While both the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence yesterday hailed the fact that Nato had suffered no losses,some defence analysts have warned that Yugoslav air defences are far from destroyed. Some said the very absence of a threat from the much-catalogued Yugoslav defences is part of a strategy to encourage the Nato warplanes to make more risky, day-time raids.
Nato has vast intelligence gathering resources, including satellite targeting, airborne early-warning systems and on-the-ground work by special forces. But many of these systems rely on detecting radar emissions, or "lock-on", from the Yugoslav anti-aircraft systems. It is this lock- on abilitywhich prompted retaliatory bombing raids in the no-fly zones in Iraq.
Among the allies' arsenal is the AGM-88 Harm missile designed to seek out and destroy anti-aircraft radar by detecting radar emissions.
One US defence source said last night that he suspected the Yugoslavs were circumventing this technology by partly shutting down their air defence systems. "We know the Yugoslavs have very sophisticated electro- optical sighting systems in addition to their normal systems," the source said last night.
The implied tactic from this move, said the source, was to lure the Nato commanders into thinking they had a more passive enemy than anticipated; in other words, they are trying to trick the allies into thinking the air defences had been immobilised in the hope that Nato pilots would mount daylight attacks and so be much more vulnerable.
The fact that the first mission by British Harrier pilots was a failure gives some clue to the difficulty of the missions.
Unlike Iraq, which had consistent terrain and weather, Yugoslavia is mountainous and has 60 per cent cloud cover.
Relying solely on cruise missiles will not solve the problem. After the dust settled after the Gulf War, statistics showed that the allies' accuracy was only 50 per cent.
In Yugoslavia, that figure could be as low as 30 per cent.
Gary FinnReuse content