Monday, 14 August, 2000Bombs missed Kosovo targets
The majority of the bombs dropped by British forces during the Kosovo conflict missed their targets, an investigation by the BBC and industry magazine Flight International has revealed.
A classified Ministry of Defence report revealed the accuracy rate of missiles fired by the Royal Air Force was just 40% - and in the case of some bombs, as low as 2%.
The new information indicates that collateral damage, civilian casualties and damage to property might have been worse than previously thought.
The revelation followed a news conference on 10 February where the MoD told journalists the Kosovo bombing campaign had been the best ever conducted by the RAF.
But the conference was continued in closed session the next day where a different picture emerged, the BBC has discovered.
Then a senior MoD analyst admitted the precision rate was only 40% and only 2% of the old-fashioned thousand-pound dumb bombs had hit their targets.
But it is thought the high altitude from which the attacks were made affected the weapons' accuracy.
Many bombs were dropped from a height of 30,000 feet in order to minimise the risk to RAF pilots.
BBC defence reporter Andrew Gilligan said the Kosovo bombing campaign was the RAF's worst performance in its three most recent engagements.
The MoD said better equipment was being bought to address the problem, but some of the new weapons may not arrive until 2006.
Speaking for Jane's Defence Weekly, analyst Paul Beaver told BBC News Online the figures should not be taken "out of context".
He said: "The 2% accuracy figure is misleading because, although it is recognised that the miss rate was about 10-12%, the remaining 89% or so could not be positively identified because of the number of attacks against specific targets caused confusion in attributing actual hits."
The MoD had tried to prevent Flight International from printing the story, serving the magazine with a "D" notice forbidding publication.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Armed Forces Minister John Spellar said the public was not lied to over claims that the bombing campaign was highly successful.
"We were actually getting extremely accurate results," he said. "A lot of them were recorded as bombs not accounted for and that's absolutely right.
"What they were recording was actual observable direct hits and in cloud that's quite difficult.
"Unaccounted for doesn't mean they didn't hit, what it means is that we can't say with absolute assurance that they did hit.
"But looking subsequently at those sites the evidence would seem to suggest that a higher percentage actually hit the site.
"It is quite interesting looking at the countryside around legitimate military targets they are not littered with craters and that would seem to indicate that we actually got a higher figure rather than our confirmed figure that we absolutely certain of," he said.
Mr Spellar also dismissed claims that the government had tried to cover up the report.
"We produce a confidential report which we don't expect to be leaked and we'd rather it wasn't while we look at the issues that we are dealing with," he said.
Asked if the strategy of bombing from 30,000ft had been caused by a political unwillingness to risk the lives of RAF pilots, Mr Spellar said: "I think it is a perfectly legitimate objective to try and avoid death and injury to your pilots."