Tag Archives: Amendola

Italy is ready to use the new Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones in Libya to improve NATO ISR capabilities

On Jun. 28, 2011, the ItAF officially presented its first two of 6 Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) during an interesting ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Media Tour at Amendola, Italy’s UAV Main Operating Base (MOB).

During its initial briefing, Col. Fabio Giunchi, Cdr of the 32° Stormo (Wing), the parent unit of the 28° Gruppo (Sqn) which flies the Italian drones, affirmed that Italy’s has already achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the Predator B and could employ it, if needed, in Libya, to strengthen the NATO ISR component by mid July.

According to Col. Giunchi, operating from Amendola, the UAS could reach Libya in 3 flying hours, with an “on station” time of about 12-14 hours.

The Italian new UAVs could soon be armed even if the final decision whether to equip the MQ-9 for instance with Hellfire missiles will have to be taken at political level. Joint commands have already agreed that, having the capability, the UAS (Unmmanned Aerial Systems) should carry weapons that “could help saving lives”, Giunchi says.

In the meanwhile, the Predator A+ have just logged more than 7.000 FH in theatre operating from Herat in missions lasting on average 8-9 hours. Two RQ-1 are currently in Afghanistan, while two are at Amendola airbase. Unfortunately, one of them crashed landed at 09.15Z on Jun. 27 on approach to Herat airbase.  Extent of damages to be evaluated.


A more detailed article about the Amendola Media Tour and about the Italian ISR component (Tornado and AMX comprised) will be soon published on this blog.

 

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 4)

Previous debriefings:

Day 4 of Odyssey Dawn opened with the news of the F-15E Strike Eagle (91-0304/LN 492FS) which crashed in Libya during the night approximately 40 kilometres to the east of Benghazi as reported by Daily Telegraph reporter Rob Crilly and his photographer who were the first international journalists to visit the scene. Both crew members ejected safely: one was recovered by coalition forces while the other was recovered by the rebels. This seems to prove that they ejected at high altitude and did not land next each other. For this reason, while on the ground, one could be quickly rescued by a MV-22A Osprey from the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) that performed a CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) mission deep into the Libyan territory. We don’t have any details about this mission but we can reasonably think that the tiltrotor aircraft, launched seconds after the mayday was radioed by the pilot (or even before he touched the ground at the end of his descent), was covered by the remaining F-15E of the same flight and/or by another allied fighter patrolling the NFZ and acting as an OSC (On-Scene Commander) in a so-called Sandy mission. There were rumours (later firmly denied) that 6 Libyan citizens were shot by the during the rescue mission for the Strike Eagle pilots. Images of the wreckage seem to rule out the possibility that the aircraft was hit by a SAM (Surface to Air Missile) or by MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems) because the airframe is more or less intact (as a consequence of a flat, low speed impact with the ground): a missile would provoke more extensive damages and leave the distinctive signs of the blast of the warhead.
The F-15E crash gives me the opportunity to tell you some more things basing on the following matters of fact: it happened in eastern Libya, it happened at night, a jet plane operating out of Aviano airbase was involved:
First, US and coalition fighters seem to be concentrating on the Gaddafi’s troops in the east; for the moment, besides the fixed targets hit with stand-off armament during Day 1, kinetic presence around Tripoli was considerably less than the one recorded in the Benghazi area. Furthermore, many have noted that there were not significant results against regime’s tanks and artillery around Zintan and Misratah where the coalition was needed to force loyalists back. The reason could be that the airspace in those zones and, generally speaking, in the Tripolitanian area, is not safe enough for allied planes or that target designation in those zones is difficult rendering collateral damages’ risk unaffordable.
Second, the Americans (in the need of keeping a low profile) seem to be more comfortable operating at night. While other coalition contingents concentrate the majority of their combat sorties during the daylight hours, US tactical planes (tacair) mainly operate after dusk as they are perfectly equipped and trained for night combat missions.
Third, while almost all the US support and special ops planes are based in Sigonella the tacair fleet uses the Aviano hub where some 80 fighters are deployed (comprising the resident F-16s of the 31FW). It was a strategic choice: the turboprops are nearer to the Libyan airspace, reducing the transit time to the operative areas, while the fast jets are farther (but able to cover the distance quickly; for instance, transit flight time from forward operating bases to the loitering areas in Afghanistan exceeds the average 1h 30m needed to fly from Aviano to Tripoli).

