DOD orders remote recon to Kosovo
- By Dan Verton
- Apr 10, 2000
Faced with the prospect of more ethnic violence in Kosovo, the Defense Department
last week dispatched several high-tech reconnaissance aircraft and a company
of long-range reconnaissance troops to act as the eyes and ears of the 5,900
U.S troops taking part in peacekeeping missions there.
The Pentagon ordered the reconnaissance troops to Kosovo at the request
of Army Brig. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in the
region. The request for more reconnaissance assets comes amid the discovery
of Albanian arms caches and reports of illegal Serbian troop movements along
the Presevo region between Serbia and the province of Kosovo.
Plans call for a Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to operate out of
Skopje, Macedonia, and a Predator UAV to operate from Tuzla Air Base in
Bosnia, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. Since the end of the
conflict in Bosnia in 1995, DOD has deployed UAVs to the region regularly,
but DOD removed the UAVs last fall when icy conditions prevented them from
flying. "They seemed to work very well from there and provide broad area
coverage of the Balkans," Bacon told reporters at a press conference last
John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of
American Scientists, said deploying the UAVs is a prudent move. "I think
the general view is that Kosovo has not stabilized the way Bosnia did and
that things are probably going to get worse before they get better," he
said. "Under such circumstances, the situation awareness provided by UAVs
would certainly be welcomed."
The UAVs will work in close co- operation with 125 reconnaissance troops
dispatched from the Army's V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, Bacon said. The
troops will operate on foot in small groups and will be equipped with command,
control and communications equipment that will allow them to respond to
electronic queuing from the UAVs when and if military activity is detected.
NATO and the Pentagon relied on UAVs to an unprecedented degree during
last year's 78-day air war in Kosovo. The Navy, for example, used UAVs to
identify potential landing beaches for Marines, locate Yugoslavian naval
vessels along the coast, and locate Serbian radar sites and transmit their
locations to attack aircraft flying in the region. British, French and German
forces also employed UAVs.
Fifteen of the systems were lost to hostile fire during the conflict, including
four U.S. Predators and eight Hunters. Despite the glowing review the systems
received in the Pentagon's official Kosovo After Action Report, released
in December, an Army review published last month identified several concerns
with the systems.
According to a source familiar with the report, the UAV command, control
and communications links were prone to jamming, as were the system's Global
Positioning System navigation links. In addition, data links and ground
control stations continue to have what were described as "developmental
problems," according to the source.
But the Pentagon this year has included funding in its fiscal 2001 budget
proposal for more of the systems and continues to accelerate development
of future UAV systems. The Air Force has requested $109.2 million for additional
UAV procurement, and the Army has requested $37.8 million.