Albania & Kosovo
Operation Silver Wake
After the war, operations over Bosnia slowed down. However 8 Squadron was still involved with the control of aircraft over the country, military helicopter and humanitarian flights continued unabated. However as Bosnia slowly returned to normality, unrest grew in Albania as local gangs started to cause anarchy. NATO responded with Operation Silver Wake, which monitored activity in Albania, this ran concurrently with operations over Bosnia. The AWACS now flew both their orbits over the Adriatic, peace in Bosnia had negated the need for the Hungarian orbit.
By the end of 1998, Albanian Muslim dissidents in the Serbian province of Kosovo had started an uprising. They wanted autonomy from the minority Serbian rule. Terrorist attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) resulted in savage reprisals by Serbian police. The world once again saw the start of Ethnic cleansing by the Serbs as they drove the Albanian Muslims from Kosovo. NATO had learned that words meant nothing to Serbs, and using the lessons learned in Bosnia threatened force if Serbia refused to withdraw its troops from Kosovo. Once the Serbians had refused, NATO, independently from the UN, launched air strikes in what they hoped would be a three-day war. Once again, 8 Squadron and the NATO E-3As, this time joined by 23 Sqn who had recently formed as Waddington’s second AWACS Sqn were to control events in the air, but this time the scale of operations was massive, with the largest deployment of Allied aircraft seen since the second world war.
No 8 Squadron’s Participation in Operation Allied Force
|Mission Crew at Work
TD, SC and LM in the “Middle Row”
March was an extremely busy and important month for the Squadron. Operation Deliberate Forge continued apace, with significant increases in aircraft activity in the region. The Operation reached its ultimate conclusion on 24th March when Operation Allied Force began and NATO commenced air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By now the NAEW Force was manning 3 orbits overlooking the Balkan region, 24 hours a day. The E-3D Component was planned to fly 25% of all Allied Force missions using eight crews (A-H), although only seven crews were used initially. The AWACS was initially responsible for air to air refuelling, marshalling ground attack aircraft, giving threat warnings to friendly aircraft over hostile territory, control of friendly air defence CAPs and were still expected to look out for transport aircraft and helicopters working in Bosnia. The surveillance teams had to produce a recognised air picture for commanders on the ground and detect any Serbian aircraft movements and monitor their defence radars.
The first mission of Allied Force was flown in the Northern orbit by Crew A. The Operation was started by B-52s, which launched cruise missiles at targets inside Yugoslavia. Tension on board the E-3D was very high, as was the workload. The weapons team, supplemented by an extra controller (one less surveillance position was manned) was tasked with SFOR (Stabilisation Force) check in, the B-H CAP and the B-H tanking. The Surveillance team was responsible for tracking parts of Serbia, the Adriatic and B-H.
During the first waves of strikes, radar contacts were detected in the vicinity of Batajnica (a Serb military airfield north of Belgrade). ESM had correlated information confirming that two MiG 29s were indeed airborne in that area. The weapons controller passed picture calls to the strike package. One element of the strike package called an AMRAAM launch at approximately 1935Z. A downed MiG 29 was then reported 25 – 30 nm north of Batajnica. The intense activity continued until the E-3D landed back at Aviano at 0125Z.
On 27th March (Day 4), while Crew B were airborne, a Mayday call was heard on the Guard frequency indicating that a friendly aircraft had taken a hit. The call was followed, about a minute later, by another message from the same pilot who reported that he was abandoning his aircraft. As well as increasing their already existing high workload, the crew was hampered by the fact that the airman was a US ‘national asset’ (F-117), about which they had very little information. The crew remained on station, extending by am hour, until the downed pilot had been safely recovered. The pace of flying continued at a high level for the rest of the month.
April saw the Squadron become almost exclusively committed to Op Allied Force as the pace continued to increase in intensity. A total of forty-four sorties was flown by five No 8 Squadron crews. Throughout the month, the Squadron had between three and four crews deployed in theatre on a strict rotation basis. Until the 8th crew was formed in May, the crews were deployed in theatre for two weeks, home for two weeks, deployed for two weeks then home for just one week. Aircrew were flying, on average, sixty hours per deployment.
The build up of allied assets continued at a steady pace and the number of combat and support aircraft was at unprecedented levels. Tasking for the 8 Squadron crews was complex because of the variety of aircraft and the sheer scale of operations. The operation demanded that AEW assets provide round the clock cover and so it was not unusual for two Squadron crews to be airborne on the same day. April also saw the arrival of USAF E-3Bs and E-3Cs to supplement the NAEWF at Geilenkirchen. Their arrival helped to ease the burden on the NAEW Components. No 8 Squadron members also helped to supplement planning staffs for the Operation, providing a liaison officer at 31 OSS Mission Planning Cell where packages were organised.
May continued in the same vein as April, with the emphasis on Operation Allied Force. There were no major highlights, just the usual flying. Usual meant flying in support of an operation where an average of 700 missions were flown in a single day, and the package of strike aircraft over Serbia and Kosovo was continuous, not in waves! The 8 Squadron crews were not able to leave their positions in the aircraft for more than a few minutes, if at all. The weapons controller responsible for tanker co-ordination performed 85 joins in just one session on 26th May!
On 20th May, the 8th crew (crew H) was formed from the remaining 8 and 23 Squadron personnel. This resulted in a slight change to the schedule, two weeks deployed; two weeks home.
June was a month of marked contrasts for 8 Squadron as Operation Allied Force gave way to Operation Joint Guardian. At the beginning of the month, the Serbian Parliament and Government accepted the international peace plan for Kosovo. However there were problems and the air operations continued until a full agreement was forthcoming.
On 9th June, the Serbs signed the Military Technical Agreement detailing their withdrawal from Kosovo. NATO air strikes halted the following day and ground troops moved into Kosovo. AEW support was still required, maintaining two orbits each day. Plans were in place to re-generate the third orbit if required.
Operation Allied Force came to an end on 14th June (coincidentally the final E-3D mission was also flown by Crew A), and Operation Joint Guardian, in support of the ground troops, started the following day. On 25th June, the number of deployed crews was reduced from four to two, in line with the reduction of tasking. Crews G and H were disbanded the same day.
|Coming Home from Work
During operations over Kosovo in 1999 it was common for the Mission Crew to remain at their consoles for 7 hours without a break!
No 8 Squadron had never before experienced the prolonged intensity of the deploying and flying encountered during Operation Allied Force, not even during the air strikes on Bosnia. The crews spent many hours flying from Italy and performed magnificently, the many years of experience spent operating over the Adriatic were put to good use. Crew members would often sit at their consoles for up to seven hours without a break because the management of so many assets by so few operators was difficult. Even a small break from console could prove disastrous for situation awareness. This is not the time to discuss the minutiae of Operations over Kosovo, but we achieved our objectives and the Serbians finally withdrew from Kosovo after over 70 days of bombing. Eight Sqn maintained its presence in the Adriatic, although the commitment was much reduced, until the declaration of the War on Terror after the September 11th attacks. Our use of Italian, and taste for red wine, improved greatly since our long association with Aviano started – however the learning curve for 8 Sqn was steep. We started operations in the Adriatic only a year after equipping with the Sentry at Waddington, and even then the Sqn was not at full strength for much of the Bosnia tasking. The fact that we achieved so much is due to Sqn spirit and the attitude of letting nothing stand in our way. We are indeed “Everywhere Unbounded”.