Tag Archives: Libya

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 18)

Previous debriefings:

Finally, the Press briefing by NATO Spokesperson and Brig. Gen. van Uhm (Chief Allied Ops at SHAPE) on Libya operation, provided some detailed information about Unified Protector. I’ve listened the whole briefing, that was immediately made available on the NATO website and these are the most interesting points. Obviously, it doesn’t explain why NATO has been so cautious since it has assumed the leading role of the campaign but the briefing give us an idea of some of the problems the alliance is facing in Libya. I don’t believe the problem lies in the withdrawal of the US attack assets. At least not completely. France, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, and Norway are performing strike sorties and, if required, other nations could perform the air-to-ground role with the assets already in theatre. The main problem the alliance is facing is probably that the NATO planes are asked to provide cover in a typical TIC (Troops In Contact) scenario without troops on the ground or direct contact with rebels. Identifying targets from above, without someone clearly explaining what to hit and what not to hit, it’s extremely difficult and dangerous.

Opening statement

  1. Started on Mar. 23, the arms embargo part of the Unified Protector operation involves 18 ships belonging to 9 nations that are securing the maritime approaches to Libya with the support of several surveillance planes. To date, 76 ships were halted, 28 on Apr. 4. So far, NATO has detected no violations:  according to Gen. van Uhm this demonstrated that the embargo has been achieving the result of reducing the flow of arms, related materials and mercenaries into Libya. One of the goals of the arms embargo is to create minimum disturb for shipping. On Apr. 4, NATO ships intercepted and checked 2 ships inbound Tripoli and 3 ships outbound of Tripoli and Benghazi harbours, none of which was violating the embargo. (A journalist asked later why a ship carrying fuel supplies to the Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli was not prevented from arriving in Tripoli and the answer was that the UNSC resolution doesn’t envisage the possibility to stop petrol supplies. “It is an arms embargo”).
  2. The No Fly Zone is active and preventing any unauthorized aircraft from flying into or out Libya. Libyan Air Force aircraft are not flying anymore as of mid March.
  3. In order to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or unde threat of attack 14 strikes were executed on Day 17. A number of those hit air defence systems, tanks and armored vehicles in Misratah. Around Brega NATO struck a rocket launcher that was firing and elsewhere targets included ammunition storage facilities. In these strikes a number of nations were involved.
  4. With the arms embargo and the active NFZ, NATO is also deconflicting its activity with the humanitarian movements ainto and around Libya on the ground, sea and air. NATO was notified of 17 humanitarian operations in the last day, 5 by air and 4 by ground movement.

Most interesting things from Q&A part of the briefing:

A journalist asked if it is normal that US drones, the entire French aeronavale group with 1 aircraft carrier, submarines and with 16 planes, other US amphibious ships, etc. are under national command and not under NATO one. Gen. van Uhm answered that NATO is controlling those assets that were formally transferred under its command. A lot of follow up questions led to a clear statement: on a national basis, maritime or air escort missions to humanitarian operations are conducted. These are national ops coordinated with NATO because nothing happens without NATO knowing it. However, every strike would be directly under NATO command. “The coalition is over, NATO is in command”. NATO is using those assets that were formally transferred under NATO command. There are national assets in the area and if partners want to use them, they can transfer them under NATO command or they have to coordinate them with NATO.

A media representative asked why the number of strikes dropped from 58 to 14 in the last 24 hours and the NATO spokesman explained that the figures of the previous days comprised all strike sorties, even those intended to identify targets without dropping munitions, while the 14 of Apr. 4 were those in which the allied planes had hit ground targets.

Dealing with the Brega blue-on-blue incident: NATO has looked into the evidences. It was an unfortunate episode, a fault on the rebels side as they affirmed too. Some younger and more enthisiast rebels made some celebratory fire towards the allied aircraft with an anti-aircraft gun. Now the rebels are bringing more experienced people in the front line. No further details can be unveiled on type and nationality of the aircraft involved in the “friendly fire” episode.

After the change in command, the operational tempo continues unabated: since NATO took over, 851 sorties and 334 strike sorties were flow. The firepower used at the beginning of the war can’t be compared to the one provided by NATO now, because the situation has changed. However, Gen. van Uhm affirmed that NATO roughly generated the same amount of sorties of the coalition at the early stages of Odyssey Dawn.

