Between Jan 19 and 20, the U.S. Air Force’s 920th Rescue Wing from Patrick Air Force Base deployed several of its HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and approximately 70 helicopter crew, maintenance, operations and support personnel to the Horn of Africa.
As part of the air brigde, the airlifters made a stopover at Rota, in Spain.
The HH-60G of the only Air Force Reserve combat rescue unit will support Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa to provide “both conventional and unconventional combat-rescue operations”.
Even if some Air Force’s Pave Hawk helicopters, like the one which crashed in the UK some weeks ago, have been operating in the Horn of Africa for anti-piracy tasks for some time, and few helicopters were spotted at Camp Lemonnier in the past, the deployment marks a significant increase in the amount of CSAR assets in a region characterized by a drone-led Shadow War in Yemen and threated by the unstable ceasefire in South Sudan.
The Washington Post has revealed that the Governement of Djibouti has asked the U.S. to move its fleet of Reaper UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) away from Camp Lemonnier due to local population concerns regards their safety.
The Post revealed that there has been at least five crashes since January 2011 close to the base, which also serves as the country’s only International Airport.
The Djibouti government was concerned due to the amount of air traffic now flying from the airfield, not only the UAV movements numbering around 16 per day but also of the other military aircraft movements. The Post report also revealed that a Reaper crash had shut down the Seychelles only International airport that serves the popular holiday destination.
They also argued that a shared military/civilian facility would also increase the risk to civilians, should militants attack the airfield in retaliation to the drone strikes launched from the same location. The Reaper fleet has for the time being been moved to another airfield in the country which is in a more remote location therefore not posing such a risk to local civilians.
The U.S. Air force has found a short term alternative in Djibouti’s desert at Chabelley airfield a little used and (more importantly) remote airfield (to the SW of Djibouti) and has upgraded the facility so they can use it for Reaper operations. It remains to be seen if this is going to be used long term or that the U.S. is going to need to find a new location to continue its operations (and shadow war) from the Horn of Africa.
Although it didn’t get much attention, something quite unexpected happened in the last days: Israel has attacked Sudan.
This is what seems to emerge in the aftermath of a mysterious explosion that occurred in a arms factory in Khartoum on Oct. 24.
Sudan accused that the Yarmouk munitions factory in Sudan, believed to be supplying weapons to the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, was indeed attacked in Israeli Air Force’s last long-range raid against a nearby “dangerous terrorist state.”
Although it was neither confirmed nor denied by Tel Aviv, a raid in Sudan is highly plausible and technically easy for an air force that is quite used to surprise strike missions abroad, even when they foresee some foreign airspace violations.
Departing from Hatzerim or Ovda airbases with a low level mission profile, an Electronic Warfare escort to help passing undetected along the borders with Jordan and Egypt and reach the Red Sea, and an AEW (Airborne Early Warning) asset to detect any aerial threat, the aircraft had to rely on (buddy?) tankers to reach their target located some 1,800 km away from Negev.
Drones were probably used to provide ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) prior to the strike.
This is just a likely scenario, involving about 15 aircraft, including spares, CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) and support assets. A test for a possible strike on Iran and a message to some dangerous neighbor. Moreover, the Israeli Air Force is not only capable to launch such an operation, it has already successfully completed a few.
Image credit: IAF
Still, the attack on the Yarmouk factory would have been even easier if launched by drones. Small target, well inside an almost undefended airspace. A perfect “place” for an unmanned killer robot, capable to silently fly for 24 or more hours.
Speculation on: take a look at a map. Don’t you notice something interesting?
Although a bit far fetched this theory would still be coherent with the fact that Israel has not officially confirmed the authorship of the raid: without doing anything they would get credit for a successful military operation with significant psychological side effects few weeks after suffering the offence of an airspace violation by a Hezbollah drone.
A small build-up is in progress in the Mediterranean area, following the Benghazi attack that cost the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American officials, one of those was a former Navy SEAL.
According to the information posted on Scramble Messageboard, one of the most famous aviation forums, extremely popular among aircraft spotters from all around the world, at least a dozen Special Operation Hercules (MC-130Hs, HC-130Ns, HC-130Ps and AC-130Us) are currently in the process of crossing the Atlantic Ocean eastbound.
A pre-planned deployment? Hard to say. For sure it seems more than a coincidence that such variety of Special Ops planes is on the move hours after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and protests have erupted in Israel, Gaza, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and among Muslims in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir.
Although their final destination is unknown, they will probably be deployed to Sigonella, in Sicily, or Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, or wherever such special operations planes may be useful to support infiltration, exfiltration of ground forces, resupply, escort and anything needed to protect U.S. diplomatic missions in Africa and the Middle East, where protesters have been gathering in a wave of anger and outrage sparked by an American film.
The presence of AC-130U Spooky gunships could be a sign that the Pentagon wants consistent firepower to perform force protection missions should the need arise.
This plane’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. The U model is an upgraded version of the H and is equipped with side firing, trainable 25 mm, 40 mm, and 105 mm guns.
Although at this time this is just media speculation, there are reports in the UK that British Prime Minister is considering some form of air strikes on radical militants in Somalia along with dealing with the piracy issue.
After some 400 attacks and 100 hijackings in three years on international shipping, David Cameron would be drawing up plans to send one of two helicopter carriers loaded with Apache and Lynx attack helicopters, along with Royal Marines, to take out the Pirate camps once and for all.
Britain could also be working alongside other countries to rid Somalia of the pirate problem along with the radical group al-Shabab whom Cameron alleges has links to al-Qaida and is a direct threat to the UK and other nations.
The plans may have been given the green light by the Somalians themselves at the international conference that has taken place in London on Feb. 23, as the country’s government would welcome the air strikes so long as civilians were protected. Indeed, one of the problem the international community has to face is that the terrorists are even stopping aid and other forms of assistance reaching Somalia.
The intelligence agencies know where the pirate camps are along with the al-Shabab camps (indeed it can seen marked on Google Earth); the problem is the closeness to the civilian population and the need to keep casualties to the bare minimum.
According to speculations, French and U.S. forces would be involved in direct military action along with Britain and few other supporting nations. Even if it isn’t widely reported, looks like the US has already made a military strike deep in Somali territory and continues to hit al-Shabab with drone strikes (launched also from Mahe, in the Seychelles), every now and then.
Let’s see what kind of threat a coalition could find in the Horn of Africa. There are intelligence reports that 30 SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles have arrived into one of Somalia’s ports, thought to have been smuggled out of Libya and were once part of Colonel Gaddafi’s huge arsenal. This threat has also been backed up by the announcement of a find of a cache of some 43 anti-aircraft missiles composed of a mix of the older SA-7 and newer more potent SA-24s buried in Algeria, near the Libyan border. Most probably there are others in circulation that are currently unknown.
The operation is likely to be more surgical in nature and possibly amphibious as most of the camps are situated along the coastal region or not that far inland. Indeed the U.S. Special Forces raid that rescued two western aid workers was only some 30 miles (50km) from the coast. The operation could be run from Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti, were several special operation planes are based (among them the recently crashed U-28A) and, although it is unlikely, if fast air is required that could come in the form of Harriers from a U.S. “multipurpose amphibious assault ship.”
Officially no decision has been made but as and when further details become clear, The Aviationist will report them.