Tag Archives: E-3

Why NATO, French and US AWACS have been constantly monitoring the Libyan airspace well before the No-Fly Zone was voted

In the last few days I have often had the opportunity to talk with journalists, spotters and enthusiasts about the Libyan uprising that was also the subject of an interview I gave to Pieter Johnson for the Across The Pond segment of the Episode 139 of Airplane Geeks (click here to listen to the podcast).

Among the most debated topics there was the AWACS presence at the southern borders of the Malta FIR: NATO, French, British and US E-3 AWACS constantly monitoring the Libyan airspace. The presence of such a large deployment of AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platforms in the area and the fact that at least one E-3 (usually 2) has been flying day and night to ensure the surveillance of the airspace on a H24 basis raised some questions, the most of common of which was: “why are there so many AWACS up if no No-Fly Zone has been enforced yet (hence no fighter has to be controlled)?”

The answer is more or less the same I gave in a previous post titled “Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy“: in these days there are many SIGINT aircraft operating at the border between the Maltese and Libyan airspace to assess the inventory of both the LARAF (Libyan Arab Republic Air Force) and of the recently born rebel’s FLAF (Free Libya Air Force). US EC-130Hs Compass Call and EC-130J Commando Solo, EP-3s, RC-135 Rivet Joint, C-160G, British Nimrods R1 (whose operative life was extended as a consequence of the Libyan crisis) that have been eavesdropping into Libyan Communications and Signals to have an in-depth understanding of the situation in Libya, to know where forces are located and to build up the an Electronic Order of Battle as well as a priority target list.

Most of these information gathering platforms are turboprop that could not easily escape to fast jets sent to intercept them. Even if it is extremely unlikely, the possibility of a LARAF or FLAF (Free Libya Air Force) fighter, either intentionally or in the act defecting, getting dangerously close to one of these aircraft, in such a hot and fast changing scenario, can’t be completely ruled out. That’s why so many flyng hours were already spent by AWACS to monitor the Libyan airspace even if a NFZ was not established yet.

On Mar. 17, Gaddafi said that any foreign military intervention in Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack in the short-term and also in the long-term.

I think that the risk of LARAF fighters harassing both military traffic (evacuating nationals from Libya or monitoring the situation) and civil airlines crossing the Tripoli FIR or connecting the Libyan airports with the rest of the world, was what was scaring NATO, France and EU when they decided, well before the NFZ was voted, to keep a constant watch on Libyan airspace.

Libyan airspace most interesting movements of last week

At least two Internet resources have been providing a comprehensive set of tools to monitor on a 24 hours basis the traffic that has been operating in the airspaces between Malta and Tripoli FIR: Flightradar24 and LiveATC.net. The first gives you a sort of “radar picture” built thanks to the ADS-B messages broadcasted by the planes while the latter provides live air traffic control (ATC) broadcasts from air traffic control towers and radar facilities around the world and also from Malta. Information gathered by means of this two freely available resources are then spread by aircraft enthusiasts (and not only) using Twitter with the result that as soon as a particular aircraft appear above the Mediterranean sea, something strange happen or a particular communication is heard, almost instantly, the news reaches every place of the world. As an expert in military aviation I’ve been closely watching this “information flow” and, as I was often asked by Twitter followers, blog readers and journalists which was the most unexpect or unusual traffic that was heard or seen operating in the airspaces to the south of Malta, I think that it may be useful to summarize here some of the most interesting stuff that was monitored in the last week even if it has already been published on Twitter and on other online magazines and media which created Live Blogs (like Malta Today) or built up Twitter Live pages (like La Repubblica.it in Italy) by importing through the Twitter APIs those tweets containing a particular hashtag (i.e. #Libya or #Tripoli). In fact, those media don’t always give an explaination of the reasons why a traffic is interesting.
Anyway, don’t miss the chance to follow user FMCNL on Twitter if you want to be updated on latest movements.

Mar. 5, 2011

Before 09.30Z French Air Force Transall C-160G tail F216, call sign COTAM 2096
09.30Z a NATO AWACS controlling the Libyan airspace for any suspect activity using the front end callsign “NATO 07″ requested to Malta ACC if it had “any information on aircraft with squawk 2017, position about 85 miles east of our”. The answer from Malta was that “it should be a Falcon 900, at FL340, with destination Mitiga, according to Flight Plan”. A few minutes later, the Libyan Government 5A-DCN contacted Malta ACC on its way from Amman to Mitiga. The news was reported by all media that speculated of a “Libyan aircraft challenging a NATO AWACS”. Read here what was really weird in that episode….
14:35Z RA 519 EP 3 from Moron in contact with Malta
17:21Z Lion 491 US C-130 involved in the Tunis airlift with Malta
21:30Z SUM 9071 Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations Il-76TD RA-76429 showing on flightradar to Tunis FIR
23:46Z Apex 17 RAF Nimrod R1 returning to Akrotiri handed over to Athinai Cntrl. This kind of aircraft due to have been retired at the end of March are now to be kept in service for at least another three months, as it was reported by the BBC, most probably due to the need to use this strategic platform during the Libyan crisis.