NATO as an alliance has no contact with the TNC (Transition National Council) even if three partners  (France, Qatar and Italy) have recognized it.

Gaddafi’s forces are changing tactics. They use a light equipment in the front line and use the heavy ones in the “second echelon”. This means that they are hiding it in urban areas and, without even targeting them, NATO is preventing them from using it  against civilians.  The impact of NATO strikes on Gaddafi’s forces? The assessment done estimates 30% of the military capacity of the pro-gaddafi forces was taken out.

Whilst arms embargo is performed by NATO on both air and maritime movements, enforcing arms supplies on the land is not possible without “boots on the ground”. For arms coming by land, NATO has to rely on neighbouring countries even if Gen. van Uhm explained the alliance hasn’t any information what they are doing or if they have seen violations on arms embargo.

Misratah is NATO number 1 priority. Humans are being used as shields over there. Tanks are dispersed.

How many aircraft the US has taken out? “Strike assets” was the answer the NATO spokesman gave. About UK strenghtening its contingent with 4 extra Tornados: “We are happy a nation has decided to bring more planes for air strikes”.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) During a DOD News Briefing from Washington DC, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said:

All told, since operations began on March the 19th, the U.S. has flown approximately 1,600 sorties, which includes more than 600 strike missions. The U.S. strike mission ended yesterday evening, as you all know, but we will continue flying support missions under NATO leadership, and we will remain on alert for emergency strike missions, if requested by NATO.

About the daily cost for the US taxpayer:

I don’t have updated numbers for you. I mean, we’ve spoken, over the last week, about what the — what the tallies are that we have. I think it was roughly through the first eight days of operations, the cost — and the secretary relayed this to Congress last week — that came to about $550 million. That does not include the F-15 which crashed.

Dealing with the contacts with the rebels:

I don’t think — I don’t think the Pentagon has — our personnel have any contact with rebel leadership. I don’t think that —

2) Daniel Silic, a reader of my daily briefings sent me, among the other interesting comments, the following text (whose source is Al Jazeera) about the “complaints” from rebels military commander Abdel Fatah Younis, who was particularly critical of the role played by NATO so far.

[…]

We also informed NATO about these groups that are trying to sabotage the fields. We told NATO about them, NATO says we cannot shell them when they are in the oil field.

But these people are on tarmac, and it would not influence the oil fields, but unfortunately they were not bombed.

[…]

Of course NATO is helping us sometimes, but they are taking their time, and we are giving the coordinates of these forces that enter cities, but there is slow action, which allows invading forces to enter a city, burn it down, kill everybody and then leave the city.

We have some MiGs and helicopters that we have repaired, and we ask if we can fly these warplanes. NATO forbids us. They are not letting us help, or helping themselves. Broadcast this to the world, so that people will know that NATO is not supporting us.

Unfortunately, and I sorry to say this, NATO has disappointed us. My staff have been in contact with the NATO envoys to direct them to targets that should protect civilians, but until now, NATO has not given
us what we need…

Civilians are dying daily in Misurata because of lack of food or milk, even children are dying. Even by bombing. If NATO waits for another week, it will be a crime that NATO will have to carry. What is NATO doing? It is shelling some defined areas only. […]

Source: AP and MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

3) The cost of Unified Protector is huge for each air force involved in the enforcement of the No Fly Zone and the operational commitments come before any airshow. For this reason some airshows around Europe were officially (or not yet officially) cancelled. For example, the Frecce Tricolori season opening on May 1, 2011 should not be a public event. Noble Ardent, TDPU Kleine Brogel and a few more were cancelled too. NATO Tiger Meet should not be affected

