Tag Archives: Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 81 – 104)

Previous debriefings: Archive

With the air campaign in Libya in progress for more than 100 days, I think it’s better to give the blog’s reader an extremely quick recap of the main political and military updates (just to recall the latest developments that can be found on mainstream media) and then focus a bit more on the many “Other interesting things, information and thoughts” section of my Debriefs.

On Jun. 27, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant on suspicion of crimes against humanity for Libyan leader Gaddafi along with his closest aides: his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Libya dismissed the ICC warrant, rejecting the authority of the tribunal.

In the meanwhile, with the air support of NATO, rebels are continuing their advance towards Tripoli: their forces are now within 50 miles from the capital. They have recently seized some Libyan arms depots located 25 km south of Zenten and collected many weapons left on the field by the retreating Gaddafi’s troops. Actually, they have also been supplied with large amounts of rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles, into the Jebel Nafusa region by France, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Jun. 28 (citing an undisclosed source). These “humanitarian drops” gave the anti-Government forces the impetus to push towards the capital and to protect undefended civilians that were threatened by loyalists. For sure such air drops could not be done without a prior coordination with NATO, required for planes deconfliction; however, as important as informing partners of such mission was a prior coordination with liaison officers on the ground (like those I talked about on my last report) who could ensure that the dropped “goods” did not go in the wrong hands.

Anyway, NATO and partners’ air and sea activities have contributed to bring some stabilization in certain parts of Libya as Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of the Operation Unified Protector, explained in Jun. 28 Press Briefing. Benghazi is now seeing signs of normalcy, while Brega and Ajdabiya continue to stabilize, even if “a significant size force in the Brega area” is still under the regime control.

Further to the west, in the Misratah area, the population has been able to move forward from the port while in the area between Zlitan and Dafiniyah the regime forces have placed around 300 civilians to shield themselves against any operations.

In the west, Nalut area is still under shelling by artillery pieces while fighting in the town of Yafran and Zlitan have stopped. “In Tripoli, the situation remains very tense. We have reports that the population has tried at some places to show some demonstrations against the regime. But these demonstrations have been very severely put down by a very repressive security force” Bouchard said.

Noteworthy, during the Press Briefing NATO showed reconnaissance imagery showing the words “TNX NATO” or “Thank you” written on a road next to a check point or on a roof top to be seen from above: a sign of appreciation for what NATO is doing in Libya from local population.

Dealing with figures of NATO air campaign, since the beginning of Unified Protector (Mar. 31, 08.00GMT) a total of 13.035 sorties, including 4.908 strike sorties, have been conducted.

Above: air strike sorties trend since Mar.31 (courtesy of @88simon88)

Few days earlier, on Jun.10, outgoing US Defense SecretaryRobert Gates had lashed out US European allies complaining that the poorly effective air campaign in Libya was pushing NATO towards  “collective military irrelevance.”

US SECDEF condemned European nations for years of shrinking defense budgets that have forced the US to play, once again, a major role in the NATO operation. With frustration, he said:

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country,  yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.”

However “a NATO with reduced capabilities is still better than no NATO at all”, he said.

Under a political point of view, another interesting news is that Germany will supply bombs and other ordnance components to help NATO in Libya in spite of Berlin’s opposition not only to join air strikes but also to flying support missions (you’ll remember the decision to remove their crews from NATO AWACS operating in Libya). It looks like the decision came after a request from NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA).

On Jun. 14 Tunisian AF F-5s & reconnaissance helicopters flew along the Tunisia-Libya bordar after Libyan troops fired rockets (thanks to @Marguer_D for the heads up). Tunisian planes had been reported flying along the border as “show of force” even on May 17, after pro-Gaddafi forces had fired shells to retake the border crossing near the small Tunisian town of Dehiba.

Other interesting information, things and thoughts:

1) On Jun. 19 NATO acknowledged that a missile had destroyed a civilian home in Tripoli, saying it may have killed civilians. Although NATO’s bombs had already hit rebels in the past months, it was the first such admission of collateral damages involving civilians in the three-month-long air campaign of airstrikes in Libya.

2) On Jun. 21, a US Navy unmanned helicopter MQ-8B Fire Scout, flying a reconnaissance mission over Libya, crashed at 07.20 AM LT. The only information disclosed by both NATO and USN is that the aircraft crashed on the coast so it is still unknown whether the UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) lost control or was attacked and from where it was being controlled (even if it must have been a US ship in the area). It would be extremely interesting to know if the drone suffered communication link loss like the example lost on Aug. 2, 2010 when the little remotely-piloted helo, departed from NAS Patuxent River, because of a software glitch flew towards Washington DC and entered restricted airspace before another ground control station was able to regain command of the UAS and directed it to Webster Field, MD.

We already knew that, along with armed US Predators, unarmed US Global Hawks were flying reconnaissance missions in Libya in support of Unified Protector and that these could be soon joined by recently acquired (unarmed) Italian Air Force Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) based in Amendola, that Italy could use over Libya by mid July. Now we know that also smaller drones flying from ships have been conducting ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions.

3) On Jun. 10, the Dutch Government decided to extend the RNlAF contribution to the NATO operation in Libya until September 2011. The six F-16s deployed to Decimomannu airbase will not change their role and will not take part in air strikes.

However, in the same days, the Netherlands were asked to help replenish the RDAF stock because, having flown 346 sorties dropping 565 PGMs to date,  Danish F-16s deployed to Sigonella have almost ran out of bombs.

On Jun 9, the Norwegian government decided to keep contributing to Unified Protector with a reduced contingent of 4 (instead of 6) F-16s until Aug. 1. On Jun. 14 Aksel Magdahl provided the following tally of the RNoAF effort in Libya: 198 missions, 445 sorties, 409 bombs dropped. An interesting 6 mins movie about Norwegian missions from Souda Bay can be found here: http://forsvaret.no/aktuelt/publisert/nyheter/Sider/Rundet–2000-flytimer.aspx

Swedish parliament voted 230-18 in support of 3 month extension of SwLm JAS-39 Gripen mission in Libya on Jun. 17. As of Jun. 29, Swedish recce Gripens have conducted 248 missions shooting 130K images (@GripenNews).

4) Canadian air sorties as of 2359Z Jun. 27: CF-188: 461; CC-150: 138; CC-130: 46; CP-140: 82. Dealing with the 2 CP-140s, an interesting article published on the Canada National Defense website, explains that the “Aurora”, originally designed for anti-submarine warfare is being used also in ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions.

Here’s an excerpt:

Throughout thosee early maritime surveillance missions, the Auroras showed their top-class form. Not only fast — they can do 400 knots, as fast as the CT-114 Tutor jets the Snowbirds fly — Auroras have plenty of stamina, staying aloft for up to 12 hours. They carry an array of sensors to gather and record the precise, reliable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data required to create a clear picture of the situation at ground level or at sea. With this unique combination of capabilities, the Auroras were a natural choice for inland ISR missions, and they now provide ISR data on Libya’s coastline, highways and command and control centres.

“This is a new role for us,” said Captain Stephanie Hale, the Air Combat Systems Officer and Operations Officer on Roto 0 of the Sigonella detachment. “The new mission suite systems, including electro-optic infrared and overland equipment, have changed what we’re able to provide, and changed where we’re able to work.”

For what concerns the CF-188s, on the Canadian Combat Camera website I’ve found a nice picture of a Hornet being washed (on Apr. 20) on arrival to Trapani from Iceland. Interestingly, it’s using the same “showers” used in the past by the 82° CSAR HH-3F of the ItAF based in Trapani as the picture below on the right (taken in 2008) shows.

According to what a senior Canadian official told AFP on condition of anonymity, the Canadian Air Force has decided to pull out of the NATO AWACS program to trim costs and eliminate budget deficit.

5) The recent Paris Air Show 2011, at Le Bourget, gave both Eurofighter and Dassault the opportunity to showcase their now combat-proven fighters, shortlisted for the Indian MMRCA tender. Hence, Typhoon and Rafale fought virtually with a series of  press briefings and war stories aimed at showing aircraft advantages on competitor hiding its flaws.

