US secretary of State for Defense William Cohen says the Kosovo air campaign highlighted disparities between US military forces and those of NATO allies, including precision strike capabilities.

Cohen's assessment is contained in an initial Kosovo after-action report from the Department of Defense containing early lessons from the conflict. A more thorough review is continuing and will be used to shape the Pentagon's fiscal year 2001 budget request.

He adds that NATO's command structure worked well, but that parallel US and NATO command and control structures complicated operational planning and unity of command. He says "overarching" command policy and procedures need to be developed.

The deployment of US Army Boeing AH-64A Apache attack helicopters is criticised in the report because the force arrived in Albania undertrained and ill-equipped. Cohen acknowledges that the Task Force Hawk operation shows the need "to regularly experiment with the innovative, independent use of key elements of all of our forces" outside their normal deployments.

He praises unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) which were used to an "unprecedented degree" in Operation Allied Force. He says it was better to lose 15 UAVs to hostile fire than to risk aircrews and believes improved mission planning, better interaction between UAV operators and manned aircraft, and equipment upgrades would be beneficial.

Cohen says the US military's air defence suppression forces, including the US Air Force's Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic intelligence aircraft and the US Navy's Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft were "heavily tasked". He calls for "innovative and affordable ways to exploit our technological skills in electronic combat".

The need to boost European NATO members' capabilities is also underlined by new NATO secretary general George Robertson in a paper published just before he ceased to be UK defence minister. "There is a need to boost European capabilities. To strengthen our ability to use force effectively, we Europeans need to improve the readiness, deployability and sustainability of our armed forces and their ability to engage in both high intensity operations and those of an expeditionary nature."

Source: Flight International