|PLAN OF ATTACK|
March 24, 1999
Two military analysts compare military capabilities of NATO and Yugoslav forces.
MARGARET WARNER: For more on how this NATO attack is being conducted, we turn to Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force from 1992 to '94. He is retired, and is now president of Business Executives for National Security, an advocacy group for more efficient defense spending; and John Pike, a military analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. Welcome, gentlemen. General, from what you've heard from the briefing today, does it strike you that this attack is pretty broad, broader than maybe a lot of -- some analysts expected?
"They mean business."
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.), Business Executives for National Security: Well, I'm very encouraged by it, Margaret, because first of all it's sending a very positive signal. They mean business. And it means the NATO allies -- there were those that thought it would be a pinprick, but it isn't a pinprick and they have gone at it with a very impressive force. It's well timed and it is heavy, heavy force at the right targets so I'm very optimistic that they're going to be successful the way they've started out.
JOHN PIKE, Federation of American Scientists: I think that's really the most important point to understand today, that we're not looking at a small air operation that may just run for a couple days. There's the very real possibility that there's going to be the largest military action that the United States has been involved in since Desert Storm. If you look at the range of the targets, if you look at the political objectives and you look our prior experience in flying against Serbia, this is something that could be going on well into April.
MARGARET WARNER: When it was striking something - I believe it was either General Shelton or Secretary Cohen essentially said we're going to continue this until he reverses his course and if he doesn't, we're just going to continue degrading and diminishing his ability to continue his offensive in Kosovo.
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Yes. They have, of course, not wanted to say exactly what they have. They've kind of talked around it because they don't want to give the exact objectives but clearly it seems to me, that they are waiting for him to wave a the white flag like he did in Bosnia in 1995, and otherwise they're going to continue to attack his military and infrastructure that supports him and that military that's conducting this operation.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, was it riskier, though, this very first night to have attacks that were not only, you know, missiles from a distance but brought in strike aircraft right over the region?
JOHN PIKE: Well, obviously, if you look at the number of say radar-jamming aircraft that have been deployed for this operation, somewhere between eight and ten radar jammers versus the -- maybe half that number that we have been using against Iraq, clearly you're dealing with a formidable air defense on the part of the Serbs, the likes of which we have not gone up against in quite some time. So the fact that it looks like everybody got back safely the first night was clearly encouraging.
MARGARET WARNER: What makes the air defense -- you wanted to add something to that?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Well, I think the night has just started. There's going to be a lot more. I see this as a 24-hour campaign unrelenting and -
MARGARET WARNER: You do. So you think they'll go during the daytime as well?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think the most formidable part of this defense are those surface-to-air missiles. They're divided about a third of surface-to-air missile 2's, 3's and 6's; the 2's and 3's are less mobile; the 6 is the most mobile, and there are about 1,000 of them, if you look at the total missiles. And they're going to be formidable, but as john mentioned, they have the assets in there that can suppress them and, in fact, destroy them. That's why I think the B-2 and the F-117, those Stealth aircraft, bring a major change. The B-2 itself is a quantum improvement over what we've used before.
MARGARET WARNER: This is the first time the B-2 has been used in combat, isn't that right?
JOHN PIKE: Well, after working on the thing for nearly two decades now -
MARGARET WARNER: You have a model here. Yes.
JOHN PIKE: -- they finally managed to get the airplane into combat. And the thing that's interesting to look at this airplane is you really can't see anything. And the Serbian air defense radars couldn't see anything either.
MARGARET WARNER: It is invisible to radar, is that right?
JOHN PIKE: Well, it's not invisible but it's extraordinarily difficult to see and it doesn't have any bombs hanging on the bottom but inside there are satellite-guided bombs that can basically hit their targets within a couple of yards and it really doesn't matter, time of day, rain or shine. And that's a considerable improvement over what's really going to turn out, I think, to be the workhorse aircraft if the campaign goes on for a while, F-15 Strike Eagle, which, when you look on the bottom a lot of stuff that's going to show up on the radar -- an awful lot of lethal munitions also, that are going to be launched at the ground.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, they were using -- from the reports we got, they were using both of these tonight.