The “omnirole” Rafale can claim to have been the first aircraft to enter to Libyan airspace on Mar. 19 (even though I’ve already explained this happened in the Benghazi area where the risk of SAM and AAA fire was low) thanks to the Spectra integrated defensive aids suite developed by Thales. For sure although it can’t be considered as multirole as to be capable to perform a typical SEAD strike as an F-16CJ or a Tornado ECR, the French plane has the possibility to combine its sensors (such as the Spectra) and the AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire  – Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon) PGM to identify, designate and hit ground targets. Furthermore, during Unified Protector, the AASM demonstrated to be effective against a tank at a range of 57 km.

The Rafale will also be the first European combat plane to use an electronic scanning radar; with “Tranche 4”, expected to be handed over from 2013, the 60 French upgraded Rafales will carry an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) RBE2 radar (compatible with long range METEOR air-to-air missiles) whose beam can be pointed from one area to another one quickly, in all weather and in a jammed environment, and that can be used in air-to-air and air-to-ground modes at the same time, with an enhanced detection capability.

Image: French MoD

RAF 11 Sqn’s Squadron Leader Rupert Joel, just returned from Gioia del Colle, met the press at Le Bourget to talk about Typhoon’s sorties in Libya. He explained that Tornado GR4s are flying joint sorties with Eurofighter Typhoons as happened during Desert Storm, when Buccaneers accompanied Tornados in Iraq. Mixed pairs have been useful because “Tonka” navigators have assisted Typhoon pilots with laser targeting although GPS-guide has been preferred in many cases.

A typical sortie lasts 5.5 hours requiring three air-to-air refuellings. Some missions lasted up to 9 hrs. Typhoon usually carry four Enhanced Paveway II GPS/laser-guided bombs, a Litening III targeting pod, and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles (as picture below, released by Eurofighter, shows).

Slightly Off Topic

So, who’s gonna win in India? Difficult to say. Surely, Rafale is a more mature plane, capable of performing a wide variety of missions, from SEAD(-lite) to reconnaissance, and it is already available in navalised version for aircraft carrier ops. BTW for all Rafale news, info, configurations, etc, I suggest you to visit the Rafale News blog.

However, Eurofighter already has export customers that Rafale lacks, and it has an attractive user community that could give stronger strategic ties with 4 European nations. Furthermore, the Typhoon has a more powerful engine, a better BVR capability and is able to pull max G-load while launcing its weapons and carrying three external fuel tanks. It has also an extensive air-to-air missile load and can perform supersonic launching while supercruising with a large missile load. The Typhoon has a very lightweight operational bifocal Helmet Mounted Display, which in combination with the IRIS-T or ASRAAM High Off Boresight Missiles provides the F-2000 with superior dogfight capabilities. So, it’s a lethal weapon in the air-to-air scenario, and it has a potential still to be developed to become a real multirole. Finally, Eurofighter is working on a navalised Typhoon too….

6) Times Of Malta website has a video showing the last French emergency landing in Malta international airport in the night between Jun.30 and Jul. 1. It’s the second to involve Rafales. Although Times Of Malta says it is the first time, another Rafale diversion took place on Jun.8, 2011.

7) Again slightly off topic.

On Jun 22, Alenia Aeronautica, announced that it is evaluating the feasibility of an aircraft for the Italian Air Force to support National Special Forces Operations.

“The Italian Defence has decided to launch the so called Pretorian Programme, as a special version of the C-27J, in order to analyse potential technical solutions for providing weapons and integrated weapon systems, Communications Intelligence (COMINT), EO/IR Sensor (Electro optical/Infra-red) to the C-27J Aircraft, as existing platform”.

It would be interesting to know whether this aircraft is intended to replace or to support the only Italian G-222VS (currently used in Libya under NATO command).

8) More ItAF updates? Check its official website or the Italian MoD one once a week.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 68 – 80)

Previous debriefings: Archive

As reported in the previous Debriefs, although not being as intense as one might expect, NATO air campaign may be slowly paying off. Thanks also to the coalition’s air strikes (and to some modern equipment along with a better organization) the rebels have been able to establish a stable control over the east of the country and the mountain range southwest of  Tripoli, as well as breaking the siege on Misratah, from where they are trying to advance west, towards Libya’s capital city.

Reuters reported that Gaddafi’s forces are still quite active in Zintan, another mountain town about 40 km (25 miles) west of Yafran, that was attacked with Grad rockets, and in the rebel-held town of Ajdabiyah in the east where pro-Gaddafi forces fired rockets.

Even if loyalists seem to resist, three months into the revolt against Gaddafi’s 41-year power, the regime could be close to collapse. His forces, suffering significant losses and reduced to just a fifth of their strength, can’t be supplied and the number of members of the armed forces who have defected or deserted increases each day. For instance, eight senior officers (including four generals) of Gaddafi’s military defected on May 30 (BTW: this is considered an Italian intelligence success). Shortage of food and fuel have had a significant impact on army and population’s morale.

Therefore, NATO has focused on Libyan leader’s stronghold in central Tripoli where allied aircraft have bombed the area around  Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound.

Map by @LibyaMap

According to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen air strike have destroyed or damaged some 1.800 legitimate targets in Libya including around 100 Command and Control sites, 700 ammunition storage facilities and almost 500 tanks, APCs and rocket launchers. What is weird and gives an idea of the lack of strategy NATO has shown so far is that coalition planes, 80 days since the beginning of Odyssey Dawn (then Unified Protector) still has some fixed targets (like C2 sites, national intelligence centre, State TV antennas, and so on) to attack: as already said many times, these targets should be hit in the very early phases of any offensive air campaign.

Since NATO took over command of air strikes on March 31, its aircraft have conducted a total of 10.020 sorties, including 3,794 strike sorties. NATO mission was extended for another 90 days.

Here’s the trend of air strikes and key engagements (as reported by NATO), based on the graphs made by @88simon88

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) I’ve often explained that “liaison officers” (or Special Forces) from some coalition partners were already operating on the ground in Libya. The following AJE video shows some of them supporting rebel forces. One of them can be seen at 00:04s the other one from 02.12s.

According to the Guardian, those with “boots on the ground” are SAS veterans and private security firm employees, there with the blessing of coalition partners which have supplied them with communication equipment, helping NATO identify Gaddafi targets in Misratah and pass them to attack helicopters. The targets are then verified by spy planes and US drones because “One piece of human intelligence is not enough” a source said to the British newspaper.

2) In the night between Jun. 3 and 4, the attack helos were ordered into action: the French heli group, comprosing (according to sources) 12 Gazelles, 2 Tigers and 4 Pumas operating from Tonnerre, 15 vehicles and 5 command and control targets located in the Brega area; two British Apaches launched from HMS Ocean (and flown by crews with a certain experience in Afghanistan) hit a radar site and an armed checkpoint. The attack choppers operated in the darkness because of the residual risk to come under fire from small arms, RPGs and MANPADS. Noteworthy, the Apaches returned safely to the Royal Navy warship after briefly coming under fire from AK47s.

The Express.co.uk website interviewed one of the AH-64 pilots involved in the first mission in anarticle that can be read here. Here’s an excerpt (I’ve underlined few interesting things):

The mission commander told how the two attack helicopters used cover of darkness early on Saturday to fly from HMS Ocean and destroy a radar installation, which had already survived a raid by Nato fast jets, and then eliminate an anti-­aircraft gun.

White flashes from the explosions 30 miles away were visible from the flight deck of the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean – the Royal Navy’s largest warship.

The pilot, who cannot be named for security reasons, ­destroyed the 3ft sq radar on top of a 100ft mast with just one ­laser-guided Hellfire missile.

The Apaches then raced off to observe a checkpoint manned by Gaddafi’s forces, where they came under small-arms fire.

When an anti-aircraft gun on the back of a big flatbed truck turned on the Apaches, one of them destroyed it with a couple of well-aimed bursts from his 30mm cannon, triggering a chain reaction of explosions so fierce the Apaches had to pull away.

