem," Cohen said. "It is one that transcends national boundaries. An ethnic conflict in the immediate neighborhood of NATO members threatens stability in the whole region."
Cohen said the air exercise would send a signal "that there is not only solidarity of opinion, but an ability to rapidly deploy forces that could engage in significant activity in a very short period of time."
Twenty-seven U.S. aircraft from bases in Italy and the United Kingdom flew in the exercise.
U.S. Air Forces Europe sent 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy; and eight KC-135 Stratotankers from the 16th Air Expeditionary Wing at Aviano and the 100th Air Refueling Wing, Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, United Kingdom.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe contributed one C-130 Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany; four Marine AV-8B Harrier fighters from the USS Wasp; and one EP-3E aircraft from Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 2, Rota, Spain.
U.S. Marine Forces Europe sent two EA-6B Prowlers from Aviano, and MH-53 and MC-130P aircraft from Special Operations Command Europe from Brindisi, Italy.