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Needless to say an air campaign like Odyssey Dawn is “precious” and somehow it represents an opportunity for both air forces and aircraft manufacturer to show and test their most advanced “hardware” at war in order to give it a sort of “combat proven” certification that can be useful to improve sells (manufacturer) or to ask for more money (air forces) in times when budgets are usually continuosly shrinking. On top of that, in spite of the residual threat to the allied aircraft posed by the mobile SAM stations I’ve discussed in Day 3 debrief, the Libyan No-Fly Zone is going to be a low-lethality scenario, lacking any flying opposition from the LARAF (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force). This means that coalition planes will operate almost undisturbed. So, is there any better chance to advertise your own products than such an air campaign?
For instance, we can’t forget the willingness showed by France on Day 1 to have its aircraft flying over Benghazi. Pictures of armed Rafales taking off from Solenzara were published all around the world in a few hours. And we should neither forget that France is trying to sell the Rafale abroad and was about to sell 10 to 14 Rafale fighters to Libya in 2009 at the end of a long lasting negotiation that seemed to be close to an end in December 2007, when Gaddafi, in Paris, signed an agreement granting six months’ exclusive negotiations for the Rafale. The Rafales expected to be sold to Tripoli were similar to the F3 standard of the French Air Force, multi-role platforms capable of both aerial combat and ground attack. I leave the conclusions to you.
The US are extensively using their RQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs, that operate from their permanent base at Sigonella since Sept. 2010. The Global Hawks of the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4 of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based in Beale, similarly to the famous and much older U-2s, are a spy planes equipped with radar and eleptro-optical imagery system which provide the capability to survey some 100,000 square kilometers of terrain a day. Noteworthy, although being remotely-piloted via satellite link, they carry radio equipments that enable pilots working at the ground station to freely talk to the proper Air Traffic Control units as listeners of the LiveATC.net stream discovered on Day 3 night, when a RQ-4B flying at block levels FL500-600 (well above any other “conventional” plane, U-2 excluded) contacted Malta ACC. They use special corridors and dedicated climb/descent areas for proper deconfliction with the other traffic that are advertised by specific NOTAMs.
I don’t know how long the campaign will last but, since many AAR (air-to-air refuelling) assets are required to support large packages of airplanes, I would not be surprised of seeing the Boeing KC-767A recently dellivered to the Italian Air Force attending the operations in the next months. This aircraft is much similar to the KC-46A, the future US tanker whose concept is widely based on the KC-767 Next Gen Tanker a unique refueler equipped with both the boom and “probe and drogue” system hence capable of serving both US and European aircraft. When the No-Fly Zone will be fully active (I mean, with more fighters to enforce it and less bombers) F-22s could be deployed too to give them some more operational experience. Threat posed by the LARAF is worth the expense for such a deployment? Sweden is still considering a contribution to the coalition and according to the Swedish newspapers, a Gripen contingent is already standing by for a possible deployment.

