How the Serbs outfoxed NATO

By David Hackworth
web posted July 19, 1999

NATO claims its aircraft destroyed 120 Serb armored vehicles and tons of other military hardware during its recent Balkans bashing. But as I reported recently, down in the Kosovo mud our grunts say, "It ain't so."

Our warriors say it sure looks like NATO, after blowing a cool $4 billion on bombs and missiles, didn't do the demo job as hyped. Pound for pound of enemy gear destroyed, this is America's costliest war.

So how did the Serbs pull the wool over NATO's electronic eyes and foil the most high-tech military force in history?

Simple. They used their imaginations and adapted tricks and deceptions that've been around since long before the Trojan Horse rolled into Troy. And our electronic spies in the sky and other high-tech gadgets, gadgeteers and generals fell for it.

During the conflict, smart bombs and missiles costing from 50 grand to 2 million bucks repeatedly blew up decoy "tanks," "artillery pieces" and other "targets" made of sticks and plastic, some of which included primitive heat sources for faking out gold-plated thermal-image systems in NATO aircraft.

Our guys in Kosovo have found hundreds of imitation tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, missiles and missile launchers, roads and even bridges, which NATO aircraft and cruise missiles had "destroyed." "From up close they look like junk, but from three miles up, they'd look like the real thing," says an Army sergeant.

Real roads and bridges were painted to show "battle damage" to con NATO satellites and reconnaissance aircraft into thinking they'd already been knocked out.

Another trick used by the Yugoslav army was to set up dummy mobile-air- defense missile units. Many of these were placed next to fake bridges (made out of logs) and mock roads -- strips of black plastic sheeting laid across open fields with "tanks" and other "military vehicles" painted on them.

U.S. aircraft flying at 15,000 feet had a field day blowing up these "Serb air defense units" and other dummy targets, while their spinners back at NATO headquarters daily chanted to the world, "We are significantly degrading their air defense and combat ability."

Serb commanders worked out that NATO did most of their reconnaissance during the daytime, after which targets were laboriously picked by generals, diplomats and horse-holders for presidents and prime ministers to approve, then assigned to pilots who'd be tasked to zap them. So as soon as darkness fell, Serb units scooted to new positions and began the mock-up game. One Serb commanding officer said, "From the 300 projectiles which NATO has fired, only four have hit something of substance."

Another Serb CO said his unit would fire at attacking NATO aircraft and then quickly move his firing batteries, replacing them with dummies. " The time it took NATO's photo-reconnaissance people to identify the point of fire and return to bomb the mock-up was a minimum of 12 hours. So we knew when we had to move our equipment - every 12 hours," he said.

The same officer said that Serb army technicians had taken apart an unexploded $1million U.S. Tomahawk missile and figured out that its targeting largely depended on a chip that guided the rocket by heat sources. As a result, soldiers burned tires parallel to major roads and bridges. The burning tires emitted more heat than the surface of the bridges themselves and attracted the missiles away from the vital bridges.

Saddam Hussein used similar tricks during Desert Storm. His heat source was a can with burning oil, set next to a plywood or rubber tank. An Iraqi prisoner of war said he knew of one such "tank" that was "knocked out 10 times" by U.S. aircraft.

In February 1991, the Air Force reported they'd destroyed half of Iraq's tanks. This news triggered Stormin' Norman's ground attack. U.S units on the ground later discovered that only 13 percent of the enemy tanks were knocked out. Luckily, the Iraqis didn't have the stomach for a fight, or we would've paid for this bad call in American blood

Fortunately, Milosevic's army bugged out before our ground force hit the deck, or our generals would be relearning the hard way that an opposing army cannot be defanged at 15,000 feet regardless of how smart the weapons and how all-seeing the eyes in the sky.

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.




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