In the seconds before his fighter jet was shot down last week, Scott F. O’Grady and the pilot of the jet next to him knew they had been targeted for a kill, and they knew they were alone in the sky.
Flying as a pair over northwestern Bosnia, the pilots’ cockpit Radar Warning Receiver told them that the Serbs’ Soviet-made target radar had them “locked on,” just like a police radar gun that catches a speeding car.
Because NATO’s intelligence had said the area was free of the menacing surface-to-air missiles that the Serbs had used elsewhere, the two F-16C Fighting Falcons were not accompanied by escort planes to jam the radar or missile launcher, and were not carrying the missiles that could destroy them.
Once the pilots realized they were in danger, they dumped shredded aluminum to confuse the ground-based radar directing the missile toward them. Moments later, the other pilot, Capt. Bob Wright, saw a first missile zip by. Then he heard a thud from a second one and saw O’Grady’s plane split in half.
Details of the dramatic shootdown trickled out Friday as accounts from O’Grady and Wright began to circulate among military officials in Washington and elsewhere. O’Grady, 29, is scheduled to give a news conference in Aviano, Italy, this morning, but it is already clear that inadequate intelligence and some bad luck had a hand in the initial attack.
In Aviano Friday, U.S. Lt. Gen. Michael E. Ryan, the commander of NATO air forces in southern Europe, said he believed the Serbs had “intentionally set a trap and sprung it” on the NATO planes that were enforcing a U.N. no-fly order over Bosnia.
Pentagon officials said they believed the Serbs had prepared a surprise attack on U.S. peacekeepers by sneaking into the region the two tracked vehicles upon which the Soviet-made “Gainful” missile system and its “Straight Flush” radar system sit.
Earlier this week Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee that no intelligence information indicated the presence of surface-to-air missiles in the area where O’Grady was shot down.
“For months if not for years, there had never been detected an air defense site in that area,” he said. NATO, as a result of the incident, will now require any fighter jets flying in Operation Deny Flight to be accompanied by EF-111 and EA6-B radar and missile jamming aircraft.
In explaining why O’Grady was shot down, Defense Secretary William J. Perry and others have described the Serb air defense system as a sophisticated, integrated one, meaning that the various radar and missile and gun launch systems on the ground are linked by computer. This allows commanders not in the field to coordinate actions and to share information with weapons operators in faraway locations.
Such coordination would also make it easier to avoid detection by NATO aircraft because missile operators could receive information about the target’s whereabouts from other radar sites, and could then wait until the last minute to turn on the radar necessary to guide the missile to its target.
The Serbs are known to possess a range of mostly Soviet-made air defense guns and at least five types of surface-to-air missile systems.
xxxx Friday’s action Capt. Scott O’Grady returned to Aviano Air Base in Italy on Friday, thanking God and the U.S. Marines for his rescue. In Washington, the White House rejected a request by the Bosnian prime minister that the United States lift an arms embargo against his Muslim-led government, and said that President Clinton would veto any legislation designed to force such a change in policy. Senior American military officials acknowledged that the attack on O’Grady’s F-16 was unexpected, due to a lack of intelligence data. In Paris, European Union leaders named Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, as their mediator in Bosnia, replacing Lord Owen of Britain, who retired after three years of futile efforts to arrange a settlement. At the United Nations, the Security Council began to move toward the adoption of a resolution to integrate the new European rapid-response forces into the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia without significantly altering the existing mission. New York Times