Tag Archives: Operation Ellamy

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 26)

Previous debriefings:

For some important newspapers and magazines the news of the Day 26 is that, in spite of the announced US withdrawal after the transfer of authority to NATO of the air campaign in Libya, American planes have conducted air strikes attacking Gaddafi’s air defenses. After US handed over command of the Operation Odyssey Dawn (named Unified Protector under NATO), along with providing surveillance and air-to-air refueling operations, USAF and USN planes performed attacks on Libyan SAM sites to take out what remained of the Libyan air defense systems.

The news should not come unexpected because, among the US assets under NATO command, there are also 5 EA-18 Growlers and 6 F-16CJ that are capable to perform SEAD strikes (for a description of a SEAD mission please read the first daily debriefs on this website). Hence, NATO has no need to request the US military for additional planes to fulfil a role that, actually, is not characterized as a ‘strike,’ because the suppression of air defenses is considered a defensive mission. For instance even Italy, performing SEAD tasks with the Tornado ECR of the 155° Gruppo deployed at Trapani (for more details, please read the Day 25 Debrief), considers this type of mission defensive rather than offesive.

Therefore, NATO can issue Air Tasking Orders (ATOs) without any special request because F-16s and EA-18s are under NATO command and control, and no special request is needed to release the aircraft for operations against mobile and fixed regime air defense systems. Since Apr. 4, when the change of command took place) the US SEAD planes have flown a to total of 97 sorties and, on 3 occasions (on Apr. 4, 6 and 7), they fired ordnance. Noteworthy, the strikes took place at the beginning of the NATO operations, when the risk posed by SAM and MANPADS was probably higher than it currently is.

Dealing with the US SEAD assets it would be interesting to know if they are flying mainly at night. In fact, visiting the Italian Task Group at Trapani I’ve noticed an intense activity by the Italian Tornado ECR during daylight and, provided that the SAM radar activity decreased since the beginning of Odyssey Dawn, maybe the SEAD tasks are shared, in these days, in the following way: the Italians perform the task mainly during the day, while the Americans fly the same types of mission, preferably at night.

Since Apr. 1, US aircraft have flown 35 percent of all sorties, 77 percent of all air-to-air refueling sorties and 27 percent of all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties, US Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said. Along with tankers, spyplanes, drones, etc, American CSAR assets are in the area as well as maritime patrol planes and USN ships. More in detail the current US Orbat for Unified Protector/Odyssey Dawn (some assets are still operated under US command) as reported by the NYT: one guided-missile destroyer; one P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; one EP-3E signals reconnaissance aircraft; 22 KC-135 tankers; six F-16CJ aircraft; five EA-18G attack aircraft; two E-3 command and control aircraft; two EC-130 signals and communications aircraft; two RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft; one U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft; one E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System; two MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles; and one RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle.

The “disclosure” raised questions among those who didn’t know the US planes were still striking ground targets, if needed. Other described the SEAD capability as a “unique capability” of the US military, a statement that is clearly wrong, or at least not completely correct. For example, the Associated Press wrote: “Italy and other nations are also participating, but defense officials said such missions [SEAD one] are considered a unique capability that the U.S. can perform”. That’s not true because, as explained many times in the previous debrief, the Italian Tornado ECRs are some of the few specialized SEAD platforms operating in the theatre and there are no other aircraft with the same capabilities currently available (EA-18G aside). For sure, the Growler can do something more, that is to say it not only detects and destroys radar sites, but can also actively jam Libyan signals rendering the radio and radar equipment unusable, however considering SEAD a unique US capability is a twist.

The SEAD “revelation” came on the day after some Governments urged NATO and other partners to intensify strikes against the Libyan government forces, complaining about the reduced American role in the conflict even if, so far, the DoD has not received requests for additional firepower or to resume air strikes with those assets currently in stand by status.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) NATO conducted 153 sorties (58 air strikes) on Apr. 13, bringing the total to 2.191 sorties and 890 air strikes. Among the key targets engaged on Day 26, 13 bunkers, 1 Tank and 1 Amoured Personnel Carrier destroyed in the vicinity of Tripoli, and 3 Multiple Rocket Launchers destroyed in the vicinity of Brega.

