April 21, 1999 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Four F-16AMs of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNlAF) were among the first NATO aircraft to enter Serbian airspace on the night of 24 March. Within minutes, the Dutch had achieved their first air-to-air victory since World War II, shooting down a Serbian MiG-29.
The engagement also marked the combat debut for the F-16AM, the most advanced F-16 in operational service.
In an interview with Jane's Defence Weekly, Lt Col Jon Abma, RNlAF
, commanding officer of the Belgian-Netherlands Deployed Air Task Force (DATF) described the events that happened during the first moments of Operation Allied Force.
"At 19.30hr local time four F-16AMs took off from here for a fighter escort mission to protect one of the first NATO
strike packages. After an in-flight refuelling over the Adriatic Sea, the flight crossed over Albania into Serbia. Upon entering Serbian airspace, they were informed by AWACS that three MiG-29 aircraft had taken off from an air base near Belgrade," Col Abma said.
That base is understood to have been Batajnica, home of the Yugoslav Air Force's only MiG-29 unit, the 127th Fighter Aviation Squadron 'Knights'. Col Abma said: "The four F-16AMs headed out toward the threat, working to detect the MiGs on their own radars. Subsequently, one of the MiGs was picked up by all four F-16s. When within range, our flight leader fired one AMRAAM
against the MiG. It was an instant hit, after a flight of 30 seconds."
The AMRAAM, credited with a speed of over 4,000km/h,would be capable of covering a distance of more than 33km in 30s econds. According to RNLAF personnel at Amendola, the head-on missile intercept took place 18km from the lead F-16.
"The pilot involved visually saw a fiery explosion. At the same time, the AWACS recorded that the MiG disappeared from the scope," Col Abma said. "We have never seen the other MiG-29s, but around the same time two US F-15s shot down two of those aircraft."
Col Abma said that the rules of engagement (ROEs) for air-to-air engagements require that the target has been tracked by AWACS throughout its flight, and that four other parameters also must be met. Other RNLAF officers said that among those are a positive IFF
identification and an approval from the mission commander.
Flying in the air defence role, the F-16AMs at Amendola each carried four AMRAAMs, two external fuel tanks and a Northrop Grumman ALQ-131 ECM pod. In addition four of the eight aircraft also carried two Raytheon AGM-65G Maverick
air-to-ground missiles each.
"This is so that they can react instantly when a ground target needs to be attacked urgently," said Col Abma, adding that this 'swing role' capability was much appreciated by NATO's Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy
, which plans and leads the air campaign."