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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK


RAF chief attacks Kosovo bombing critics

Control of the air seen as essential for winning surface campaign

The commander of the RAF has attacked critics of Nato's air campaign in Kosovo for what he called "a sad and predictable litany of prejudices and fixed ideas".

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns was giving a lecture at the Guild of Air Pilots, and responding to widespread criticism that Nato air power had been ineffective during the 11 week air campaign against the Serbs.

[ image: Sir Richard: Air power had
Sir Richard: Air power had "crucial role" forcing Serbs to back down
But Sir Richard said air power had been highly accurate, and played a crucial role in forcing the Serbs to back down.

Ever since the Kosovo war, Nato's air campaign has been attacked for being less accurate than claimed.

Critics also argue Russian's role, and the threat of a ground invasion were more decisive in making the Serbs back down.

But Air Chief Marshal Johns said the latest information showed attacks had been very accurate, and put huge pressure on the Milosovic regime, playing a critical role in making it withdraw from Kosovo.

Sir Richard also rejected criticism that in trying to keep aircrew safe Nato aircraft had flown too high to be effective.

He said bombing from medium altitude usually proved superior because it gives pilots more time to find and identify their targets.

[ image: Novi Sad oil refinery in flames after Nato bombing raid]
Novi Sad oil refinery in flames after Nato bombing raid
Sir Richard said he did not want to claim that airpower was the only factor in giving Nato victory, but the air campaign was an essential pre-condition to success.

Speaking ahead of the lecture, Sir Richard said: "Air power today, provides a wide spread of options to Governments wishing to exert military pressure.

"In the event that diplomacy and deterrence should fail - thus leading to conflict - we airmen must be prepared, first, to shape the ring for our ground forces and then provide direct support to their activities within it.

"In order to achieve this, we must seize and then sustain control of the relevant airspace.

"Time and again, since the creation of the Royal Air Force as an independent military force, we have witnessed events that reinforce the fundamental military truth that control of the air will remain an essential pre-requisite for the successful conduct of any surface campaign.

"For the future, air power will continue to shape the battlespace to permit naval and ground forces to exploit the impact of air operations."

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