2) Build up and daily ops: Qatar Emiri AF Mirage 2000s and an accompayining C-17 were compelled to perform an emergency landing in Larnaca Cyprus on their way to Solenzara, that should be their forward operating base. A Cyprus Civil Aviation Department official told the Associated Press that high winds forced the two Mirage 2000 and one C-17 cargo aircraft to land for refuelling! Anyway, they should be joined on Mar. 23 by 4 more Mirages and be “up and flying” by the weekend for air policing of the NFZ. On Mar. 22, two Rafales from Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier flew their first combat sortie over Libya, that was nothing more than an a reconnaissance mission flow with Reco-NG pods. France has requested Greece to deploy to Souda Bay some (3?) Mirage 2000s. Norwegian F-16s in Souda did not take part into the air ops so far, while the Royal Netherlands Air Force will join the “coalition of the willing” with its F-16AMs and a KDC-10 tanker (that already trailed the Norwegians in the area of operations). A pair of CF-18s aborted a strike mission in Libya today, after the crews determined that there was a high risk to civilians near a Libyan airfield: the episode demonstrates the strict RoE in place to prevent collateral damages and proves that the Canadian Hornet are not only flying defensive counter air mission as initially guessed. RAF Tornado GR4s flew their first missions from Gioia del Colle where they are deployed along with the British Typhoons that are flying missions lasting up to 5 hours (requiring 3 air-to-air refuelling from tankers). Italian AF is flying the SEAD patrols with the Tornado ECRs escorted by the F-16s with the support of a Tornado IDS for buddy AAR. A standard package flown so far is made of 5 planes: 2x ECRs, 1x IDS and 2x F-16s. Italian Navy is also conducting activity with the Harriers from Garibaldi (that, officially are not assigned to the Odyssey Dawn but provide airspace policing in the southern Mediterranean) and EH-101s, mainly involved in the control/detection of refugee boats attempting to reach Lampedusa. The only other Harriers operating in the area are those of the USMC of the VMA-542, embarked on the USS Kearsarge.

3) The news of an air-to-air engament near Benghazi between a Libyan airplane and two coalition fighters, which spread among some news agencies, was later confirmed as bogus and denied.

4) Dealing with the Command issue, NATO could assume leadership. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “This isn’t a NATO mission. This is a mission in which the NATO machinery may be used for command and control”.

5) After explaining in the previous analysis which are the tools in the hand of the aircraft enthusiasts and spotters, I’ve asked two combat pilots, an Italian one and an American one, if they were aware of geek things like LiveATC.net and Flightradar24.com respectively used all around the world to listen to the communications between planes and air traffic control, and to track flights using Mode-S trasponders. While the Italian friend told me that he knew them but hadn’t used either lately to “follow” Odyssey Dawn, the American one, an F-15E pilot in the process of leaving for a tour of duty in Afghanistan replied as follows: “Yea, I use them all the time”.
Anyway, during Day 4, by means of flightradar24.com the Canadian CC-150 tanker was once again clearly visible, with its track history giving a clear idea of the racetrack flown during refueling of fighters.

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 3)

Previous debriefings:

Day 3 of Operation Odyssey Dawn showed how the air campaign in Libya has entered the “mobile SAMs hunt” phase. This is what the increasing number of sorties by SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence) assets show. Given that the majority of the fixed SAM launchers and radar sites was clearly identified and selected ahead of the start of the operations and (most probably) attacked and destroyed during Day 1, what remains on the ground is a bunch of mobile launchers that can pose a risk to the aircraft that are (and will be) involved in the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone. Hence, hidden and moveable SA-6s and SA-8s, are likely to be intact on the Libyan territory and their suppression requires specific missions by aircraft capable of identifying, locating and attacking radars that provide guidance to the surface to air missiles. These assets are the Italian Tornado ECRs, belonging to the 50° Stormo, and deployed to Trapani, in Sicily, and the F-16CJs, of the 52FW/480FS, and the US Navy VAQ-132 EA-18G Growlers, that have been operating directly from Aviano, in NE Italy. The latter are particularly important since they can both identify the emitters, updating the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the Libyan forces, and jam the operating frequencies of the SAM radar sites, blinding those that although capable of engaging coalition aircraft can’t be attacked because of the strict RoE (Rules of Engagement) placed to prevent collateral damages. Indeed it is not always possible to aim at a radar station with a HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile), the type of weapon usually carried by SEAD assets in a so-called Wild Weasel mission (radar suppression mission), even after its presence was discovered: just think to a radar that is turned on intermittently or to SAM sites surrounded by human shields. For this reason, most of times, planes involved in SEAD strikes return to their homebases with their missiles still attached to the underwing pylons, as happened to the Italians during Day 2, when the Tornado ECR did not fire their HARM missiles because they did not find any active radar during their patrol mission. Previous air campaigns demonstrated how long the process of tracking down mobile targets could be; consequently, planes ensuring SEAD will be a constant presence inside the Libyan airspace.