2) The Swedish Air Force released some interesting information and pictures about the first mission performed by the JAS 39 Gripen over Libya on Apr. 8. The two fighters, using radio callsign “Tiger 37” departed from Sigonella airbase at 15.55LT along with a TP84 (C-130) tanker using c/s “Mighty 65” (later spelt “Mity”). After refueling at FL100, the two Gripens entered the Libyan airspace to enforce the No-Fly Zone and returned to “Saigon” shortly after 18.30LT. It was the very first mission with Swedish fighter jets in more than 50 years. Interestingly, as noticed on other aircraft involved in the enforcement of the NFZ and not in the air strikes, even the SweAF Gripen flew with a Reccelite reconnaissance pod.

3) The Italian contingent in the last 24 hrs flew 9 missions (2 acft for each one): 3x AV-8B, 3x Tornados (both ECRs and IDSs) and 3x Eurofighter Typhoons. Since they are flying “reconnaissance and air defense missions” according to the MoD, I think that even the AV-8B+ Harriers of the Marina Militare are flying their sorties with air-to-air missiles and Reccelite recce pods. Below, some pictures of the Tornado IDS equipped with Reccelite at Trapani airbase on Apr. 12.

4) The French MoD is no longer updating its website with the daily reports of missions and sorties flown by the FAF and FNy.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 25)

Previous debriefings:

Trapani airbase

I spent Day 25 of Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector at Trapani-Birgi, one of the most active forward operating bases for the Libyan crisis. The airbase is the operative headquarters of the Italian Air Force contingent, to be soon become a Task Group “Air” and put under the direct command of Col. Mauro Gabetta, Cdr of the 37° Stormo. The base permanently hosts the NATO Forward Operating Base and, since Odyssey Dawn began, the Task Force Libeccio, the air detachment of the Canadian Armed Forces deployed on Operation Mobile. The overall flying activity was pretty intense on Day 25 with several Tornado ECR and IDS missions since early morning, a CC-150 tanker sortie and 2 RAF VC-10s sorties plus the usual training activity of the local based 18° Gruppo with its F-16 ADFs. The Typhoons did not fly until the evening, most probably because scheduled for night CAPs. As the 37° Stormo PAO, Lt.Col. Di Battista explained: “there’s no fixed schedule since the operative activity depends on NATO taskings. There are days in which the flying activity is mainly during daylight and others when it is shifted towards night”. The base is operative on an H24 basis.

Italian Task Group “Air”

Hosted in the 82° CSAR apron are the Tornado ECRs of the 50° Stormo and the Tornado IDSs of the 6° Stormo assigned to NATO to perform, respectively, Suppression of Enemy Air Defences and reconnaissance missions. SEAD missions are flown with the standard load of 2 AGM-88 HARM missiles, while the recce see the Tornado IDSs flying with the Reccelite pod on the right underfuselage pylon. Deployed to Trapani but not assigned to NATO (hence operating under National command) are also the IDSs performing air-to-air refueling in favour of other Tornados (both ECRs and IDSs). Also flying under Italian command although supporting Italian sorties tasked for Unified Protector is a single KC-130J of the 46^ Brigata Aerea, initially deployed to Trapani, but currently operating almost exclusively from Pisa airbase. Next to the Tornados, the HH-3Fs of the local 82° SAR Center ensure a raised level of readiness for SAR missions needed to search and rescue any crews in emergency.

Eight Eurofighter Typhoons belonging to both the 4° and 36° Stormo (4 of which assigned to NATO) operate from the 18° Gruppo that has flown the F-16s over Libya until the beginning of Unified Protector. The Typhoons are flying in the “heavy” configuration already mentioned in the daily debrief some days ago, with 4 AIM-120s, 4 IRIS-T and 3 drop tanks, while the F-16 flew with 2 drop tanks, 4 AMRAAMs and 2 AIM-9Ls. With the end of the activities for Odyssey Dawn some F-16s have been assigned to the QRA service while the remaining ones are flying standard training sorties.

