Along with the F-15Cs there were six F-15E Strike Eagles which joined U.S. and coalition air assets in attack missions against ISIL positions in Syria and Iraq (even though the extent of their involvement in the raids is not clear).
Noteworthy the withdrawal of the U.S. Air Force jets coincides with a new series of measures approved by NATO to strengthen Ankara’s air defenses on its border with Syria.
As reported by Reuters this defensive package will include both naval presence and maritime patrol aircraft.
An AWACS platform will monitor airspace exchanging information via data link with ground, airborne and sea based commanders with the latter stationed on German and Danish ships already sailing in eastern Mediterranean.
Media outlets in the UK have today reported of a press release from the British Ministry of Defense according to which the RAF’s fleet of seven E-3D AWACS aircraft has been grounded due to a technical issue discovered during routine maintenance.
The report doesn’t explain what the actual problem is (The Sun reported it as a crack in the dome) but it must be a major one to ground a whole fleet of such important planes nor it says if this fault is likely to affect all other E-3s or Boeing 707 derived aircraft in other U.S., NATO or other air forces service.
U.S. AWACS provide homeland security and air space management “services” to U.S. and allied planes in Afghanistan and all around the world.
The press release has been very keen to point out that there is no affect on operational capability as there are other aircraft that can perform the same task.
However, the only other aircraft in RAF inventory with similar capabilities is the Sentinel R.1, the air segment of the Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system, that has proved to be particularly effective in Libya. The Sentinel use a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to detect and track enemy ground forces so it is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) asset that, unlike the E-3, is not specialized in AEW (Airborne Early Warning) whose primary role is to detect, identify and track enemy aircraft (and guide fighter planes to intercept them).
Indeed, E-3D AWACS will be among the most important assets of the air contingent destined to ensure the security of this year’s London Olympic Games. Provided that the flight ban is lifted.
Once further details are released The Aviationist will provide an update.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
Few days ago I published an article after seeing a picture that showed two single seat Mig-21bis and one double seat Mig-21UM flying over Benina airbase at the end of June. The image not only showed three of the four Mig-21s that were reported to have defected on Mar.17, but raised also some questions about the No-Fly Zone.
Someone wondered if preventing the Free Libya Air Force fighters from flying would have any sense if we consider that NATO and its coalition partners are (more or less….) there to help them. What I’ve explained them, is that the problem is strictly tied to the use of common procedures and to the prior coordination required to engage a densely populated airspace, as the Libyan NFZ, with fast jets: unless they know Transit Corridors, radio frequencies, transponder/IFF codes, etc., and are properly deconflicted, instead of being useful, FLAF plane could be extremely dangerous for other coalition planes. That’s why the NFZ applied to both pro-Gaddafi and rebel planes as the interception of a FLAF Mig-23 on Apr. 9 shows.
After discussing about the NFZ with Guido Olimpio, Corriere della Sera’s special correspondent from Washington DC, he sent me the following Reuters images that show an Air Libya BAe 146 used to link Benghazi with Rhebat, in the Nafusa region, a new airfield opened in the remote Western Mountain stronghold south of Tripoli. The “runway” is quite narrow and only small transport planes, capable of taxing from unprepared aprons, can operate from it.
Since it is impossible to operate those flights without NATO’s approval, the photos, taken on Jul. 12, 2011, explain the reason why the Mig-21s were flying over Benina on Jun. 27: a limited rebel flight activity must have been granted to the rebels (probably in the form of a transit corridor between Benina and Rhebat).
The most intriguing, and less likely/almost impossible theory, is that the Mig-21s are used to provide some kind of escort to the Air Libya BAe146 during the first part of its flight to Rhebat.
Air Libya is a privately owned company which operated charter flights in support of oil field operations and some charter services from Benina airport. (Photo: Reuters)
Thanks to a post on the ACIG.org forum, I found an article published on the Detroit Free Press titled “Obama acting lawfully on Libya, adviser says” that shows an extremely interesting picture of three FLAF (Free Libya Air Force) Mig-21s over Benina airport. The article was published on Jun. 29 and the picture was taken (according to the caption) on Jun.27.
Armed planes wearing the FLAF flag and roundel aside, what’s really interesting about this picture is that it clearly shows a violation of the No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya. In fact, as far as I know, the UNSCR established a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, rebel ones comprised.
At 17.43 Al Jazeera English Libya Live Blog gave the news of a military helicopter with the Libyan rebel flag reportedly seen flying towards the fontline around Ajdabiya on Saturday despite a UN-imposed no-fly zone, showing also a nice picture by AFP of a Mi-24 clearly violating the NFZ (that, worth a remind, applies to both the rebel and governative planes). At 20.41, AJE reported of a Mig-23 flown by a rebel pilot, intercepted and forced to land back at Benina few minutes after take off. The aircraft, was immediately detected by a patrolling E-3 AWACS which directed one of the CAP flights to visually identify it. The Mig did not display any aggressive action and was simply led to land back at the airfield located to the south of Benghazi; the RoE usually require a prior visual contact with the “bogie” (in order to prevent friendly fire) but such violations could be extremely risky as “unannounced” rebel flights appearing on NATO’s radars could be easily mistaken for government planes and be shot down. The fact that they wear Free Libya flag is not enough to determine its intentions (what if the aircraft with the Free Libya Air Force roundel is flown by a pro-Gaddafi?).
Many fighters are still enforcing the NFZ while E-3 AWACS are still patrolling the Libyan airspace (read this interesting article that explains also the role played by the asset in the air strikes). Although it is possible that the three Mig-21s were performing a local sortie or a sort of flypast over Benina, the above picture raise a series of questions: is a NFZ still active? Is NATO able to prevent such violations? Did rebel planes receive a special authorization to perfom those flights?
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