Noteworthy, one of the radar-suppression fighters involved in a mission over Libya was the protagonist of an episode that tell us much about the technologies available today to track the aircraft involved in Odyssey Dawn: with simple and cheap tools, the famous Dutch radio communication expert known under the Twitter username @FMCNL, the one who made available to everyone on the Internet the audio file of the Psyops message broadcasted by a US EC-130J (see Day 2 debrief for more info), warned US Africom Command that in the morning of Mar. 21 an F-16CJ was broadcasting its identity in the clear by means of its Mode-S transponder. Most probably not only Gaddafi’s forces were not using ADS-B receivers to track coalition aircraft and would not do much with that information since there are many other more and less sophisticated ways to know that a Wild Weasel is flying (for example, just watch TV reports showing aircraft departing from their bases….), but the episode demonstrates once more what can be done with off-the-shelf products and a bit of knowledge, as well as that skilled enthusiasts following air operations can help the coalition to improve self-protection and safety of some of its High Value assets.

By the way, the F-16 was not the only aircraft to broadcast information: on Flightradar24.com, the Canadian CC-150 (A310) was irregularly trackable transmitting full ADS-B info.

So far, no activity from the LARAF (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force), or what remains of it, was reported: as the Pentagon briefing showed, the B-2s (and the TLAM attack) targeted and destroyed the aircraft shelters at Ghardabiya airbase where a recent analysis from Tom Cooper of ACIG.org assessed no less of 7 LARAF units equipped with Mig-21s, Su-22s, Su-24s, J-21s, Mi-8s and Mi-24s. If the majority (if not all) the resident and visiting aircraft were inside the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelters) a single attack destroyed a large part of the Libyan Air Force as a few aircraft should have survived at Mitiga and Sabha airfields. There’s also the possibility that some active aircraft were dispersed in one of the many Libyan airports located in the south a zone that is not covered by the allied No-Fly Zone as the image posted below (taken from the US DoD briefing) shows. This could be the reason for escorting SEAD aircraft into the Libyan airspace (for instance, Italian Tornado ECRs were escorted by pairs of F-16s of the 18° Gruppo) and for asking for more F-16s: indeed Italian Minister of Defence announced on Mar. 21 that the coalition has asked Italy to contribute to Odyssey Dawn with more F-16s (not Tornados).

Other interesting things & information about Day 3:

1) first sortie flown by 2 EF-18s and 1 B707 of the Spanish Air Force deployed to Decimomannu and first of the Belgian Air Force F-16AMs from Souda Bay, Crete. Another first was the one of the RAF Typhoons deployed to Gioia del Colle; these are the only F-2000s actively and officially partecipating in the air campaign, as Italy provides 4 F-16s (most probably because the Eurofighters are dedicated to the strengthened QRA service). CAF CF-188 (F-18) flew and will probably only fly air defence missions.

2) Build up continues with the deployment to Souda, via Decimomannu, of 6 Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s. Even Qatar Emiri Air Force Mirage 2000 Mk5s are due to deploy to Souda on Mar. 22 while it was officially announced that the UAE Air Force involvement in Libya “will be strictly confined to humanitarian assistance” and there will be no F-16s deployed to Italy as ANSA news agency had previously reported.

