WASHINGTON (04/10/2000) - Faced with the prospect of more ethnic violence in Kosovo, the U.S. Department of Defense 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 week.
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.Typical unmanned aerial vehicle deployment package:
-- Four 27-foot-long UAVs (specifically Predator) with a range of 400 nautical miles -- Ground control system (pilot, payload operator workstations) -- Trojan Spirit II data distribution terminal Communications n UHF and Ku-band satellite links for continuous video and control -- C-band line-of-sight data links -- UHF and VHF radio relay links.