Tag Archives: Spanish Air Force

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 21)

Previous debriefings:

The battlefield hasn’t changed much in the last day. Misratah is still under siege and there’s no clear strategy to get out of the stalemate. Anyway, in spite of the often underlined lack of training, “Mad Max-like vehicles” (as someone dubbed them) and limited NATO air support (we have analyzed the reasons for the presumed lack of air strikes many times in the previous Debriefs), a group of rebels is resisting to an organized and better equipped army.

The following Al Jazeera English Libya live blog summarizes the situation:

9:49pm Libyan government forces continue to attack anti-Gaddafi fighters in the rebel-held town of Misurata, AFP reports.
Fierce fighting is ongoing in the city, about 215km east of Tripoli – which has seen battles rage for more than 40 days since the start of the uprising.
Doctors said last week that 200 people had been killed there since fighting began.

Many have asked me if it is possible, basing on the picture and footage available, to determine the type of aircraft involved in the blue-on-blue accident. The answer is obviously: not. That type of bomb is used by many aircraft. So far, analyzing the pictures made available by both the various air forces involved and by AP, Getty etc., I think I’ve seen that type of LGB (same colors etc) attached to the CAF CF-18s (see official Canadian Force Combat Camera pics below), however, this obviously doesn’t mean that Canadian planes were involved in the friendly fire incident!

Furthermore, a bomb dropped on the wrong target is not always a pilot’s fault. It could depend from a wrong designation made by the JSTAR (if available), by  an incorrect information gathered by ISR platforms, by a wrong description provided by an UAV performing the AFAC role, a faulty lasing system, and so on. So, whose bomb was the one dropped on the rebel column is not as important as understandy why it hit a “friendly” target.

In order to prevent further blue-on-blue accidents and to avoid being bombed by NATO aircraft as happened on Apr. 7, when the second such incidents in a week was caused by a GBU-12 dropped by an allied plane on a rebel tank column as it advanced from Ajdabiyah to the disputed oil terminal of Brega, the rebels have decided to paint the roofs of their vehicle in pink color.

As soon as the information spread (I tweeted the link to the Reuters news too), I received many questions, either on Twitter or via email, asking about the opportunity to paint vehicles’ roofs considering that targeting pods give the pilots black and white images. Actually, what must be said is that it wasn’t a good idea to advertize such a news because this will soon lead the loyalist to do the same on their vehicles and create even more confusion on the battlefield.

Even if I’ve never seen videos showing color footage from a Litening pod, I know that it uses a CCD camera that can provide hi-definition color images (I’m not sure Sniper pod can do the same), that can be of some use during daylight. Someone might think that the entire identification and targeting phase of an air strike during a CAS sortie is done without the need to have a prior visual ID of the target.

Some of the most interesting and detailed description of CAS missions with TIC (Troops In Contact) in Afghanistan can be found in a book, titled “Joint Force Harrier”, by Cdr Ade Orchard of the Royal Navy, who flew the British Harrier GR9 and explains:

Some non-aviators imagine that modern sensors have taken a lot of the skill out of identifying targets, but the reality is rather different. There’s no denying that the sensors are highly sophisticated pieces of equipment, but the pilot must first locate the target, or at least its approximately position, and then slew the sensor on to it: the aircraft needs to know what it’s pointing at. If the pilot can’t do this, the search and acquisition of a target is still possible, but it can take a hell of a long time.

Orchard describes many CAS missions requiring many orbits above the target area to get a visual ID of them before targeting, hence the possibility to visually identify them because of the roofs’ color ain’t that bad. What the RN pilots let the reader understand is also that the correct description of the position of the target, coming from a two way radio contact from a JTAC on the ground is paramount to get a correct identification of the enemy vehicle and to be cleared, in accordance with the RoE to attack it without the risk of friendly fire.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Two Italian Air Force C-130Js (operating under UN flag) flew on Apr. 8 from Brindisi to Benghazi – Benina, to carry 15 tons of aids and to embark 25 wounded Libyans from Misratah. Later on the same day, according to the Associated Press news agency, the European Union would be ready to put the boots on ground and launch “a humanitarian mission” in Libya’s Misurata within several days, but only if it has United Nations backing.

Anyway, the Italian mission to Benina should mean the airport is still in the hands of the rebels.

2) Nothing really new from public channels when the weekend comes. Even the French, which have been extremely talkative, did not publish any further update since Thursday. Dealing with the Norwegians, total mission count as of Apr. 7 is 42 (28 under NATO command), and the classic “ground targets engaged also last 24 hours” statement.

