Laser Weapons Called Threat to Allied Pilots over Serbia

Article excerpt

A classified Pentagon intelligence report warns that U.S. and NATO pilots flying over Serbia face the threat of laser illumination from range-finders deployed with Serbian tanks, artillery or special forces.

The main danger is that Serbian forces could import blinding laser weapons or sow fear among NATO pilots and aircrews through the use of lasers against aircraft, according to the report by the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) and obtained by The Washington Times.

The danger is increased because many pilots and aircrews might shun the use of protective eyewear during nighttime operations, the 22-page report, labeled "secret," states. "The use of these systems against aircraft would be in a harassment role, similar to the laser events experienced by U.S. forces in Bosnia," it said.

The report, "Laser Threat to Air Operations in Serbia and Kosovo," was produced by the intelligence center for the U.S. Air Force, Europe, which is responsible for the scores of U.S. pilots who so far have flown thousands of missions over the Balkans since the bombing campaign began March 24.

It concludes that the use of lasers by Serbian forces against NATO aircraft is a potential threat but one considered to be minimal.

"The intent would be to distract a flight crew from its mission," the report said. "There is no evidence to suggest that any of the military factions have a dedicated laser weapon designed to target air platforms."

According to the report, there has been an "influx of foreign military weapons into the Balkans" since the conflict began.

"It is not known which systems from what countries have been provided to the various military factions," the report said. "There is no indication that laser weapons have proliferated to this region, and the probability of encountering such a device is extremely low."

However, a Pentagon intelligence official said the movement of a Russian intelligence-gath-ering ship to the Adriatic Sea has increased the danger of intentional laser use against U.S. and NATO pilots flying from bases in Italy over the sea en route to daily bombing targets in the Balkans.

The Russian ship was sent to the region as a sign of Moscow's opposition to the bombing campaign. Russian officials have voiced support for the Serbs, and there have been calls for Moscow to provide weapons to Belgrade.

U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the Russian ship and NATO air flights are being routed to avoid flying near the ship, Pentagon sources said.

According to the NGIC report, blinding weapons that could be purchased by the Serbs on the international arms market include three Russian portable laser guns, a Chinese laser weapon and a covertly developed blinding laser developed by Armenians for use in their war against Azerbaijan.

"Potential tactical battlefield use of lasers by the Serbian military and security forces would probably be limited to members of elite units," the report said. "The greatest potential threat of lasers being used as range finders, target designators, or even blinding weapons would come from the Special Operations Corps [63rd and 72nd Brigades]."

The report said the most likely area for the use of lasers by the Serbs would be during air-defense actions. The Serbs do not have laser guided artillery or mortar, and there is no intelligence on their aircraft having laser-guided bombs, the report said. …