3) FAF has flown more sorties from Solenzara, even if after Day 1 (4 tanks destroyed 100 km south of Benghazi), all the other missions were “dry” armed recon/patrol flights.

4) France has clearly shown an interest to assume command of all air operations of Operation Odyssey Dawn while Italy threatened to cease supporting coalition planes on its airbases and close its airspace if NATO does not take over the unitary command of the air campaign, in clear contrast with the French position.

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 2)

In a few words Day 1 of Operation Odyssey Dawn saw the Build-up, the French “show of force”, and the evening TLAM attack. More information can be found in my first debriefing that explains in details what happened (and why). In the meanwhile new details about the first hours of air war surfaced bringing some interesting analysis.

First of all the initially denied involvement of 3 B-2 bombers was confirmed. As happened during Operation Allied Force in 1999, the stealth bombers operated directly from Whiteman AFB, Missouri with the support of many tankers along the route.

They dropped 40 conventional bombs on an unspecified airbase and, interestingly, to render them much more invisible, even to HF, VHF and UHF listeners that have been exploiting the possibility to listen to radio communications in the clear broadcasted by LiveATC.net, the B-2 used a REACH callsign, usually allocated to tanker, transport and support aircraft.

This gives an idea of how the OPSEC problem was faced by the USAF: keeping in mind that aircraft spotters around the world, virtually interconnected by means of forums, websites, messageboards, Twitter, Facebook and any other social networking tool, are today capable of tracking aircraft movements even before aircraft depart their homebases with the various LiveATC.net, Flightradar24.com, ADS-B, etc., they decided to deceive them not using difficult and “suspect” zip-lip ops (no-radio) but masking aircraft callsigns.

The result was satisfactory as the strikes of the B-2s as well as the TLAM attack were almost unexpected in spite of the technology in the hands of the aircraft enthusiasts meaning that there are still ways to achieve strategical surprise, if needed…..Indeed, very often, Politicians or Military Commands are more than willing to spread the news of active involvement in the air operations or the successful accomplishment of the missions as the news of the aircraft “overflying Libya now” given by the French and Tweets that followed the TLAM attack on Day 1 showed.

Furthermore, the above mentioned social networks tools are today used by media and news agencies that have been providing live and comprehensive coverage of the operations, with actual departure and landing times of each mission, number of involved aircraft, deployment bases and so on.

As never before, online newspapers and TV, using either Twitter feeds or information gathered on the field or by “googling”, are providing interesting details about the missions flown during this starting phase of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

During Day 2 the Force the main highlights were:

1) There were not collateral damages (civil victims) of the allied strike meaning not only that the attacks were “surgical” but that the accuracy of the weapon systems employed is extremely high so as the Rules Of Engagement. For instance there are reports that the RAF planes that operated in the evening of Day 2 did not use their ordnace because there were civilians in the vicinity of the designated targets.

2) The beginning of a direct US tacair (short for tactical aviation, i.e. jet fighters) involvement in the campaign: multiple waves of F-16s (52FW), F-15Es (48FW), EA-18Gs (VAQ-132) and AV-8Bs (USMC, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit USS Kearsarge) striked a variety of ground targets shortly after the Libyan Defence and Communication network had suffered the massive cruise missiles attack. More are going to be performed in the next days even if, in the mid-terms, they will become reconnaissance/patrol missions rather than attack ones.

3) PSYOPS undertaken by an EC-130J of the 193SOW (Special Operations Wing) deployed to Sigonella to persuade some Libyans from boarding a ship (in both English and Arab language) as the following audio file show: http://audioboo.fm/boos/307814 . As already explained in this blog the EC-130J Commando Solo belong to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. The EC-130J is a particular version of the EC-130 that is used for psychological operations and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio messages on all bands.

