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Yugoslavia: Military Analyst Assesses NATO Air Strikes

Prague, 19 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following are excerpts from an RFE/RL interview today with Clifford Beale, a military analyst and editor for the London-based defense industry journal Jane's Weekly. Beale spoke by telephone from London:

Beale was asked to describe the preparedness of Yugoslavia's air defenses against possible NATO air strikes.

"The Federal Yugoslav Army has a very capable air defense system comprised of mainly Russian surface-to-air missiles. They have a huge number of low altitude shoulder-fired missiles that can engage low-flying aircraft. But more importantly, and more of a threat to any attacking NATO aircraft, would be the very capable Russian SA-6 medium altitude missiles that they possess. They also have the radar systems to allow them to look at quite a distance to see attacking aircraft. They are also networked so they are able to pass information from one missile station to another."

Beale was asked to comment on what he thinks the first targets of NATO air strikes would be.

"Probably the first priority for any NATO attack will be to destroy or damage this entire air defense network before they can go after any other targets."

Beale was asked what the immediate response might be from the Yugoslav army in case of NATO air strikes or even NATO ground attacks in Kosovo.

"We are hearing stories that they will actually mobilize if they have to. And they could do that, certainly. They could probably increase the numbers of regular troops that they have [in Kosovo] by calling out additional troops."

Beale was asked which Yugoslav ground forces pose the greatest threat to NATO, and to comment on political challenges to be faced by western allies in the case of a sustained NATO air or ground campaign.

"Anything is going to be of concern to NATO forces because in a political sense, you're talking about western democracies possibly engaging in combat. And we all know that western democracies have a very low tolerance level for sustaining friendly casualties -- and for that matter, inflicting casualties."

Beale was asked to summarize the ability of Yugoslavia to withstand attacks, both from the air and from the ground, by NATO.

"The Serbian forces have Russian tanks which are very capable. They're certainly not the latest. But it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Certainly for fighting a defensive situation, they are more than capable. I don't think the end result would be that they could repel a NATO attack. Certainly, they cannot repel a NATO air attack. So it really depends on how you define success."

"The thing for NATO is that if there is an attack, obviously it is in NATO's interest to make it as least costly as possible. And there is a chance that NATO aircraft will be lost... [especially] in a very large attack on Serbia."