cluster bombs

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Apr 8 08:15:27 PDT 1999

[There was a question about cluster bombs, no?]

< 6>

April 7 1999 BALKANS WAR: NATO TARGETS Aircrews elated at successful mission, writes John Phillips in Gioia del Colle

Cluster-bombing ends frustration of Harrier pilots

RAF HARRIER pilots used cluster-bombs for the first time against Serbia yesterday, hitting a variety of mobile targets in Kosovo in a daylight blitz hours after scoring "good hits" on a missile store with laser-guided bombs in a separate night raid near Pristina.

The officer commanding No 1 Fighter Squadron gave a thumbs-up sign from his cockpit to reporters watching by the runway as he taxied back to the hangars at the Gioia del Colle base in southern Italy after the operation. The wings of his fighter-bomber were carrying only two of the four distinctive green and white cluster-bomb canisters that were slung beneath them when he took off at the head of ten Harriers nearly two hours earlier. "A few of the pilots that I have spoken to were confident that they hit the targets," said Group Captain Ian Travers Smith, an RAF spokesman. "They think they have taken out mobile or moving targets. The weapons they were using were RBL755 cluster-bomb units designed for anti-armour and anti-vehicle type targets primarily. There were a variety of targets hit in Kosovo."

Each cluster-bomb canister contains 147 bomblets the size of a beer can that are released when the bombs are dropped. Typically they form a sausage-like pattern that the pilots try to make overlap to cover a large rectangular area with what can be a "devastating" effect on tanks or other armoured vehicles such as those attacking villages in Kosovo, the spokesman said.

The RAF did not immediately say how many bombs were dropped, but reporters counted 20 canisters on five aircraft that took off, but counted only four when they returned.

In the early hours of yesterday, the flyers returned from a separate mission during which they dropped laser-guided 1,000lb Paveway II bombs not far from Pristina in a joint operation with RAF Tornados from Bruggen, Germany. The Harriers scored "good hits" against a building believed to contain stores of surface-to-air missiles, Wing Commander Graham Wright, the detachment commander here, said. The attacks ended a frustrating eight-day period during which the Harriers had been unable to drop bombs, first because of low cloud and then because no mobile targets could be found.

"People were over the moon because we had done something productive," Wing Commander Wright said. "It is a huge rush when you see that these things work. There was a release of tension. It is like when a goal is scored in football and you think 'Yes'. There was some good banter going on."

The previous build-up of frustration was underlined by a poster stuck up on the operations hut used by RAF ground staff working on the Harriers. It was a cover of Private Eye magazine lampooning "Winstony Blair". "Never have so few bombs been dropped on so many," it quoted him saying. "We will not fight them on the beaches, we will not fight them on the hills, we will not fight them on the streets. They will never surrender." After the raids the mood was different. "The pilots are professionals who got the results that they were seeking," Group Captain Travers Smith said. "Today they believe they got the results that they deserved."

Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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