4) During the last 24 hrs, the Italian contingent flew 8 missions, each involving 2 aircraft: 4x Harriers from the Garibaldi aircraft carrier, 3x Tornados, 1x Eurofighter Typhoons.
The RDAF F-16s based in Sigonella flew 4 missions dropping 8 PGMs on ammunition and missile depots south of Surt/Sirte. Since the beginning of the operations, the Danish have completed 58 missions delivering 134 bombs.
For what concerns the French contingent, during the evening of Apr. 4, a mission of Rafales and two joint Rafale / Mirage 2000D missions, supported by 2 C-135s, and two joint Rafale / Super Etendard missions supported by a couple of Rafales in tanker role, along with a reconnaissance mission by a patrol of Rafales, operated under NATO command over Libya. On Apr. 5 two joint patrols of Rafale and Mirage 2000D, a joint patrol Rafale / SEM and a SEM patrol flew air interdiction missions in the regions of Misratah and Brega. During one such mission, a strike was conducted on a military vehicle located about fifty miles southwest of Brega. In addition, a patrol of Rafales carried out a reconnaissance mission while 2 C 135s, 2 Navy Rafale and 1 SEM operated in tanker role, and E-2C Hawkeye and E-3F provided support and coordination of these missions.
From Souda, the French Air Force flew 3 missions each made by a FAF and a QEAF Mirage 2000-5.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 17)

Previous debriefings:

NATO is providing daily updates on the air campaign in Libya, merely providing the figures of the sorties since the beginning of the NATO operation (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT). So far, a total of 701 sorties and 276 strike sorties* have been conducted. Of those, 154 were flown on Apr. 3 (58 were air strikes). As always, strike sorties are those intended to identify and engage proper targets; do not necessarily imply the use of bombs for various reasons (lack of target identification, RoE, etc).

A quick comparison with Day 16’s data (read yesterday debrief for details) shows that the number of air strike dropped from 70 to 58 in the last 24 hours.

In the meanwhile, after an extensions requested by NATO, the US has withdrawn from Unified Protector its attack aircraft (not clear if planes will be kept for a certain period at the current forward operating bases or will return home). Here’s a statement released on this subject by Captain Darryn James, the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Press Operations:

– There have been no TLAMs [Tomahawk missiles] launched in the last 24 hours.

“- Between 6 p.m. Eastern and 6 a.m. Eastern this morning, one US Harrier [fighter jet] mission engaged military vehicles near Sert and one US A-10 [ground attack aircraft] mission engaged military vehicles near Brega as part of our commitment to protect the Libyan civilian population from attack and support NATO enforcement of UNCR [UN Security Council Resolution] 1973.

“Tonight, US military assets will officially shift to a support mode to NATO for Operation Unified Protector. As [US Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chief] Admiral [Michael] Mullen said during SASC testimony on Thursday, US strike aircraft will be available in ‘standby mode’ and could be made available after a specific request from NATO leadership.

“But as of 6 p.m. eastern time tonight, US aviation assets are expected to cease strike sorties and will remain on an alert status if NATO requests their support.”

Support aircraft, as tankers, SEAD, EW, SIGINT etc. are still operating for Unified Protector.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) A total of 12 Turkish Air Force F-16s provided air cover to the aid ship M/F Ankara loaded with 2 tons of medical supplies and 3 ambulances and helthcare professionals, that was sent to Misratah to evacuate 230 wounded and 60 helpers bringing them in Turkey for further treatment. The ship, escorted also by a Turkish frigate, had been waiting off Misratah for 4 days, because the fighting in the city had prevented it to enter the harbour. A 12 hours cease-fire was agreed between the two opposing parts to make the evacuation possible. The TuAF aircraft took off from Bandirma and Dalama and were supported by 4 KC-135s from Incirlik airbase.

Turkish F-16 operating from Grazzanise airbase in 2005 for Ex. Destined Glory.

Italy will perform a similar humanitarian mission in the next days, said Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, after meeting a representative of the opposition Transitional National Council. Frattini said that Italy will “fly” to Misratah, so it is possible that an air bridge will be arranged to rescue the wounded Libyans. However, since the airport is not controlled by the rebels, unless a cease-fire is agreed as happened during the Turkish rescue, it is likely that the Italian aid mission will be conducted by sea, with a close air cover.

2) An Italian radio ham recorded on Apr. 4 was seems to be the first counter-PSYOPS message sent by Gaddafi’s forces on HF frequencies. Here’s the message (in Arabic language only): http://soundcloud.com/iw0hk/8500-khz-libyan-radios. Initially, someone said it was a Free Libya radio transmission, but, according to those who translated the message after the news spread on the web, affirmed that it speaks about rebels embracing the “crusaders” and welcoming “people who drew cartoons of muhammed”. The message should be trasmitted from Sabratah, a Gaddafi’s held area to “rebel held areas”.