4) The first involvement of Danish and Italian contingents in the campaign. The RDAF F-16s based in Sigonella flew their first mission around 14.00Z striking targets in Misratah according to news agencies (4 were involved in a complex 5hrs mission, Danish sources reported), while a total of 6 Italian Tornados (4 ECRs and 2 IDS performing buddy air-to-air refueling) took off from Trapani at 19.00Z for a typical SEAD strike. This was the first active involvement of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) in Odyssey Dawn to which Italy contributes with 4 Tornado ECRs, 4 Eurofighter F-2000 Typhoon, 7 airbases and 5.000 military. The Tornado IDS deployed from Ghedi to Trapani should perform support missions (AAR) and that’s the reason why they are not considered in the grand total of ItAF planes joining ops. According to Italian Navy chief of naval ops the 8 Italian AV-8B+ Harriers on board Garibaldi aircraft carrier could operate along with USMC Harriers if needed.

5) BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) was performed also by US Global Hawks permanently based in Sigonella.

6) Build up continues: 4 Mirage 2000-5 of the Qatar Emiri Air Force took part in the operations of Day 2 (according to the French MoD even if other French sources said the Qatari are going to join the operations in the near future with 8 aircraft) while a certain number of UAE F-16s could be shortly deployed to Decimomannu (even if some sources say Trapani). There were no news about the actual involvement of the Spanish ALA12 EF-18s based in Decimomannu (even if it can’t be ruled out). A certain number of Tornado GR4s (that during Day 2 operated again from UK) and Typhoons (should be 10 in total) have deployed to Gioia del Colle, the same airbase that hosted the British Harrier GR7s, Jaguars and Tornado F3 for the Balkans Ops (Deny Flight, Sharp Guard, Deliberate Force, Deliberate Forge, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, etc.). The Norwegian Air Force was ordered on Saturday night to have 6 F16s and over 100 pilots and other personnel ready for military operations in Libya. It is not clear yet when and where the NoAF fighters will deploy. US could deploy some F-22s to the area even if this is just a rumour. French activity today went almost unnoticed with 15 aircraft performing strikes and returning to their bases without problems. Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier was dispatched to the area of operations and it should embark an air group consisting of 8 Rafale Ms, 6 Super Etendards, 2 E-2C Hawkeyes, 2 Dauphins and 1 Alouette (source: ACIG.org).

Operation Odyssey Dawn explained (Day 1)

On Mar. 19, 2011, incidentally exactly 8 years since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a medium scale operation to protect Libyan people from attacks of forces loyal to Gaddafi in accordance with resolution 1973 of the Security Council of the United Nations, dubbed “Odyssey Dawn”, began, involving the forces of a coalition of the willing made by US, France, UK, Italy and Canada (according to the Pentagon, even if the actual and active participation of the Canadians and Italians in the first stages of the war in Libya has yet to be confirmed).

The entire operation developed into at least three phases:

1) build up phase (still in progress): the one usually preceding the beginning of the air operations, during which the various assets, belonging to the contributing nations, reach the forward operating bases. For instance, the Canadian Air Force deployed 6 CF-18 of the 425 Squadron of 3 Wing from Bagotville to Trapani via Prestwick, the USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) moved some 10 F-15E of the 494FS and 12 F-16s of the 480FS to Aviano, the RDAF (Royal Danish Air Force) deployed 6 F-16s to Sigonella, the Spanish Air Force sent 4 EF-18 and 1 B707 to Decimomannu and so on. Even Italy relocated some of its assets in proximity of the area of operations: along with 4 Tornado ECRs of the 155° Gruppo based in Piacenza, an unspecified number of Tornado IDSs of the 6° Stormo of Ghedi and some Typhoons of the Grosseto-based 4° Stormo were deployed to Trapani, home of the F-16s of the 37° Stormo. The build up will continue in the following days, as new countries will join the coalition of the willing and will find a place on one of the 7 Italian bases rendered available by Italy (Aviano, Gioia del Colle, Trapani, Amendola, Sigonella, Decimomannu and Pantelleria) or by other countries like Greece, Spain or Cyprus.

