The Parable of Zoltán Dani: Dragon Slayer 3

by Spencer Pearson

Zoltan Dani should be your hero, you should reflect on what Dani achieved, and how, every single day of your life.  You should keep a picture of Dani under your pillow at night and the first thing you should do every morning is take it out and promise to yourself that one day you will be at least one eighth as cool as Dani.  Because Zoltan Dani is fucking awesome and you don’t even know who he is and what he did.  Let’s sort that out right now.

Zoltan Dani was put in a position tens of thousands of other people have been put in, which is by no means a good one.  However, Dani wasn’t your average guy and he wasn’t going to follow the script.  The result was perhaps the most humiliating military defeat inflicted on the West since the Eagle Claw cluster fuck back in 1980.

Dani’s commanded the 3rd battery of the 250th Missile Battery of the Yugoslav Army, aligned with the Serbians in the Yugo Civil War.  Back in ’99 the Serbs had been identified as dangerous reactionaries by the Western elites and NATO decided to hand them a bitch slap.  This an early example of what has become routine procedure for the Western political elites whereby some force on the margins of the “civilized world” is crushed by overwhelming military power.  As ever this power manifested itself in the air forces of the West safely delivering death from sixty thousand feet, before the ground troops wandered in to count the bodies.  Dani however had different ideas.

First we should understand the position in which Dani was placed.  Typically when NATO, or some other configuration of Western power, decides someone need some laser guided high explosive therapy the first step is to crush anything which might impede the operations of the air forces.  This is not, generally speaking, opposing air power.  The West maintains such an overwhelming advantage in technology and numbers that any attempt to climb into a fighter jet and try and stop a NATO air offensive is merely a grandiose suicide as things currently stand.    Not since Vietnam has anyone ever managed to shoot down a Western combat aircraft from the cockpit of another combat aircraft (with one possible and unconfirmed exception).

If any resistance is to be offered at all then it generally falls to the people manning the ground based anti aircraft weapons.  These systems are therefore invariably the first targets of any Western aerial offensive.  We’re not talking here about the traditional simple auto cannon array, which are common but generally ineffective, but of the radar guided surface to air missile batteries of the sort Dani commanded.  These batteries come in two forms, one is a fixed static emplacement, and those guys are absolutely dead the minute the shooting starts because the Western airpower will know exactly where they are and they generally realize the war has started when a bomb comes through the roof, the other are mobile systems.

The mobile SAM system have certain advantages over the fixed version in that operators stand at least some chance of surviving the first sixty seconds of a NATO attack.  However they are not out of the woods yet.  The problem here is that as soon as you turn on the radar to look for targets Western airpower will detect the “emissions”, the signals you are sending out to bounce off any aircraft in the vicinity.   This is not simply so they have some kind of warning a la “missile lock” requiring the aircraft to take evasive action.  Since Vietnam Western combat aircraft frequently carry “anti radiation” missiles, these suckers locate enemy anti aircraft missile batteries by triangulating their location from the latter’s own radar signals;  one quarter of combat sorties flown by Western aircraft in the last several decades have been primarily tasked with this SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) “Wild Weasel” mission.  So should you be in the position Dani found himself you would know that if you should “acquire” a target then it is fairly likely a missile will be heading your way very shortly.

Like so many other people who have been tasked with defending against a NATO aerial offensive Dani was hardly equipped with the latest weaponry.  Dani’s unit had been issued with a Soviet era S-125 Neva/Pechora missile rig dating from the 1960s; not even designed to be a mobile launch system.   If Dani had been any other guy and followed the script he would have turned on that system and either ran the fuck away or waited to die.  But Dani wasn’t your average guy, instead he drilled his battery to be able to strip the system in the relatively fast time of ninety minutes, an hour faster than the operators guide thought feasible.  The system was designed with a quadruple missile launcher system, but Dani reduced this to two in order to further speed the time required to move the system.  Dani also dismissed any solider who was unable to cope with the stress induced by being the potential immediate recipient of an anti radiation missile.  Moreover he set rules by which the radar set could only be switched on for twenty seconds, twice, before the rig had to be broken down and moved.   This made it incredibly difficult for NATO controllers to identify the exact site of Danni’s missile batteries, which is obviously a necessary precursor to destroying them.  In doing so Danni would have won the approval of Sun Tzu who noted “Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.”

But Dani didn’t stop there, he obtained radar systems from obsolete MIG 21 aircraft and used them as decoys to “seduce” NATO SEAD missions.  Dani is also said to have set up physical decoy anti aircraft sites using scrap SAM systems.  This ad hoc innovation was successful enough that Dani didn’t lose any soldiers at all to the NATO forces, despite having 23 anti radiation missiles fired at his outfit.   Dani also acquired access to a P-18 radar, a set up so theoretically obsolete that the NATO forces ignored it completely.  Some sources suggest Dani and his boys tweaked this antiquated vacuum tube truck based system to operate at a higher wave length than it was designed for, an innovation which might have made it better able to track “stealth” aircraft.  Other accounts suggest that Dani sent out troops to outposts miles from his battery to visually identify enemy aircraft and report back to base using landlines, which are more difficult to intercept that wireless mobile communications.  Some maintain that Dani used messengers on foot or bicycles to report on enemy activity to observation posts equipped with landlines.  Whatever tactics Dani used we can be fairly certain that when he fired up his SAM batteries he was reasonably confident that there was something to shoot at.