[...]

Earlier that evening, HMS Ocean and the Royal Navy Task Group, maintaining radio ­silence and with lights dimmed, had closed to within sight of the ­Libyan shore, whose shimmering lights would help guide the helicopters to their targets.

[...]

The Apaches lifted off on a night so dark many other aircraft would not have been able to operate.

­Invisible against the night sky, they raced for 20 minutes across the Mediterranean towards Brega – now in Gaddafi’s hands.

Just a couple of hours after the raid, the pilot said: “Tonight was absolutely black but we used ­infra-red.

“The first target was a radar installation.

“It was a coastal defence radar which was monitoring shipping and aircraft. We are here to ­protect civilians and we need to stop things that are stopping us. It has been bombed before but it is difficult to drop a bomb on a target like this.

“But I can fly the helicopter from sea level to very high, I can get absolutely the right angle and I fired a laser-guided Hellfire ­missile – the time from pulling the trigger to impact was about 12 seconds – and got it first time.

“I also fired two Hellfire into the base of the radar site, which buckled the tower, and then two more into the buildings either side, while the other Apache fired another into the base.”

Ten minutes later they closed in on the checkpoint, ­before ­returning safely to HMS Ocean.

What’s interesting is that NATO aircraft were unable to destroy a simple, almost undefended, fixed target and helicopters had to be sent to destroy it. The ship had to get closer to the coast in order to reduce the transit time to the target area and to improve the helicopters endurance (I’ve already said that, unless they are based on the ground, attack choppers will be able to operate only in coastal areas).

Isn’t that unusual? Modern warplanes can fly at night and can (quite easily) destroy a fixed target located on the coast. Why using helicopters in a sort of SEAD strike? Only to claim an helicopters attack?

The following video shows French helos being prepared for a mission: the more modern Tiger are equipped with a 30mm gun and 68 mm rockets while the obsolete Gazelles carry 4 HOT missiles. Since those deployed are in the HAP version and can only carry guns or Mistral air-to-air missiles, the role of the French Tigers should be limited to the reconnaissance, fire support or escort, not including anti-tank duties.

3) The RAF has deployed the Enhanced Paveway III LGBs with BLU-109 warheads to Gioia del Colle airbase. The bunker-buster bomb is carried by the Tornado GR4s. However this kind of bomb is used also by the Italian Air Force, that has finally disclosed some more details about the armament used in Unified Protector.

According to the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) official website, the type of weapons used by ItAF Tornados are:

  1. GBU-16 PAVEWAY II – EGBU-16: the Italian Tornado IDSs, as shown in the released images, carry the CLDP pod and one GBU-16 with Mk-83 warhead (1.000 lbs). The Enhanced version uses a dual mode GPS/Laser (DMLGB) guidance.
  2. GBU-24 – PAVEWAY III- EGBU-24: it’s a 2.000 lbs bomb using either Mk-84 or BLU-109 warheads. The Enhanced version uses a dual mode GPS/Laser (DMLGB) guidance.
  3. GBU-32 JOINT DIRECT ATTACK MUNITION (JDAM): Tornado (and AMX) can carry the GBU-32 (1.000 lbs) JDAM. As images shows, the ItAF Tornados fly with 3 GBU-32s.
  4. Storm Shadow: stand off missile. It is carried in pairs by Tornado IDSs.

Here you can see some videos released by the ItAF showing Tornados deployed to Trapani carrying the above PGMs: GBU-16 (1), GBU-16 (2), GBU-32, Storm Shadow (and refuel from KC-767A).

According to the Sole 24 ore newspaper, the Italian contingent dropped +200 PGMs & missiles in Libya during the first month of bombing campaign.  That is a significant amount of PGMs if compared to the British that have been performing air strikes since Day 1 of Odyssey Dawn, have passed 500 sorties, and released “only” 300+ precision-guided weapons. Since they have joined the air strikes in Libya on Apr. 28, summing up information released by the It MoD, Italians have flown 247 missions (something around 500 sorties), some of which are air defense ones with F-16s and Typhoons. Italian Navy totalled in 80 days 820 flying hours with the AV-8B+ Harrier and 536 flying hours with its helos.

5) The Italian AF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, gave Defense News’ Tom Kington an extremely interesting interview covering also the current involvement of the Aeronautica Militare in Unified Protector. Here’s an excerpt (I’ve underlined some interesting things) but I suggest you reading it all since it provides some details about other air force programs:

[...] We are satisfied we can cover the roles we have been given, from transport, support and air defense to attack roles. We are covering almost the whole spectrum of missions, and the results are very good. Like almost everyone else, we lack munitions for moving targets. As such, we have a requirement for next-generation aircraft – meaning the Joint Strike Fighter [JSF] with suitable sensors – that will have the capability to use the Small Diameter Bomb Increment II or an equivalent to strike a moving target with precision.

[About Tornado IDS being used in Unified Protector] We are using our Ret. 6 upgrade aircraft, which have limited night-vision capability. The Tornado ECR [electronic combat and reconnaissance] aircraft have Link 16 ahead of the installation of Link 16 on all Tornados in the future. The IDS [interdictor/strike] aircraft are also flying reconnaissance missions with the Reccelite pod.The Italian AMX fighter bomber is, meanwhile, being used extensively in Afghanistan. [...]

[About the multirole Typhoon] The Eurofighter is giving us good performance and reliability in support of attack forces, and this operation is the demonstration that we were right to hold back further developments and consolidate the aircraft’s air superiority capability. When this is consolidated, we can go forward. We think we should not skip areas of the development of the main role in favor of another role, leaving holes in the primary role. [...] We are involved with another platform – the JSF – which we consider more dedicated and more capable of the secondary role without overspending.We are still discussing this [the e-scan radar]. I was one of the first to say e-scan radar is a must for Eurofighter, but you cannot ask me to scrap a state-of-the-art mechanically scanned radar that I am obliged to receive until 2016. You cannot ask me to throw away good equipment in order to receive better equipment [...].

[About flying hours reduced by cuts and need for separate funding] We can do projections, but we don’t know how long this operation will last. For sure we will need something extra, but we don’t know if there will be extra spending freed up for the mission, or if there is, where it will come from. That is a political decision.

We were due to fly 90,000 hours this year. Right now, including Libyan flights, we have slightly exceeded the training flying hours we were due to have flown by this time of the year. And this is just combat flying, so other types of flying hours are being reduced. We are unlucky enough to be near an area of operations, but lucky since it cuts down on flying hours.

[About the danger of Libya becoming a marketing opportunity for aircraft] That is my concern. I was joking with someone that they had transferred Le Bourget to Libya. It is a cynical view, but we have seen evidence of that.

[...] My doubt is that sometimes the desire for high visibility can hamper the nature of the task.

We are built to mount operations – we are not built for demonstrations. Le Bourget should stay in Paris and Farnborough should stay in the U.K. One can start talking about being combat-proven at the end of the operation, but not during. An operation is a serious thing.

[About KC-767A problems] There is still a problem with the fuel hoses, notably those under the wings. To expand the flight envelope, we will need to take care of the stabilization of the hoses when they are extended from the drums. It is not a bad problem.

6) Another set of interesting pictures appeared on the hungarian blog I already mentioned in my last Debrief. Here you can see some close-ups on the weapons carried by some coalition aircraft operating from Trapani and Sigonella. Pictures clearly show that the Italian Typhoons, Canadian CF-188s and the UAE AF F-16 Block 60s carry the AIM-120C AMRAAM, while Danish and Turkish F-16s and Swedish Gripens carry the AIM-120B air-to-air missile.

Swedish AF (that has taken 82.500 pictures during Gripen reconnaissance sorties) is reportign ‘daily NFZ violations by helos & small planes for transport, bomb release and artillery targeting (thanks to @GripenNews for the heads up). That’s why many aircraft are still involved in the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone.

