Tag Archives: Benghazi

U.S. Army Mysterious Sensor plane spotted over Libya. Along with a US Navy Spyplane

There are very few images of the U.S. Army EO-5C. Here’s one taken over Benghazi, Libya, few days ago.

The fact that U.S. Navy EP-3E ARIES II signal intelligence platforms were involved over North Africa was known, since images had already exposed the presence of the Navy spyplane over Libya during the evacuation of the U.S. embassy earlier this year.

What was unknown is that at least one secretive U.S. Army Dash 7 surveillance aircraft, designated EO-5C, has operated in the skies of eastern Libya, the same region where the U.S. has recently identified camps hosting a couple hundred ISIS militants.

The presence of an Army aircraft packed with sensors, known as ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low), is usually kept obscure: the aircraft does not wear military markings and some of its sensors can be retracted making the airplane a regional liner rather than a special operations plane on clandestine mission.

But photos of the aircraft overflying Benghazi on Nov. 29 have appeared on Twitter.

The EO-5C can detect and fix enemy transmissions on all the radio spectrum, collect both IR (Infrared) and visibile-light very high resolution imagery, track moving ground targets as well as monitor how footprints in the sand change over time.

The Navy’s ARIES II also seen operating over Benghazi is a highly modified version of the P-3C used to perform SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions. This variant of the Orion maritime patrol aircraft became famous on Apr. 1, 2001 when one such planes and its crew were detained for 11 days  following a collision with a Chinese J-8IIM fighter (that crashed causing the death of the pilot) and the subsequent emergency landing at Ligshui airbase, in Hainan island.

One of these Navy aircraft was spotted over Libya in 2012 when there were rumors that it might be involved in operations aimed at detecting and tracking smuggled weapons travelling towards Egypt and destined to Gaza.

In this case, the U.S. Navy spyplane, along with the Army EO-5C was probably seeking ISIS militants.

Image credit: Stoah News Agency

 

Photo proves Libyan Mig-21s (not Egyptian aircraft) have conducted air strikes in Benghazi recently

A photo, reportedly taken in Benghazi a couple of days ago, could prove it’s not the Egyptian Air Force but the Libyan Air Force conducting air strikes in the country.

On Oct. 16, some media outlets reported the news that airstrikes against jihadists in Libya were conducted by Egyptian Air Force aircraft piloted by Libyan officers.

Free Libya Air Force (as the Libyan Arab Air Force was dubbed in 2011), is equipped with a handful of front line fighter jets, most of which are obsolete, scarcely overhauled Soviet combat planes that have survived the uprising and the subsequent fierce struggle between militias. Among them, there are a handful of Mig-21 Fishbeds (some of those have crashed, including one in downtown Tobruk last month).

It’s hard to believe any Libyan pilot may have attained the required training and experience to carry out the attack using a modern Egyptian plane.  Libyan pilots are elderly officers who have flown little flight hours in the last decade or so and may have some experience with the aircraft they have flown for the last 30 years only.

Unless they used one of the Mig-21s still flown by the EAF, the chances that a Libyan pilot conducted an air strike on an Egyptian combat jet are really scarce. Furthermore, Egypt operates the fourth largest fleet of F-16s, American aircraft that can carry PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) and F-4E Phantoms that would be better candidates for an air strike. Anyway, any war mission is likely to be conducted with a combat plane more modern than a Mig-21, flown by  experienced aircrews.

Indeed, a photo taken by Libyan photographer Maher Alawami shows a Mig-21 during an air strike over Benghazi on Oct. 15.  Therefore, provided it was really taken a couple of days ago, the image seems to suggest (at least some) attack missions in East Libya are actually conducted by Libyan pilots on Libyan aircraft.

On top of this article you can find a slightly edited version of the image taken by Alwami with the roundel of the FLAF highlighted and magnified (for those who don’t know it very well). The original photo can be found here.

It’s not the first time Libyan Migs are used to perform air strikes across the country. In December 2012, some Libyan Air Force combat planes hit a camp possibly used by suspected smugglers near the border with Chad and Sudan.

Image credit: Maher Alawami

 

U.S. deploys additional aircraft to Italy for possible Libya evacuation

In anticipation of possible evacuation of American officials from Libya, more Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and KC-130 tankers have been deployed to Sigonella.

With tension raising in Libya, a U.S. crisis-response team deployed to Sigonella, in southeastern Sicily, to prepare for a possible evacuation of American personnel from the embassy in Tripoli.