JOHN PIKE: Right.
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): That's correct.
MARGARET WARNER: So are these strike aircraft at more risk of being shot down? Do they have to go over Serbia itself, or can they launch from a distance?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Well, the strike aircraft, the F-15 Eagles or the F-16's or the Tornadoes which is the RAF and the Italian and the German aircraft, they have to fly over the target area. The B-2 does, too, but when it flies over, as John says, the radar can't see it, virtually, for all intents and purposes, and it can drop 16 bombs that are satellite-guided, they're 2,000 pound bombs.
MARGARET WARNER: One plane?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): One plane. It's the equivalent of basically eight F-16's or eight F-15E's, a 2,000 pound bomb that it can drop; it is awesome.
|Yugoslavia's air defense system.|
JOHN PIKE: The aircraft that you send in basically depends on what the target is and how heavily defended it is. You'd be using Cruise missiles or Stealth bombers against very well defended targets mainly to take out their air defenses, which are a threat to all of your other aircraft. Although the Serbs do have about 60 of these SA6 Launchers -- a missile that we're probably going to be hearing more about -- they can't cover all the target area. So you'd be sending in the less stealthy aircraft to attack those targets that are not immediately defended by the air defense missiles we haven't taken out yet.
MARGARET WARNER: Right. And let's go back to these targets a little bit, and back to the air defense system. I heard or read somewhere today also that they have a very superior command and control system somehow of the air defenses. Can you explain that.
JOHN PIKE: Well, the -
MARGARET WARNER: Better than, say, Iraq had.
JOHN PIKE: Well, the big problem that you have with any air defense system is that you need to have warning that the aircraft are coming, you need to know what targets you're going to have to be defending. Serbia has had a lot of time to build up their air defense system, they inherited a very strong air defense system from Yugoslavia, which had spent a lot of time on it. I think one of the big challenges, though, is going to be the low altitude systems, the shoulder-fired missiles, the air defense artillery, the things that are basically going to be very difficult for the Cruise missiles or other weapons we're using in the initial phase to take out. That's -- over time could place some real constraints over what sort of operations we could conduct -- may mean, for instance, that the A-10 tank busting aircraft would have to stay at high altitude.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that the one they call the Wart Hog?
JOHN PIKE: The Wart Hog, which did -- had tremendous impact on Iraqi forces but because it could get down to low altitude and it may be that this is going to have to be restricted to a high-altitude campaign; wouldn't be able to send in attack helicopters, for instance.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. On the operation, for instance, that we had tonight, what could the Serb forces do to defend against it?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Well, frankly, against the Cruise missiles and the B-2's and the F-117's, they don't have anything to defend against it and that's why it's such a potent force and that timing and initial lay down puts them in a shock mode. Then what they're going to do is degrade their radar so they're blind and then they're going to hit their -- and they've already done this probably -- they'll hit their communications so they don't have that redundant communications and can't talk to each other. They won't get it all the first night, but they'll get a significant part of it. And at the same time, they're hitting those missile sites. And the missiles, we know through intelligence certain all intelligence sources as we call it, satellites and different things, where they are and the joint stars which is a great addition to knowing where these targets are.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the joint stars is sort of airborne surveillance -
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Surveillance that -
JOHN PIKE: Radar airplane.
|The Yugoslav arsenal.|
|LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): It looks at the ground
and if a vehicle is moving, it sees it moving and then when it stops it
can tell the difference between a tank, a truck, a jeep, or an artillery
piece. So you get an immense amount of data that you're feeding in and
then you have a picture of where they are in the ground and it feeds back
into the operational forces. So -- but they're not spending as much time
on that right now as they are taking down this integrated air defense
system, primarily the surface-to-air missiles. Now, something we haven't
talked about, Margaret, was the MiG's. There was one word -
MARGARET WARNER: I wanted to ask you about that. I'm not sure we ran it but Secretary Cohen did say there was some air-to-air engagement. What does that tell you?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Yes. And they haven't gotten the full feedback but what I would say, as soon as they take off, the AWACs is going to see them. And -
MARGARET WARNER: Our AWACs planes?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Our AWACs that has a picture of the air picture, and then we're going to vector those fighters in right away with our very superior radars and missiles. And, frankly, their choice is either to get airborne or put a pistol in their mouth. They're not going to last very long, as we saw in Iraq. So, that won't be a surprise and I don't think you'll see them airborne very much.