Canadian Detachment

Trapani is currently being the base of Op. Mobile, the Canadian Air Force mission, with 7 CF-18s involved in the air-to-ground role and 2 CC-150 (A310) used for air-to-air refueling. While the tankers are parked in the civil apron, the Hornets use the Zulu apon located on the western side of the 13/31 runway. Actually, 6 CF-18s are assigned to NATO to perform daily sorties in Libya, one being used as a spare. The CAF detachment uses the local hangars (assigned to the HH-3Fs of the 82° Stormo before it moved to the southeastern part of the airport) to perform maintenance activities as well as to store equipment and parts, besides a few containers hosting the operative facilities of the Canadians and a tent for the mess (supplied by a local catering service). The aircraft are not necessarily always flying day and night missions but they perform missions according to the NATO taskings. For instance, during my visit, while all the 6 were checked and fully armed, 2 aircraft (+1 spare) were on-call meaning that they could be ordered to take off to relieve other flights performing combat patrols and intervene on targets of opportunity if needed. Indeed they were ordered to depart only in the late afternoon. The aircraft are armed (as the remaining 4) with 2 AIM-9Ls, 1 AIM-120C, 2 GBU-12s, a Sniper XR pod and 3 drop tanks, a heavy configuration slightly different from that used during the first days of the air campaign, when the planes of the 425 Sqn flew with 4 GBUs and 1 drop tank.

As of Apr. 12 at 23.59 UTC the CF-188s have flown 98 sorties, while the CC-150 43 sorties.

Belonging also to the Task Force Libeccio, but deployed to Sigonella, a CP-140 Aurora detachment made up from 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, flying maritime patrol missions in the embargo zone at sea has flown 16 sorties.

NATO Forward Operating Base

Another interesting guest of the base is the NATO Forward Operating Bases with dedicated areas and facilities (other FOBs in the Med. being Konya and Preveza). The base is a sort of extraterritorial place (in fact, I was escorted in the apron by Capt. Wilko ter Horst from NATO E-3A AWACS Component Public Affair Office. Currently being hosted by the FOB are 5(!) E-3s in both A version (used by NATO) and D version (used by RAF): 3 (out of 17) NATO’s and 2 (out of 7) RAF’s ones. That’s the maximum number of E-3s that can be parked and moved in the (relatively) small apron of the FOB, the same it was reached in 1999 during Allied Force operation. In fact, from a few days, the British E-3Ds, previously detached to Akrotiri, where moved to Trapani, where, thanks to the similiarities between the A and D version, they can benefit of the installation that is tailored to manage and service the “Sentry”.

Dealing with the two different types of aircraft, externally, besides the Luxemburg civil registration (NATO is an inter-governative organisation that cannot certify a fleet hence the aircraft are registered in Luxembourg, a partner without its own air force, and each plane carries), the royal Luxembourg lion emblem on its vertical tail and the NATO markings, the A differs from the D version because of the obsolete (and smoky) engines and the type of air-to-air refueling system: the A has a receptable and can be refueled by those tankers equipped with a boom while the D model has a probe, that is suitable for the hose and drogue capable tankers. For what concerns the internal layout, it is similar (as the one of any other AWACS platform) even if the software used by the consoles in the Sentry AEW.1 (British designation for E-3D)is more modern than the one running on the older E-3A. The RAF fleet is assigned to the 8 Sqn based at RAF Waddington, while the NATO one is based at Geilenkirken in Germany.

Walking inside the cabin of an E-3A from the cockpit to the tail, you find the communication and data processing equipment and then you reach the main body of the aircraft, where display and control consoles of the mission crew are located. As Capt. ter Horst explained, along with pilots (aircraft commander and co-pilot), navigator and engineer, who serve in on the cockpit, on board an E-3 a mission crew operates under command of a Tactical Director. The mission crew consists of a surveillance team, a passive detection controller (responsible of the on-board ESM system needed to improve the situational awareness and to update the Electronic Order of Battle), a weapons team (controllers that are responsible for the management of the various flying assets in the different scenarios: DCA, OCA, CAS, BAI, CSAR, etc), a communications operator and some technicians that are responsible for both the radar and the consoles/displays. Since the aircraft can be refueled to fly missions that can last much more than 8 hours, the aft part of the cabin, along with the restroom, houses some retractable beds, more comfortable seats/armchairs and a kitchen equipped with an oven.

