Aviation History

The French Mirage 2000 shot down by Serbs during Operation Deliberate Force and the three unsuccessful CSAR missions to save its crew members (they had already been secretly captured by General Mladić)

Operation Deliberate Force

In reaction to the resulting 1992 air war between self-proclaimed Serbian Krajina in Croatia, the Croat Air Force and the Bosnian Muslim air force, the United Nations declared a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Codenamed Operation Deny Flight, the resulting military operations culminated in the summer of 1995, when NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force against the Serbian forces on Aug. 30 of that year.

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As told by Bojan Dimitrijević in his book Operation Deliberate Force, Air War Over Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995, the Serbian air defences remained inactive during the first day of the operation, except for the light AA artillery and MANPADS. Light AA batteries of the 172nd Regiment launched missiles twice in the morning of Sep. 30; at 09:35 at pair of F-16s; and around 11:00 at an A-10, but without success. The main problem was a lack of vehicles and fuel so the MANPADS teams were not able to manoeuvre and increase their effectiveness.

French Mirage 2000 shot down

In the afternoon Sergeant on Aleksandar Studen, a platoon leader in the MANPADS Battery of the 172nd Regiment, managed to shoot down a French Mirage 2000 from Donji Pribanj in the wider Sarajevo area. Coincidentally, Sergeant Studen was a nephew of pilot Uroš Studen who had been shot down in a Jastreb on Feb. 28, 1994 by USAF F-16s. His report stated:

A French Air Force Mirage 2000N.

‘At 16:00 a low and middle altitude strike started, targeting Koran barracks, Famos factory, Jahorinski Potok storage and transmitter at Mount Ravna. In one of the first overflies, a F-18 hit the transmitter from an altitude of around 1,200 metres and pulled out heading towards my position. I had wrongly estimated and launch the missile at the distance of 5,000 metres. The missile was correctly guided to the target. But there was no hit. The target did not enter my launching zone. Bombing continued at 17:05.

‘Two Mirage 2000s approached at 1,500 metres altitude. I choose one of them and after setting the parameters launched the missile. It was guided correctly to the target. The missile managed to overtake the Mirage and hit in the middle. Previously this aircraft dropped four bombs which hit the Famos factory. The aircraft caught fire and both pilots ejected. The Mirage crashed some eight kilometres from Pale.’

SAR for the downed Mirage 2000 pilots but without success

Sergeant Studen finished his report explaining that bombing was stopped, and that NATO aviation started to carry out reconnaissance and observation missions with UAVs and A-10s until darkness. At 17:15 NATO had lost its first and only combat aircraft during the operation. It was a Mirage 2000NK-2, belonging to 3/2 EC, coded 3-JA, No. 346 with callsign EBRO 33. Two-member crew: Jose Souvignet and Frederic Chiffot were captured by an armed villager who took them to the nearest VRS (Army of Republika Srpska) unit and later to a military hospital in Sokolac. General Ratko Mladić ordered that the fate of the two French pilots had to remain secret pending his following orders.

After the Mirage was shot down, a single EF-111 (callsign Nikon 24) which was the nearest to the crash site was ordered to remain and jam the Serbian radars. An AWACS ordered a single F-15E into the area to cover any eventual SAR mission. Two MH- 53 helicopters from the Adriatic and a single HC-130 Hercules conducted SAR for the downed pilots but without success. In the forthcoming days there were several attempts to find and evacuate the French pilots, all without success and CNN reported that in a rescue attempt on Sep. 7, two US servicemen were wounded. In a press conference held on Sep. 9, a spokesman for NATO’s Southern Flank declined comment on the claim.

MH-53 helicopters

More details after Operation Deliberate Force

Much later, after Deliberate Force, Admiral Leighton Smith revealed more details on three unsuccessful attempts to rescue the French pilots. Based upon the gathered aerial imagery, in the early morning of Sep. 6, a group of HH-60 helicopters from USS Theodore Roosevelt and an MH-53 from Brindisi Air Base, covered by other combat and support aviation, tried to enter the area. Apparently, the attempt failed because of bad weather, and a helicopter was damaged by fire from the ground. The whole rescue party managed to land safely back on the carrier. On the following day, Sep. 7, a group of MH-53J helicopters, backed by other types of combat aviation tried to enter the area where the French pilots had been downed, and this time an AC-130 gunship was supporting the mission. Due to bad weather over the area and fire from the ground, this party also withdrew without success.

The most dramatic attempt was the third one, carried out on Sep. 8. A group of CSAR helicopters took off from Brindisi and managed to land in the zone where the French pilots were supposed to be. After 30 minutes of flying over the area, they were fired upon by the Serbian forces on the ground, two crew members were wounded, and the helicopters were ordered to withdraw from the area. The US helicopters twice came under friendly fire; first, from its own CSAR party consisting of A-10s of 104th FG and F/A-18s, and secondly from the fire of an AC-130 gunship. This demonstrated that landing in the area of Pale was hazardous and that there was no trace of the French pilots, and so further SAR missions were cancelled.

French pilots released

The search for the downed French pilots was continued on political grounds for three months. General Mladić was pressured to release the pilots by the French military leadership, Serbian President Milosevic, his head of State Security and Chief of General Staff, Russian political and military representatives, and even some French writers who had previously sided with General Mladić. Finally, after the war was over, General Mladić decided with heavy-heart to release the French pilots and on Dec. 12, 1995 in a hotel near Zvornik they were turned over to the joint FR Yugoslavia/French military delegation and ferried back to France.

Operation Deliberate Force, Air War Over Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

General Ratko Mladić (centre) arrives for UN-mediated talks at Sarajevo airport, June 1993.

Photo credit: Sgt Ralph Merry ABIPP RAF, U.S. Air Force and Фото: Михаил Евстафьев / Photo by Evstafiev Mikhail via Wikipedia

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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