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Proving Grounds: Remembering the B-1B Lancer and Operation ALLIED FORCE

  • Published
  • By By 2nd Lt. Michael Caggiano
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

“Wow… that was the most precise non-precision strike I’ve ever seen.”

These were the words said by former Gen. Michael C. Short, the air component commander during Operation Allied Force, to then Maj. Mark “PACMAN” Schlichte, the Air Combat Command weapons and tactics program manager, when he reviewed the Battle Damage Assessment the morning after the B-1B Lancer’s first mission in the operation.

On April 1st, 1999, B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base took off in support of operation Allied Force, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) campaign aimed at stopping human rights violations committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo. NATO forces relied heavily on an air war conducted by U.S. assets, which included the U.S. bomber triad of the B-1B Lancer, the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-2 Spirit.

When Schlicte first reviewed the battle plan, he noticed it outlined a relatively short three-day operation. “I [didn’t] know if three days was enough” said Schlichte

He was right, as the air campaign lasted 78 days before Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic surrendered and decided to withdraw forces from Kosovo. A key component to the campaign victory was the effectiveness of the B-1 thanks to its superior payload capabilities.

The B-1 proved to be an integral part of the operation. One night, while turning around after having a strike mission canceled due to weather, a pair of B-1s were called upon to provide unexpected support.

Short ordered Schlicte to reroute the bombers to drop 168 Mark 82 bombs along a seemingly unimportant target.

“Well, what’s there sir?” asked Schlichte.

“Nothing,” said Short. “What I have are Serbs pushing in from this side of the ridgeline and refugees on the other side. I want you to tell them stay away.”

“I told the bones [to] keep coming and I gave them the coordinates,” said Schlichte. “They did… It was awesome.”

According to PBS, approximately 863,000 Albanian Kosovars were expelled from Kosovo by the Serbian forces during the operation, with another 590,000 displaced within the country- nearly 90% of the Albanian Kosovar population.

“What we did there was noble because what the Serbs were doing to the Kosovars… if you watched those intel briefs every day, it was like another world,” said Schlichte

The air campaign proved effective, and in June of 1999, the Serbian President signed a ceasefire that ended the humanitarian crisis. During the operation, the B-1B Lancer dropped 20% of the total ordinance while only flying 2% of the combat sorties.

“In 1999, with the downfall of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Soviet Union, there were a lot of questions about what our military should now look like,” said Schlichte. “What these guys did was key to the B-1 to stay in the inventory which ended up being key to combat operations for Afghanistan and Iraq all the way up to now."

The B-1s of the 28th Bomb Wing continue to provide combat air power across the globe anytime, anywhere in support of the United States and its allies.