Recap of Day 25 facts

The Day was characterized by the critics to NATO coming from both the French and British foreign ministers who said that the alliance is not doing enough to destroy heavy weaponry used by Gaddafi’s forces. They urged NATO allies to do more to protect civilians and to intensify military operations against the Libyan regime.

Brig. Gen. Mark Van Uhm, Chief Allied Ops at SHAPE, rejected French and British criticism saying NATO is successfully enforcing the arms embargo and the No-Fly Zone as well as protecting civilians in Libya.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting took place at the gates of Ajdabiya, where Gaddafi’s forces continued to attack rebel positions and lines, and in Misratah, under artillery attack.

Since the beginning of the NATO operation (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT) a total of 2038 sorties and 832 strike sorties were conducted by the alliance. On Apr. 12, NATO flew 159 sorties, 60 of which were air strikes. Noteworthy, in the daily report NATO’s website provided a few more details about the target struck: 12 tanks destroyed in the vicinity of Misrata; 4 tanks and 1 pick-up truck with an anti-aircraft gun destroyed southeast of Sirte.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, during the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace 2011 conference in London revealed that two RAF Typhoons, each dorpped one Paveway II 454kg (1,000lb) bomb against loyalist ground vehicles that were successfully and accurately destroyed. The strike represents an important milestone for the multi-role Typhoon whose debut in the air-to-ground role was on Apr. 10, when F-2000s performed joint sorties with Tornado GR4s also deployed at Gioia del Colle.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 24)

Previous debriefings:

Day 24 saw the quick and quite expected collapse of the African roadmap to halt Libya’s civil war: as representatives from the African Union were in Benghazi to discuss with rebels the plan for peace, including immediate ceasefire, already accepted by Gaddafi after talks with South African President Jacob Zuma, head of an African Union mission, insurgents said Misratah was shelled by pro-government forces. Fierce fighting took place almost house-to-house in the besieged town.

NATO refused to suspend its bombing of Gaddafi’s forces unless there was a credible and verifiable ceasefire since, as Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told during a press briefing in Brussels, Libyan government had already announced ceasefires in the past, but “they did not keep their promises.” For this reason air strike continued on Apr. 11, with allied airplanes hitting also military and (according to the State TV) civilian sites in Al Jufrah, in Central Libya, some 460 km to the southeast of Tripoli.

Since the beginning of Unified Protector (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT) NATO has flown a total of 1721 sorties conducting 713 strike sorties. On Apr. 10, out of 154 flown ones, 70 were strike sorties, intended to identify and engage ground targets, but not necessarily involving the use of PGMs.
Noteworthy, NATO has made available the exact number of assets currently under its command: 195.

According to the Al Jazeera English Libya Live Blog, the cost of the air war in Libya for the US military has reached $608million (from Mar. 19 to Apr. 4, thus including both Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector) as an unidentified US defence official told to the AFP news agency. For the USAF alone, the cost of the war was estimated in about $4 million a day, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley explained to reports a week ago, even if it was a figure expected to come down as other allies carried out more air strike missions with the US aircraft playing only a support role.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) A few days ago, the Canadian Combat Camera released the following video showing the footage from a CF-18 targeting pod as the Canadian Hornet hit a Scud launcher storage in souther Libya.

The video reminded me two things. First one, that the Scud Hunting, was an important phase of Desert Storm in Iraq when the coalition committed dedicated assets and special forces to locate and destroy Scuds and their launchers. Despite being inaccurate, the Scud missiles back in 1991 served as an effective terror weapon when fired against densely populated urban areas. On Jan. 18, 1991, 7 Scuds hit Israeli towns of Haifa and Tel Aviv causing nearly 50 deads. Similar attacks followed in the next days. The capability to prevent further launches was essential to persuade Israel to not intervene in the conflict spurring a reaction by other Arab nations.  CAPs were arranged over those areas where Scud launchers were suspected to be present: in southern Iraq, from where they could hit Saudi Arabia, and in the western part of the country, along the border with Jordan, where they could be fired at Israel. Despite the use of LANTIRN targeting pods by F-15Es and satellites, the Iraqi TELs (Transporter Erector Launcher) were extremely difficult to detect because they were hidden under bridges or inside camouflaged culverts and they were withdrawn and moved to another location immediately after fired, increasing their survivability. Even if the allied aircraft were a deterrent for Scud launches they failed to destroy the majority of the TELs as post-war reviews underlined.