Aksel Magdahl, a Norwegian reader who’s sending me daily updates on the RNoAF contribution to Unified Protector explained that the spokesperson for Norwegian Armed Forces Operational Headquarters said that the Norwegian F-16’s were not involved in the two bombings of rebels “We hit what we were supposed to hit” he said… http://www.nrk.no/nyheter/distrikt/nordland/1.7585905
Aksel left me with an interesting comment:

Would be interesting to know more about the tasking for the different air forces. Given all the ordinance dropped by the Danish, one could get the impression that they are assigned fixed targets – fly in, bomb gps position, fly out. Of course, if something like the ammo dump reported in position 31º27’N 12º55’E is their target, they can be hitting it for days to damage all of it. Mass production…

Dealing with the Italians, the daily press release from the MoD provides nothing more than the count of the missions flown: 9 in the last 24 hrs (117 in total), 4x Typhoons, 3x Harriers and 2x Tornados. Noteworthy, the number of missions flown by the Tornado ECRs is dropping, probably as a consequence of lack of SAM and radar sites. For instance, perhaps for the same reason, the USN Growlers are flying some “single ship” sorties out of Aviano.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 20)

Previous debriefings:

Let do a quick recap of what happened on Apr. 7, Day 20 of the Odyssey Dawn then Unified Protector operation.
First of all the day began and ended with the news of two alleged friendly fire episodes. The first, was the one I already mentioned yesterday, about the RAF Tornados hitting an oilfield e Sarir oilfield in the Sirte basin, under rebel control, killing three guards. According to a media release by NATO, the accusation by Colonel Gaddafi that the alliance was responsible for fires in the Sarir Oil Fields is false and is a direct result of his attacks on his own people and infrastructure.

NATO has been monitoring this area since the beginning of the month. Attacks last week by pro-Gaddafi forces have resulted in a number of skirmishes with anti-Gaddafi forces and at least one fire at an oil facility in region of Sarir.

“We are aware that pro-Gaddafi forces have attacked this area in recent days, which resulted in at least one fire at an oil facility north of Sarir,” said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.

“To try and blame it on NATO is a clear demonstration how desperate this regime is. We have never conducted strike operations in this area because his forces were not threatening civilian population centers from there,” Bouchard said. “The only one responsible for this fire is the Gaddafi regime and we know he wants to disrupt oil getting to Tobruk.”

Hence, since there was no NATO air strikes on ground targets in that area, neither the alliance nor the Royal Air Force can be blamed for the death of the three guards at the oil terminal. So the first one was not a blue-on-blue fire.

The second mishap happened on Day 20, near the eastern town of Brega where five people died and 14 were wounded in an air strike that bombed a rebel tank column near the contested port.

In this case there was no need to wait for the NATO to admit its fault since the amateur footage made available on the Internet immediately after the incident had occurred, clearly shows two Paveway bombs hitting a rebel tank. Even if the explaination that the rebel tanks were moving in different directions and were difficult to distinguish who was operating them, what’s really weird is that Rear Admiral Russell Harding, deputy commander of NATO’s ops in Libya (the same who’s now famous and blamed for “not apologising” for the airstrikes), affirmed that until yesterday, in spite of the pictures available on the internet, the alliance didn’t know that the rebels were operating tanks. According to the rebels, they are operating some 400 tanks and NATO was informed that they were moving T55 and T72 heavy tanks from Benghazi to Brega.

Source: Libya State via The Telegraph

In the aftermath of the incident, BBC had reported the words of a rebel spokesman who had said that the air strike on the tanks column was carried out by pro-government forces, using SIAI SF-260 planes rather than by Nato.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) Since the beginning of the NATO operation (31 March 2011, 08.00GMT) a total of 1170 sorties and 473
strike sorties have been conducted. On Apr. 6, 164 sorties (73 air strikes).

2) Sky News reported that the military intervention in Libya could lead Prime Minister David Cameron to rethink Britain’s defence budget recently cut with the famous SDSR. The report says that changes could include U-turns on plans to cut the Tornado GR4 fleet and to scrap surveillance planes. Noteworthy, both Sentinels and Nimrods, to be retired as a consequence of the SDSR, have been constantly flying vital ELINT missions out of Akrotiri.
Is the same rethink going to be prompted elsewhere?

