Operation Allied Force: B-52 Stratofortress bombers involvement in the Air Campaign over Kosovo

The little but decisive role played by B-52s during Kosovo crisis.

The iconic U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber, symbol of the U.S. nuclear deterrence, has taken part in all the wars fought by Washington in the last 50 years (Syria, so far, is the only exception).

Among the conflict that saw the involvement of the “BUFFs” there is also Operation Allied Force, the air campaign conducted against Serbia in 1999.

As recalled by Bill Yenne in his book “B-52 Stratofortress The Complete History of the World’s Longest Serving and Best Known Bomber” the first calls for NATO to intervene with military airpower in response to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, date back to the summer of 1998.

Then, on Oct. 10 of the same year, the US Secretary of Defense William Cohen ordered the deployment of six B-52H from the 2nd Bombardment Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base to RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.

Two more Stratofortresses arrived at the UK base on Feb. 22, 1999 as part of the military build-up in Europe in anticipation of a war in the Balkans which would involve strategic bombers as well as several tactical planes, forward deployed at several airbases located in Italy and few other European countries. By the end of the war, 25 B-52s belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base and 5th Bomb Wing from Minot Air Force Base would take part in the air strikes.

The aircraft were annexed to the 2nd Air Expeditionary Group that included B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing from  and KC-135s of the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Operation Allied Force was launched on the night of Mar. 24.

Among the 250 U.S. combat planes that conducted the first air strikes there were also seven B-52s carrying AGM-86C Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs) aimed at the Serbian IADS (Integrated Air Defense System). Between 30 and 50 air-launched cruise missiles, targeted Serbian air defense sites, during the opening stages of the air campaign.

Initially, the B-52s followed an 8-hour round trip route that brought them above Spain and central Mediterranean Sea before reaching the launch area circumnavigating Southern Italy. Then, they were reserved special corridors across Central Italy that made the missions sensibly shorter, with a good impact on the crew and airframes’ turn over.

As soon as most of Serbian air defenses were made harmless, the B-52 transitioned from stand-off weapons to general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units, dropped on Serbian army positions and staging areas.

Two more B-52Hs arrived from the 5th Bombardment Wing at Minot AFB in North Dakota, to Fairford on Apr. 29: like the Viet Cong and the Iraqi Republican Guard, Milosevic would soon discover the tremendous power of a B-52’s bomb load is a horrible thing to endure, and experiencing it firsthand is a horrible way to make that discovery.

Leaflets written in Serbian, that warned bombardments by B-52s, were also dropped over the Kosovo capital, Pristina. As reported by Yenne, the BBC translated their warning message: The Yugoslav Army forces are warned to leave Kosovo, because NATO is now using B-52 bombers to cast Mk 82 bombs, weighing 225 kilograms each… Every B-52 bomber can carry more than 50 such bombs. These aircraft will be after you until they drive you out of Kosovo… and prevent you from committing atrocities… If you want to survive and see your families again, you should abandon your units and firearms.”

B-52 sunset

As the amout of air strikes peaked between the end of May and beginning of June, some of the most persuasive missions of the war were flown by the B-52s on the first weekend of June 1999 at a place on the Kosovo – Albania border called Mount Pastrik, where the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) was fighting a sizable Serbian army force.

The results of the raids were reported by several networks around the globe such as the CNN which on Sunday, Jun. 6 stated that the NATO used B-52 bombers Saturday night into Sunday to strike areas in Kosovo, near its border with Albania. There was also military activity along the border between Albania and Kosovo.

Other B-52 strikes concentrated in an area near Gorshub, in Yugoslavia, just inside the border. The mountain plateau was also the scene of a day-long artillery and mortar battle between Yugoslav forces and KLA. Further details were added by the Reuters that on Wednesday, June 9, reported that a NATO B-52 bomber caught two Yugoslav Army battalions in the open after Serbia stalled on pulling its troops out of Kosovo . The B-52 dropped sticks of gravity bombs on the troop concentrations near the Kosovo – Albania border Monday, carpeting a hillside area where some 400 to 800 soldiers were estimated to have been in the field. Moreover the Reuters added that NATO military spokesman Gen. Walter Jerts confirmed that “heavy bombers had been diverted at short notice to attack troops in Kosovo.”

The same day Dana Priest of the Washington Post wrote that “at least a month ago, NATO commanders began using B-52s to herd troops on the ground into more open and vulnerable areas (because there are no NATO troops on the ground to do this). […] On Monday, a pair of B-52s and B-1Bs dropped 86 Mk 82s… on a concentration of several hundred Serb troops near Mt. Pastrik region.”