If it is really a pro-Gaddafi message (or a sort of counter-PSYOPS speach), it is at least weird that it was not jammed by the US EC-130Hs operating in the area.

3) Noteworthy, some of the air forces that are not taking part to the air strikes operating only for the enforcement of the No-Fly Zone, are flying with air-to-air missiles and also Litening Targeting pods or Reccelite reconnaissance pods. Maybe they use it to have a clearer view on the ground while performing Combat Air Patrols over Libya. SpAF and RNlAF are among them.

4) Information about each partecipating force’s activity is becoming scarcer each day. A Media Day was held on Apr. 4 by the Danish contingent in Sigonella, some pictures and details are published by the French MoD but some air forces are not providing any information at all. The RNlAF and Spanish detachments to Decimomannu have been some of the less talkative. The RNoAF flew 30 missions in total, 16 of those under NATO command. During the last day “ground targets were engaged”. The RDAF flew 4 more missions (dropping 4 PGMs) on Apr. 3, while in the Italian Air Force flew 8 missions: 3 by F-2000 Typhoons, 3 by Tornados and 2 by AV-8B+ from Garibaldi aircraft carrier. AAR capability was ensured by both KC-130J and Tornado IDS.
Dealing with the French, on the evening of Apr. 3, recon missions involving Rafales, Mirage 2000s and joint formations made by Rafale and Super Etendard, supported by a Rafale with buddy tanker for AAR, were flown. A recce mission, involving Rafales from Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier was flown. On Apr. 4, 2 Mirage 2000D missions and 2 mixed Rafale / Super Etendard missions were flown, along with a Rafale reconnaissance mission, in the regions of Sirte and Ras Lanuf, with supporting C-135, E-3F, E-2C and 2 Rafales with refueling pod. From Souda Bay, 3 missions in standard “configuration” (1 French + 1 Qatari Mirage 2000-5) were flown.

Source: French MoD

The RAF will deploy 4 more Tornado GR4s from IX (B) Squadron of RAF Marham to Gioia del Colle, bringing to 22 the number of UK fast jets taking part in Unified Protector. The news came from PM Cameron who made a surprise visit to the Italian airbase which has been the temporary home for the last two weeks for 10 Typhoon fighters and eight Tornados. So far, the RAF aircraft have completed over 70 combat sorties over Libya and, during the last weekend, the British planes destroyed three regime tanks and 10 armoured vehicles
UK’s PM visit came on the day when the head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, planning at least 6 months of operations over Libya, warned that the RAF will need ”genuine increases” in budget in the next years, after suffering the 8% cut imposed in last year’s SDSR, if it is to continue running the current range of operations.

The arrival of the Tornados will help ease pressure on the international coalition from the US decision to withdraw its planes, however, in my opinion, the problem is not the number and type of aircraft in the area, but how and where they are tasked.



5) The following famous picture of the wreckage of a Su-24MK downed by the rebels during the Libyan uprising shows an interesting detail: the LAAF text. The official English acronym of the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force, should be, LARAF. However the official badge of the 1124Sqn has the shorter version LAAF for Libyan Arab Air Force. Noteworthy, even Sqdn, the short form for Squadron, refers to the English language.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 16)

Previous debriefings:

An idea of what has happened in Libya during Day 16 of the conflict is given by the official press released from NATO, explaining that, over the past 24 hours (worth reminding my readers that almost all the official data provided by NATO, by the US DoD, French and Italian MoDs etc, cover the “previous day”, usually going from 18.00 of Day x-1 to 18.00 of Day x), NATO has conducted 184 sorties, 70 of those were strike ones. Noteworthy “strike missions are intended to identify and engage appropriate targets, but do not necessarily deploy munitions each time”. Since the beginning of the NATO Operation Unified Protector (Mar. 31, 08.00 GMT), the coalition has flown 547 sorties and 218 strike sorties. An important figure that is still missing is the number of actual targets engaged on the ground with some more information about where and what was hit because NATO results in this air campaign are at least questionable.

