Aviation History

During Operation Allied Force Serbian air defence was able to monitor B-2 stealth bombers but it couldn’t shoot one down (still some personnel believe they managed to bring down one Spirit)

The B-2 Spirit

The first B-2A Spirit was publicly displayed on Nov. 22, 1988, when it was rolled out of its hangar at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. Its first flight was July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, is responsible for flight testing the engineering, manufacturing and development aircraft on the B-2.

Whiteman AFB, Missouri, is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Depot maintenance responsibility for the B-2 is performed by Air Force contractor support and is managed at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Okla.

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The combat effectiveness of the B-2 was proved in Operation Allied Force, where it was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks.

The B-2 Spirit during Operation Allied Force

As explained by Bojan Dimitrijevic and Lt-Gen Jovica Draganić in their book OPERATION ALLIED FORCE VOLUME 2 Air War over Serbia 1999, at the start of Allied Force, the 509th BW at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, had 19 B-2As at its disposal. Of these, 10 were currently under modification to Block 30. USAF official figures showed that during OAF, only six B-2A airframes were used in combat missions. For a single sortie, B-2As usually deployed 16 JDAM 2,000lb bombs, but there were also other payload configurations. USAF figures reveal 656 JDAM bombs (1.3 million pounds) were dropped in 49 missions from Whiteman.46 Among these were 609 GBU-31/1 Mk-84s, 43 GBU-31/3 BLU-109s for fortified targets and four GBU-37/B 4.700lb penetration bombs, or ‘bunker busters’.

It is important to note that B-2As were used against static military or civil infrastructure targets but were not employed against VJ/MUP targets in Kosovo. USAF estimations stated that 87 percent of the GBU bombs dropped hit their targets. The facts show that B-2s carried out just 1 percent of the total number of missions, but the quantity of ordnance used was 11 percent of the total dropped on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Serbia. US officials remarked that the B-2 had been successfully tested in “very hard combat zone”. It was noted that in many cases, changes of the targets occurred prior to entering FRY airspace.

Monitoring the B-2 Spirit during Operation Allied Force

The B-2A missions were exclusively nocturnal. No matter what their stealth capabilities regarding radars, the RV i PVO ((Ratno vazduhoplovstvo I protivvazdušna odbrana, Air Force and Air Defence) SIGINT/ ELINT Centre managed to monitor B-2A activity through constantly listening to air traffic in Europe. They noted that B-2s had an attached fighter escort while flying over Europe and carried out several air refuelling ‘stops’. B-2s were flown at altitudes over 40,000ft, to avoid any air traffic and to remain outside the maximal altitude range of Serbian air defence missiles, during the combat phase of the sorties. During talks between RV i PVO and USAF representatives in 2005, Colonel Vujić, commanding officer of the 280th ELINT Centre, explained:

“We registered 14 B-2 sorties, always flying in pairs.” According to Vujić, his operators identified B-2s over Serbia on several dates, including: 24 March and 17, 18, 19 and 22 April. On 15 May, he said, missions were unable to be carried out due to bad weather over the targets. He added that B-2s were only used against targets in northern Serbia (above the 44th parallel). When asked how they managed to discover such details of B-2 missions, Colonel Vujić told the USAF officials:

‘As every other aircraft, [the] B-2 had to report to some air traffic control, when it enters its area. They had specific callsigns, [using a] tremendously powerful radio. For experienced listeners who monitor air traffic for 30 years there were no dilemmas that this was [a] B-2, which fly by night. [Then] it reported to district air traffic control at Brindisi, but it continued north and entered our air space from [the] north. It attacked the targets north of the 45th parallel, in the Belgrade area, upon already ordered specific targets.’

Targets of high importance

These included targets of high importance which had to be destroyed with minimal collateral damage. Such targets were in Belgrade, including the Federal Ministry of Defence, General Staff, Ministry of Interior/HQ of the MUP forces, Federal Directorate for Supplies (which turned out to be the Chinese Embassy), HQ of the Socialist Party and Serbian state television. In some missions, B-2s were used to finish off targets which standard fighter-bomber strike packages had been unable to destroy, including bridges over the Danube, an oil refinery in the Novi Sad area and some of the targets at Batajnica Air Base.