2) operation Harmattan: in the early afternoon of Mar. 19, by order of the President Sarkozy, the French Chief of Defence Staff launched “Operation Harmattan”, name of the French participation to the Odyssey Dawn. Beginning at 12.30Z French aircraft flew into Libya to provide air defense missions to enforce the no-fly zone in the region of Benghazi (radius 150 km from the town) and to strike those military targets identified on the ground that could threaten the civilian population. 20 aircraft were involved in the first raid (8 Rafale, 2 Mirage 2000-5, 2 Mirage 2000 D, 6 C-135 tanker and 1 E3F AWACS images by Sirpa Air French Air Force and below chart made by http://rafalenews.blogspot.com/) and two frigates and anti-aircraft air defense (the Jean Bart and Forbin) positioned off Libya. Even though the press release later affirmed that “these French military forces were engaged in close coordination with our allies the time that the multinational coalition into place” some online newspapers reported that France’s first strike in Libya somehow angered some of the countries gathered at the afternoon Paris summit meeting. In fact, it is at least weird that the French Air Force decided to attack Gaddafi’s forces around Benghazi without support from partners. For sure the French intervention (claiming 4 Libyan tanks destroyed) stopped (or at least helped to stop) the loyalists forces’ advance to Benghazi but many saw this action as an attempt by President Sarkozy, that was criticised in the past for being too cautious, to give France a leading role in the North Africa crisis; others saw the warmongering behaviour as also a means to raise the profile of the Rafale by giving it visibility as a combat proven weapon system….
For sure the solitary attack made by the French contingent was at least unusual/unexpected, especially since French Air Force lacks some specialties (or, let’s say, has not in its inventory the proper kind of aircraft even if Rafale can on the paper somehow fulfil the tasks) and it’s not capable of autonomously performing those missions that are usually required at the beginning of a campaign, like SEAD and accompanying active kinetic EW. Usually, an air campaign starts with (cruise missiles) strikes aimed at the enemy Air Defence and Communication network, to give aicraft that will provide air superiority and will have to enforce the NFZ an airspace cleared of SAM launchers and radars. On the other side it must be noted that, according to the most informed sources, any SAM sites in the Benghazi area are not believed to be operational and, MANPADs aside, real threats to the French fighters were extremely limited in that area. For this reason, without much trouble a French attack plane (Mirage 2000D or Rafale) fired the first shot of Operation Odyssey Dawn at 14.45Z (using either a GBU-12 laser guided bomb or a AASM air-to-ground guided weapon). Some guessed the French were sent to Benghazi to invite Libyans to turn on their SAM site’s radars, unveiling their actual location for later targeting. Although possible, it sounds to me a bit risky considering also that a lot of SIGINT platform have been operating in the Libyan airspace with the specific task of gathering as much information as possible on the current status of the Libyan air defence network.
The fighters took off from Solenzara, Corse, while the supporting planes departed from Istres. Someone has speculated the attack could have originated from N’Djamena, Chad, where French Mirage F1 and 2000 have been operating since the early ’80s. However this option should be ruled out because of the distance and because the aircraft deployed there should be Mirage 2000 RDI. Libyan State TV claimed a FAF aircraft was shot down, but the news was denied by the French authorities.

3) the final part of the first stage of Operation Odyssey Dawn was a massive Tomahawk attack performed by US Navy warships and four submarines (three US and a British Trafalgar class one) around 19.30Z. More than 110 cruise missiles were launched by the Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Barry (DDG 52) and submarines USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and USS Florida (SSGN 728) participated in the strike. The TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles) were used to attack 20 targets of the Libyan air defense, surface-to-air missile sites and communication nodes. Following the wave of cruise missiles, the RAF launched Storm Shadow missiles from Tornado GR4 which flew direct from RAF Marham and back making the 3.000 miles trip, this the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict. The operation was supported by VC10 and Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft as well as E-3D Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft.