Tag Archives: Libya

Libyan Air Force strikes: conflicting results

Although being published on various websites, the image below remains noteworthy since it is the only one we’ve seen so far clearly showing a Libyan Arab Republic Air Force plane striking the rebels positions.  The photo (by MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Image) shows a Su-22M-3K “311” (even if the captions speaks of a Libyan “Mig”….), most probably armed with anti-tank RBK-250s canisters (containing 150 AO-1 fragmentation bomblets) , over Ras Lanoof on Mar. 9, 2011.

Let’s quickly analyse the picture.
First of all what can be noted is that the Libyan aircraft is operating at low level, hence lower than the altitudes the LARAF fighters were reported to fly in the first weeks of the (civil) war againts the rebels. In fact, in an article about the No-Fly Zone published a few days ago on Dangerroom titled “No Moammar, No Fly: How to Stop Gadhafi’s Planes” Spencer Ackerman writes:

Halter notices something significant about the Libyan MiG and Mirage jets: They’re flying at about 15,000 feet, and only during the day. That tells him they’re worried about shoulder-fired and truck-launched missiles from the rebels beneath them, and their own pilots aren’t very accurate at night. Accordingly, that means any Combat Air Patrol to keep the Libyans out of the sky should cover the daylight hours — 14, 16 hours at most.

The main reason for changing the attack profile from HI to LO could lay in the need to be more accurate in aiming and bombing: footage has already shown LARAF planes dropping bombs way off their targets (to the extent that some suggested the inaccuracy could be deliberate rather than a sign of inadeguate training).
On the other hand, even if the above image doesn’t provide enough visual details to estimate the actual altitude of the Libyan fighter, we can guess that the Su-22 “311” is not flying at ultra-low level (let’s say below 500 ft), most probably to remain well outside the envelope of the Anti-Aircraft weapons in the hands of rebels that claimed the downing of 3 LARAF fighters between Mar. 6 and 7, during the offensive in Ras Lanoof area. Anyway, whatever the attack profile is, it is quite clear that LARAF has been achieving better results in the last days, as images of bomb blasts on target (or quite near) show, enabling Gaddafi’s forces to push rebels in the east back from the strategic Ras Lanoof oil refinery they briefly held.
According to the information collected by Tom Cooper Editor of ACIG.org, at least a Sudanese and a Syrian Su-22 pilots were captured after their aircraft were shot down by ZPU-4s on Mar. 6. This would confirms rumours that mercenary Syrian pilots along with those from other nations (Ukraina, Algeria, Sudan etc) have been operating in Libya flying LARAF fighters and, at the same time, would explain why the Libyan jets have been obtaining better results for the last few days. Actually, Syrian presence is something more than a rumour, since SyAAF pilots have been operating in Libya since 1980s (even if some were reported earlier, in mid-1970s), as part of a mission established following the signature of military agreement, and it is still possible that those flying the LARAF jets against the rebels in the eastern Libya are either retired Syrian pilots (who remained in Libya) or active SyAAF pilots sent there to strengthen Gaddafi’s loyal air force.

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.

Libyan Tu-22 Blinders: are they still operative? Satellite pictures raise question

In the previous post (Why Libyan Air Force aircraft pose a risk to Italy) I explained the reasons why Libyan fighters must be closely watched by the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). I also suggested reading another article, titled Memories of a fighter pilot, the story of the period in which the main fears of the Italian Air Defence came from the Libyan Migs and the Tupolev wearing the red star, which flew through the Otranto Channel (Southern Adriatic Sea in front of Albania) causing the frequent Alert Scrambles of F-104s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service, specially those belonging to the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo, based in Gioia del Colle. During those years, the ItAF pilots collected many photographic evidences of the “close encounters” (like those I published in the Zombie page) some of which involved interesting Libyan planes. For example, the following ones were taken by the 12° Gruppo on Sept. 20, 1983 (and later released by the 5° Reparto of the Italian Air Force Staff) and show some Tu-22B Blinders flying next to the Italian airspace off Otranto. The Libyan Blinders (whose exact number is not clear with data reporting from 7 to 18 planes) were supersonic bombers based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base (currently Mitiga, prior to June 1970, known as Wheelus Air Base and used by the USAF) that were used in combat against Tanzania in 1979 and Chad in the ’80s, during the Chadian-Libyan conflict. Libyan Tu-22 pictures are extremely rare. One of the most famous, taken by a USN fighter over the Med shows a desert scheme, similar to that of the Iraqi Blinders, with the former Royal Libyan Air Force insigna (later replaced by the green roundel), that is sensibly different from those in this post which show another kind of camouflage.

Dealing with roundel, rebels have begun applying new insigna to their aircraft as the following screenshots from a BBC reportage show.


All Libyan AF Tu-22 should be retired from use now (mainly for lack of spare parts). There are no reports of active Blinders from many decades. However a quick look at Google Earth unveiled a certain number of Tu-22s (7) that, from satellite, seems to be parked and apparently serviceable at a large base near Hun, in Central Libya. The timestamp on the satellite image is July 20, 2010 and the airbase 7 months ago seemed to be full of aircraft presumed to be retired from some time, like Mig-25s and G.222s.  For instance, another Tu-22 can be identified by means of Google Earth at Benina, but it is clearly an almost abandoned example wrecked next to the airport’s fence. The question is: are any of those aircraft still operative or are they retired examples aimed at deceiving satellites hiding the actual status of the LAF?  Hmmm… I think the right answer is the second one…..

Below, the images of the airbase near Hun, Central Libya.

Some Mig-25s at the same airfield.

Below, a satellite view of the wrecked Tu-22 at Mitiga.