Mar. 8, 2011

23.30Z AXIS 10 US EC-130H Compass Call with Malta ACC. The EC-130H performs electronic/information warfare tasks.

Mar. 9, 2011

Around 00:00z USAF EC-130J of the 193d Special Operations Wing (193 SOW) of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard using c/s RCH1024 was monitored using Mode-S most probably deploying to Souda Bay. The Commando Solo is a particular version of the EC-130 that is used for psychological operations (PSYOP) and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio on all bands. Last version should be able to provide WiFi access by dropping Access Points to the ground (has to be confirmed).
Around 00:20Z Malta ACC warned Air Malta 7489 that a previous flight reported an unknown traffic W of Gozo that didn’t show up on radar.
Beginning around 08:30Z three Libyan Government aircraft departed Tripoli for various destinations:

  • 5A-UAC Bombardier BD-700 went to Lisbon Purtugal (via Luqa Malta)
  • 5A-UAA Bombardier BD-100 Challenger 300 went to Paris Le Bourget Airport
  • 5A-DCN the Falcon DA-900 went to Cairo

Mar. 10, 2011

10:10Z Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 5A-ONF out of Tripoli east bound as AAW430 appeared shortly on FL390
13:45Z 5A-ONH AAW220 east bound from Tripoli. It was returning to Libya as AAW241 at 19:28Z
17:13Z USAF RC-135W Rivet Joint c/s OLIVE 24 in Maltese airspace
20:45Z Unusual comm heard on LiveATC. NATO 02 to Malta ACC: “we have a traffic behind us 9 miles. Can you confirm the level?”. Malta: “FL340”

Mar. 11, 2011

04:40Z Hellenic Air Force C-130 tail 743 flying as HAF356T arrived in Athens after departure from Tripoli with released crew of Dutch Navy helicopter NRN277 from frigate Tromp captured by the Army of Gaddafi on Feb. 27.

A near miss from the inside

I don’t know how this (leaked?) video was obtained. I’m not even sure it will remain online for a long time. The Belgian user who uploaded should be careful since I’m pretty sure the footage was not meant to be publicly disclosed, but maybe he got all the permissions required. Anyway at the following address:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7DygPsJ_sA
you can see an impressive near miss recorded by an Italian F-16. Radio comms can be heard as well.
Here’s just a screenshot:

Aircraft involved are two ItAF F-16s of the 37° Stormo, based in Trapani (radio callsign “Brandy”). Date of the near miss is Dec 13, 2006. The aircraft are apparently returning to their homebase after some kind of exercise; they are in contact with “Cyrano” (a French E-3 AWACS) that clears them to climb to FL360 for RTB. Then, the two fighters are handed over to Rome Military radar that tries to identify the mission but can’t estrablish the radar contact with it. The two aircraft continue climbing to the previously cleared level and level off at FL360 when the wingman spots something that is coming from the opposite direction, same level, between the two F-16 (that are most probably flying a loose formation). At time 03:30 you can see the contrails of the commercial jet appearing on the left side. The leader of Brandy 41 sees the incoming liner at the very last moment and performs an escape manoeuvre. The cause of the near miss is obviously not clear: for sure the two aircraft are given from Cyrano a clearance to climb to 36.000 feet. The E-3 has coordinated the climb and they are under radar control. They contact Rome Military telling the controller “….climbing 360…” and they repeat the information as they give their position and altitude (“360, 100 NM from RONAB”) shortly before the close encouter, when they are requested to check the C mode. Something unclear occurred (I think on radar controller side….) but a fine weather, a watchful wingman and a certain amout of luck contributed to the happy ending.

E-3 AWACS contrails over Northern Italy

On Apr. 30, around 10.00AM LT, Fabrizio Berni noticed some contrails above Brescia and took the following interesting pictures. As the aircraft was orbiting, the shape of the contrails was (more or less) circular. The close up shows a (NATO) AWACS (radio callsign “Magic”) involved in some kind of exercise or surveillance activity in Northern Italy (thus, nothing related to the chemtrails I explained in a previous post).


Italian Air Force patches

Since a lot of visitors of this website are interested in Italian Air Force Heraldry, I’ve decided to publish images of the new patches produced by the various operative units of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and to provide some information about them.

The following 3 patches, come from Trapani. From left to right: the new “diamond” of the 18° Gr and two new 10° Gruppo patches (cloud and X)

From left: the patch made by the X Gruppo for the Spring Flag 2008, an exercise in which the squadron was part of the Red Air; a patch made within the Cervia based 5° Stormo for passengers of the F-16B; a new F-16ADF roundel

From left: the patch made for the Italian crews of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control (NAEW&C) Force; a patch made for the Italian JSF (Joint Strike Fighter); a patch, most probably theatre-made, worn by crews operating in Afghanistan (I’ve seen that patch worn by the AB.212ICO pilots of the 21° Gruppo, even if it could be used also by others).