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 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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.