RAF Tornados firing 900K Euro missiles in 8-hour round-trip mission from the UK: is the war in Libya a marketing campaign?

Aug 15 2011 - 13 Comments

Looks like the UK’s Royal Air Force is particularly proud of announcing a Long-Range Libya mission involving six Tornados carrying state-of-the-art (and costly) Storm Shadow missiles.

According to the article published today on the Service’s website, on Aug. 10 night, six GR4s armed with stand-off missiles, conducted a round-trip mission over Libya “to target elements of Colonel Qadhafi’s military command and control facilities and air defence infrastructure.” This means that the aircraft flew long range sorties from RAF Marham and RAF Lossiemouth carrying 2 Storm Shadows each, for a total of 12 missiles.

There are many things that seem a bit weird.

First of all, that this kind of weapon is still needed in Libya after more than 100 days of air campaign, after the enemy’s air defenses both manned and unmanned (missiles) have been completely wiped out (or are unable to pose a threat to the allied planes).  The Storm Shadow provide the unique capability for precision strike against high value hardened targets without exposing aircraft and crews to high threat levels. Since each missile has a unit price of about 900.000 Euro (£790,000 = 1.3 Milion USD), I wonder if it the residual risk was worth the expense of 1 or more stand-off missiles.

Second, with 4 more Tornado GR4s deployed to Gioia del Colle, bringing the total to 16 was there the need to conduct a long range mission from the UK? Perhaps the RAF contingent in Italy was not supplied with the Storm Shadow, stored in the UK, but the cost of performing such long range missions (considered the hourly cost of a RAF Tonka: 38K Euro = 33K GBP = 54K USD) could be partly abated deploying some of them in southeastern Italy.

Now the question is: what did the RAF need to strike with such an expensive weapon?

And also: how many Storm Shadows did the RAF Tonkas fire?

NATO’s Aug. 10 Operational Media Update on Operation Unified Protector doesn’t list so many High Value targets worth some Storm Shadows. Most probably, the Tornados conduced air strikes in the Sebha area, where “1 Militairy Facility, 1 Bunker, 1 Command and Control Node, 1 Radar Site” were hit.

The Military facility could be the local airbase that was hit also in the past (raising another question: why is there still something to be hit over there?), and the bunker, that could be a target of a stand-off missile.

We don’t know how many aircraft were actually involved in the strike, since two were probably used as spares, and how many fired their missiles, but, with details disclosed so far, the entire operation resembles a sort of live exercise aimed to advertise the RAF’s adaptability and capability to strike at long range. An expensive marketing operation spurred by the desire of visibility rather than a war mission needed to achieve a military objective, like many others we have witnessed in Libya so far.

Photo credit: RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2011
PS: for some reason, Italian newspapers have given different Storm Shadow’s unit price in the last weeks: 300K Euro.

  • Whazza

    Maybe the inability of the Europeans to define what a Euro is worth accounts for the economic instability over there. Could be the liberal socialist governments over there aren’t sharing the same economic information or using the same rules.

  • http://pastproduction nigh

    hi cencio and thanks so much for your work. one question, maybe a little hyperparanoid: could it be possible that the RAF stuff would have soon ran out of date and that it was used in fact as a campaign ? I mean, aren’t there anyway new contracts about latest technology missiles etc.?

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      I don’t think so. They are relatively new missiles and the British MoD considers them “state of the art” weapons. So I believe it’s not a matter of “age”

  • massimo

    potrebbe essere che si siano individuati target ad alto valore con una finestrqa di opportunità limitata a poche ore…..gli asset presenti in Italia potevano essere già pianificati in altre missioni di appoggio ecc…ovviamente rimangono supposizioni speculative….se avessere voluto fare un operazione di marketing militare avrebbere tentato di usare i Typhoon, ammesso siano già compatibili con tali armi.

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      Interessante teoria.
      Non credo tuttavia si tratti problematiche di tempo visto che tali missioni (8 ore attraverso un continente con necessità di coordinare i tanker, le diplomatic clearance ecc) hanno cicli di vita che superano di gran lunga quelli previsti per le missioni di routine.

      L’avrei vista come una possibilità qualora fossero stati presenti Storm Shadow britannici in Italia: l’utilizzo di missili standoff al posto di LGB avrebbe potuto (con una certa benevolenza…) essere giustificato dalla necessità di colpire da lontano.

      Per quel che concerne i Typhoon ancora non possono sparare gli Storm Shadow.