As I’ve already explained in the last Debrief, the Swedish Gripens are also flying air defense sorties with AIM-120s and Litening pod. According to the SwLM website the targeting pod gives the Gripen the ability to discern and identify slow-moving and low-flying air targets using the pod video cameras that can be useful for visual target acquisition at long distances. That must be the reason why also the Spanish EF-18s and Dutch F-16s are flying with the Litening targeting pod their DCA missions.

In the meanwhile Swedish could reduce to 4 their Gripens deployed to Sigonella and replace them with VBSS boarding team for the enforcement of the maritime arms embargo.

7) On May 28 and 31 once again French fighters were compelled to divert to Malta International Airport during their Unified Protector missions. Last episode involved two Mirage 2000s, one of those could not refuel because of a refueling probe failure. For some days I tried to understand why only French Mirage 2000s, Mirage F1s and Super Etendard were so frequently diverting to Luqa (for sure the fact that some are based at Solenzara, Corsica, that is quite far from Libya, doesn’t help). Then, I was told that on Jun. 3 also a Danish F-16 diverted to Malta.

Dealing with failures, I was told by @TheSNAFU via Twitter that in the early morning of Jun. 7, a US KC-10 using c/s “Shell 66″ encountered a problem with engine No 2 and had to shut it down declaring an emergency. However, the aircraft did not divert but headed to its homebase, Moron, in Spain.

8) Many official and unofficial patches and sketches of new models were produced during Unified Protector or inspired by the Libyan operations. Here are some of the latest ones:

Above images courtesy of Nicola Ruffino

Above sketches designed by Alex Barina

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 55 – 67)

Previous debriefings: Archive

After more than two months of air campaign, Unified Protector seems to be making a slow progress across Libya, even if the air campaign is far from being decisive against Gaddafi and his forces. At least, Misratah is no longer under siege. There’s no shelling on the city centre or on the port, that is open to the humanitarian aids flow. The turning point was reached when NATO started targeting Gaddafi’s capacity to resupply his forces on the front.

Source: NATO website

In the last Press Conference Wing Commander Mike Bracken, spokesperson of Unified Protector, admitted that the situation into the Berber Highlands and the western side of the country is difficult and concerning. He explained:

Here [...] Pro-Qadhafi forces do not control the area, but they are putting the civilian, largely Berber population, under significant pressure from shelling in Yefren, Zintan, Nalut and the Wazin border crossing.

As a consequence many inhabitants have fled over the border to refugee camps in Tunisia and there have been skirmishes between rebel and pro-Qadhafi forces, as well as pro-Qadhafi forces and Tunisian forces along the border. However, in the Berber-controlled areas the rebels have resisted the pro-Qadhafi forces and now appear to be holding their ground.

NATO is focused on decreasing the pressure on the population by striking pro-Qadhafi units, and this strategy is clearly working.

Finally, moving to Tripoli. Here we have increased the pressure by striking military command-and-control centres. This has limited Qadhafi’s ability to give orders to his forces. It has also constrained his freedom of movement. Effectively, he’s gone into hiding.

On May 19, NATO hit 8 Libyan ships in the ports of Tripoli, Al Khums and Sirte. At Khums NATO hit a number of RHIBs (Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat) in the maintenance facility. The RHIBs were directly linked to the maritime operations of preceeding days when NATO interdicted a booby-trapped RHIB, leading to the discovery and subsequent destruction of one tonne of explosives at sea. NATO and partners used a number of communications channels to tell the pro-Gaddafi forces to lay down their arms and return to their bases and homes. “We have been stepping up leaflet drops and radio broadcasts to the pro-Qadhafi forces, telling them to move away from their military equipment, military installations and maritime assets” Bracken said. PSYOPS messages sent by the EC-130J using the very well known callsign “Steel 74″ were heard before and after the attack on May 19, meaning that, most probably, there are other Libyan vessels being warned.

Loyalists are finding it harder to lauch attacks and to receive supplies, NATO has attacked an increasing number of Command and Control nodes but the news, announced on May 23, that both France and UK have decided to deploy some attack helicopters in theatre, shows that coalition partners are considering even other options to break the stalemate in the conflict. I’m not sure those being considered are the right options, though.

For sure attack choppers, such as the British AH-64 Apaches or the French Tigers, can be extremely effective if used to hit enemy tanks, convoys and vehicles, but they are also vulnerable to MANPADS, RPG and anti-aircraft fire especially if employed in Urban CAS scenarios. Those advocating the use of attack helicopters in Misrata or, generally speaking, in besieged towns, should not forget the lessons learned by the Apaches of the 11th Regiment during the attack on Karbala. Helicopters are the perfect tool for a certain kind of CAS (Close Air Support) and to support Special Forces, as the recent Osama Bin Laden raid in Pakistan shows. But they are not as effective if employed without the proper support of troops on the ground and when used against adversary forces that are too dispersed, intermixed with civilians and hidden (hence  not easily identifiable and targetable).

Flying at low altitude and speed, in spite of their countermeasures and armour, they tend to be subject to every kind of weapon the enemy can still own: from the small arms, to the mobile SAMs, to the MANPADS and also the RPGs. There’s an important difference between Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI): the first one requires boots on the ground; the second doesn’t; the first is what helicopters are perfectly suitable to (either as a support/anti-tank platform or as an escort/recon one); the second, is the most common kind of mission flown in Unified Protector.

Anyway, something like 3 or 4 British Apaches and an unknown number of French Tiger attack helos (or obsolete Gazelles), respectively embarked on HMS Ocean and Mistral class assault ship Tonnerre, will at least put some pressure on Gaddafi’s forces that will have to put out their hidden weapon if the want to try to hit them.
Without considering that, flying from ships, they will only be able to patrol the coastal regions and will not be capable to intervene on inland targets.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Since the beginning of the NATO operation (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT) a total of 8019 sorties, including 3077 strike sorties, have been conducted. The trend is shown in the graph below. Air strikes represent on average among the 30% and 45% (with a peak at 48%) of the total sorties flown each day.

2) The Italian contingent was quite active during the last weeks. It performed 54 missions between May 13 and 20 with its Tornados (IDS and ECR), Typhoons, F-16s, KC-130Js and, now, also KC-767As and G.222VS. This proves that the war in Libya has been an unbelievable opportunity for many air forces and aircraft manufacturer to test new equipments, weapons and (most probably) tactics. After the Rafale, Gripen, Typhoon in the air-to-ground role (to name but few), the last new product to make its operational debut in Libya has been the recently formally accepted ItAF KC-767A. In fact, the new tanker was involved in air-to-air “refueling missions of Italian assets” involved in Unified Protector alternating in the AAR role with a KC-130J (that has been used since the early stages of Odyssey Dawn). Indeed, the 14° Stormo, based at Pratica di Mare airbase near Rome, has received the first aircraft on Dec. 29, 2010 and Mar. 10, 2011 and so far only Typhoons and Tornados have been qualified for refueling from the two wing stations (the aircraft uses also the boom refueling system used by US aircraft like F-15s, F-16s, B52s, etc.).

Noteworthy, even the only G-222VS in ItAF orbat (flown by air force pilots with mission crew belonging to other armed forces), already flying in the past few weeks for the Libyan crisis under national command, has been handed over to NATO to perform SIGINT activities.

Rendering: courtesy of Ugo Crisponi, AviationGraphic.com

Furthermore, on May 17, 2011, an Italian Air Force C-130J, departed in the morning from Pisa airbase, dropped about 400.000 leaflets over Tripoli, Libya. As reported by ANSA news agency, leaflets contained a message addressed to the Libyan people directly from the NTC (National Transition Council) that had asked Italy to deliver it to counter Gaddafi’s regime propaganda in Libya’s capital city.
The text of the message was:

Libya is one and its capital is Tripoli. Today we ask you to join and to take the right and wise decision. Join our revolution. Let’s build Libya away from Gaddafi. A unified, free, democratic Libya.