Seven MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft supported by three KC-130Js along with a force of about 180 Marines and sailors have been forward deployed to Italy. They will be joined by another Osprey expected in the next few hours.

If called to facilitate the evacuation of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, the aircraft would be able to reach the Tripoli in little more than one hour. Indeed, Sigonella is the perfect location to launch a Special Operation in North Africa.

Actually, this is not the first the U.S. has reinforced its presence in Sicily since the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that cost the life of ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.

Immediately after the deadly attack, the Pentagon mobilized a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), an expeditionary group of skilled and very well equipped Marines capable to reinforce U.S. security forces at embassies and other key installations around the world, to the Mediterranean region.

Last October some 250 marines (200 according to some sources) were deployed from Moron, Spain, to Sigonella, to face potential threats to U.S. diplomats in Libya, that could be sparked by the Delta Force raid to capture Abu Anas al Libi, Al Qaeda leader in the North African country.

In May 2013, 500 American marines were moved from Spain to Sigonella amid growing tensions in Libya.

The Crisis Response Team took also part in embassy evacuations in South Sudan, in December last year during which a CV-22 of the Air Force Special Operations Command was hit by ground fire.

Sigonella, is one of NATO’s largest airbases in southern Europe; it often hosts U.S. warplanes on deployment, tanker aircraft supporting them as well as drones spying on Mali, Global Hawks involved in the search for 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and maritime patrol aircraft.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

 

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This is the DC-3 plane the State Dept denied to Stevens and Security Support Team at U.S. Embassy in Libya

According to the CNN Security Clearance blog, the State Department denied a request by the security team at the U.S. Embassy in Libya for continued use of a DC-3 plane earlier this year.

Even if the presence of the white Dakota belonging to the DoS Air Wing (Department of State) would not have helped stopping the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11 the news that the diplomatic mission was denied the support of a plane (based on the assumptions that a special flight would have been chartered had it been necessary) raises questions over whether the State Dept. properly addressed security concerns and requests coming from the Embassy in Tripoli.

The DoS Air Wing provides a wide variety of missions, including reconnaissance and surveillance operations, command and Control for counter-narcotics operations, interdiction operations, logistical support, Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), personnel and cargo movement by air, aerial eradication of drug crops (currently only in Colombia).

Interestingly, the DoS DC-3 N707BA was often spotted at Malta, after the end of Operation Unified Protector.

The aircraft had been deployed to Iraq before being moved to Libya. When commercial flights were resumed to Tripoli and Benghazi, the aircraft was moved back “to other State Department business.”

Although quite obsolete (since it is based on a 1930s concept), the turboprop is quite effective because it is extremely efficient, reliable, requires little ground support and can operate also from unpaved runways.

That’s why the DoS, based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, still operate it on several known and clandestine missions across the world (including Afghanistan).

Image credit: Brendon Attard

B-52 bombers deployed to Europe (for an exercise) using a special radio callsign: the name of a Libyan city

Even if, during peacetime operations, radio callsigns used to identify military flights in radio communications with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies are usually squadron standards (Ghost Rider xxx, Panther xx, Bogey xx, Weasel xx, etc.) or picked among specific “patterns” (car types, animals, currencies, etc. – as done during exercises) under certain circumstances they can be chosen so as to celebrate specific events.

Last night, two U.S. B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on their way to the Czech Republic, where they will take part to the NATO Exercise Ramstein Rover, used a very special, never heard before, callsign: the two strategic bombers flew to Ostrava, where they landed on Sept. 18, using callsign “Tobruk 41″ and “Tobruk 42″.

I’m pretty sure that most of the readers of this blog don’t know that Tobruk is actually the name of a port city located on eastern Libya, near the border with Egypt. Tobruk is located slightly less than 400 km from Benghazi.

The two planes were not involved in any combat mission in response to the attack at the U.S. consulate that cost the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American officials. Nor they will if Washington decides to launch a strike against the Libyan jidahists whose camps are believed to be located in the desert of East Libya (since other assets would be used).

Still, I can’t believe that the 307th Bomb Wing/93rd Bomb Squadron used that callsign in place of the usual “Scalp”, by coincidence only.

Maybe the U.S. Air Force just wanted to send an indirect message to those listening the planes crossing the Pond on HF and UHF frequencies, that what has happened in Libya, will not be forgotten.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Most probably this is just a speculation, however the communication power of military radio callsigns should not be underestimated.

Anyway, AlertNewEngland has recorded a part of the radio comms and you can clearly hear “Tobruk 41″ calling.

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