THE UK CONTRIBUTION TO OPERATIONS IN LIBYA
By Yvonne Headington
23 March 2011
The enforcement of United Nations Security Council 1973, to take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya, began on 19 March.
France (under OP HARMATTAN) deployed a strike force of eight Rafale, two Mirage 2000-5 and two Mirage 2000D aircraft during the early afternoon of 19 March, with the aim of prohibiting the advance of Gaddafi’s ground forces on the Opposition-held town of Benghazi; four tanks were reportedly destroyed. From 1600hrs GMT the US and UK began targeting key military installations, including command & control facilities and elements of the Libyan integrated air defence system. In preparation for the imposition of a no-fly-zone, a total of 124 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) were fired from US naval vessels and the UK SSN HMS TRIUMPH.
On 20 March Admiral Mike Mullen, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared that a no-fly-zone over Libya was “effectively in place”.
The initial coalition group (the UK, France, the US, Denmark, Canada, Italy and Qatar) has been subsequently joined by Belgium, Ukraine, Norway, Spain and the UAE. Eleven nations are contributing up to 150 aircraft, which includes Mirage and support aircraft from Qatar. (Kuwait and Jordan are supplying logistics support).
The UK contribution to operations is being conducted under OP ELLAMY. In addition to the delivery of TLAM from HMS TRIUMPH, Tornado GR4 from 9 Squadron RAF (armed with Storm Shadow) deployed from RAF Marham on 19 March; the first time the UK has launched strike missions from the UK since 1945. During a briefing on 20th March an MoD spokesman confirmed that key military installations had been targeted, including Libyan integrated air defence systems, as “a necessary step in shaping the establishment of a no-fly-zone”. All aircraft returned to the UK safely that morning, completing a 3,000 mile round trip involving four air-to-air refuelling windows and the off-loading of some 60 tonnes of fuel. “We are entirely comfortable with the way last night’s mission went in terms of success” said the spokesman.
Further Tornado GR4 missions with Storm Shadow were flown against a Libyan command & control facility during the night of 20/21 March. However, the mission was aborted because of concerns over “a specific risk of civilian casualties”. According to the MoD this “clearly demonstrates that we take all measures possible to reduce the chances of harming innocent civilians”.
Following the arrival of Typhoon multi-role combat aircraft in Italy at Gioia del Colle, the aircraft flew their first mission to enforce the no-fly-zone over Libya on 21 March. Flying under control of RAF E-3D Sentry AWACS aircraft, supported by a VC10 tanker, this was the first operational use of Typhoon from a Deployed Operating Base. Tornado GR4 again flew from RAF Marham; on this occasion to conduct an armed reconnaissance mission, providing direct protection for civilians against the threat of pro-Gaddafi ground forces. On completion of this mission, the Tornado joined Typhoon aircraft forward based at Gioia del Colle.
Coalition air strikes continued during the night of 21/22 March but no munitions were expended by UK forces. However, E-3D Sentry and Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft were scrambled “to support the coalition in locating two US pilots who ejected their F-15 aircraft”. As at 23 March, Tornado GR4 had completed further overwatch operations while Typhoon undertook air defence activities with E-3D, Sentinel and VC10 aircraft in support.
According to a BBC report on the morning of 22 March 10 Typhoon, four Tornado GR4 and two Hercules C-130, along with 100 RAF personnel, were deployed to Gioia del Colle. The MoD subsequently confirmed that a further four Tornado, armed with Paveway IV, flew from RAF Marham during the afternoon of 22 March to condu