Even though it’s not impossible, it would be at least difficult to successfully execute a 9/11-like suicide attack using one of the airliners allegedly missing in Libya.
In the last few days, media outlets all around the world have reported the news of the threat of a 9/11 type of attack posed by a certain number of civilian jet liners (“about a dozen”) seized by militias that took control of Tripoli airport.
A really interesting story published on NYCAviation has already raised some question about the amount of missing aircraft but what we are going to discuss here is the possibility to launch a suicide attack using one of the airplanes captured in Libya (provided any airliner is really available for such a terrorist action).
Even if a U.S. Department official is, quite obviously, a reliable source and, although a missing airplane is never a good news for intelligence agencies since September 11 2001, there are several things that must be considered to really evaluate the threat of a “renegade” aircraft used as a missile against a ground target.
First of all there’s the difficulty to actually launch the plane. Not easy at all.
“I agree the risks [of a missing plane] are there but I would be cautious in several regards: aircraft condition, availability of actual pilots and airfield conditions, etc,” says Tom Meyer, who’s worked for over a decade in all areas of the airline’s operations with Top US Air Carrier.
In fact, the missing airliner must be hidden somewhere (an kept away from the indiscreet eyes of satellites and U.S. drones snooping on terrorist bases in the desert) but a difficult-to-find airport is quite unlikely an airport capable to serve an airliner.
“Airline Ground Operations will need to include: Ground Power or APU [Auxiliary Power Unit) Availability, Fueling, Weight & Balance, FOD Free Ramp, Clear Taxiways and Runways…If any of the items is missing or done incorrectly, the whole scenario unravels. Sorry, Airline operations are complex,” Meyer explains.
Ok, now let’s assume the terrorists know enough about aircraft servicing, airport ops, etc. manage to launch the plane. What’s next?
The aircraft, departed from a remote location, must fly towards its final “destination.” In order to reach the target without being engaged by the local air defense (if any) it will have to fly all (or at least most) of its route at very low-level, thus reducing a lot its range.
Even if a north bound route (towards Italy or a northwestern one towards Spain and France or northeastern one towards Greece or Turkey) would bring the plane closer to the most the rewarding targets, it would also expose the liner to the detection by coastal radar sites and NATO E-3 AWACS aircraft keeping an eye on the Mediterranean and North Africa.
So, a large aerial suicide attack is perhaps unlikely.
A limited attack, targeting a neighbouring nation (or Malta, that is still not too far from Libya and has no combat planes for the islands air defense) or a military base in North or Central Africa, is only a bit more feasible (once again, provided the plane can be launched) just because of the relatively shorter distances.
Free Libya Air Force Mig-21 crashed into city blocks at Tobruk, in eastern Libya.
On Sept. 2, a Mig-21 belonging to the Free Libya Air Force crashed into Tobruk killing the pilot and at least a small boy on the ground.
The entire scene was filmed from a rooftop in Tobruk: the aircraft seems to be initially nose-diving, then the pilot pulls up again and the aircraft overflies the cameraman in what seems to be a climb, just before it dives again and crashes between buildings causing a huge explosion.
Needless to say the reasons of the crash are still unknown even if according to some news reports, sources pointed towards the mechanical failure.
According to RT, the pilot has been identified as Rafa Al-Farani and the he crashed in his Mig-21bis while performing in a memorial flypast for another pilot, Ibrahim Al-Manifi, who was also killed in a plane crash few days ago.
This seems to explain the reason why someone was filming the plane from a rooftop at the time of the crash.
It looks like the aircraft (or most of them) launched from Egyptian airbases (although Cairo has always denied a direct involvement in Libya) with UAE Air Force providing aircrews, attack planes and aerial refuelers.
The first airstrikes hit various Islamist militias positions in Tripoli including an ammo depot. A second round of strikes concentrated in the southern part of the city where vehicles and rocket launchers were bombed.
Libyan authorities were unable to establish which was behind the mysterious airstrikes even if some debris, including a fin of the guidance kit for Mk 82s, pointed towards air forces equipped with aircraft capable to drop GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs.
Now, American officials have unveiled the U.S. has collected enough evidence to determine UAE planes carried out the attacks.
If you thought low level flying was only for fighter planes, you were wrong. Watch how maneuverable a C-130 can be during a Red Flag sortie.
The following video shows a C-130H from the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota airbase Japan while conducting training operations during Red Flag Alaska 13-1. You can also spot another Hercules leading the formation through the valleys.
Even if low level videos usually feature fast jets, even cargo aircraft, often involved in special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in troubled spots around the world, may have to fly (hence train) at low altitudes.
For instance, the low flying training of Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules pilots came in handy when they were tasked to rescue oil workers that were trapped in Libya in 2011, few weeks before the Air War kicked off. The C-130s coming from Malta flew at low level once over the desert and in hostile air space, picked up the oil workers at a small remote airfield and returned to Luqa flying, at very low altitude until they reached the boundaries of the Libyan airspace.
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.