It was later said that JDAMs were used in other ways which had not been anticipated. For instance, one mission took out the Žeželjev bridge which spanned the Danube at Novi Sad. “We didn’t expect [the weapon] to be used against bridges,” said Louis Cerrato, chief engineer of the JDAM Squadron at Eglin AFB, Florida, who worked on the weapon from its earliest days, but “the pinpoint accuracy amazed all of us”. During the Balkan air war, he said “they used almost the whole first lot” of JDAMs.

An enormous challenge

Flying in this type of bomber was an enormous challenge for its pilots. They would take off from their base in Missouri, make their way over the eastern United States, Atlantic Ocean and Western Europe, then carry out the strikes over Serbia in night conditions, under pressure from the Serbian air defences, before making their way back using the same transatlantic route. Typical missions lasted for around 29 hours, of which 14 hours were taken in reaching Serbia. Sometimes, the mission could last up to 34 hours due to the developing situation over the targets.

The B-2s used to operate in pairs or as a single ship against designated targets, using different directions of attack. In a quite traditional looking aircraft cockpit, and with a crew of only two, missions caused the most extreme psychological and physical strain, leading to numerous complaints by B-2 crews. At the beginning of OAF, B-2s were flown by only the most experienced pilots. Later, upon the instigation of the 509th Wing commander, other pilots were also used. By the end of Operation Allied Force, of the 509th BW’s 54 pilots, 51 had managed to carry out at least a single B-2 combat mission. A number of them logged two missions, and one pilot even managed three missions from Whiteman to Serbia and back.

EA-6B support used only because Prowlers were available

The USAF revealed that the 509th Wing maintained six airworthy airframes at any given time. During the campaign, one mission was cancelled due to malfunction, a second because of bad weather over the target (which confirmed the claims of the RV i PVO 280th ELINT Centre) and a third because the target was cancelled. After each mission, upon its return to Whiteman, each B-2 needed between four and seven days to be prepared for another sortie. The B-2s mainly went through checks to renew their special anti-radar coating.

During their missions, B-2As were backed up by a SEAD group and fighter escort. Without them, a B-2 would not enter into Serbian airspace. However, the 509th BW HQ claimed that escorts were not needed, and that B-2s were fully capable of independent operations from take-off to return to home base. The support of the EA-6B Prowlers was only used because “they were available”.

One B-2 shot down during Operation Allied Force?

During the mission launched on 14 April, B-2s attacked targets around Belgrade, escorted by a SEAD group from the 22nd EFS at Spangdahlem. The SEAD group was engaged in fierce fighting with the Serbian air defences, with a large number of SAM missiles fired during the early hours of 15 April. As well as this standard protection carried out by the other types of aviation, the B-2A had its own electronic warfare system, AN/APR-50, which was considered an effective device to enable independent operations by the bomber.

The commander of the RV i PVO 280th ELINT Centre noted: “All facts concerning B-2 appearance we send to Operations centre. But the conditions for claiming it were very unfavourable.” Despite the lack of any evidence, some of the air defence personnel still believe that they managed to bring down one B-2 during Allied Force.