The entire war is actually really weird. When Gaddafi’s forces reacted to the uprising attacking their own people UN reaction took 1 month to come and, all of a sudden, while the United Nation Security Council was about to give birth to Resolution 1973, France had already sent his fighters into the Libyan airspace, in a really atypical “air war kick off” that I’ve discussed and criticized since Day 1 debrief. With barely the coordination needed to deconflict planes operating in the same airspace, US, France and UK (each one using its own tankers) and a few other supporting nations, started an offensive air campaign that could lead to the destruction of the Libyan capability to use the force against the oppositors, in most cases with a target selection that had nothing to do with the mandate of the UN resolution, but that was (once again, suddenly), stopped, as soon as NATO took over the command of the operations and US had the first opportunity to step back.

Paradoxically, with many more nations (some Arabs too) backing the air operations, very few ground targets were hit in the last few days, leaving the rebels unprotected under heavy shelling by loyal forces that compelled them to retreat hundreds kilometres eastward. The official reason? Bad weather. I’ve already discussed this topic in detail both in the Day 14 Debrief and here. However, on Apr. 3, the US DoD, tweeted:

Due to recent poor weather in #Libya, the US has approved NATO’s request to extend use of some US strike a/c thru Mon iso #UnifiedProtector

to explain why US strike aircraft (supposed to be put out of theatre and on stand by from Apr. 2) were still operating in support of the NATO operation.

In the last few days I’ve received many feedbacks on this subject and I’ve found no evidence that bad weather was present on all Libya in the last 4 or 5 days. I can’t understand why the “poor weather” remains the official version…..

For those who think that bad weather meant sandstorms, that’s how a sandstorm appears from satellite:

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Anyway, while as already said in the last Debriefs, media and general public interest in what is happening is quickly decreasing, what NATO had built in terms of reputation with Allied Force in Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, could be lost with Unified Protector that is proving ineffective against a dictator that should be isolated by the rest of the world.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Few days ago I gave the link to a website with a news, that I considered not believable, that Gaddafi had escaped with a plane to Tanzania. Here’s what a Phil Mackesy discovered, reading the article published on the Tanzanian on-line newspaper:

When I read the story I noticed the byline:
“By The Citizen Correspondent and Lipra Loof”
Check what happens when you reverse the spelling of “Lipra Loof”… it’s “April Fool”… ties in with the March 31 post date.

2) In the last 24 hrs, the UAE contingent performed its first mission to enforce the Libyan NFZ. The RDAF F-16s, that were among the most active in the last days, were sent after targets on the ground in eastern Libya and in the area southwest of Brega. The Danish fighters dropped 4 PGMs on targets bringing the total to 126 bombs in 49 air strikes flown. 9 missions were flown by the Italian contingent: 4x Typhoons, 3x Tornados, 2x AV-8Bs. Dealing with the French, in the evening of Apr. 2, formations of Mirage 2000D and Rafales, supported by a C-135 and 2 mixed formations of Rafales and Super Etendard (SEM) performed air interdiction missions destroying five armored vehicles in the region of Sirte. A reconnaissance mission was flown with the Rafale too. On Apr. 3, several armored vehicles of the Libyan army were destroyed around Ras Lanuf by the French contingent that, in the morning was made of two joint formations of Mirage 2000D and Rafales, and 2 joint F1CR/Rafale/SEM missions which operated in the area of Ras Lanuf. A Rafale was involved in an armed reconnaissance too. All these missions were supported by 2 C135s, 1 E-3F and 1 E-2C which controlled and coordinated the assets.
Four missions each involving one FAF Mirage 2000s and one QEAF Mirage 2000s were flown from Souda Bay by the two detachments.

3) Sometimes history tells us much about the destiny of a country. The first bomb ever dropped by a military plane landed on Libyan soil in 1911.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 15)

Previous debriefings:

It is in Misratah, heavily attacked by the loyalist forces, and Brega, the oil town located to the south of Benghazi where the more defined frontline between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces remains, that the ground war is taking place while the coalition guided by NATO, quite surprisingly, observes.

Day 15 marked a new “debut” in this weird conflict: 15 revolutionaries were killed when one of the few NATO air strikes hit their convoy west of Ajdabiya. According to the BBC, anti-aircraft fire was shot in the air from the convoy, something that may have led the coalition planes to attack and destroy it. The first “friendly fire” doesn’t come unexpected because, as I’ve explained in the previous debriefs, it is becoming extremely difficult to distinguish, from the air, rebels and loyalists.

