The results of the investigation into the crash of the unmanned aircraft in Zagreb on Thursday night are still pending. The drone, a Soviet-made aircraft, arrived from Ukraine after passing through the airspace of fellow NATO member states Romania and Hungary. And while the crash site was cleared yesterday, there remain a number of unanswered questions. Perhaps the most pertinent being, whether it was launched by Russian or Ukrainian forces. Another question that is yet to be answered, is if it was a reconnaissance drone or one designed for attack.
After Defense Minister Mario Banožić yesterday reported that trace elements of explosives used in Soviet-made aircraft were found at the crash site, the Defense Minister's advisor General Željko Živanović said today that the drone's payload was a 120 kilogram bomb containing 40 kilograms of explosives. General Živanović claimed that the bomb exploded underground after penetrating the surface: “In question is a Russian-made bomb that weighed 120 kilograms, of which 40 kilograms were explosives. The bomb exploded underground when the craft penetrated the soil. For precisely that reason the crater isn't very big due to the structure of the ground in that area, that and the kind of bomb in question.”
However, military analyst Marinko Ogorec, finds this explanation doubtful: “I have to admit that it's highly unlikely that 40 kilograms of explosives detonated without it being heard by anyone and that this explosion didn't manifest itself on the surface in any noticeable way. It exploded some thirty to fifty meters away from a residential building without anybody hearing a thing. I think that's highly unlikely.”
If nothing else, the drone crash exposed some clear weaknesses in terms of Croatia’s lack of an air-defense system. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has come out and said that he plans on contacting the United States to discuss the possible deployment of the US-made Patriot anti-aircraft system in Croatia. However, military analyst Igor Tabak feels that the idea of acquiring the Patriot air-defense system is not something that can be done overnight. He does however, believe that there are other options on the table: “Croatia is a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance. Croatia is an ally of the big military powers of the Western world, and we can purchase whatever we want through normal procedure. There are no limitations in that regard. What we do need, is our own air-defense system that we will plan out properly and which we will acquire through normal procedure, without scandal. And then this problem will be resolved. It could have been resolved a long time ago, but that didn't happen.”
Tabak also commented on NATO's failure to meet its mission of providing umbrella security for its member states, noting that a single wayward drone is not likely to raise any flags in an organization as big and sluggish as NATO: “The NATO alliance is not in itself a guarantee of common security. NATO also has provisions which are less frequently cited, that clearly state that every member state must be self-sufficient in terms of defensive capabilities, so that it can in a position to contribute to the security of the alliance.”
On Wednesday Prime Minister Plenković is scheduled to visit NATO's Combined Air Operations Center northeast of Madrid to establish why NATO's defense systems failed to alert Croatia of the incoming drone. The bases' primary mission is to monitor Europe's NATO airspace south of the Alps, including Croatia.
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