USAF May Need 8 Months
To Recover From Yugoslav War
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NATO's 78-day air war on Serbia took a heavy toll on the U.S. Air Force, and some units could take eight months to resume full training and combat readiness, a top Air Force official said on Thursday.
"It's going to take us some time to recover out of that and come back up" to normal training and deployment, the official told reporters in discussing the campaign, for which the United States provided most of a NATO force of 1,000 warplanes.
"About a six months recovery period is what we're looking at. It goes from anywhere from 90 days for some outfits all the way to 200 for others - 240 actually," added the official, who asked not to be identified.
He said that nearly 45 percent of the Air Force's available active-duty combat planes -- those not already committed around the world -- were used in the NATO force or assigned to policing Iraq, a larger percentage than was use in either the Vietnam War or the 1991 Gulf War.
Sharply attacking the slow pace and length of the bombing campaign, the official said the U.S. operation virtually halted training for units involved and put high stress on aircraft, fliers, crews and their families.
"There is a whole human dimension to this. We have to rest and recuperate that part of the force so it will be ready the next time you go around," he told reporters.
"We expended the flying hours on some of these airframes at three times the rate that we normally fly them. That builds up a backlog of engine changes and depot maintenance," the official added.
"So it's going to take some time to get back on the razor-sharp edge. And you never want them to go unless they're on a razor-sharp edge. And that's going to take, depending on the unit, up to 240 days."
Calling it "a terrible way to wage war," the official sharply attacked the alliance's gradual escalation of the bombing and said it could have been over much sooner if heavy raids had hit Belgrade and other strategic targets from the beginning.
That echoed charges by Defense Secretary William Cohen and others that 11 weeks of bombing could have ended sooner, but started too tentatively and grew slowly due to a lack of consensus among 19 NATO allies.
"If you are going to go and put people into harm's way, you want to get it over with as fast as you can and ... you ought to go for the throat," the official told reporters at the Pentagon.