The Navy in the Balkans

Dec. 1, 1999

Vice Adm. Daniel J. Murphy Jr. commands the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and NATO Striking and Support Forces, Southern Europe. He was principal naval commander in Operation Allied Force. He appeared before the Senate Armed Services Sea Power Subcommittee on Oct. 13 and the Defense Writers Group on Oct. 14. Here are excerpts of statements during those sessions.

The Navy Contribution

“The Navy contribution to … the air campaign in Kosovo, although low profile, was nonetheless very significant. The Tomahawk shooters, in and of themselves, destroyed nearly 50 percent [of the] fixed target list in key categories such as the Serb army and police headquarters. … We were able to keep nine Tomahawk shooters in-theater. Those nine sustained the air campaign in the first couple of weeks when the laser-guided bomb droppers could not find targets because of bad weather. And if it hadn’t been for those nine, we would have stalled.”

“The [carrier] Theodore Roosevelt … arrived 14 days after the start [of hostilities]. Nonetheless, with only 8 percent of the total dedicated aircraft [deployed by NATO], [it was] credited with 30 percent of the validated kills against fielded forces in Kosovo.”

What Might Have Been

“I don’t know what [would have been the] specific impact [of] having had that air wing off the coast [of Yugoslavia] the first 14 days, when General Clark [Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe] was looking so hard for a means of stopping and slowing the slaughter in Kosovo, but I frankly believe that it would have been significant. … A carrier and a carrier air wing, from the outset, would have made a significant difference, I believe.”

“Tension” Over Competing Needs

“There was a tension between two competing requirements, especially in the first month of the war. That was to meet the demands of the strategic air campaign to go after targets that count in Serbia proper and then, at the same time, [commit] sufficient air assets to apply pressure to the Serb forces and to the [Serb police] forces that were then, with full impunity, continuing to burn and pillage villages.”

“Had it been possible to get Theodore Roosevelt on scene on Day 1, my expectation is that air wing would have been applied directly into Kosovo, would have met the [commander in chief’s] Day 1 requirement from the very outset, [and applied] considerable pressure to deny movement … to those forces that were conducting the ethnic cleansing. So, yes, sir, I think it would have made a difference.”

Putting the Serbs at Risk

“It took two weeks to get [Theodore Roosevelt] there. … [It] began dropping bombs on the very first day [it was] there. In those two weeks, as you all well remember, we were unable in any way to slow the … atrocities and the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. General Clark wanted badly to get airpower in there to stop, to at least put at risk, these forces. There was no guarantee it would have stopped it, but what was going on was being done with relative impunity. If that carrier had been there in those first two weeks, it would have made a difference.”

Air Tasking Order Limitations

“The ATO process, with large numbers of aircraft, is a procedural, sequential, rigid process. It is not able to react inside 24 hours, and it’s simply an asset management tool. We had almost 900 aircraft, including tankers and support aircraft, … and you have to make sure all of these airplanes don’t run into each other. … That all leads to a fairly unresponsive capability.

“Air Force doctrine is very clear in how it goes after an air campaign, and the ATO is really intended to service a preplanned campaign. It does that very well. When the adversary doesn’t behave the way the air campaign had anticipated, though, a wheel can come off.

“We never neutralized the IADS [Integrated Air Defense System]. We weren’t any safer on Day 78 than we were on Day 1. The [Air Force] doctrine calls for neutralizing the IADS before taking on the targets that count. Well, if we had followed that doctrine to the letter, we would have pounded nothing but IADS for 78 days. So Mike Short [Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, USAF, Joint Forces Air Component Commander] did, of course, the sensible thing, as you would expect him to do, and he deviated from strict doctrine.”

Same-Day Service

“The [Theodore Roosevelt] air wing had 74 aircraft. When something had to be struck the same day–the target was directed in the morning and it had to be struck some time that day–two systems could do it: the carrier air wing and the Tomahawk. Nothing else could, and that’s just a fact, and General Clark would validate that.”

The Podgorica Airfield

“The Podgorica airfield is a good example. Podgorica was threatening the introduction of [the US Army’s] Task Force Hawk into Albania because it was only about 30 miles across the border. It was a Serb air base, and the Serbs had moved a significant number of air-to-ground aircraft … into that airfield.

“When we detected that move, General Clark that morning said, ‘I have to have that airfield taken out now. We cannot afford a strike, even an ineffective strike, against Task Force Hawk just across the border.’ He turned to General Short and said, ‘Can you do it?’ and General Short said, ‘The Navy can do it.’ This was on a video teleconference. He [Clark] turned to me and said, ‘Dan, can you do it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we can do it.’…

“We put 48 airplanes in the air that afternoon and took out the entire airfield, including the underground tunnel complex that had 26 airplanes in it, and we emulsified every one of them, and [our crews] were home for dinner aboard that carrier.”

Quicker to React

“This is what the Navy does. … [Navy] air wings are trained to, within a matter of hours, plan a significant strike. … This in not, in any way, finding fault with the Air Force. The Air Force was working three days down the road, figuring how they are going to take out all of the bridges, and that’s what they do. Air campaigns are the Air Force’s business. If you want to take something out quickly, that’s what the Navy is particularly good at, in terms of airpower.”

Hitting Moving Targets

“We had nine Tomahawk platforms rotating through the Adriatic. And we had preplanned just about everything that didn’t move, and then we started preplanning things that did move. For example, the SA-3 sites. … They knew we didn’t fly during the day for the first several weeks. So they had daytime sanctuary, and, at night, they moved them around so we couldn’t get a good fix on ’em.

“So we tracked where they had been. There are only so many places that you can put an SA-3. We targeted all of that ground, basically. Then, we’d get an Elint [electronic intelligence] hit, get an overhead image, we’d drive a U-2 over the top of it, snap it to see, yeah, it’s there. … The Tomahawk would leave the tube of a submarine or the vertical launcher on one of our surface combatants. Forty-five minutes later, we took that out. We had 85 percent kill rate on relocatable targets, with Tomahawks.”

Left Free to Roam

“Throughout Kosovo, we were watching basically three different prongs of [Serbian] attack against villages. … We knew where they were going; just follow the burning villages. … Had we had the airpower there to do it–we didn’t at the time, because we were concentrating principally on IADS–we could have gone after the roads. [That’s] what we ended up doing, basically, two weeks later. We took them off the roads. After the first couple of days, they could no longer use the roads. Then they would go into hiding during the day and try to move at night. By denying them mobility, all by itself, we would have slowed down the ethnic cleansing.”

Cross Purposes

“General Clark wanted to do both [hitting tactical and strategic targets], and General Short said, ‘I don’t have enough to do both. Be patient, here. Let me get this out of the way (this being principally the IADS), … and then I’ll go after these fielded forces that you want me to hit, General.’

“When that carrier [Theodore Roosevelt] was one day out of Norfolk, I called the battle group commander and told him, ‘Be prepared to go after fielded forces, and be prepared to fly during the day.’ … [The commander] didn’t like either one of those comments, but they rolled in. Of all the sorties they flew, not even 5 percent were outside of Kosovo. From the day they got there, they were going after fielded forces in Kosovo. … Hitting the fielded forces would have helped.”