I have an article up at Asia Times titled The tearful origins of China’s stealth.
It addresses a rumor circulating in China that the U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 in order to destroy wreckage of a F117A stealth fighter shot down during the NATO air war against Yugoslavia.
Regardless of whether or not the stealth wreckage legend is true, it appears highly probable that the embassy was bombed on purpose.
Certainly, a lot of people inside China believe the bombing was intentional.
The bombing of the Belgrade embassy is something of a 9/11 moment for China.
It galvanized the Chinese elite in its determination to upgrade China’s military capabilities.
It also occasioned a sea change in Chinese public opinion.
In 1989, I remember a resident of Beijing plaintively asking why the U.S. couldn’t send some B-52s to help out the pro-democracy demonstrators.
In 1999, when the U.S. bombers did show up—at the Chinese embassy in Belgrade—the reaction inside China wasn’t so favorable.
Warm and fuzzy affection for the United States as a paragon of democratic values were replaced, to a significant extent, by nationalist perceptions of the U.S. as a dangerous and unscrupulous adversary.
To the Chinese government’s satisfaction, the Belgrade bombing complicated the unfavorable post Tian An Men narrative of democracy-loving Chinese populace preferring the USA system over the PRC.
In a couple of posts in 2007, I covered the embassy bombing incident in considerable detail:
They are particularly useful because some interesting information has subsequently vanished from the net, and my posts are a good place to find them.
Here’s a taste, drawing on a 2006 report from a Chinese magazine called Global Views:
1960s tube amplifier enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that the Yugoslavian air force attributes the shootdown of the F117A to P-12 type vacuum tube-technology Russian radars so old the U.S. considered them obsolete.
According to their account, the F117A Stealth fighter was detectable by antique radar operating at wavelengths of 2 meters—a detail that had supposedly escaped the Stealth designers, who operated on the assumption that the plane would only have to be invisible to modern centimeter and millimeter wavelength radars.
On the evening of March 27, Yugoslavia’s anti-aircraft defenses detected an aircraft entering Yugoslavian airspace at a distance of 80 km. The radar was immediately shut off, since U.S. planes were armed with radar seeking missiles that would fire automatically within 20 seconds and track the signal to its source and destroy it. The Yugoslavian anti-aircraft crews had been rigorously trained to either acquire and fire on a target or turn off their radio within this 20-second window. The radar was switched on when the target was about 15 km away and a barrage of SA-2 SAM missiles were fired manually. The F117A fell to earth. Witnesses said, “It looked like a sparrow shot from the sky.”
The shootdown raised an important tactical and strategic issue for NATO. Bad weather had limited helicopter operations and the U.S. was relying on high-altitude bombing to advance its war objectives. Therefore, a great deal of attention was paid to identifying and disabling Yugoslavia’s anti-aircraft facilities.
The Global Vision article reports that the headquarters of the 126 Mid-Air Detection and Anti-Aircraft Battalion—which had detected the plane—was attacked 11 times, each time with 5 JDAM bombs. The 250th Battalion—which fired the offending SAMs–was attacked 22 times.
The Yugoslav asserts that the 3rd Brigade of the 250th Battalion, whose missiles actually brought down the plane, suffered no fatalities or casualties during the war, leading them to brag: “We’re the real Stealth”.
The F-117A shootdown provided a psychological boost to the Yugoslavs which lives on to this day.
Every year on March 27 the 250th Battalion, now part of the Serbian Air Force, holds a raucous party. The main event occurs when a large cake bedecked with candles is rolled out. On the top is a rendering of an F-117A Nighthawk in chocolate. At precisely 8:42 pm, the exact time of the shootdown, the first slice is cut—through the port wing, which is the one severed by the SAM barrage.
No word as to whether the cake is inscribed with the taunt “Neener Neener” or the Serbian equivalent.
Happy New Year.