3) The Swedish Air Force flew the first sortie in support of Unified Protector on Apr. 8. Two aircraft flew a brief 30 minute-long mission (it’s hard to believe they have been able to reach the Libyan airspace considering the distance from the NFZ). Dealing with the fuel problem, a visitor of this site wrote me that the problem was actually that the Swedish detachment had ordered the fuel for Sigonella, but the Italian logistics failed to deliver it when agreed. I’ve been asked to comment. I don’t know if this is true even if I can’t rule out the possibility that the shipment was not delivered on time because of an Italian fault but, as a general rule, a good Project Manager must be able to advance this type of “failures”, especially when the scheduled “work” (in this case the delivery of the fuel) is a requirement for having the aircraft ready for the mission.

Source: Swedish AF and NATO

4) There are also pictures showing TuAF F-16s taking off with a/a missiles from Sigonella in the last few days, even if I haven’t found any official confirmation of the deployment (even if I had mentioned the Turkish Air Force F-16s were expected). The RDAF flew the usual 4 missions dropping 4 bombs. Looks like they are the only ones to be able to drop bombs each time they fly. So far they have performed 62 missions dropping 150 bombs. The French MoD instead of providing the details of the last 24 hours, has issued a recap of the roles and missions flown since Mar. 31.

Between Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:00 ET Thursday, April 7, 2011 to 0600, France has made nearly 900 flight hours:

  • 120 support and air interdiction sorties;
  • 24 reconnaissance sorties;
  • 13 AEW sorties;
  • 22 AAR sorties with the C-135s and 28 buddy sorties with the Rafale and SEM;
  • 22 sorties CAP sorties from Souda Bay

During such missions air strikes were carried out as follows:

  • A tank west of Misratah (01 April);
  • Five armored vehicles in the Sirte region (Apr. 2);
  • Two tanks in the Ras Lanuf  area (Apr. 3);
  • A military vehicle southwest of Brega (05 April);
  • Two SAM sites, one in southern Zlitan and the other one a hundred miles south of Sirte (Apr. 6).

Source: French MoD

The Italian contingent, made of 12 aircraft, flew 108 missions since the beginning of Odyssey Dawn. During the last 24 hours, the Italian AF and Navy flew a total of 8 missions (each with 2 planes): 2x Typhoons, 3x Tornado ECRs, 3x AV-8B+ Harrier. Some fully armed Typhoons belonging to the 36° Stormo were photographed landing in Trapani. It’s still unclear wheter they are airframes belonging to the Gioia del Colle-based Wing flown by 4° Stormo pilots or they are flying with crews of the 12° or 10° Gruppo in direct support of Unified Protector.

5) The role of the Italian Navy Harriers deserves a few more words, following specific requests of explaination I’ve received by the thousands visitors of this blog. After reading in some forums and message boards that the AV-8B Harriers are used only for the air-to-ground role, someone guessed for which reason the Italian jump jets were reported by the Italian MoD to be flying in the air defence role. Simply, they are flying air defence sorties because the AV-8B+ Harriers serving with the Italian and Spanish Navy, similarly to what happened with the now retired Royal Navy Sea Harriers, are multirole aircraft whose primary role is the air defence of the fleet and aircraft carrier from which they operate (as the Sea Harriers in the Falkland War) with an air-to-ground secondary role being capable of performing Close Air Support with a wide variety of weapons. Unfortunately there are a bunch of wannabe experts that, on this and other subjects, in this period, are giving incorrect information.

Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) explained (Day 19)

Previous debriefings:

As the stalemate on the battlefield in eastern Libya persists, the debate on the role played by NATO in Libya is making the news. In spite of the claimed accuracy of the allied aircraft involved in the air strikes on loyalist forces and the continuous reassurance that the US partial withdrawal did not affect the overall firepower and tactics, few achievements were obtained in the last few days under a military point of view. Misratah is still under siege and rebels are still under heavy shelling on the distuputed towns.

Source: Reuters

I’ve received many emails, comments, etc., each providing a different point of view or simply asking my opinion on the reasons for the scarce results achieved so far by NATO and I think it’s better clarifying a few points:

