Tag Archives: Libya

Royal Air Force Hawks visit to Malta, the aircraft spotter's paradise

More less one year after becoming the hub of the various rescue missions that preceded the beginning of the Air War in Libya, Malta is still one of the most interesting airports for enthusiasts and spotters. The airport, that has just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the inauguration with some interesting flybys, is often visited by some really interesting traffics. Among them, the two Libyan Air Force Mirage F1s that landed in Malta International Airport on Feb. 21, 2011, and are about to return home.

At around 11:25LT on Feb. 13, 2012, three RAF Hawks from RAF Akrotiri landed at Malta International Airport. Flying as RAFAIR (RFR) 7041, the British planes (serials XX184, XX203, XX321) flew a run in and break for RWY 31.

Belonging to the 100 Sqn based at RAF Leeming, the training jets departed again as a 3-ship formation (using the same radio callsign they had on arrival) at 10:15LT on Feb. 14. Final destination, RAF Leeming, in the UK, with a stopover in France.

Brendon Attard took the following pictures of the Hawks sitting on apron 4 at MIA at night on Feb. 13 and departing from Luqa on Feb. 14.

Tornado fighter bomber very low take off from Malta.

On Feb. 8, 2012, Malta celebrated the 20th anniversary since the inauguration of Malta International Airport’s Air Terminal. The event was celebrated with a series of aircraft flybys, including those of a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion and a USMC C-130. Four Italian Tornado IDSs belonging to the 6° Stormo, based at Ghedi, performed two flypasts over the airport before landing at MIA.

After spending a night in Luqa, the Tornados left Malta on Feb. 9, around 12.10LT.  On departure, one of the jets rendered homage to the local spotters with a very low take off. Brendon Attard was there on both days and took the following interesting pictures.

The Italian “Tonkas” came from Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, where the crews of the 6° Stormo are currently deployed for the seasonal air-to-ground training in the local firing ranges.

“Cross country” flights like that in Malta, are included in the training required by the Italian Tornado crews to keep their capability to operate away from their homebase. As happened during the Air War in Libya, when the “Tonkas” were deployed to Trapani, in Sicily from where they operated until the end of the campaign performing both SCAR (Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance), BAI (Battlefield Air Interdiction), ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and “buddy” air-to-air refueling missions, carrying a wide variety of weapons and sensors, including the Reccelite pod, the Storm Shadow cruise missiles, GPS-guided JDAMs and LGB Paveways.

In Libya, the Tornado (to be replaced by the F-35 in the future) proved to be an effective platform whose accuracy gave Italy a 79% of reliability in the air strikes, a record higher than that achieved by the French assets who took part to the war (according to NATO).

Italian Tornados do “hit” better.

All photographs by Brendon Attard

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Future Drone’s World capital? Sigonella, Italy

On Feb. 3, 2012, NATO has finally agreed to implement the AGS (Alliance Ground Surveillance) a project that is based on high-altitude long range UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems), a main operating base and several command and control stations.

The cooperative defense project involves 13 nations: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States.

Wondering which drone will provide the alliance the capability to monitor “what’s happening on the ground, at long range, over periods of time, around the clock, in any weather” by year 2015?

Obviously, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk, the same type of unarmed reconnaissance drone that the U.S. Air Force has recently decided to scrap in favor of the old U-2 spy planes, Cold War veteran that will be kept in service well into the 2020s.

According to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance will acquire five RQ-4Bs that will be based at the MOB of Sigonella, in Italy.

Located in southeast Sicily, “Saigon” (as the U.S. aircrews dubbed it) has already been used during the Air War in Libya to host the Air Force’s Global Hawk and Reapers involved in ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and SCAR (Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance) missions in North Africa.

For instance, the U.S. RQ-4Bs belonging to the 9th Operations Group/Detachment 4th of the U.S. Air Force deployed to Sigonella, were the first to fly over Libya to perform high altitude Battle Damage Assessment sorties on targets located in regions with  a residual SAM (Surface-to-Air Missiles) and MANPADS threat. Since Apr. 21, 2011, they were joined by armed MQ-1 Predators that flew their first strike sorties in the areas of Misurata and Tripoli and launched 145 air strikes firing hundred AGM-114 Hellfire missiles before taking part in the operation that led to the capture and killing of Gaddafi in Sirte, when an MQ-1 teamed up with a mixed flight of a Mirage F1CR and a Mirage 2000D and attacked the convoy used by the Libyan dictator in his attempt to flee the city.

Strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Sigonella is the ideal base to conduct surveillance of North Africa, East Europe and Middle East. The base will not only host the (remaining) Air Force Global Hawks and AGS RQ-4s: the U.S. Navy MQ-4C BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) drone, the “maritime” version of the Global Hawk,  is expected to be based in five locations around the world, including “Saigon”, where some other platforms, as the French Herons and the (manned) RAF Sentinels could be deployed as well.

Rendering Sigonella, the Drone’s World capital.

Image: U.S. Air Force

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Vipers, Growlers, Prowlers, Eagles and Hogs: U.S. combat planes at Aviano airbase during Libya air war. With heart background.

Although the U.S. involvement in Libya was scaled down few days after NATO took control over the air campaign on Mar. 31, 2011, American tactical aircraft (“tacair”) played an important role during the opening stages of the Washington-led Operation Odyssey Dawn (for more details I suggest you reading the first debriefs of my Libya Air War series).

Even if U.S. planes also operated from other deployment base (RAF Mildenhall, Moron, Souda Bay, Istres), Aviano airbase, in northeast Italy, and Sigonella, in Sicily, were the two main hubs used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps assets. In particular, Aviano was mainly used by the tacair component, while “Saigon” was used by support planes (PSYOPS, tankers, etc.) and drones (both Reapers and Global Hawks).

Among the aircraft on temporary deployment to Aviano (that is the permanent base of the 31st FW’s F-16s) there were: VAQ-132 EA-18G Growlers, VAQ-140 and VMAQ-1 EA-6B Prowlers, 494FS F-15E, 81FS A-10s and 480FS F-16CJs. A Jordanian Air Force detachment operated from Aviano throughout the duration of Operation Unified Protector.

The following pictures, taken by Simone Gazzola, show some of the most interesting aircraft taking off or landing at Aviano.

Note also the “heart” shape on the background of some pictures. It’s a land-art project called Lumacuore (an Italian word formed by combining the words lumaca= snail and cuore = heart) and made between 2009 and 2010 on the side of Piancavallo mountain by the Italian artist Laura Trevisan with the aim of “spreading a cultural message on human rights, love and respect for nature as well as the environmentally friendly development of the territory.”

Here's what the Indian MMRCA Rafale might look like

You already know by now that the Dassault Rafale has won India’s MMRCA (Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft) in what has been called the “mother of all tenders”, worth $10 billion for 126 planes.

Thanks to Al Clark‘s digital mock-up, we also know how it could look like.