The mission was planned by the COI (Comando Operativo di vertice Interforze – Italian Joint Operative Command) and was conducted by personnel belonging to both the 28° Rgmt “Pavia, based in Pesaro and specialized in “operative communication”), the ItAF and the Intelligence Service. The airdrop took place from 7.000 mt (20.000 ft – the crew had to wear oxygen masks to operate at that altitude) from a position that was calculated taking into consideration many factors, among which the air temperature and humidity, the aircraft airspeed, the wind direction and intensity etc. Leaflets took up to 3 hours to touch the ground in Tripoli and surrounding areas.
The PSYOPS sortie was an Italian mission, not part of Unified Protector, even if NATO was obviously informed about the operation and supported it.

Even if Italy has conducted similar missions in Afghanistan using helicopters, this was the first time that the ItAF performed a PSYOPS mission dropping leaflets over a foreign capital since 1918 raid over Wien by Gabriele D’Annunzio (Aug. 9, 1918).

3) The Guardian has tried to understand “how much is each Nato country contributing to operations in Libya with the most comprehensive analysis yet of who is doing what in Unified Protector”. The article, titled “Nato operations in Libya: data journalism breaks down which country does what” is interesting as it provides a lot of data. Unfortunately, it contains also many inaccuracies (one time it provides the number of deployed aircraft, another one it gives a country’s number of aircraft under NATO command; there are errors about the deployment bases of some contingents; the consideration on the efforts are based only on the number of sorties and not on the type and/or number of dropped bombs; etc.).  Anyway, it is a good starting point for a more accurate in-depth analysis.

4) Thanks to the interesting pictures published at this website, we know that also UAE AF F-16s are flying air strikes (not only Mirage 2000s) with 2 GBU-12s, 4 AIM-120 AMRAAMs and SNIPER pod, as well as that Swedish Air Force JAS-39 Gripens, most probably, are not only flying reconnaissance missions, but also DCA missions with 3 drop tanks, 2 IRIS-T at tip pylons and 2 AIM-120s.

5) On May 21, a French Navy Super Etendard diverted to Malta Luqa airport for fuel problems while, on May 22, two Mirage F1s almost ran out of fuel on their way back to Solenzara airbase, in Corsica, and were compelled to perform an emergency landing in Olbia Costa Smeralda airport, in northeast Sardinia. These are only the last two episodes of a series of  French diversions caused by low fuel.  It looks like the French contingent is the only one experiencing such problems so frequently.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 43 – 54)

Previous debriefings: Archive

Not so many things have happened on the battlefield during the last days, when media were focused on the Osama Bin Laden raid and the famous Stealth Black Hawk. For sure, the most significant event occurred on May 11, when rebels claimed to have captured the airport in the besieged western city of Misratah, Libya’s third-largest town. The city has been surrounded for weeks from Gaddafi’s forces and split roughly along an east-west road with loyalist controlling the areas south of the road, including the airport, located around 5 Km from the city centre and Tripoli Street, the avenue that has been the scene of heavy street fighting. According to some sources, rebels have not yet taken full control of the military part of the airbase, because pockets of residual fighting were reported in the area.

Credit: Reuters

The achievement is extremely important as it gives the rebels a new outpost from where a new advance towards Tripoli, that is only some 200 km away, can start. For this reason, Gaddafi’s forces have shelled the town with rockets and heavy artillery fire for weeks. Loyalists repeatedly tried to mine the port using small vessels and, on May 6, they used helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem to drop mines in the harbour (even if this was not confirmed by NATO, read below) while, on the following day, aircraft reported to be a “crop dusters” (small aircraft used for spraying pesticides) dropped bombs on oil storage tanks in Qasr Ahmed neighborhood, in the easter part of the town. Even if it is not clear whether the aircraft involved were actually surviving LARAF (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force) SF-260s from Misratah airport or other type of aircraft, noteworthy, these violations of the No-Fly Zone raise questions about the effectiveness of the NATO combat air patrols in one of the most important towns in Libya. In fact, even if small planes and helos, flying at extremely low level in the ground clutter can be difficult to detect even for an E-3 AWACS orbiting nearby, if fighters are CAPping not far from the airport they will still be able to detect visually detect such “slow movers” visually, at least during daylight. At night it is probably more difficult but, since many interceptors involved in DCA (Defensive Counter Air) role fly with Litening targeting pods as explained many times in previous Debriefs, I assume they use the pod also to look for possible aerial targets of opportunity in the vicinity of airports and urban areas even small planes should be clearly visible by means of the high-resolution, FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) sensor of the pod.

Furthermore, on May 5, NATO destroyed two or three helicopters carried by big trucks heading towards Tiji, a small town near Libya’s border with Tunisia. It is not clear if the helos were being moved to be hidden from NATO warplanes or were being relocated for use against rebels in the area of Zintan, however this activity suggests that Gaddafi has some surviving aircraft and he’s willing to use them. Therefore, there are some concerns that he could use them to drop dirty bombs.

How’s NATO performing?

This question is open to debate. In the last days criticism was caused by reports of migrants from Libya dying at sea: Gaddafi is forcing people out of the country by boat using them as a sort of retaliatory attack against European nations supporting Unified Protector, that are now facing a humanitarian crisis. NATO was blamed for not doing enough to prevent several boats filled with migrants from sinking causing hundred deads.

The answer came from NATO Deputy Spokesperson, Carmen Romero on May 10 Press Briefing:

We have also been asked what action NATO is taking to protect such migrant ships at sea. Let me be clear: NATO’s mission is to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian populated areas in Libya. That is what the United Nations Security Council mandated.

But while they are carrying out that mandate, ships under NATO command will always respond to calls from ships in distress. This is their duty under the law of the sea, and to suggest that our ships’ captains would do otherwise is unfair and disrespectful.

For example, on the 26th of March NATO ships responded to information that two migrant ships, with over 500 people on board were in difficulty, who were then provided direct assistance by the Italian authorities. That included a NATO ship using its helicopter to airlift two women and a newborn child to medical help.

Dealing with the air campain, ItAF Brigadier General Claudio Gabellini (Chief Operations Officer, Operation Unified Protector) explained that, in the last week alone, NATO has engaged multiple rocket-launcher systems, command-and-control facilities, anti-aircraft weapons, military bunkers and ammo facilities, tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, undelining once again that the coalition is diminishing Gaddafi’s capacity to issue orders, to field troops and to fly his planes.

For what concerns Misratah port he said:

At sea we have cleared sea mines laid by pro-Gaddafi forces in the approaches to the port of Misrata on April the 29th. Two of the mines were destroyed by NATO mine countermeasures vessels and the third, which has not been found, is no longer considered a serious threat.

We’ve also swept the approaches of Misrata harbour and consider that there is no immediate mine threat for the timing being. Our maritime forces are prepared to respond to any similar threat.

We fully recognize how important the port is to the citizens of Misrata. While the decision to open and close the port rests clearly with Misrata port control, we note that since NATO vessels destroyed the mines and cleared the areas more than 15 vessels have entered the port.

Answering to a question about the use of military helicopters with Red Cross insigna, he explained that:

we have lots of reports talking about helicopters wearing the red cross on them, but we have no, absolutely we have no evidence at all. What I can say it’s been five days since we last had the last report talking about helicopters overflying Libya

Many questions of the Q&A part of the Press Briefing focused on the possibility that NATO is targeting individuals (Gaddafi in particular, who appeared again in TV for the first time in two weeks on May 11 denying rumours/speculations according to which he was killed by an allied raid). Here’s how Brig. Gen. Gabellini answered:

All NATO targets are military targets. Which means that the targets we’ve been hitting, and it happened also last night in Tripoli, are command-and-control bunkers. And again, just to make clear the stuff that NATO is not targeting individuals. It’s not in our mandate. Our mandate is to protect civilian population from attacks or from the threat of attacks by Qadhafi regime forces

[...]

We have no evidence about what Mr. Gaddafi’s doing right now. And I tell you the truth, we’re not really interested in what he is doing. Our mandate is to protect civilians from the attacks and from the threat of attacks so we’re not looking after individuals.

[...]

