I start a series, about aerial victories during OAF.

Here is the first debrief...

Lt Col Cesar Rico Rodriguez (USAF)

493rd EFS Grim Reapers, F-15C
24 March 1999
Call-sign: KNIFE 13

Lt Col Rodriguezs ALLIED FORCE kill marked the first of the conflict and the third in his career. It also made him one of only two pilots to shoot down two MiG-29 Fulcrums. The following account is from a taped interview with Col Rodriquez.

In January 1999 I was assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron, known as the Grim Reapers, stationed at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. We were the only F-15C squadron left in Europe: Spangdahlem had recently closed its Eagle squadron, and sent some of their jets to us. This enabled us to plus-up from an 18-jet squadron to a 24-jet unit. Several squadrons in the states were also to plus-up at this time. This made us the pros from Dover, the only unit dedicated to providing air supremacy in the European area of operations (AOR).

Whereas my unit in DESERT STORM (58 TFS) had wingmen with over a thousand hours in the Eagle, the 493rd Fighter Squadron had wingmen showing up straight from the training course at Tyndall as recently as a month prior to the deployment. Some were finishing their Mission Ready (MR) check rides the week before we left for Italy. We had some very, very young aviators with us, and thats not to say they didnt perform admirably. On the contrary, they did incredibly great work. In particular was one of these young troops, Wild Bill Denim, my wingman on the night of 24 March.

We left Lakenheath and deployed un-refueled, but full loaded, to Cervia, Italy. Cervia is an Italian base 80 miles south of Aviano, on the east coast of Italy. This gave us the capabilin to take off in full afterburner, turn due east, and within eight and a half minutes be on station to monitor Yugoslavia, or provide support to anyone that needed it. We were the only U.S. presence at Cervia, which was a huge advantage over being deployed to the USS Aviano. We did not have to compete for runway, ramp, or weapons storage space, so we had a pretty good deal set up for us. The Italians were phenomenal hosts, not only on base, but also downtown, in the restaurants and hotels we frequented. They were equally determined to see this conflict ended as rapidly as possible with as minimal impact on the communities involved.

On 24 March we prepared for the first mission of this conflict. There were two missions on this first night, both spearheaded by F- 15s of the 493rd Fighter Squadron. The first was a U S -only mission that went north through Hungary to act as the northern arm of the assault. They focused on Belgrade and the SAM threat employing F-117s and EA-6Bs. Our mission, on the other hand was a coalition-centric mission, with a strike package made up of most of the coalition members. We refueled with the package over the boot" of Italy, and then pushed north up the eastern shore of the Adriatic. The targets were primarily in Montenegro; radar sites and SAMs positioned to deny access to Pristina. The strike was designed to break a hole in this SAM belt, and to open access for the close air support (CAS) assets that needed to get into Kosovo from the west.

Our four-ship of F-15s proceeded north, consisting of the flight lead "Cricket Renner, and his wingman K-Bob Sweeny I was number three, with my wingman, Wild Bill Denim. We were positioned with "K-Bob on the far left to the west, then to the right was Cricket, then myself, and Wild Bill was on the far right. As I mentioned, "Wild Bill was one of our youngest members in the squadron, having just completed his MR check and barely had 100 hours in the jet. In fact, he would finish the war with more combat time than peacetime flying in the F-15 and, like all our young aviators, he did just phenomenal work.

As we did our pre-strike sweep heading north, we got an initial radar contact about 25 miles north of Montenegro's airfield. At first it appeared to be a CAP, as the contact was orbiting; however the slow speed and lack ot any jamming led me to believe this might not be a fighter CAP. We were now thinking our element of surprise had been compromised. Lead and two focused on this contact as we closed the range, while "Wild Bill" and I kept our focus on Pristinas airfield. We knew this was their primary MiG base, with extensive underground shelters. This was our briefed primary threat axis, and our main task was to insure that nothing took off from Pristina heading towards Montenegro that might attempt to intercept our strike.

I got an intermittent contact out of Pristina, moving at high speed through the mountains. As the contact climbed above the mountains (about 10,000 feet) I was able to maintain a solid track, and I called him out as being on a bearing from our noses of 030 degrees for 70 miles. I started my ID matrix, and asked AWACS to do the same so that we would all be on the same sheet of music when the time came. Once I had determined my contact met hostile criteria, I handed him off to my number four to monitor, and I began monitoring the original contact, which was slightly west of our nose, to assist the lead element as needed. Lead then advised me that it appeared that this contact was landing, so I switched back to the eastern contact and asked four what its status was. Number four came back with a bearing, range, and altitude (BRA) on the contact that allowed me to put my radar right there. Four also had gotten a positive ID on the contact as a MiG-29, and it was pointed right at us.

I directed my element to start a climb, jettison tanks, and push it up. This would give our AMRAAMs greater range and, since we were on the front edge of the strike package, I wanted to shoot as soon as possible, to start the shooting match on our terms, not the MiGs. I asked AWACS if they had an ID on the contact, but they were unable to provide any information. Since both jets in my element had a positive hostile ID, I took it upon myself to declare Hostile, and I shot one AIM-120 at about 25 miles. I didnt realize we had accelerated to about 1.3 Mach, so as I shot the missile I looked to my left, and it appeared to be flying alongside of me. The missile took a couple of seconds to build up momentum and accelerate out in front of me, and during that time I thought I might have a bad missile. As it pulled away from me towards the location of the MiG the motor appeared to be a small glow, about the size of a dime.