JOHN PIKE: If you look at the Serbian air force, they basically have fewer than a dozen modern combat airplanes, MiG-29's. They lost about a third of their air force in the war with Croatia back in the early 1990's. Most of the other 100 or so combat aircraft they have are museum pieces or collector's items, they're concentrated at three airfields, there are another couple airfields with helicopters and I'm assuming that taking those airfields out, just to be on the safe side, is probably pretty close to the top of the target list. But the main concern is going to have to be the air defense missiles, not their aircraft.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Secretary Cohen and General Shelton also said they've gone to -- they didn't say extraordinary lengths but great lengths to minimize civilian casualties. What's the risk of civilian casualties, from what you know of this terrain and area, and how do you minimize it?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Well, I think it's -- frankly I think it's low and here's why I say that. It's not risk-free, as they said but when you select the targets, they are deliberately selecting targets that are not in civilian centers and, fortunately, with the way these governments organize military operations, the civilian populous isn't normally buried around them -- in ammunition dep's and this type thing. So they're being very careful about it, but it won't be perfect, you know this is a tough problem.
JOHN PIKE: I wouldn't want to underestimate that, because if you look at where particularly some of the special security forces have been garrisoned in Kosovo, many of those garrisons are in major population areas. So they're going to be able to get some of the army forces out in the field, but it's going to be impossible for them to eliminate the Serbian presence in Kosovo without attacking some major population areas, which they're, obviously, not going to do.
|Weather and terrain.|
MARGARET WARNER: Another factor -- people always ask about, weather and terrain. We heard several members of the Joint Chiefs last week telling Congress that was going to make it much more difficult.
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Well, I think the experience that we've had in Bosnia a few years ago made it clear. The Joint Stars radar aircraft that we mentioned earlier that maps the ground with a cloud-piercing radar worked surprisingly well in Desert Storm against Iraq. It was used in Bosnia back in the mid-1990's, did not work nearly as well. The last major air campaign that we ran against Serbia, Deliberate Force, in 1995, was basically a one-week campaign that took two weeks to execute because of bad weather, and I think that if you look at the weather forecast here, partly cloudy and the precision munitions, the laser-guided bombs, just don't work in cloudy weather. So, there's clearly some real challenges here in addition to the air defense.
MARGARET WARNER: Does the terrain make targeting harder, also?
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Yes, it does, Margaret. But at the same time, particularly with the satellite-guided -- we call those bombs.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain that, the satellite's up there and --
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): The global positioning system has all those satellites up there, 24, and this bomb comes off and it's getting updated as it goes down. And, of course, through the Joint Stars, it picked out the target or if it was a strategic target, from the satellite picture or other means we know what where that is. And so it's hitting within, you know three feet.
JOHN PIKE: The problem is there are virtually none of those bombs available right now unfortunately.
MARGARET WARNER: We only have a minute left but I want to get you all to comment on the same thing that Jim asked Secretary Albright. If the objective to essentially make Milosevic wave the white flag or pull his forces out or else at least eliminate or damage his ability to continue the offensive, how long do you think this will take?
JOHN PIKE: The deliberate force campaign four years ago in Bosnia took two weeks. I think the objectives here are significantly more ambitious. You could be looking at several weeks, a month.
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): I think three weeks, a month, even up to six weeks, but by six weeks, the flag will come up.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.
LT. GEN. THOMAS McINERNEY (RET.): Thank you, Margaret.