- The US Apache attack helicopter, promoted
as the most potent weapon in America's airborne arsenal, will never fly
on combat missions in Kosovo because it cannot cope with the region's mountains,
defence sources said yesterday.
- The aircraft, deployed to Albania by
the Pentagon with great fanfare as the "silver bullet" to end
to the Kosovo crisis, is militarily redundant because of the 10,000ft mountains.
Only by fitting additional fuel pods could it negotiate such obstacles,
and that would reduce its weapons payload and its capability to defend
- Defence sources said the problem meant
that the Apache will never be ordered into Kosovo on offensive operations
against Serb positions, contradicting the PR campaign that promoted the
machines as a decisive weapon for the Balkan crisis. It confirms what many
experts have suspected for a long time; the deployment of the Apache was
intended only as a coercive gesture to threaten attacks on Serb positions
but never actually carry them out.
- Meanwhile Nato admitted further errors
in its air assault with the Indian, Swiss, Israeli, Pakistani and Hungarian
embassies in Belgrade all suffering slight damage from errant bombs. While
there was no repeat of the huge blunder two weeks ago when Nato mistakenly
bombed the Chinese embassy, Washington was forced to issue a round of official
apologies starting with one directed to the Swiss government.
- In Kosovo the Serb-controlled media reported
that a bomb hit a prison, killing 19 people including the deputy governor
and some inmates. Other prisoners were able to escape when the perimeter
wall was breached. Most of the inmates were described as "terrorists",
the Serbs description of members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Nato admitted
it bombed the prison, but said it was a military target.
- Problems with the Apache were confirmed
after new fuel pods were seen being fitted to the stubby wing pylons normally
used to carry the helicopter's 16 Hellfire missiles. By fitting the fuel
pods at least half of the missiles have to be sacrificed.
- American army technicians at the Rinas
airfield, 15 miles west of Tirana, where the Apaches are based, were trying
to get around the problem caused by the mountains that form the Kosovo-Albanian
border. The range of the Apache is normally about 400 miles but this drops
to about 100 miles if the helicopter has to climb to substantial heights.
- The border is so mountainous along its
entire length that there is no alternative other than to use more fuel
to allow the Apaches to cross, even if they were based near the frontier.
The fuel restriction is the latest problem to befall the Apaches, which
were ordered to the Balkans amid a wave of publicity in March. Some military
planners regarded them as the "silver bullet" that would compensate
for the inadequacies of Nato's air campaign which was unable to engage
effectively the Serb army in Kosovo.
- The Apache has a record from the 1991
Gulf war of being deadly against tanks, armoured troop carriers and bunker
positions in open country although the topography of the Balkans with its
wooded valleys exposes it to ground fire.
- Gen Sir Charles Guthrie, the Chief of
the Defence Staff, emphasised the long range of the Apache at a Ministry
of Defence briefing when their deployment was first announced. It took
weeks for the 24 Apaches to deploy to Albania, and when they finally arrived
they found a muddy muddle at Rinas airfield, which was cluttered with US
troops, aid workers and Albanian personnel.
- Two Apaches crashed on exercise, killing
two crew members. Then the Pentagon announced it was not prepared to hand
over the command of the Apaches to Nato.
- Elsewhere, Nato sources said bad weather
hampered Operation Allied Force over Yugoslavia although some fixed-wing
aircraft were able to carry out their missions.