Few days after this air raid, on Jun. 10, NATO ratified the terms of an international peace plan and stopped the seventy-eight-day air campaign. Two days later as told once again by Dana Priest “Slobodan Milosevic unexpectedly capitulated…Milosevic signed an agreement allowing the invasion of 50,000 NATO soldiers – but as peacekeepers, not warriors.”

A great achievement, reached also thanks to the BUFF aircrews who played a small but vital part in Operation Allied Force.

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  1. How about the KC-135? It’s only a year or two younger than the B-52 and has certainly participated in everything that has happened since being introduced. Including Syria.

  2. It is not truth that Syria is only exception. B-52 were not involved in for example US operations in Granada, Panama, Somalia or Bosnia in 1995.

  3. Despite b-52 etc Kosovo`s Albanian`s paramilitary s forces and regular Albanian army units were completely decimated by Yugoslav Army in 1999.Yugoslav frontiers were not touched by any enemy soldier.

    Obviously this post is linked with today`s Mr.Putin visit to Serbia.Probably it hurts knowing that we STILL have MIG-29 and MIG-21 flying which were flying against NATO in 1999 and were not destroyed.

    Also anti-aircraft rockets saved from 1999. war. You can see then on youtube parade today!

    NATO air-attack on Yugoslavia succeeded destroying electricity in major cities, many factories inside Serbia,bridges,schools and hospitals, and killing civilians,Serbian and Albanian alike,children,women.

    Yugoslav army was hurt,but stayed strong even after 88 days of everyday bombing by 24 most economically developed countries.Most of our tanks were intact,and anti-aircraft guns,rockets and even airplanes.

    (13 tanks destroyed in total)

    Serbian air-defenses were never destroyed.It is funny to read “after air defenses were…”‘obviously,SOME were,but minority.

    There was no “AFTER they were destroyed…,” they were never destroyed!

    Even in June, NATO could not fly at will. as they were at risk under 10 000 m of getting shot down.

    Even Wesley Clark admitted this fact.

    Serbia retreated from Kosovo by international agreement which allowed Kosovo to stay inside Serbia and Yugoslavia to avoid further destruction of its economy civilians and cities.

    Without major land-offensive NATO would never win the war.But price would be higher for Serbia then giving away Kosovo to international forces under UN mandate.

    If NATO won the war,why would they sign it?They would just occupy Serbia.But they did not win.

    • You’re actually proud of the fact that the Serbian Air Force still flies MiG-21s, and 29s whose readiness depends on Putin’s mood?

      Oh, sometimes i admire nationalists.

      • You fail to address the relevant points in his post.
        Serbia is a small and comparatively poor country that cannot create artificial “wealth” like the US Fed does by just going into unlimited debt. They can’t therefore “afford” the newest and best, like the US can “afford” the newest and “best” such as F-35. MiG-29 is OK for them at the moment.

        As for MiG-21s, well… imagine a scenario such as Islamists trying to fly hijacked planes into buildings (impossible, I know!) What is better – an F-15 or F-22 sitting on the ground or a MiG-21 downing them with gunfire ;)

        Given that they already have the 21s, and know how to fly them, as long as they are operable in a reasonably safe manner, they can contribute some very basic aspects of air patrolling and defence to a small and impoverished nation. As well as keeping up some familiarity with flying at all for pilots.
        At the point such planes become so decrepit they are a greater risk to their pilots than the benefits to their nation – that is when they should be scrapped.

        It’s a bit funny how this post is about B-52s which are a design that is even older than MiG-21. However B-52s are still kept in the air because they are quite useful for some tasks. MiG-21 may be useful for some tasks from a different perspective (of a poor country). So B-52 and MiG-21 are still in service, just as they were in 1999. What has gone out of service since then is the F-117.

        Concerning nationalism: The most rabid nationalism I have encountered is “American exceptionalism”. You know – everyone else putting their home country first is “nationalism” but when Americans do it, it isn’t – because “America is just superior by nature”…

  4. We were laughing at these leaflets – it was NATO committing atrocities to peaceful people of Serbia who were defending its country against terrorism! I would like to see what would your country do if part of population makes armed rebellion and tries to take away a part of country and makes it another country!?”Atrocities’?It was legal defense of our own country,and NATO was criminal

    • I agree, NATO did to Serbia what the US is doing in Syria today – arming ‘freedom-fighters’ (terrorists) whom commit acts of ethnic cleansing, random executions and suicide bombings. The Serbian government were hardly angels at the time (nor is Al Assad) but to back murderous terrorists against them was/is a foolish and hypocritical move.

      Unfortunately any state not allied to the US sphere of influence has to deal with the B-52’s, should any domestic conflict breakout. Although Serbia did at least prove definitively that stealth technology is indeed fallible; by shooting down an F-117.

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