The Serbian battery commander, whose missiles downed an American F-16, and,
most impressively, an F-117, in 1999, has retired, as a colonel, and revealed
many of the techniques he used to achieve all this. Colonel Dani Zoltan, in
1999, commanded the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Brigade. He had search and
control radars, as well as a TV tracking unit. The battery had four quad
launchers for the 21 foot long, 880 pound SA-3 missiles. The SA-3 entered
service in 1961 and, while it had undergone some upgrades, was considered a
minor threat to NATO aircraft. Zoltan was an example of how an imaginative and
energetic leader can make a big difference. While Zoltan?s peers and superiors
were pretty demoralized with the electronic countermeasures NATO (especially
American) aircraft used to support their bombing missions, he believed he could
still turn his ancient missiles into lethal weapons. The list of measures he
took, and the results he got, should be warning to any who believe that
superior technology alone will provide a decisive edge in combat. People still
make a big difference. In addition to shooting down two aircraft, Zoltan?s
battery caused dozens of others to abort their bombing missions to escape his
unexpectedly accurate missiles. This is how he did it.
Zoltan had about 200 troops under his command. He got to know them well,
trained hard and made sure everyone could do what was expected of them. This
level of quality leadership was essential, for Zoltan's achievements were a
- Zoltan used a lot of effective techniques that American air defense experts
expected, but did not expect to encounter because of poor leadership by the
enemy. For example, Zoltan knew that his major foe was HARM (anti-radar)
missiles and electronic detection systems used by the Americans, as well as
smart bombs from aircraft who had spotted him. To get around this, he used
landlines for all his communications (no cell phones or radio). This was more
of a hassle, often requiring him to use messengers on foot or in cars. But it
meant the American intel people overhead were never sure where he was.
- His radars and missile launchers were moved frequently, meaning that some
of his people were always busy looking for new sites to set up in, or setting
up or taking down the equipment. His battery traveled over 100,000 kilometers
during the 78 day NATO bombing campaign, just to avoid getting hit. They did,
and his troops knew all that effort was worth the effort.
- The Serbs had spies outside the Italian airbase most of the bombers
operated from. When the bombers took off, the information on what aircraft
they, and how many, quickly made it to Zoltan and the other battery commanders.
- Zoltan studied all the information he could get on American stealth
technology, and the F-117. There was a lot of unclassified data, and
speculation, out there. He developed some ideas on how to beat stealth, based
on the fact that the technology didn?t make the F-117 invisible to radar, just
very to get, and keep, a good idea of exactly where the aircraft was. Zoltan
figured out how to tweak his radars to get a better lock on stealth type
targets. This has not been discussed openly.
- The Serbs also set up a system of human observers, who would report on
sightings of bombers entering Serbia, and track their progress.
- The spies and observers enabled Zoltan to keep his radars on for a minimal
amount of time. This made it difficult for the American SEAD (Suppression of
Enemy Air Defenses) to use their HARM missiles (that homed in on radar
transmissions.) Zoltan never lost a radar to a HARM missile.
- Zoltan used the human spotters and brief use of radar, with short range
shots at American bombers. The SA-3 was guided from the ground, so you had to
use surprise to get an accurate shot in before the target used jamming and
evasive maneuvers to make the missile miss. The F-117 he shot down was only 13
Zoltan got some help from his enemies. The NATO commanders often sent their
bombers in along the same routes, and didn?t make a big effort to find out if
hotshots like Zoltan were down there, and do something about it. Never
underestimate your enemy.