Second thing that the footage reminded me is that two Scuds were fired in 1986 by Gaddafi against Lampedusa island as a retaliatory attack in response to the US air strikes in both Tripoli and Benghazi. The two SS-1s did not reach the Italian island, but they scared a lot the local population.

When Odyssey Dawn began, many in Italy feared that some remaining Scud-Bs could be fired towards Italy. On this subject, Tom Cooper of ACIG.org told me at the end of March:

I’m sure at least a brigade/battalion of these is still operational. Reportedly no more but 4 TELs (plus few in storage) and around 50 missiles in total. The brigade in question was usually deployed in Syrte area. IMHO, that’s one of the reasons why that place has been particularly heavily targeted, in the last few days.

Here’s an excerpt of the press conference regarding the military actions in Libya, given by Gen. Carter Ham, commander U.S. Africa Command, in Sigonella on Mar. 24, 2011. The one below was the very first question Ham was called to answer:

Q: Yes, do you think Sicily is at risk of any direct attack by Libyan forces?

GEN. HAM: I do not think that Sicily is under threat of direct attack. Our mission is under the United Nations Security Council resolution and it’s very clear. It is to establish an arms embargo and to prevent the illegal shipment of arms to and from Libya. It is, secondly, to establish a no-fly zone so that his military aircraft cannot strike civilians, and thirdly, to protect the civilians from regime forces as best we can. And we’re accomplishing those missions. But I think the people here are safe from Libyan attacks, certainly.

Noteworthy, during the same period pictures of TELs 9K72E for R-17E/SS-1c SCUD-B appeared on an interesting blog at the following address: http://milinme.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/arab-revolts-revolutions-libya-11/. The one below should be credited to the above mentioned blog.

After reading the Day 13 Debrief pt.2 (about the “suspicious” Algerian AF flights to Libya) Richard Clements pointed me to the following interesting article on the subject, published by the Globe and Mail <a href=”http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/rebels-fear-other-regimes-are-throwing-support-behind-gadhafis-forces/article1940647//”>here</a> which contains some information about the Libyan Scuds:

March 14, 2011
Rebels fear other regimes are throwing support behind Gadhafi’s forces
By GRAEME SMITH
From Monday’s Globe and Mail
As the rebels retreat further, Algeria and Syria deny backing the regime in Tripoli

Rebels retreated under heavy bombardment over the weekend, and expressed growing alarm about Arab strongmen who have thrown their political weight – and, some suspect, military support – behind the regime in Tripoli.

As artillery and air strikes forced the rebels back along the main coastal highway, their chief military representative spoke for the first time about reports that Syria and Algeria are supplying men and weapons to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

Omar Hariri, military head of the Libyan Provisional Transitional National Council, said he’s concerned about reports that Col. Gadhafi hired Algerian pilots for bombing raids on Libyan targets. The council also fears that a Syrian ship loaded with weapons has sailed for Tripoli, he said.

“I hope this isn’t true,” Mr. Hariri said. “They’re our brothers.”

The regimes in Algeria and Syria have denied such allegations.

However, the rebels’ suspicions about an Algerian role, in particular, grew stronger in recent days they collected data from the air traffic control tower at Benina International Airport. The tarmac outside of Benghazi remains silent as the regime’s aircraft dominate the skies, but rebels have switched on radar and other monitoring systems. As an old printer grinds out reports about aircraft movement over Libyan skies, former pilots say they’re seeing a disturbing number of Algerian military flights to airstrips controlled by Col. Gadhafi.

The rebels are still struggling to get more recent data from their antiquated systems, but they supplied The Globe and Mail with records for 22 flights by Algerian aircraft to Libyan destinations between Feb. 19 and 26. Some are listed as passenger flights by Air Algerie, using civilian aircraft, but the majority are labelled “special flights” by aircraft bearing registration codes used by the Algerian military.