  1. Provided that the US will support Unified Protector, as it is doing since the beginning, with tankers, SIGINT and SEAD planes, the number and type of aircraft involved in the operation, is consistent with the assigned mission (that, worth a remind, is not to defeat Gaddafi but to protect civilians). Should the terms of the intervention change, something different (as attack helicopters) will be needed in theatre.
  2. For sure NATO’s mission is not aimed at providing air cover to the rebels because that’s not what the UN resolution asks. However, by simply stating that the protection must be achieved by taking “all necessary measures” the resolution comprises those air strikes and Close Air Support missions required to prevent loyalist from shelling civilians and rebels strongholds.
  3. In my opinion, the main problem is not only with NATO’s tactics but, more generally speaking, with UN (and EU in particular) and their inability to timely react to such kind of crisis providing the right mandate for the situation. The problem is not only military but mainly political. For sure as suggested by the DoD, NATO can’t be successful on the Libyan battlefield without changing its tactics but how to employ the assets, RoE, target list, etc, are military choices strongly influenced at political level. How could the same Governments that have cut the military budgets and were unwilling to provide ground attack assets for either internal struggles, existing ties with Gaddafi or simply fearing that terrorists could get to the power, back a military solution of the crisis, now? Aware of their own limitations they are hoping in some sort of agreement that would soon lead to a ceasefire and that Gaddafi steps down.
  4. The way NATO interprets the UN mandate on maritime arms embargo is tight meaning that, unless some weapons are found the ship is allowed the transit to/from Libyan ports. This enabled petrol brought by a ship previously checked by Nato to reach Tripoli supplying the starving loyalist forces. If that petrol is used to supply fighting forces threatening or possibly threatening civilians, they had to be stopped. Or not?

Anyway, Rear Admiral Russell Harding OBE, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR gave a speech at the Press Conference held in Naples on Apr. 6. Here you can read some of the key things he said during the opening statement:

Although limited by poor weather for a few days, Alliance air assets have effectively engaged Libyan combat forces on the ground to mitigate their capabilities and protect the areas toward which they have advanced.
You will be aware that, over the past few days, Libyan government forces have increasingly shifted to non-conventional tactics, blending in with road traffic and using civilian life as a shield for their advance. As a consequence, they have moved in the direction of Ajdabiya, posing a direct threat to that city, and beyond that, to Benghazi.
In response, NATO has pursued direct strikes on advancing forces and their logistical and munitions supply chains.

NATO has also used surgical air strikes to sever the main supply route between Ajdibaya and Misrata.

In doing so, NATO forces have been particularly careful to avoid injury to civilians who are in close proximity to the fighting, often precisely because of the tactics of government forces.

I would now like to clarify an issue that has been reported in the news media.
Some media and TNC leaders have stated that NATO has picked sides and at the same time that we have mostly been destroying Libyan military targets.
Let me be clear: we will attack any forces that mean to harm innocent civilians.

I would remind you that it is Col Gadhafi who has stated he will show no mercy to his own population, and it is his military that has shelled civilians, bombed cities and continues to threaten innocents.Again, we will attack any forces that mean harm to the civilian population.

Following there is an abstract of the most interesting parts of the Q&A part of the press conference:

Q: Despite of content of your statement, rebel military leaders are saying NATO is failing in its mission to protect Libyan civilians and quote that NATO don’t do anything even though the United Nations gave them right to act.   If you could give a comment on that and what do you plan to do to regain the rebels’ trust.

A:  I think I’d stop with the last bit of your question.  The UN mandates and the Security Council resolutions and that which NATO has signed up to do, is to protect the civilian population; let me be clear, it didn’t say to gain the trust of either side in doing that; the trust is for the International community to accept that NATO is acting in accordance with the mandate and doing what it said it would do. I can say that in the first five days we have flown in excess of 850 missions the substantial portion of which were strike missions I know personally myself that we’ve ranged from the west  from arms munitions depots that were used to re-supply the forces for the second ……..forces and all the way through.  If you look in the last 24 hours, we’ve taken substantial action in the area of Misurata as well, against heavy mechanized units and tanks precisely to protect the civilian population.  Perhaps there is a problem in that I think Libya must be nearly eight hundred miles wide if not a thousand miles wide – I think eight hundred, and in all that air space we are dominating and so perhaps – and I m not criticizing anyone-in one or 2 areas if they don’t hear us or see us for some hours, I can understand how that might lead to lack of confidence, but I can reassure you that every hour of every day we are watching what is going on in Libya and making sure that we are protecting the civilians.  Thank you.

Q: Hello, I wanted to ask a couple of questions.  One was on the rebels that have criticized NATO for having stopped boats with aid and arms from getting into Misurata, and I wanted to know if that comes under the naval embargo or NATO’s position, really, on aid and arm ships.  […].

A: […] The rebels and stopping boats on the embargo:  There are three things we’re doing.  We’re doing the embargo, the no-fly zone and the protect-civilians missions.  The embargo started first…nearly ten days ago now, and the job of that is to make sure that arms and other prescribed goods don’t go into Libya.  Some people will know yesterday there were a range of vessels boarded by NATO, boarding officers from a range of countries went onboard those ships and inspected and looked at the manifest of those vessels spoke to the commanding officers and looked at exactly what they had, and discussions were underway with the headquarters down in Nisida here in Naples led by Admiral Veri, and then discussions with this headquarters in NATO and I think what you will find at the end of the day, that no vessels were detained by NATO in that respect.  […].