The hypothesis according to which the allied planes attacked the rebels convoy as a consequence of anti-aircraft fire, reminded me of a couple of emails I received from Bruce van der Kooij, a reader of this blog, who asked me if I thought the coalition forces had informed the rebel forces to stop shooting their anti-air guns once air superiority was achieved. My answer to his question was that although I hadn’t heard anything on this subject I thought that, warned or not by any special forces operating on the ground, rebels were probably not using AAA because the probability of shooting a Gaddafi’s aircraft attacking them was much lower than that of being hit by the coalition aircraft they had targeted….
Anyway, here’s an excerpt of his interesting email:

[…]
I can’t imagine they’re not in contact with the rebels, but on the
other hand incompetence has been a common occurrence inside coalition
circles (one only has to go back to the British SAS troops getting
captured while trying to make contact with the rebels earlier this
month).

The reason I asked the question was because in the linked Euronews
report[1] from 22 march at 00:37 you can see one of the pick-up
mounted guns being fired in the air (while the narrator says: “In
Benghazi last night panicked rebel fighters took to the street when
they heard loud explosions, but it turned out to be coalition
aircrafts striking targets around the city.”

Over the last 8 years (with the war in Iraq and the one in
Afghanistan) there’s been so much incompetence going around on the
side of western coalition forces that I was and still am rather
worried that this time there are bound to be costly mistakes as well
(“friendly” fire incidents mostly).

Let’s not forget, the first relatively significant incident has
already occurred. Back on March 22 an F-15 Eagle crashed and in the
emergency recovery 6 villagers were injured when two Harrier attack
jets that were part of the rescue team dropped two 500-pound bombs to
“protect the pilot” (as a result, one child had to have his leg
amputated).

For more information on the incident see:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/world/africa/23plane.html?_r=1&ref=africa

Another incident I’m aware of was the capture of British SAS-backed
diplomats being captured by rebels on March 6
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/06/sas-diplomatic-mission-in-libya).

The rebels total lack of experience and command structure only
contributes to my worries. I’ve even heard accounts of rebels
participating in celebration fire by firing RPG rockets in the air.
It’s insane…

References:

[1] http://www.euronews.net/2011/03/22/rebel-fighters-regroup-around-adjabiya/

Source: Reuters, BBC website

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Media interest in the Libyan war has been gradually decreasing. Live blogs, on-site reporters, special reports and webpages are not updated as frequently as they were in the past.

2) Apr. 2 was supposed to be the first day with attack aircraft out of theatre and put on stand by. However, a certain number of both F-15Es and A-10s were launched (at night) from Aviano AB. It is not clear if those missions were on-call sorties or planned ones against fixed or opportunity targets. Support aircraft, like US Navy Growlers, will continue flying Unified Protector missions.

3) UAE AF and Royal Jordanian AF fighters haven’t taken part to Unified Protector. The UAE ones shoud perform their first mission on Apr. 3. In the last 24 hrs, the RDAF flew 3 missions bringing the total to 46, dropping 15 bombs on targets south of Benghazi, bringing the total PGMs delivered to 122 (an impressive number, which most probably put the Danish among the first two or three air forces for number of weapons delivered on ground targets in spite of a small contingent involved in Unified Protector.  The Swedish AF created a contingent named FL01  made of some 130 people, 8 JAS 39, one S-102, for electronic reconnaissance, and 1 Hercules, to be employed as tanker. The SweAF Gripens, that will be used in the air-to-air role and will not be employed in strike missions against ground targets. Even the 6 Turkish Air Force F-16s should be deployed to Sigonella in the next days.

The Italian contingent flew 9 missions until around 16.00LT of Day 15, each involving two aircraft: 5 were flown by Tornados for recon (still unclear if they are ECRs or IDSs as explained in the previous days), 2 were flown by Typhoons and 2 by AV-8B+ Harriers from Garibaldi aircraft carrier.