The records appear to show repeated flights by C-130 Hercules and Ilyushin Il-76, aircraft big enough carry battle tanks, from Algeria and within Libya. The destinations include small airports in Sabha and Surt, key forward bases for the regime forces now advancing on rebels in the east.

“The Algerians denied this very loudly, but they cannot deny this data,” said Gamal Elkour, a former flight engineer. “What did these planes carry? Fruits and vegetables?”

Algeria has described its role in the Libyan crisis as purely humanitarian, helping with evacuations. A senior Algerian official told Reuters last week that military support for the regime in Tripoli would be “absolutely inconceivable.”

Syria has also denied reports of involvement in the conflict. Local media in Damascus say the government has expressed outrage at reports on Al-Jazeera television about a Syrian boat carrying weapons and vehicles to Tripoli, and Damascus further denies reports of Syrian soldiers fighting alongside Col. Gadhafi’s forces.

Whatever the source, rebel commanders say their enemies now appear better equipped and organized. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel forces, said the regime’s weapons in the field now include R-17 Scud missiles.

“At the beginning, the momentum was good and we made really fast gains, but then he [Col. Gadhafi] started recruiting more mercenaries and bringing more armaments like the R-17 missiles and other heavy armaments,” he said. “What we’re trying to do now, is lure them into an area where we can even the fight.”

[…]

The Arab League supported the rebel call for a no-fly zone in a statement on Saturday, and recognized the council in Benghazi as the country’s legitimate government. Algeria and Syria reportedly offered dissenting views, perhaps nervous about dissent within their own borders.

“The ordinary people in Syria and Algeria are just like us,” said a rebel fighter, Mutaz El-Aukely, 29, smoking a cigarette on the waterfront in Benghazi. “They haven’t had their revolutions yet, and their leaders are afraid.”

So, most probably, some Scuds (B version) are in the hands of the regime and could be used like Saddam Hussein did in 1991. However they can be hidden and fired without the risk of being detected by the allied planes in those areas that are not covered by the NFZ, zones that are too far from Lampedusa island. On the paper, the range of a Scud-B should be around 300 km with a CEP (Circular Error Probable) of 450 mt: being 270 km away from the nearest patch of Libyan soil, Lampedusa should be out of reach of any SS-1C Scud-B in the hands of Gaddafi.

2) In the last 24 hrs the RDAF F-16s destroyed 2 tanks near Ajdabiya. Since the beginning of Odyssey Dawn, the Danish detachment has completed 82 missions during which has dropped 160 PGMs. The Italian contingent flew 8 mix (each with 2 aircraft): 3x Tornados, 5x Typhoons, 1x Harriers from Garibaldi aircraft carrier (I can’t understand why the only aircraft carrier mentioned when reporting about the war is Charles De Gaulle).

3) In the last weeks I was interviewed by many journalist about my theory that the French aggressive attitude at the beginning of the war was caused also by the need to showcase the Rafale (read Day 1, 2 debriefs and following for details). On Apr. 11, Al Jazeera English Libya Live Blog gave some details about an interview given by Saif al-Islam (Gaddafi’ son), over the weekend, in which he warned France that it would not make “a single Euro” out of the war and that it had lost important contracts that Libya would have signed to buy Airbus airliners and Rafale attack jets. But he didn’t rule out further negotiations, saying:

We are ready for talks even with the devil, but even the devil must know that there are red lines we will not cross.

Source: French Mod

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 23)

Previous debriefings:

During Day 23 (Apr. 10), most of the fighting took place in Ajdabiyah, a town located 150 km south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The town is strategic since it is the last bastion before Benghazi and Tobruk further east, that is the major oil terminal that gives the insurgents the ability to export crude and fund their war. Allied aircraft destroyed 6 Libyan government vehicles that were carrying soldiers to the eastern part of the strategic town. According to NATO, during the day, 25 Gaddafi’s tanks were hit (14 near Misratah and 11 near Ajdabiyah, both heavily shelled by the regime) helping the rebels to break the assault by loyalists on Ajdabiyah.

The rebels, who had complained about the NATO response to government attacks during the first two weeks of Unified Protector, have applauded a more aggressive approach over the weekend which enabled them to take control of some key intersections of the disputed town during the most intense government attack of the last week.