No individuals are a target for NATO. We only look after command-and-control centre because we want the targets we’re after is to stop Mr. Gaddafi to give orders to his troops to keep slaughtering the civilians and to prevent humanitarian aid to enter the country.

Let’s have a look at Unified Protector’s figures. Since the beginning of the NATO operation (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT) a total of 6232 sorties, including 2460 strike sorties have been conducted.
During the last 24 hours, 141 sorties were flown comprising 46 strike sorties. The key targets were: 4 Ammunition Storages, 4 Command & Control Facilities, 2 SAM Launchers, in the vicinity of Tripoli; 4 SAM Launchers, in the vicinity of Surman; 1 SAM Launcher, in the vicinity of Misratah. I would be curious to know which SAM sites NATO is still targeting (are there remaining mobile launchers?) and which ammunition depots, since there are so many in Libya (according to various sources around 3 and 4.000) that it will take months, if not year, to hit them all….

Here’s the usual sorties breakdown

Date Total sorties Air strikes air strikes/total
22-mar 175
24-mar 130 49 38%
25-mar 153 91 60%
26-mar 167 88 53%
27-mar 178 107 61%
1-apr 178 74 42%
2-apr 174 74 43%
3-apr 184 70 39%
4-apr 154 58 38%
5-apr 150 58 39%
6-apr 155 66 43%
7-apr 164 73 45%
8-apr 155 54 35%
9-apr 156 60 39%
10-apr 133 56 43%
11-apr 154 70 46%
12-apr 158 59 38%
13-apr 159 60 38%
14-apr 153 58 38%
15-apr 146 60 42%
16-apr 145 58 40%
17-apr 144 42 30%
18-apr 145 60 42%
19-apr 143 53 38%
20-apr 139 62 45%
21-apr 132 50 38%
22-apr 152 62 41%
23-apr 138 59 43%
24-apr 144 56 39%
25-apr 143 62 44%
26-apr 133 56 43%
27-apr 123 52 43%
28-apr 119 41 35%
29-apr 142 67 48%
30-apr 165 43 27%
1-mag 165 60 37%
2-mag 158 56 36%
3-mag 161 62 39%
4-mag 160 49 31%
5-mag 154 57 38%
6-mag 149 56 38%
7-mag 153 58 38%
8-mag 159 64 41%
9-mag 146 46 32%
10-mag 123 42 35%
11-mag 141 46 33%

Graphs below, clearly show that the number of air strikes is still slightly decreasing.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Some updates from the involved air forces. The last news release by the Italian MoD reports 53 missions flown by the Italian contingent (should be 106 sorties at least). No further words on weapons, targets etc. Aircraft involved in the air strikes are Tornado IDSs and ECRs of the ItAF and AV-8Bs of the Italian Navy from Garibaldi aircraft carrier. Pictures and videos published on the ItAF website show the Tornado IDSs loaded with 3 GBU-32s or 1 or 2 LGBs (GBU-24 or 12). Noteworthy, the enforcement of the NFZ is not only performed with F-2000 Typhoons but once again also by F-16ADFs of the 18° Gruppo.12 aircraft and 4 ships were trasferred under NATO command by Italy.

Dealing with the RDAF, the latest update reports 176 missions flown since Odyssey Dawn began and 376 PGMs dropped.

The Canadian contingent at 23.59 hr UTC on May 11 had flown 248 sorties with the CF-188s; 95 with the CC-150 POLARIS and 39 with the CP-140 AURORA.

RNoAF on May 7, had flown 275 missions with 247 dropped bombs, however its F-16s could return home by the end of June according to Government sources. It is still not clear though whether the aircraft will continue contributing to Unified Protector or will be reduced in numbers or simply replaced by other assets (thanks to Aksel Magdahl for keeping me updated with Norwegian news).

2) Karl-Johan Norén sent me some interesting news about the Swedish Air Force Libyan ops. First of all, on the SweAF website an interesting picture of a crakled canopy of a Gripen was published (see below). Two aircraft were returning from a mission over Libya when the front window of the aircraft was damaged. Even thought investigation is in progress sandstorm or electric discharge may have caused it.

Furthermore, a report from Swedish channel TV4 was aired on May 5. It’s an interview given by flygvapeninspektör (Air Force Inspector, in effect commander of the Swedish AF) Anders Silwer covering the following topics (Karl-Johan provided the following abstract):

  • The Swedish mission is going well. Most common mission is tactical reconnaissance to within 100-200 kilometers from the Libyan coast. He estimates the Swedish AF covers about 1/3 to 1/2 of the tactical
    reconnaissance resources within Unified Protector.
  • They do four “flygplansföretag” (sorties) daily, and plans to increase it to six.
  • They photograph AA positions, command centrals, etc. They have not been attacked, as far as they can tell. They have been locked by radar a few times. No Swedish aircraft has fired a shot in anger.
  • Mentions that they could do more tactically for the situation on the ground, but says that this is a political question, not a military one.

3) One of the most interesting thing of the last weeks is that UAE AF has joined the bombing campaign in Libya along with the other partners involved in the air strikes (US with drones and SEAD assets, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Italy, UK, France and Canada) even if the news has not been made public yet. The following pictures were taken on May 1, 2011, at 14.06Z by Antonio Di Franco, from his home, located a few kilometres to the south east of Sigonella airbase. The images show two UAE Air Force Mirage 2000s carrying a Damocles targeting pod and an MBDA PGM-500 500lbs guided bomb (“Hakim”) along with two MICA air-to-air missiles.

Below, two more pictures taken on May 7 once again by Antonio Di Franco.

4) On Apr. 30, an attack performed in a bunker in Tripoli killed Gaddafi’s youngest son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, with three minor grandchildren. Even if the Guardian immediately suggested that the raid was conducted by the Royal Danish Air Force, there were no proofs (and maybe there are still none) that Denmark was involved in the raid. However, basing on images of an unexploded warhead in the ruins of Gadhafi’s house, it was possible to try to determine which country performed the strike. In fact the bomb shown in the Guardian and also on Al Jazeera English footage is a part of the JDAM: in particular, it is a BLU-109 penetrator warhead. Warhead + GPS guidance kit is known as GBU-31(V)3/B in USAF (RDAF call the bomb using BLU-109 GBU-31B while the one with Mk-84 warhead is known as GBU-31A). Many air forces use the GBU-31 with BLU-109 however, Andreas Lindqvist, a journalist of the Politiken newspaper, with my advices,  investigated the facts, contacted the various countries involved in the air strike and one by one virtually eliminated all the other seven countries that drop bombs on Libya coming to the conclusion that, as suggested by the Guardian, the compound was probably hit by a Danish strike.

Images credit: Reuters / AJE

Eight countries were involved in air strikes within Unified Protector at the time of the raid: Denmark, Norway, Italy, Belgium, France, Canada, UK and the US. UAE could be added to the list but there’s no official confirmation and aircraft don’t carry that type of bomb.

  • Denmark: did not want to comment.
  • Norway: No. They deny that they were involved in the specific raid. Interestingly, RNoAF used BLU-109/GBU-31 on Apr. 25 attack on the Gaddafi compound.
  • Italy: Unknown, but most probably not involved since Tornado are flying with GBU-32s and LGBs. Not sure GBU-31 with BLU-109 were ever tested on Tornados.
  • Belgium: No. They didn’t fly that day.
  • France: No. They deny using that type of bombs in Libya
  • Canada: No. They use none of the technologies.
  • UK: No. They have the Paveway, but not the GBU-31.
  • US: Unknown, but probably no. They have the technology and experience but they were officially not flying as they only fly support missions. They also fly the presdator drones, but the current generation cannot carry that bombs.

