Tag Archives: Malta FIR

What's weird in the Libyan Government Da.900 "challenging" the NATO AWACS episode

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, a certain number of SIGINT, Electronic Warfare and information gathering assets were reported to be operating within the Malta FIR or on its southern border, next to the Libyan airspace. Radio communications broadcasted on the Internet by LiveATC unveiled the presence of RAF and NATO E-3 AWACS, British Nimrod R.1, French C-160G and several US planes, as RC-135W, Special Ops MC-130Ps and EC-130Hs along with supporting tankers. Indeed, operating within controlled airspace, these aircraft have to contact Malta ACC to coordinate refueling areas, orbit positions, flight levels and to receive information for the deconfliction from other traffic during transit through the Maltese airspace. Even if the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF) never dared to attempt to harm such planes, the AWACS have been operating on a 24 hours a day basis to provide AEW (Airborne Early Warning) in favour of both these planes and those involved in the evacuation of nationals from Libya performing difficult rescues in the areas taken by rebels. Around 09.30Z of Mar. 5, 2011, a NATO AWACS controlling the Libyan airspace for any suspect activity became the protagonist of an episode that involved one of the private jets of the Gaddafi’s fleet flying from Amman to Mitiga. The E-3 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 “suspicious” plane contacted Malta radar too with callsign “5A-DCN” (= registration of the aircraft) and flew normally to its destination. Since this conversation (that can be heard here) was broadcasted in real time by LiveATC many aircraft enthusiasts heard it live on the Internet meaning that the news of this weird episode spread really quickly, especially thanks to Twitter. Many media, inspired by a “provoking” tweet by the expert user who recorded the radio comms and made it available on Audioboo, without checking what actually had happened, claimed that the Libyan aircraft had somehow “challenged” the NATO AWACS. However what’s really noteworthy in this episode is not that the Falcon 900EX of the Libyan Government was flying undisturbed but that the AWACS was asking an ACC if it had details about a track it was controlling: usually, the AWACS is interconnected with the radar stations of the NADGE (Nato Air Defence Ground Environment) by means of Interim JTIDS Message Specification and it is able to identify a track (NTN, Nato Track Number) either autonomously or with the help of the ground air defence radar that has already correlated the FPL information with the trasponder codes of each track. Indeed, as there’s neither an active No-Fly Zone nor an embargo on Libya yet, the Libyan aircraft can still fly almost freely outside its home country, provided that a proper Diplomatic Clearance to cross foreign countries’ airspaces is issued by the nations interested by its route and, for sure, by doing that, it is not challenging anybody. Therefore, for sure, it was challenging the NATO AWACS on Mar. 5…..
By the way, unlike other aircraft known to be part of the Gaddafi’s fleet, the Libyan Falcon 900EX 5A-DCN was quite “active” in the last weeks. On Feb.23 the aircraft flew to Minsk, Belarus, and returned to Tripoli on Feb. 26. A suspicious but legitimate flight.