NATO air strikes have hit also some logistic facilities as ammunition bunkers and lines of communications (as the road leading to Ajdabiya, where fuel and ammunition was moved forward on trucks.

Late at night, the news of Gaddafi accepting an African Union roadmap for ending the conflict with immediate ceasefire during peace talk with South African President Jacob Zuma, who met Gaddafi at the head of a delegation of African leaders.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) The Mi-24 depicted in yesterday’s picture from AFP, flying in the previous couple of days, rebels said it was shot down by the loyalists while some interesting details about the Mig-23ML (serial 6472) flown by a rebel pilot forced to land by NATO aircraft because of the UN-imposed NFZ surfaced thanks to a CBS report. In the interview, the rebel pilot says NATO had been notified of the flight and had approved it and he fired 128 rounds destroying a fuel truck and other vehicles carrying Gaddafi’s troops even if NATO disputed his account.

2) In the last few days, radio hams from Europe reported of a presumed PSYOPS message jammed by loyalist forces. The one broadcasted on Apr. 10 can be heard through a video made available on Youtube:

Even if it is extremely interesting to notice that Gaddafi’s forces are still able to jam allied signals, I don’t believe it is a message broadcasted by an EC-130J Commando Solo. This jammed message is in fact a Security call, probably made by shore based stations or ships, rather than aircraft, to warn ships of navigational hazards. In other recording the word Security, the prefix of such messages, (pronounced “say-cure-ee-tay”) is clearly audible.

Here you can find a recording with a clearer version of the original message: http://soundcloud.com/iw0hk/nato-message-to-libian-vessel

3) During the last 24 hours the Italian contingent flew only 3 missions (each flown with 2 aircraft): 2x AV-8Bs and 1x Tornado IDSs. Since the press release was issued around 17.50LT it is possible that Typhoons and ECRs flew later, during the night. According to rumours reported by the news agencies and newspapers, Italy could be called to contribute to Unified Protector with more Tornado IDS, not only for what concerns ISR missions, but also to conduct air strikes.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 22)

Previous debriefings:

From 00.00 to 23.59 of Apr.9, NATO has conducted 133 sorties, 56 of those being air strikes. The total since the beginning of Unified Protector is 1567 sorties and 643 air strike sorties. More than figures, which tell us just a little about the effectiveness of the air campaing (since not always air strikes end with planes dropping their ammunitions on ground targets), the reports coming from Libya seem to be the proof that NATO has changed its attitude, being a bit more aggressive and achieving some important results against the Gaddafi’s forces. After many people, not only on rebel side, argued about a too conservative use of force by the allied aircraft, it looks like that NATO has started to hit loyalist vehicles hard, where and when needed. And it seems also that it is willing now to give the public opinion some proofs of this new attitude.

Air strikes were conducted across the country and destroyed key logistic facilities and several armoured vehicles of the Libyan Government. Allied aircraft struck ammunition stockpiles of the Libyan Government east of Tripoli that were being used to resupply forces involved in shelling innocent civilians in Misratah and other population centers.

The NATO’s press release gives some interesting details on Day 22 activity:

“In addition to hitting their supplies, our aircraft successfully destroyed a significant percentage of the Libyan Government’s armoured forces,” said Lieutenant-General Charlie Bouchard, the Commander of Operation Unified Protector. “Some of these armoured forces also were involved in the indiscriminate shelling of Misratah. By eliminating these heavy weapons, we are reducing the Gaddafi Regime’s ability to attack the local population.”

“We struck armoured vehicles that continue to fire on civilians in the vicinity of Misrata and Ajdabiya in the East,” added the Commander. “In one particular strike near Misrata, our pilots observed Regime forces loading armoured vehicles onto equipment transporters to be taken forward into population centres. NATO pilots, observing many troops around the transporter, first engaged a tank concealed along a nearby hedge line. This strike destroyed the tank and forced the nearby troops to flee, allowing the second strike to destroy other vehicles with minimal loss of life. We will not always be able to limit loss of life but Regime forces should understand that if they continue to operate these vehicles and follow orders to attack their own people they will be targeted.

