NATO's Air War for Kosovo

NATO's Air War for Kosovo: A Strategic and Operational Assessment

Benjamin S. Lambeth
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 219
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  • Book Info
    NATO's Air War for Kosovo
    Book Description:

    This book offers a thorough appraisal of Operation Allied Force, NATO's 78-day air war to compel the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, to end his campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The author sheds light both on the operation's strengths and on its most salient weaknesses. He outlines the key highlights of the air war and examines the various factors that interacted to induce Milosevic to capitulate when he did. He then explores air power's most critical accomplishments in Operation Allied Force as well as the problems that hindered the operation both in its planning and in its execution. Finally, he assesses Operation Allied Force from a political and strategic perspective, calling attention to those issues that are likely to have the greatest bearing on future military policymaking. The book concludes that the air war, although by no means the only factor responsible for the allies' victory, certainly set the stage for Milosevic's surrender by making it clear that he had little to gain by holding out. It concludes that in the end, Operation Allied Force's most noteworthy distinction may lie in the fact that the allies prevailed despite the myriad impediments they faced.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-3237-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Frontispiece: Map of Kosovo
    (pp. iii-iv)
    (pp. v-viii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
    (pp. xxix-xxxiv)
  9. Chapter One INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    Between March 24 and June 9, 1999, NATO, led by the United States, conducted an air war against Yugoslavia in an effort to halt and reverse the continuing human-rights abuses that were being committed against the citizens of its Kosovo province (see the Frontispiece, Map of Kosovo) by Yugoslavia’s elected president, Slobodan Milosevic. As it turned out, that 78-day effort, called Operation Allied Force, represented the third time in a row during the 1990s, after Operations Desert Storm and Deliberate Force, in which air power proved pivotal in determining the outcome of a regional conflict. Yet notwithstanding its ultimate success,...

  10. Chapter Two PRELUDE TO COMBAT
    (pp. 5-16)

    Operation Allied Force, largely prompted by humanitarian concerns, was a response by the United States and NATO to the steadily mounting Serb atrocities that were being committed against the ethnic Albanians who made up the vast majority of Kosovo’s population. At bottom, the crisis was rooted in a centuries-long history of Balkan strife.¹ Its more immediate origins could be traced back to a decade before, when the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation began during the waning years of the cold war.² Under the iron rule of Yugoslavia’s independent communist leader, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, Kosovo had remained an autonomous and...

  11. Chapter Three THE AIR WAR UNFOLDS
    (pp. 17-66)

    The operational setting of Yugoslavia contrasted sharply with the one presented to coalition planners by Iraq in 1991. Defined by a series of interwoven valleys partly surrounded by mountains and protected by low cloud cover and fog, Serbia and Kosovo made up an arena smaller than the state of Kentucky (39,000 square miles), with Kosovo itself no larger than the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Its topography and weather—compounded by an enemy IADS that was guaranteed to make offensive operations both difficult and dangerous—promised to provide a unique challenge for NATO air power.

    Yugoslavia’s air defenses were dominated by...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 67-86)

    As might have been predicted, disagreements arose after the cease-fire went into effect over which of the air war’s target priorities (fielded forces or infrastructure assets) was more crucial to producing the outcome. Contention also arose over the more basic question of the extent to which the air effort as a whole had been the cause of Milosevic’s capitulation. On the one hand, there was the view of those air power proponents who were wont to conclude up front that “for the first time in history, the application of air power alone forced the wholesale withdrawal of a military force...

    (pp. 87-100)

    A number of “firsts” were recorded during NATO’s air war for Kosovo. To begin with, Operation Allied Force was the first air war in which all three currently deployed U.S. Air Force heavy bomber types saw combat use. Those bombers constituted a major part of the overall strike force. Of some 700 U.S. combat aircraft committed to the operation altogether, a mere 21 heavy bombers (10 B-52s, 5 B-1s, and 6 B-2s) delivered 11,000 out of the more than 23,000 U.S. air-to-ground munitions that were expended over the operation’s 78-day course.¹

    There also was an unprecedented use of precision-guided munitions...

    (pp. 101-178)

    Although NATO’s use of air power in Allied Force must, in the end, be adjudged a success, some troubling questions arose well before the air war’s favorable outcome over a number of unexpected and disconcerting problems encountered along the way. Some of those problems, most notably in the area of what air planners came to call “flex” targeting of elusive VJ troops on the move in Kosovo, were arguably as much a predictable result of prior strategy choices as a reflection of any inherent deficiencies in the air weapon itself.¹ Of more serious concern were identified shortcomings that indicated needed...

    (pp. 179-218)

    In the predictable rush to identify “lessons learned” that followed in the wake of the air war’s successful outcome, senior administration officials hastened to acclaim Operation Allied Force as “history’s most successful air campaign.”¹ Yet NATO leaders on both sides of the Atlantic had little to congratulate themselves about when it came to the manner in which the air war was planned and carried out. On the contrary, there was a dominant sense among both participants and observers that the desultory onset of Allied Force and its later slowness to register effects reflected some fundamental failures of allied leadership and...

    (pp. 219-250)

    Operation Allied Force was the most intense and sustained military operation to have been conducted in Europe since the end of World War II. It represented the first extended use of military force by NATO, as well as the first major combat operation conducted for humanitarian objectives against a state committing atrocities within its own borders. It was the longest U.S. combat operation to have taken place since the war in Vietnam, which ended in 1975. At a price tag of more than $3 billion all told, it was also a notably expensive one.¹ Yet in part precisely because of...

    (pp. 251-276)