Kosovo and the Continuing SEAD Challenge

by Benjamin S. Lambeth


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The shootdown of an F-117 stealth aircraft over Kosovo in 1999 served as a wake-up call for the Air Force to improve tactics, techniques, and procedures relating to the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). Although enemy surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) brought down only two aircraft in Kosovo (thanks to allied reliance on electronic jamming, towed decoys, and other countertactics), NATO never fully succeeded in neutralizing the Serb integrated air defense system, whose operators remained dispersed and mobile and activated their radars only selectively. Although the next-generation F-22 and F-35 will have substantially reduced observability to enemy radars, joint force commanders in future contingencies will still have to contend with the threats of double digit SAMs--the Russian-built SA-10 and SA-12 through SA-20. The ultimate answer to these challenges may well entail such new technologies as unmanned aerial reconnaissance platforms and possibly space systems.

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Originally published in: Aerospace Power Journal, AFRP 10-1, Summer 2002, pp. 8-21.

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