Basing on the above elements, Andreas asked me how likely I think it was Denmark to perform the strike. As he mentioned in the article published on May 12 on the Politiken website, basing on basing on the information available, on the replies he received and above all considering that RDAF is doing a great job in Libya flying lots of missions and
dropping many bombs; that it didn’t deny it but just didn’t comment it and finally, that diplomatic sources reported by the Guardian suggested the strike was one of the many performed by RDAF, I think it is extremely likely. Obviously denying or not something doesn’t prove or not an involvement. But I agree with Andreas Linqvist when he says that such organisations do not lie directly. “Its too dangerous in the long run”.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 39 – 42)

Previous debriefings: Archive

Even if analysts have defined it as a “stalemale”, the situation on the ground in Libya is far from being completely static as Gaddafi troops have stretched westward the front line and spilled over the Tunisian border: on Apr. 29, loyalist forces fought a gun battle at Dehiba, a frontier town, with Tunisian troops. Government forces shelled the town damaging some buildings and in the attempt to protect both the Tunisians and Libyan refugees in the area, the Tunisian Army opened fire. As a result, Tunisian security forces have disarmed the Libyan soldiers and driven them back across the border handing the confiscated armament and ammo over to the Libyan rebels.

Misratah, is still under siege in spite of an increasing number of NATO air strikes concentrating on the third largest Libyan city. For instance the first Italian air strikes in Libya after Italy decided to join the bombing campaign were performed in the Misratah area even if it is not clear if the Tornado IDSs dropped their bombs on ground targets or returned to Trapani with their weapons still attached to their “underfuselage stations”.

In my last Debrief I wrote:

There have been also some unconfirmed reports of Scud attacks on Misratah on Twitter, even if I didn’t find any (photographic) evidence yet. I’ve been told that Al Jazeera reported of a 5-meter wide crater however, if that is the diameter of the hole, it is not as significant as a Scud one would be. Even if I’m not an expert in missiles, I know Scuds have a very high terminal speed (1,4 km per second) and the typical damage on the ground is a crater 1.5 – 4 meters deep, 12 mt wide, according to “Scud Ballistic Missile and Launch Systems 1955-2005″ from Steven J. Zaloga (Osprey Publishing). Therefore, if the crater is 5 meter deep, then it was most probably a Scud, otherwise, the hole was caused by another piece of heavy artillery. For some more info about Scud hunt read the Day 24 debrief.

Both on this blog and on Twitter, many suggested the crater was caused by a 9K52 Luna-M (NATO designation FROG-7 – Free Rocket Over Ground) missile. Although I haven’t seen the crater’s picture yet, basing on the average hole created by a SCUD missile, that is heavier, carries a more powerful warhead and travels at slightly higher speed (1.4 Km/s vs 1.2Km/s),  a FROG-7 crater perhaps is compatible with the one described by AJ. Anyway, dealing with the ordnance used by the pro-Gaddafi’s forces against civilian areas of Misratah and Zintan, along with the Spanish-made cluster bombs I’ve already talked about, loyalist fired Russian-made Grad rockets. Furthermore, to block humanitarian access to the city, Gaddafi’s forces have tried to lay mines in Misratah harbour. The sea-mines were being laid 2 to 3 km offshore and in the approaches to the harbour by deliberately sinking the inflatable boats on which they were being carried. Three mines have been found and are being disposed of in situ. NATO warned the Misrata port authorities who temporarily closed the facility resulting in two humanitarian ship movements being cancelled. According to the French MoD the Frigate Courbet took part in the operation and one AS565 Panther, operating out of the naval unit was seen overflying the port as the following video shows (thanks to @SteveMcCluskey).

As I’ve already written in the past debriefs, many PSYOPS messages broadcasted by the EC-130J Commando Solo “Steel 74″ in the last few weeks were addressed to the sailors of the Libyan ships operating around the Misratah port and maybe also those recorded by radio hams in the last days were sent to those involved in the mining attempt.

Furthermore, Gaddafi’s forces are being encouraged by their commanders to engage in rape to terrorize the population in those areas supporting the rebels. This is what the Viagra impotency drug being issued to the troops would show, according to the US envoy to the United Nations.

While continuing to hit targets around Misratah, Tripoli and Sirte, recent air strikes have reached Brega, Zintan and the desert town of Kufra, where loyalist clashed with rebels on Apr. 28; generally speaking, NATO officials have affirmed the alliance is planning to concentrate air strike on large urban areas which have not recently been top priority targets so far. Noteworthy, a significant amout of “key engagements and targets” (as NATO calls them) were ammunition depots across Libya: as there are around 4.000 such installations in the country, I wonder if NATO has a strategy about them (for example, to destroy them one by one to claim a key target for the next months….). Anyway, according to the British Brigadier Rob Weighill, NATO’s director of operations in Libya, the alliance has struck some 600 targets, including 220 government tanks, 70 surface-to-air systems and 200 ammunition facilities. In the meanwhile, the number of strike sorties is, on average, stable (or slightly decreasing) as the sorties breakdown and the updated graphs below show.

Date released Total sorties Air strikes air strikes/total
22-mar 175
24-mar 130 49 38%
25-mar 153 91 60%
26-mar 167 88 53%
27-mar 178 107 61%
1-apr 178 74 42%
2-apr 174 74 43%
3-apr 184 70 39%
4-apr 154 58 38%
5-apr 150 58 39%
6-apr 155 66 43%
7-apr 164 73 45%
8-apr 155 54 35%
9-apr 156 60 39%
10-apr 133 56 43%
11-apr 154 70 46%
12-apr 158 59 38%
13-apr 159 60 38%
14-apr 153 58 38%
15-apr 146 60 42%
16-apr 145 58 40%
17-apr 144 42 30%
18-apr 145 60 42%
19-apr 143 53 38%
20-apr 139 62 45%
21-apr 132 50 38%
22-apr 152 62 41%
23-apr 138 59 43%
24-apr 144 56 39%
25-apr 143 62 44%
26-apr 133 56 43%
27-apr 123 52 43%
28-apr 119 41 35%
29-apr 142 67 48%

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) On Apr. 28, the Italian Air Force was involved for the first time in an air strike in Libya. Unlike other contingents, that are providing much details about the number of flown sorties, the number of PGMs dropped and the type of target hit, after releasing a daily pretty boring bulletin detailing only the number of missions flown by the Italian Tornados, Typhoons and AV-8B+ Harriers (the assets under NATO command), as Italy has joined the bombing campaign, the MoD has “switched” to a weekly summary, that gives only an idea of the overall count of sorties: 38. There’s no detail on how they were shared among the three aircraft types, nor news about the eventual use of bombs. This is once again caused by the usual controversial Italian approach to the war: the country has to contribute to a coalition, it does effectively with some of its most important and advanced assets, but it’s better not advertising this too much, as if it is a shame to be actively involved in a military operation under UN flag. Just think to what happened in 1999, when the ItAF Tornado ECRs from the 155° Gruppo were involved in SEAD strikes since the very first day of Allied Force although nobody knew that and the news that even Italian planes were conducting bombing missions in Serbia and Kosovo was given “gradually”.

Initially the Italian colonial past (as I’ve already explained in one of the previous debriefs, the first bombing mission ever flown in the history of aviation dates back to 1911 and was carried out by the Italian Air Force in Libya) has raised doubts about the opportunity to participate in the air strikes but even after authorizing the Italian planes to drop bombs on targets, internal struggles among the Government forces are putting the continuity of the Berlusconi’s coalition at risk.  Another thing which tells us much about the controversial, ambiguous and somehow hypocritical Italian approach to the war: ItAF planes are flying air strikes in Libya but AMXs deployed in Afghanistan from a few years are not allowed to fly with bombs to support the thousands Italian military on the ground (that have to rely on US and other allied planes for air cover). For sure a more active role in Unified Protector is going to cost Italian taxpayers a lot: a single Eurofighter Typhoon flying hour costs 63K Euro while a Tornado (or AMX) one costs around 30K Euro. From Mar. 19 to Apr. 24, the Italian contingent flew 3.500 flying hours, that have cost about 45 Milion Euro. Now that the use of ordnance was authorized, the cost of the war is going to raise, because weapons cost a lot: for instance, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper a Storm Shadow cost little less than 200K Euro, an AGM-88 HARM cost 136K Euro while a PGM, on average, cost 40K Euro. If Italian planes drop as many bombs as the most active contingents are doing from more than one month, the Italian Air Force is going to use its entire annual budget in a few months.

