B-2 Spirits have fired the first shots of Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Serbia where they would not just go after the hard and well-defended targets.
The B-2A Spirit was conceived to fight the Cold War but has proved invaluable to both the ‘New World Order’ and more recently the Global War on Terrorism. The combination of low-observability, precision strike, range and payload flexibility has made the Spirit the weapon of choice when America hits its enemies at the start of a campaign.
As told by Thomas Withington in his book B-2A Spirit Units in Combat, B-2s have fired the first shots of Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Serbia where they would not just go after the hard and well-defended targets. The way in which the aircraft was utilised was fascinating. On one occasion, a Spirit was tasked with attacking the intersection of two runways on a Serbian airfield. The bomber placed a number of GPS-Aided Munition (GAMs, the precursor to the GBU-31 satellite-guided JDAM) directly onto the intersection, producing large craters which effectively put both runways out of commission. This attack had the added value of preventing the Serbian aircraft at the base from taking off either to escape, harass Allied aircraft or to participate in the ground war against the KLA. Once grounded, these aircraft were easy pickings for the other non-stealthy jets which followed the B-2A raid on the base. The airfield was duly pummelled by B-1Bs and B-52Hs, which dropped unguided bombs. This particular B-2 actually hit two airfields during the course of this mission.
In an incident reminiscent of the Thanh Hoa bridge in North Vietnam, which survived 800 sorties generated by US warplanes, the Novi Sad combined railway and highway bridge in northern Serbia would just not collapse. Prior to the B-2A’s visit, an F-15E had placed two GBU-15 2510-lb TV-guided bombs onto its spans, but to little effect. More metal was then used in the form of two 2000-lb BLU-109A/B ‘Have Void’ penetrator weapons, dropped from an F-117A, but these failed too. Finally, a Spirit was called in. It dropped six GAMs into a 1600-square foot area on the central span of the bridge, before placing two weapons on the northern span. The result? No more bridge! Other targets to receive the B-2’s attention included the Kragjevic armament factory and the Crvena Zastava vehicle plant in central Serbia.
For the most part, data on the targets which the B-2A attacked is still highly classified, and for good measure. Betraying the exact nature of the targets destroyed could encourage potential adversaries to fortify similar installations still further prior to a confrontation with the United States. This is highly significant given that the B-2A plays a vital role in destroying the nerve centres of air defence command and control installations in preparation for follow-on waves of non-stealthy aircraft. Failure to neutralise such objectives can at best severely hamper an air campaign and at worst render it all but impossible to prosecute. What we do know is that on the very first night, the B-2As went into business against heavily-defended Serbian air defence targets. Throughout the campaign, the bomber targeted the SA-3 (NATO codename ‘Goa’) surface-to-air missile systems and their accompanying radar systems.
Other targets included secure facilities such as command and control installations and communications sites. So called ‘infrastructural’ elements were also included, such as military production facilities and bridges. It would not be unrealistic to assume that the B-2A was chosen or the latter targets for two reasons — its large bomb load and ability to operate over Serbia in a comparatively high-threat environment. For example, the military production factory might not have been a hard target in the true sense of the word, but it was probably protected by a thick screen of air defences impregnable to a non-stealthy aircraft.
B-2A Spirit Units in Combat is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force