Q: The rebels have hardly criticized NATO for what has happened in Misurata, to the point that they said they consider NATO to be a problem for them.  You said you will attack anyone who will attack civilians, but Gheddafi continues using human shields to proceed in his fight.  How do you intend to intervene?

A: I think your question was about human shields at the end, protecting civilians, and I think you’ve mentioned Misurata at the same time.  If I can say a couple of things about Misurata. We are watching the whole country from the west to the east and south and we are looking for forces that are taking action directly against civilian populations and civilian areas or forces that are threatening those areas directly.  And we’re also looking at the logistics that support those forces, we’re also looking at where they get their munitions and their gas petroleum at the same time, and we’re looking at forces that might threaten further out. So for an example, there are forces around in the deepest south that we are watching at this moment, and these forces have popped themselves up against civilian population concentrations which we watch and will take action.

On the particular issue of Misurata, I said a moment ago, yesterday – I can’t remember the exact time -a substantial number of heavy vehicles and tanks were attacked and destroyed by NATO aircraft in Misurata.  Those vehicles and tanks could directly attack the population and probably had been doing so at that time.  There is an issue though, with destroying tanks in built up areas without harming innocent civilians, and that’s the issue that’s been going on with Misurata.

I’ve heard your point about human shields it’s very difficult for an aircraft to take action if civilians are being used as human shields from up in the air, but I can say that where we can take action –and we are taking action in Misurata, and I know this has been a question-, we are-, and before coming in here I checked that my information is correct and the aircraft have taken action and continue taking action in Misurata or indeed anywhere else where the population is threaten, but I think you’d understand as I say, they’re trying to protect human shields when there’s a tank with dozens of people around about it of innocent civilians, the best thing in that stage is to not to drop a bomb on the tank.  So there’s a limit, a physical limit because we’re not allowed boots on the ground there is a limit to what we’re able to do in that respect but that doesn’t mean to say we don’t have the will and the intent to take action to stop that.

Other interesting things, information and thoughts:

1) The battle around oilfields is fierce. Those in Misla and Waha area, used to pump oil to Tobruk, were hit by Gaddafi’s forces in the last two days. There’s an unconfirmed report that RAF Tornados have hit an oilfield e Sarir oilfield in the Sirte basin, under rebel control, during the night of Apr. 6 and 7, killing three guards.

2)  As of Apr. 6, 24 missions were flown by the RNoAF under Unified Protector bringing the total to 38. The RJAF F-16 from Aviano, are reported to be flying with USAF F-16s from a few days. It’s still unclear whether they are performing local training sorties or have already flying to enforce the NFZ over Libya. The RAF will add 4 Typhoons to the 16 Tornado GR4s already under NATO command. In the meanwhile, the British ground attack aircraft hit 6 armoured fighting vehicles and 6 battle tanks around rebel-held Misratah and Sirte. The Italian contingent flew 10 missions each involving 2 planes: 4 AV-8B+ missions, 3 Tornado and 3 Typhoon ones. On the evening of Apr. 5, the French flew 2 joint patrol missions of Rafale / Mirage 2000D and 2 joint missions of Rafale / Super Etendard while a flight of 2 Rafales carried out a reconnaissance mission.These missions were supported by US KC-135s, British and NATO E-3s and 2 Rafale in tanker configuration (noteworthy this is the first time the Frenc MoD reported about the support provided by other partners). On Apr. 6, 2 joint Mirage 2000D / Mirage F1CR, 3 Rafale / Super Etendard, 1 Rafale and 2 Rafale from CdG missions were flown in the in the areas of Ajdabyah and Misratah. During these missions, two SAM sites were hit, one in southern Zlitan and one 100 kilometers south of Sirte. In addition, a reconnaissance mission was flown by a pair of Rafales while support was provided by French tankers and AWACS. From Souda, 3 missions were flown each involving 1 French and 1 Qatari Mirage 2000-5s.

Source: French MoD

3) Swedish Gripens have not taken part to any Unified Protector missions yet because they are unable to use the JP-5 fuel available at Sigonella airbase since they require the civilian Jet A-1. Quite surprisingly such a basic requirement was not checked before the aircraft deployed to Italy.

The news of the Swedish Gripen grounded by the lack of jet fuel as appeared on a Norwegian newspaper’s website

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.