UK DEFENCE – OF LIBYA, NO-FLY ZONES AND DEMOCRACY
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
17 Mar 11. So begins UK military involvement in what by my reckoning is the twentieth ‘unforeseen’ international conflict that our superb armed forces have been involved over the past fifty years. I refer to the decision by the UN Security Council to sanction French and UK government requests for implementation of a no-fly zone and other military action against the current Libyan regime. We await detail of the specific role that our armed forces will play but in this case we can be sure that the main burden of UK responsibility will fall on the Royal Air Force. In using the term ‘unforeseen’ I refer of course to a specific event in which potential use of UK armed forces had not been foreseen by government or others a few months before the actual event. I mention this not as a criticism of the current or any past UK government and we all too often ignore that government can only act through a process of events and that in the first instance it is attempted diplomacy that matters. Nevertheless, time and time again we have always been able to prove that we have the not only capability matched by military skills but also the will to ensure that through UN Security Council mandate we will play a part in preventing unnecessary pain and suffering of a population at the hands of a dictator. In saying this in a day and age in which government spending cuts are only now beginning to bite we need to remind the British public again and again that responsible government has a duty of care to ensure that we in Britain not only have sufficient numbers of armed forces personnel and equipment to meet existing, anticipated and unexpected needs but also that we do not lose sight of how fortunate we are in these islands as a democracy to have the military protection that we have. Suffice to say then that while Britain does probably have sufficient military capability in terms of personnel and equipment to meet current requirements of national protection, our role within the overall allied forces mission in Afghanistan, the wider burden of NATO responsibility that we carry in Europe together with the provision of sufficient military based protection to our dependent territories that there is no longer any slack left.
With the US Government having finally acquiesced to French and British government pressure and despite abstentions from Russia, China, India Brazil and Germany we should be satisfied in this instance that the UN Security Council sanctioned not only the imposition of a no-fly zone around Libya last night but also whatever other military action those involved deem necessary to halt further regime attacks on its own people. The mission of the French, British and other air forces that may well include Arab countries along with the US is first and foremost to be aimed at ‘persuading’ the ‘regime’ to agree to a ceasefire. Clearly the decision by the Security Council places a significant new pressure of the regime in Libya and we suspect that there will now be played out an act of attempted diplomacy before any bombing of military bases in Libya begins.
UK involvement in policing the proposed no-fly zone and any further potential military action is as yet unknown. From a military perspective we suspect that the most likely course of involvement would see the RAF providing VC10 air to air refuelling support together with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in the form of the Waddington based Sentinel R1 aircraft that are currently also supporting the ISAF based operations in Afghanistan. In terms of potential fast jet requirement we suspect that any burden would once again fall on the brilliant Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft.
With the Harrier GR9 VSTOL aircraft fleet now gone and the last Tornado F3 aircraft due to fly in little more than one week from now the RAF Typhoon fast jet fleet wi