How to Shoot Down an F-117
Jim Dunnigan at Strategy Page has an interesting item on the Serb air defense commander who shot down a U.S. F-117 during Operation Allied Force. As he notes, the initiative of an individual commander, coupled with the right tactics, came sometimes overcome an opponent's technological superiority.
Fortunately, we uncovered many of the Serb tactics in the military's post-mortem on Allied Force, and we've developed counter-measures to deal with them. In hindsight, Serb air defense commanders enjoyed tactical success by simply taking advantage of U.S./NATO arrogance and predictability. Many of our strike packages bound for Serbia took off at the same time each night and followed similar routes into the target areas. That made it easy for the Serbs to establish non-traditional warning networks (such as spotters with cell phones), who monitored traffic from our bases in Italy, and relayed that information back to Belgrade.
Armed with that information, surface-to-air missile (SAM) commanders (including Colonel Zoltan) could determine when NATO aircraft would arrive overhead, and even predict their navigational headings. That allowed Serb air defense crews to set up effective ambush points along expected NATO flight routes, while minimizing their exposure to coalition air defense suppression efforts, including anti-radiation missiles that targeted SAM radars.
From an airpower perspective, a lot of this is old news, but it does offer a reminder. In the hands of a determined commander, even older SAM systems like the SA-3 pose a potential threat to U.S. air operations. Luckily for us, most SAM operators aren't as dedicated (or tactically proficient) as Colonel Zoltan.