At ten to eight on the evening of the 27th of March 1999 Dani’s battery turned on their radars, identified a target and fired two missiles.  The first failed to explode but the second detonated close enough to the target to bring it down.  At that moment Dani and his crew joined an elite club of people who have managed to drag a contemporary Western warplane out of the sky.  However Dani’s achievement was far more significant than that of most members of that club.  Dani had not got lucky and laced an aircraft on a low level strafing mission with some crude flak gun or with a cheap point and click rocket, he had hit a modern jet operating at high level with a tactical SAM system; a feat rarer still.  But it wasn’t just any common NATO peasant slayer that had done a face plant in the dirt at the hands of Dani’s boys, it was an F-117.

The F-117 was the original “stealth fighter”, in theory this baby should have been invulnerable to anything; much less Dani’s duct tape missile battery.  The consequence of Dani’s shoot down went further than the mere loss of a single aircraft, the fact one had been slotted by a gang of rednecks from the Balkans with an inferior version of the shit that brought Gary Powers down back in the Neolithic meant the whole F-117 program was totaled.  Particularly since it had to be assumed that the wreckage had been thoroughly inspected by the PRC and Russians both of which were down with the Serbs.   A low end estimate of the cost ramifications of the incidents would give a rough figure of ten billion dollars.

So that would be a pretty cool story, but what does it mean to you?  Dani’s weapons might have been shit by any reasonable standards but you haven’t got access anything even remotely as fit for purpose and your interest is not in shooting down stealth planes.  The point is this, you are facing an enemy which, on the face of it, seems impervious to any action you might reasonably undertake.  Moreover hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, in exactly your situation have at some point attempted to take on that system and all have failed.  That position is analogous to the situation Dani was, thousands of people had been ordered to defend against NATO air offensives with the kind of junk Dani was issued.  Few of them had destroyed any type of aircraft and none had even dreamed of bringing down something as sophisticated as an F-117, the overwhelming majority had failed and a significant fraction had been blown to pieces during that failure.

Dani succeeded where those guys failed because he threw away the rulebook.  Dani made a careful assessment of what equipment he did have, optimized that technically and made sure his team could get the absolute best out of it possible.  However he wasn’t satisfied with merely that, I guess pretty much everyone set the same challenge has made some attempt to do the same.  Dani went on to consider how he might improve the system with stuff he could actually get hold of, military scrap yard materials considered obsolete and useless by even the forces of a tiny Balkan state.  Even if Dani had not brought down the “stealth fighter” (and by the way his unit also claims to have killed an F-16 and scored two further possible hits on NATO aircraft, one of which is claimed by some to have been the even more expensive and advanced B2 Spirit stealth bomber)1 Dani’s innovations meant that NATO fired six million dollars worth of ordnance at scavenged garbage; a considerable victory in itself.

Dani did not stop at these “tech” solutions, his real brilliance was grasping the counter intuitive proposition that to shoot down a hi tech plane does not means than you need hi tech weapons.  NATO’s techies had spent decades and billions trying to make an aircraft invisible to radar but Dani circumvented this achievement by using eyeballs and payphones at a cost of pennies.  Dani did not play the game NATO wanted him to play, that everyone assumed he had to play, Dani won because he found and played a game he knew he had a chance of winning.

Similarly almost everyone who has tried to take on the system has played by the rules of the game laid out by tradition and few have even considered there might be alternatives.  The system has evolved to be extremely resilient against these traditional forms of rebellion; the protest movement, the electoral strategy, the armed insurrection much as the F-117 had been designed to be highly protected again certain forms of attack (radar guided missiles and fighter interceptors).  However it may well be that like the F-117 the apparently invincible power of the elite proves to be illusory when it is confronted by new threats.  Our job is similar to that of Dani’s, we must devised new strategies and tactics aimed at bringing down the system.  We must do that by first working out what we have got and what that could be made to do but then we must go a step further and clinically assess the system itself looking for any potential vulnerabilities we can exploit.  It is in this combination of what could work and what could feasibly be done that we will find a method by which we can do it like Dani and bring some hurt to our tormentors.

It is this approach which has driven the development of concepts like “pan secession” which have been evolved along a completely different “design ethos” to that of conventional radical movements.  Pan secessionism is not intended to bring about a utopia, to solve every ill which exists in society or might do at some point, it is not primarily calculated to embody some moral code or philosophic ideal rather it is conceived as a method by which we can win.  Supporters of the concept of pan secession are most often driven by the kind of attitude represented by Zoltan Dani, were not here to play a game ridiculously stacked in favour of our opponents; we’re here to break something that needs to be broken.


1         NATO conceded that the F-16 did go down but claims the crash was due to a technical failure rather than a missile hit.  Its pilot maintains it was hit by a missile as he attempted to fire an anti radiation missile at Dani’s battery.


  1. Absolutely inspirational. I will be sharing this with comrades. Zoltan confronted seemingly insurmountable odds and emerged triumphant. The greatest weapon the enemy wields is despair — but glory to those who dare to resist with balls, brains AND spite. Really good stuff.

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