OPERATION ALLIED FORCE VOLUME 2 Air War over Serbia 1999 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • Almost exactly after 25 years later,it is time for the real facts and real true because as one said ''If we repeat lie thousand time it will became true!'' About title: During ''Operation Allied Force Serbian air defence was able to monitor B-2 stealth bombers but it couldn’t shoot one down (still some personnel believe they managed to bring down one Spirit)'' First there was no Serbian AD but Yugoslav AD,second I 'm not one who believes but who knows that one B-2A was really shot down over FRY ( Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).Exactly he was hit by two SAM type 5V27/V601P of AD missile system S-125M Neva-M over the city of Surchin in the vicinity of Belgrade (he was engaged and hit by the same 3rd missile battery of the 250th missile brigade who shot down F-117A in the night of March 27 and F-16CG on the May 2) . After being hit ,B-2A ( callsign 'Pillar 2') lost flight controls and crashed into Spachva forest in Slavonia( Croatia). About these wrong info for the date : ''One B-2 shot down during Operation Allied Force?
    During the mission launched on 14 April'' No, it was not April 14 but it was the night of May 20 1999 ,exactly 11 minutes after midnight when B-2A callsign 'Pillar 2' was engaged and hit ,little after that, he crashed. Two Yugoslav AD officers from 3rd missilie battery of the 250 missile brigade described details about this in their books (''Fall of the night falcon'' by col. Sinisa Golubovic and ''The Shift'' by lt.col. Djordje Anicic). What really happened ,the truth story follows.During oper. ''Allied force'' B-2A were part of so called 'Northern package' .They entered Yugoslav air space from Hungary and then flew to Belgrade region where was most targets for them. In the beggining of the operation ,they flew at 40.000ft but one event changed everything. It was May 7 when B-2A hit Chinesse embassy and killed many Chinnese personal there.After that event and with the main goal to find and destroy the famous 3rd missile battery ( so called ambush battery), B-2A crew was ordered to fly at 30.000 ft or less if needed.Now I will give info and data that are from US(USAF) not Yugoslav sources. Now we have next important dates: May 20,21 and 22 1999 then june 1999 and year 2000 ! On May 20 as wrote and mentioned before (several minutes after midnight) ,B-2A as AV-4 with number 82-1070 called 'Spirit of Ohio' and with callsign 'Pillar 2' was engaged ,hit and soon later crashed.With his enormous triangled/boomerang shape with diameter about 50 meters and lenght 20 m he was ideal target for centimetric X-band lock-on radar SNR-125M as part of S-125M 'Neva-M' AD missile system.Before that ,B-2A was detected and tracked by Yugoslav (US made) 3D AN/TPS-70 centimetric S-band PESA radar and long range 2D P-18 known to NATO as “Spoon Rest D”, metric VHF band as Soviet made radar.Note: one of the first targets for USAF cruise missiles AGM-86C CALCM launched from B-52H was in fact biggest Yugoslav AD Soviet made radar P-14 known to NATO as “Tall King A” ,also 2D VHF band radar ,stationed near the city of Kacarevo ( nearby Belgrade). This huge over 30m wide and over 10m high stationary radar worked in the same frequency band as P-18 (150-170MHz). With the max search range in two main radar beam modes of 600 and 1200kms ,this radar represented the main threat for USAF stealth bombers.Yugoslav radar operators and technicians calculated that optimal working frequency for long range detecting and tracking of US stealt bombers is about 160 MHz(lenght of both stealth bombers F-117A and B-2A are almost the same,20m).After what happened in the night of May 20 ,on May 21 USAF command decided to stop all B-2A combat missions! 509th BW from Whiteman AFB commander told some info about that in one interview.Then on May 22 unannounced and without any ceremony ,B-2A called 'Spirit of Indiana' as AV-4 ,82-1069 landed at Whiteman AFB.It was a replacement plane for one that was lost.Now what happened on June 1999 ? After USAF personnel collected all parts of completely burned B-2A from Spachva forest in Croatian Slavonia(in the vicinity of Zupanya town),they brought all that parts to the USAF National Museum in Wright Patterson AFB-Dayton/Ohio.Those parts were put on AT-1000 static B-2 prototype and was presented to the public from 2003.That B-2A is called ''Spirit of Freedom'' and it is part of the Cold War Gallery.So what happened in year 2000 and after? USAF decided to test B-2A with new AHFM as Advanced High-Frequency Material but the real question was why if B-2A was so 'stealthy'.Reason was simple, Yugoslav radar operators menaged not only to detect/track B-2A but to lock-on one of them with SHF centimetric radar SNR-125M ! About that talks between YuAF/AD and USAF officers they were held in 2002 with 2 main questions and 1 main request by USAF officials.First was how Yugoslavians managed to detect and track USAF strategic stealth bomber B-2A,second was how Yugoslavians menaged to shot down USAF tactical stealth bomber F-117A and the main request was not to openly (publicly) talk about ''B-2A case'' and many other cases of downed NATO planes. Despite this request, the two Yugoslav AD officers decided to speak publicly about the event of May 20 1999. As I can see ,in the article we can find some info about Yugoslav AF and AD 280th centre for ELINT.Yes, that ELINT centre was able to find (track) incoming B-2A and USAF officers wanted from its CO col. Vujic to bring them a tape of talks between B-2A crew and E-3 AWACS from the night of May 20 ! He gave them one of the copies.Besides that 280th ELINT centre , the real heros were members ,exactly radar operators of famous 126th brigade of air survaillance,reporting and guidance.This unit after the war, received the Order of National Hero( equivalent to US Medal of Honor).If we question ourself if those so many dates/events ( May 20,21 and 22 ,then june 1999 and after 2000 ) were coincidental,of course they are not.It is very interesting that US (USAF) sources and info tell us much more about 'B-2A case' then Yugoslav ones.

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