Escalation / Destabilization Conflict

How a Serbian Colonel With Ancient Missiles Shot Down an F117

Editors Note: ( Ralph Turchiano ) Offers a Disturbing yet interesting historical perspective that should not be ignored.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Precisely on this day, in 1999 a Serbian air force commander manning a battery system successfully shot down the elusive (invisible) F117. The Serbian battery commander, whose missiles downed an American F-16, and, most impressively, an F-117, in 1999, has retired, as a colonel, and revealed many of the techniques he used to achieve all this.

Colonel Dani Zoltan, in 1999, commanded the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade. He had search and control radars, as well as a TV tracking unit. The battery had four quad launchers for the 21 foot long, 880 pound SA-3 missiles. The SA-3 entered service in 1961 and, while it had undergone some upgrades, was considered a minor threat to NATO aircraft.

Zoltan was an example of how an imaginative and energetic leader can make a big difference. While Zoltan’s peers and superiors were pretty demoralized with the electronic countermeasures NATO (especially American) aircraft used to support their bombing missions, he believed he could still turn his ancient missiles into lethal weapons.

The list of measures he took, and the results he got, should be warning to any who believe that superior technology alone will provide a decisive edge in combat. People, particularly intelligent people still make a huge difference. In addition to shooting down two aircraft, Zoltan’s battery caused dozens of others to abort their bombing missions to escape his unexpectedly accurate missiles. This is how he did it.

Zoltan had about 200 troops under his command. He got to know them well, trained hard and made sure everyone could do what was expected of them. This level of quality leadership was essential, for Zoltan’s achievements were a group effort.

Zoltan used a lot of effective techniques that American air defense experts expected, but did not expect to encounter because of poor leadership by the enemy. For example, Zoltan knew that his major foe was HARM (anti-radar) missiles and electronic detection systems used by the Americans, as well as smart bombs from aircraft who had spotted him. To get around this, he used landlines for all his communications (no cell phones or radio). This was more of a hassle, often requiring him to use messengers on foot or in cars. But it meant the American intel people were never sure where he was.

His radars and missile launchers were moved frequently, meaning that some of his people were always busy looking for new sites to set up in, or setting up or taking down the equipment. His battery traveled over 100,000 kilometers during the 78 day NATO bombing campaign, just to avoid getting hit. They did, and his troops knew all that effort was worth the effort.

The Serbs had spies outside the Italian airbase most of the bombers operated from. When the bombers took off, the information on what aircraft and how many, quickly made it to Zoltan and the other battery commanders.

Zoltan studied all the information he could get on American stealth technology, and the F-117. There was a lot of unclassified data, and speculation out there. He developed some ideas on how to beat stealth, based on the fact that the technology didn’t make the F-117 invisible to radar, just very hard to spot or have a good idea of exactly the aircraft was.

And here comes the genius. Zoltan figured out how to tweak his radars, changed the frequency to get a better lock on stealth type targets. So when the F117 fired a rocket, Zoltan detected the source and ordered immediate fire. 20 Seconds later the F117 pilot Dale Zelko catapulted himself as the outdated rocket scored a direct hit turning the F117 into a pile of ruble, today hilariously displayed at the Belgrade Museum.

One could imagine what would have Zoltan done if he had the latest Russian rocket systems? Lets keep in mind, he was using a rocket system developed in 1961, which is likely why NATO was so willing to go on the offensive! After the shot down, the Serbs sent a piece of the wreckage to Russia and China, rendering those planes ‘useless’ as they were no longer invisible.

And now the best part, the US Air Force pilot Dale Zelko has visited Zoltan in Belgrade who is now retired and runs his own bakery. They both laugh about the incident in 1999, and have developed a very close, brotherly relationship over the years.