Back to the operative details, unfortunately besides the fact that the first air strikes were performed by Tornado IDS in the area of Misratah, we don’t know anything about the eventual target stuck, the armament used etc. What we know is that once again it was a Tornado (in this case in the IDS variant of the 6° Stormo, after the ECR of the 155° Gruppo flew the first Odyssey Dawn sorties accompained by 156° Gruppo’s buddy tankers, later involved in recce missions) to drop the Italian bombs in war as happened during the Gulf War in 1991 and in 1999, during Allied Force (in that case they were ECRs). Some may have forgotten that in the mid-’90s the IDS was also the first type of aircraft the 155° Gruppo flew with the AGM-88 HARM before the Sqn received the Tornado ECR. For those interested in some exclusive pictures dating back to that period (’95-’96) a suggest visiting the following link with images provided by “Gator46″, a former member of the “Panthers”: Tornado IDS in action.

2) On Apr. 26 the UAE AF contingent began repositioning with 6 Mirage 2000s leaving Decimomannu to Sigonella, their new forward operating base. It seems that operating from Sigonella the UAE fighters will reduce the transit time to the loitering areas saving some fuel (and money). On Apr. 27, the Mirages were followed by the remaining 6 F-16s.

Unfortunately, on landing at Sigonella one of them overran the runway on landing forcing the pilot to (successfully) eject from the plane. Following the mishap, Sigonella’s main runway was closed. However some aircraft were cleared to operate from the secondary runway: since the latter is not equipped a Barrier Arrester Kit (BAK-12), among the tacair planes operating from Sigonella, only Swedish Air Force Gripens could use the reserve strip, while the F-16s, which require the arresting system (that can be engaged with the on-board tailhook), had to wait until the recovery operations of the damaged UAE F-16 were completed and the main runway re-opened. In order to be able to continue flying daily missions over Libya, the RDAF contingent (that has conducted 138 missions and dropped 307 bombs since the beginning of the air campaign) moved 4 F-16s to Trapani.

Photo: Kurt Hansen from RDAF website

For what concerns the Swedish Air Force (that is providing weekly updates as most air forces are doing lately), Karl-Johan Norén sent me an overall count of 64 missions with a little more than one half flown by the TP-84 tanker. There was a rumour that with the UAE AF moving to Sigonella the SweAF would move to Decimomannu. For the moment the JAS-39 Gripens are still operating from Sicily while the Sardinian airbase, with some more space available for eventual deployments, is still hosting the RNlAF and the Spanish Air Force detachments.


Dealing with the Canadian Air Force, total sorties as of 23.59 hr UTC, Apr. 27: CF-188 Hornets have flown 178 sorties; CC-150 Polaris 68 and CP-140 Aurora 26 sorties (thanks to Peter Dee @3PDee)

Noteworthy, three of the above mentioned aircraft types (F-16, Gripen and Hornet, although in the Super Hornet variant) were excluded by the Indian MMRCA competition leaving other two fighters currently involved in Unified Protector, the Rafale and the Typhoon, shortlisted in the “mother of all tenders”. I bet we will hear some more news about the combat performance of the two European multi-role fighters in the days to come, even if I hope this would not lead to some weird kills (like those explained in the Pt. 2 of Day 36 – 37 – 39 Debrief).

3) Even Trapani main runway had to be closed for 90 minutes on Apr. 28, following a failure experienced by an Italian Air Force F-16 taking off for a mission (most probably a training mission, as the F-16s are currently not officially taking part in Unified Protector).  Departing as number 2 in a two-ship formation, the pilot of an F-16ADF came out of the AB immediately after rotation (I think intentionally, for some kind of engine failure), landed the aircraft and tried to stop it before the end of the runway (not easy with an aircraft loaded with fuel and already fast enough to take off).  The below footage recorded by the RAI (Italian State TV) shows the event very well from 00.47s.

Below a few screenshots (click to enlarge):

4) I’ve often explained how coordination of air strikes between NATO and rebels is important but I’ve always talked from the alliance’s perspective. The article “With NATO Silent, Libyan Rebels Rely on Civilian Radar to Track Air Strikes” written by Greg Campbell and published on Apr. 27 gives the insurgents point of view about the lack of communication with NATO:

BENGHAZI, Libya — Every time a NATO jet comes within 240 miles of the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a group of men in a large smoke-filled room on the edge of the city gather around a screen to watch it happen in real time. They just don’t know what they’re actually seeing until it’s reported later in the media.

Benghazi’s civil airport, though closed for business, is still operating its aviation radar, picking up everything above 1,000 feet that comes into its range. But because of a United Nations-imposed no-fly zone over Libya, all of the traffic it detects is military. With no commercial airliners taking off or landing at the Benghazi airport, the air traffic controllers report to work only to watch their country’s civil war rendered in blocky, flickering pixels, as if it were a video game from the early 1980s.

“During the last two weeks, we’ve seen a lot of aircraft, but not striking,” said one controller who, like everyone else in the tower, refused to be identified because my visit in mid-April was not authorized by the transitional government. They were afraid of losing their jobs. “Now [the rate of airstrikes] is getting better. We just sit here and watch.”

Of course, the men are just guessing as to whether an aircraft on the screen may be attacking or simply reconnoitering the positions of troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi and the rebel forces arrayed against them. NATO doesn’t communicate with the control tower, though it could help the rebels coordinate attacks on Qaddafi’s forces, and the radar displays no terrain features or live satellite view.

Instead, the monitor is filled with white diamonds silently moving across a black background. The planes fly across colored lines indicating Libya’s coast and purple four-letter abbreviations of cities. Numbers indicating speed and altitude accompany the diamonds on their flight paths.

Typical aviation codes that tell controllers the type and origin of airplanes in Libya’s airspace have been replaced with numbers unique to NATO. The men, civilian air traffic controllers unfamiliar with the military jets, can’t tell what types of planes they’re watching.

But they can guess when they might be attacking. If a plane’s airspeed suddenly slows and its altitude plunges, it’s probably striking something.

“Whenever an aircraft is going down to the lower level, we presume the aircraft is going to strike,” said the air traffic control supervisor as he puffed on a cigarette. At another terminal, three men with Kalashnikovs, the facility’s security guards, watched the screen with fascination.

Another clue that a strike may be underway is when a plane turns off its transponder, which broadcasts aviation information to the control tower. In that instance, the diamonds turn to circles, with no information about their speed or altitude.

“We presume that that has indicated the aircraft has gone down to strike,” the supervisor said.

Around noon that Monday, most of the NATO traffic was over the Mediterranean, cruising at altitudes above 30,000 feet. But there were also aircraft flying lower around the besieged rebel enclave of Misurata, the government stronghold of Surte, and along the eastern front between Ajdabiya and Brega, where airstrikes took out a column of government vehicles the day before. The airstrike — and others throughout the mid-April weekend — aided rebels in regaining control of Ajdabiya, the critical crossroads city on the rebel frontier, which they still hold.

Like much else related to the two-month old rebellion, members of the opposition government aren’t sure how to capitalize on the real-time intelligence gleaned from the civil radar. Air traffic controllers say their former military counterparts — with whom they worked side by side in peacetime, as the airport also handles military air traffic — sometimes use cell phones to call rebel commanders in the field to tell them when it seems an airstrike might be underway. On most days, a high-ranking member of the Transitional National Government also spends the day observing the radar.

But any link between NATO and the rebels ends there. One controller said NATO has never called or contacted the tower — not to coordinate with rebel field units or to tell them to switch off the radar, and not to at least control access to it by outsiders, to prevent sensitive information about NATO aircraft being leaked to government forces.

In fact, the latter sensibility seemed to be reached in unison by the controllers during my visit. Increasingly uncomfortable answering detailed questions posed by a stranger, I was finally asked to provide identification and eventually, politely, to leave.