The French contingent is probably still the one providing the best media coverage (FAF and FNy pics showed in this and other debriefs all come from the official website of Op. Harmattan). On the evening of Apr. 1, formations of Rafales of the FAF and Navy, Mirage 2000D and Super Etendard were involved in support and air interdiction missions with the support of a C 135. During one such mission, a strike on a car was conducted in the Al Khums, located west of Misratah. On Apr. 2, formations of Rafales, Mirage 2000Ds, and 2 mixed formations of Rafales and Super Etendard flew in the Ras Lanuf area. Rafales and Mirage F1CRs performed recce missions too, with the support of 2 C-135s and with the coordination of an E-2 and an E-3F. From Souda, 3 missions comprising 1 French Mirage 2000-5 and 1 Qatari Mirage 2000-5 to enforce the NFZ were flown.

4) Even before a NFZ over Libya was established in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution 1973 RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft (along with others belonging to the other air forces with some “interests” in the area) were deployed in the region. British ISTAR squadrons, which are normally based at RAF Waddington were involved in both Operation Deference, the evacuation of foreign and UK nationals from Libya, and the subsequent Operation Ellamy.

5 (Army Cooperation) Sqn flying the Sentinel R1 aircraft has been operating since the beginning of the Libyan uprising from RAF Akrotiri. Their role is to use their sophisticated array of sensors to surveil and acquire ground targets in Libya.  As the UK MoD explains about this interesting SIGINT platform (that will be scrapped as a consequence of the Strategic Defence and Security Review….but that’s another story):

Highly skilled sensor operators on board the aircraft analyse data and imagery and can find a “needle in a haystack”. A Sentinel Image Analyst recalled her thoughts of one mission she had last week when she had been tasked to watch ground activity in a region of Libya, “You learn to discount what is normal. I knew what our target was when we started looking through that area. It just looked out of place; it shouldn’t have been there. And when I looked in I was sure of what it was.” The information was passed via an RAF Sentry E-3D AWACS aircraft where fighter-controllers on board gave the job of investigating “what it was” to one of the fast jets policing the skies. It was a missile system, which was promptly destroyed.

Unlike the Op Herrick counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan the situation in Libya is much more an air-centric operation. For 5(AC) Squadron’s boss, Wing Commander Rich Barrow, the Sentinels’ work in Libya is proving every bit as valuable as its continuing commitment to Op Herrick. He sees a clear need for such capability in the UK armed forces wherever they might be operating. “It’s likely that we’re going to be operating in ‘unusual’ situations. The use of ISTAR and intelligence in particular to try and understand those situations, to gain insights into what’s going on on the ground is absolutely essential. Only with that can we go in with the confidence that we are doing the right thing and ensuring the right outcomes.”

The following video, was made available by the UK’s MoD.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 14)

Previous debriefings:

In Brega, the Libyan oil town located in the Sirte basin SSE of Benghazi, rebels are pressing on to the front line. More uniformed and better disciplined soldiers seem to be bolstering the usual disorganised opposition fighters, but neither side is currently able to claim control of the town. Rebels without proper training and equipment that weakened the oppositors at the front, are now used as backup force since their great enthusiasm is not enough and in the past days they were getting trounced by Gaddafi’s better trained and equipped soldiers. However, since Friday Apr. 1, the Associated Press has reported that only former officers and volunteers with at least a basic training are allowed to serve on the front lines: “the better organized fighters, unlike some of their predecessors, can tell the difference between incoming and outgoing fire. They know how to avoid sticking to the roads, a weakness in the untrained forces that Qaddafi’s troops have exploited. And they know how to take orders”.

Airstrikes were reported in Tripoli and Ajdabiya, where coalition hit a vehicle which was full of ammunition and exploded killing 7 and injuring 25 civilians (figures to be confirmed). According to Al Jazeera, it is still unclear as to whether the ammunition-laden vehicle was destroyed by artillery, mortars, an airstrike or some other cause and that while NATO has launched an inquiry into the mishap, without ground forces to verify the on-the-ground scene and evidence, it would be almost impossible to determine exactly what happened.

While Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy has not ruled out the possibility of arming the Libyan opposition, but that to do so would be an “extreme measure” if it became the only possible option to protect Libyan civilians to be attacked by government forces, the Associated Press, quite surprisingly reported in the late evening that the US will stop launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, in addition to pulling attack aircraft out of operations, in the Mediterranean theatre as early as Apr. 2. The news came from the Defense Secretary Robert Gates the day after he and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had announced that AC-130 gunships and the A-10s, used for close air support of friendly ground forces, were to stop flying after Saturday and put on standby, meaning that if the rebels’ situation became critical, the NATO commander could request help from the US (that will still continue to provide support missions, as AAR, SAR and recon).

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Let’s focus on other things that Mullen said.
Yesterday, in my Day 13 debrief I wrote:

Furthermore, it seems that the bad weather affecting the area of operations rendering targets identification difficult. Admiral Mike Mullen said that the biggest problem in the last 3 or 4 days was the weather as they were not able “to see through the weather or get through the weather to be able to do this kind of identification”. Honestly speaking, I’ve not seen any picture showing overcast conditions with complete cloud cover.

Something that appears also on the US DoD website’s article (available here: http://www.defense.gov//news/newsarticle.aspx?id=63393) in the following way:

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier appeared before the House Armed Services Committee in what was a full day of testimony about the U.S. role in Libya.

Coalition forces had to halt air operations over Libya due to bad weather for the past two days, causing rebel forces to retreat from areas they’d gained since operations began March 19, Mullen said.

In order to investigate on this topic, I used sat24.com to see if I could get the images of the cloud cover in the last few days. I browsed the archive and found what I was looking for. And it is quite interesting. I don’t think that you need a deep knowledge of meteorology to see that the bad weather over Libya wasn’t so bad (especially for the type of aircraft and weapons systems used in Unified Protector). Anyway, here’s an image I built to give you the possibility to draw your own conclusions. Was the bad weather the reason for the lack of airstrikes? In my opinion, No!

Click on the image to open it.

Sandstorms were reported in the area of Benghazi, but the rebel’ stronghold is located hundred km from Misratah and Tripoli: a dust or sandstorm so huge would be clearly visible from the satellite if it was obscuring the sky to such an extent to prevent aircraft from operating over the entire northern part of Libya, from Tripoli to Benghazi. Again, pictures on Live Blogs and articles, footage on TV reports and Youtube, and satellite images, show clear skies and perfect visibility. There are no traces of persistent sandstorms in the vicinity of Ras Lanouf, Brega, Misratah etc.

2) A Tanzanian online magazine reported on Mar. 31 that Col. Gaddafi escaped Libya secretely to a Dar es Salaam with a private jet at night. Here’s the article: Gaddafi secretly arrives in Dar.
Hard to believe that his aircraft was able to violate the NFZ without being intercepted….

3) The UAE Air Force has not performed any mission since deploying to Deci, where the Swedish Gripens should be soon detached (some rumours reported that the JAS39s will be based in Trapani). The RDAF flew 4 missions over Libya in the last 24 hours, to the east of Tripoli and south of Benghazi, delivering 5 bombs against vehicles and air defense sites (not better specified). This activity brings the total to 43 missions flown and to 107 precision munitions dropped on ground targets. Royal Norwegian Air Force restarted their mission count when transferring to NATO command – 14 missions under Odyssey Dawn, 8 under Unified Protector since 08.00 UTC on Mar. 30. Ground targets were engaged in Day 14. The Italian activity on Apr. 1 was particularly intense with 12 missions: 4 each for the Tornado, Eurofighter Typhoon and AV-8B+ assigned to Op. Unified Protector.
With NATO taking over command of all operations in Libya even the French activity seemed to decrease: on the evening of Mar. 31, 2 Rafale and 2 Mirage 2000D formations from Solenzara air base performed support and interdiction missions. Two C 135s were involved in air-to-air refueling missions.
On Apr. 1, formations of Rafales, Mirage 2000Ds and Mirage F1CR, and a joint flight of Rafale and Super Etendard modernized (SEM) flew in the Sirte and Misratah region with the support of 2 C-135s, 1 E-3F and 1 E-2C Hawkeye.

From Souda Bay, the FAF flew two missions, each made by 2 French Mirage 2000-5 and 2 Qatari Mirage 2000s. Noteworthy, the QEAF Mirages are not equipped with the refueling probe and have to fly with 3 tanks. Even the French fighters operating from Crete along the Qatari colleagues fly in a similar configuration with 3 drop tanks to improve endurance.