I had a good radar track and did not see any jamming, so I opted to fire only one missile. I also was concerned with managing my missiles, as we had a long way to go, and a long time period to cover, so I didnt want to waste any. I also checked my element a little more to the east to avoid some of the SAMs that were starting to become active. My RWR was indicating that the SAM radars were starting to acquire us, so I wanted to stay away from them.

At about 15 miles to the MiG. I directed the element to come left and go pure, or point at the target. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, I had gotten a little too far east to be able to meet my contract of holding the east-west, counter-rotating CAP after this engagement was complete. Our four ship had briefed the strike package that we would hold our CAP between Montenegro and Pristina, and I needed to be in a position to uphold my responsibility. Second, I wanted to get an eyeball check on the missile and the threat. As I looked through the TD box in the HUD, I could not see the MiG, as it was pitch black out, but I was counting down the seconds left for the missile to impact.

As the counter reached zero, a fireball erupted in my HUD. Because the western mountains were still covered in snow, the fireball literally lit up the sky as it reflected off of the snow-covered mountains. The only thing I had ever seen like this was when they turn on all the lights at an NFL stadium, except this was like five times that bright; it really lit up the whole sky. In fact, an F-15E WSO about 85 miles to the southwest of the fireball heard my "Splash" call and simultaneously saw the bright glow. He became suspicious of what might have detonated up there, since the glow was so bright! As it turned out it was just that MiG-29 exploding.

There were a total of six aerial victories during ALLIED FORCE, and four of these were credited to the Reapers, so we were very proud of our squadrons performance. One of the other kills was accomplished by a Dutch F-16, and the Shaw F-16s also got one.

Operation ALLIED FORCE represented a turning point in the understanding of warfare by the average fighter pilot. As one of a few DESERT STORM veterans in our squadron, I kind of felt it was my responsibility to help the guys understand their role in actual combat, and the impact of combat on our squadron, our base, and our families back home. I also made a point to help the young guys understand the political ramifications of being armed with an air-to-air machine, and that you are sending a political statement anytime you hit that pickle button.

ALLIED FORCE represented a political tightrope, where U.S. forces and NATO forces were coming together for a political objective. We realized at that point that NATO had fallen behind in its training and technological investment. As a result, some of the tactics that were employed had to be "watered-down significantly so that other partners could play completely in the entire operation. We also had the unique scenario where, as the U.S. leadership from SHAPE was directing airpower, they were not always airmen, and hence sometimes that direction was poor. It was common to go after targets that had already been struck, or going after targets that had no impact on forcing Yugoslavia to surrender. Even the youngest Lt in the squadron could tell that we were not doing things as well as we could have.

I say it was a turning point because, unlike DESERT STORM, where we had no idea what was going on, and we were just the execution element, we were actively involved in planning the air campaign over Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, when these recommendations got to SHAPE, they were often changed, and airman were put into harms way striking targets that had no significance, and in some cases had already been destroyed. But thats a whole other aspect of this battle space. The actions of the 493rd were significant in developing tactics for both day and night employment that are still used by the F-15 community, and also by the F-22 as it becomes operational.

The investment in technology also paid off, as we were finally equipped with a missile that had the range to kill the enemy well beyond visual range, and was lethal enough to insure a kill. The investment made after DESERT STORM was made on the recommendations of the Captains, Majors and Lieutenants that fought in STORM, and much of the credit for the success in employing these new systems in ALLIED FORCE goes to them.

So to wrap it up, I ended up with three MiG kills. Three kills by a fighter pilot who I consider to be average; I was by no means the golden boy, and never had golden hands. What I had were great instructors and commanders who forced me to achieve higher levels of performance through dedication and hard work. They allowed me to experience failure, but they were also there, 100% of the time, to get me back on my feet, and help me to achieve new standards. Those three MiG kills are also a reflection of the dedication of the men and women who fix the F-15, and all those that supported the combat operations we were in. The men and women in today's maintenance world make success possible in the battle space. When it comes right down to it, every time you enter an engagement, the enemy has an equal opportunity to employ his weapons against you, so your aircraft and your weapons are the tiebreaker. In both STORM and ALLIED FORCE the troops that worked the jets, loaded them, fueled them - you name it, they were phenomenal. As were the support folks that take the creature comforts of home and deliver them to the forward edge of the battle space. They knew the mission, and supported it in every detail.

Also, a large part of this true success story is the family members, the spouses and the children left behind. Ive been blessed to have my wife, who has endured three full-up combat deployments with what I would call the heart of the envelope; being involved each time in the night one operations, which are always the most challenging in combat. She has had to endure three of them, and she's been a true trooper. The same goes for my two great kids, who supported me and my wife during these deployments, and allowed me to do my job. When you look at the total amount of sacrifice it takes to accomplish the mission, even though my name appears on these kills, it should appear at the bottom of a very long list!

Major Iljo Arizanov in MiG-29 number 18112 launched from Nis.
He was hit North West of Pristina at 20:20
Ejected, and parachuted to Suva Reka.

Last edited by Hpasp; 01/31/17 06:26 PM.

Free SAM Simulator, "Realistic to the Switch"

(U-2 over Sverdlovsk, B-52's over Hanoi, F-4 Phantoms over the Sinai, F-16's and the F-117A Stealth bomber over the Balkans.)

Book from the author - Soviet Nuclear Weapons in Hungary 1961-1991