NATO continues to observe the use of civilians as human shields by Gaddafi forces. “We have observed horrific examples of Regime forces deliberately placing their weapons systems close to civilians, their homes and even their places of worship,” said Lieutenant-General Bouchard. “Troops have also been observed hiding behind women and children. This type of behaviour violates the principles of international law and will not be tolerated.”

During Apr. 9 press briefing, NATO released some interesting videos of the air strike conducted by the RAF on Day 21, when Tornado GR4s, using Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV bombs in the area of Ajdabiyah (hitting two tanks) and in the area of Misratah (hitting 5 tanks). The “Tonkas” were involved in armed air reconnaissance and overwatch patrols over Misratah, Brega and Ajdabiyah.

At 17.43 Al Jazeera English Libya Live Blog gave the news of a military helicopter with the Libyan rebel flag reportedly seen flying towards the fontline around Ajdabiya on Saturday despite a UN-imposed no-fly zone, showing also a nice picture by AFP of a Mi-24 clearly violating the NFZ (that, worth a remind, applies to both the rebel and governative planes). At 20.41, AJE reported of a Mig-23 flown by a rebel pilot, intercepted and forced to land back at Benina few minutes after take off. The aircraft, was immediately detected by a patrolling E-3 AWACS which directed one of the CAP flights to visually identify it. The Mig did not display any aggressive action and was simply led to land back at the airfield located to the south of Benghazi; the RoE usually require a prior visual contact with the “bogie” (in order to prevent friendly fire) but such violations could be extremely risky as “unannounced” rebel flights appearing on NATO’s radars could be easily mistaken for government planes and being shot down. The fact that they wear Free Libya flag is not enough to determine its intentions (what if the aircraft with the Free Libya Air Force roundel is flown by a pro-Gaddafi?).

Source: AFP via AJE

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) After a long “silence” the Italian Air Force has provided through its official website some interesting pictures (without logos or watermarks, well done!) and details about its involvement in the Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector ops. First of all I’m happy I had already “discovered” (read Day 13 Debrief) that the Tornado IDS of the 6° Stormo with Reccelite pod were transferred under the NATO command and were flying ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions over Libya from Trapani airbase.

From Apr. 7, also the 36° Stormo is flying with its F-2000 in support of Unified Protector, with some planes deployed to Trapani, where the Italian Task Force is based). The 4 Typhoons of both 4° and 36° Stormo assigned to the NATP are involved in COMAOs (Combined Air Operations) and fly with 4 IRIS-T, 4 AMRAAM missiles and 3 drop tanks, a really “heavy configuration”.

We have discussed a lot about the Tornado ECRs and about the  KC-130Js and Tornado IDSs used in air-to-air refuelling missions. Less known is that the Italian Air Force has been providing 24 hours services to support flight operations in Since the beginning of the operations, Italian Air Force has granted the use of seven air bases at Trapani Birgi, Gioia del Colle, Sigonella, Decimomannu and Aviano: logistic support, refuelling, air traffic control, weather service, fire service, first aid service and foreign personnel lodging. Furthermore, in connection with the Libyan crisis the Italian Air Force has reinforced the national air defense/QRA system and raised the level of readiness. An increased number of Typhoons of 4° and 36° Stormo and F-16s of 37° Stormo are ready to take off in few minutes in order to intercept and counter any suspicious aircraft and without authorization for the overflight of national airspace. Moreover, a SPADA anti-aircraft missile battery was based at Trapani in order to stregthen the  air defense of the airbase. Even the SAR service has been reinforced with HH-3F and AB.212 helicopters ready to perform search and rescue missions from various airbases located across the Italian peninsula.

2) RNoAF F-16s have bombed about 30 targets in Libya. In an interesting article Morten Haga Lunde, a Norwegian high rank officer, explained that the main task of the coalition is to protect the civilian population in Libya against the abuse and murder from the Libyan army and the Libyan military system. He acknowledge the problem that, performing an air strike, the allied aircraft do not who is actually using those weapons that can fire into populated cities. For this reason, it is very difficult to distinguish who is inside a tank when this is seen as a legitimate target because the situation is extremely dynamic, with fighting shifting back and forth.