      A presto

  • massimo

    effettivamente è una teoria un po’ tirata lunga….lo ammetto….sull’integrazione (reale) dell’arma sul Tifone non sono in grado di conoscerla…..posso solo aggiungere che la pianificazione delle missioni non viene fatta nell’arco di poche ore ma pianificata diverse decine di ore prima diciamo, sulla base delle informazioni pervenute, inoltre le missioni con LGB immagino (e spero) coinvolgono ben più di 6 unità ma viene formato un pacchetto con diverse tipologie, dalla soppressione, superiorità aerea e recuperi, asset sicuramente ridotti lanciando da 400Km di distanza (aerocisterne a parte). Lasciamo perdere poi la “mezza” integrazione” tra le varie forze aeree (in primis i francesi) con una “quasi politica” scelta dei bersagli….solo questo mi può essere di appoggio circa la mia teoria….

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      Per quanto riguarda la pianificazione delle missioni, sono d’accordo e infatti non ho mai parlato di poche ore, sebbene in qualche caso sia così, ma di tempi inferiori ad una mix a lungo raggio.

      Per quel che concerne il numero di velivoli impegnati nella stessa missione, ti assicuro che raramente si é andati oltre i 4 velivoli dopo i primissimi gg di guerra. Ci sono contingenti che hanno volato missioni di 2 velivoli sganciando 4 LGB o JDAM ogni volta.
      Di COMAO o package in questo conflitto non credo se ne siano visti. Tutti operano piú o meno autonomamente facendo il loro compitino.

      Sulla storia dell’integrazione, concordo.

      A presto

  • massimo

    mi scuso per essere sembrato polemico, non era mia intenzione ovviamente….non dubito che le informazioni in tuo possesso siano corrette, e mi rammarica sapere che tutti fanno ciò che vogliono/possono coordinati “solo” dal AEW di turno, sogno sempre non sia così….ma vengo da una scuola più vecchia dove gli avversari portavano la stella rossa e….facevano forse più paura dei libici.
    Capisco che abbiano ragionevolmente spianato le forze presenti sul posto, che siano sempre in quota per evitare i portatili ed i sassi….ma è un peccato che la politica ed i costi portino ad abbassare quelli che, fino a poco tempo fa, erano standard….tra un po’ vedremo i B2 sulla Libia (ops ci sono già stati) a fare del CAS….
    a proposito sarei curioso di sapere come hanno agito i nostri amici francesi nel primo raid, che tipo di appoggio EW avevano, sopppressione delle difese recupero ecc tutti quei velivoli sul mediterraneo ed il nostro governo non sapeva nulla….o forse qualche minuto prima hanno avvisato la ns difesa aerea per l’autorizzazione al sorvolo….non è che magari hanno, rischiando, tirato il colpaccio andando alla ventura con qualche scalp…
    grazie dell’ottimo lavoro che svolgi per tutti noi. massimo

  • http://serendipity.ruwenzori.net Jean-Marc Liotier

    I stumble on your article only today… But I was wondering the same thing today on ACIG’s forum after I read mention of the Syrte raid last night : what justifies using such expensive ordnance in nearly uncontested airspace ? Is there a problem with using twenty times cheaper JDAM ? Sure, the Storm Shadow has the fancy BROACH warhead, but it is only 450 kg and for the 1.2 tons of a Storm Shadow you can have a Mk84 or a BLU-109 instead – they are even lighter and respectively with much more explosives or much harder casing. And then there are the fuel costs of a long distance raid – and the tanker support, though it is pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of the ordnance. Anyway, why expend a cruise missile when you are not on a penetration mission ? I don’t understand.

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      That’s the reason why I wrote the article: hard to understand. The only reason is that you need to show you have a global reach, your costly weapons can be useful even in CSO scenarios and you don’t need aircraft carriers…..

  • Cris

    Quanto costa l’utilizzo di un poligono a scopo “sperimentale” in Europa?

  • Ben

    Dave, thanks for the article. I have similar concerns asking why there are so many untouched military targets. Recent satellite images obtained from Digital Globe show that the huge 30 sq km military storage facility NE of Waddan has only had a fraction of the bunkers hit. This is a scene that is repeated at Al Jufra AFB, Sirte AFB, and other sites that I’ve investigated. Why weren’t these stores hit? I expected with all the cruise missiles fired, like the 100+ Tomahawks at the beginning of the Operation, that bunkers like these would be on the list of targets.

    • http://cencio4.wordpress.com/ David Cenciotti

      Hi Ben,
      I think that the reason for so many untouched military targets it’s in their amount: I mean, there are some 4.000 ammo depot around Libya. To hit them all NATO and partners would expend too many costly PGMs. Hence, I think they went after the most important and dangerous one based on Intel news.