So unless you have been on the moon all day it looks like its chocks away and tally ho over Libya. The operation, from a UK perspective, is to be called Operation Ellamy.
I am not entirely sure there is a valid British interest here that warrants risking service personnel and I suspect there are a number of drivers such as vanity, basking in the glory of those in uniform and good old fashioned arrogance but we are where we are, the die has been cast.
There are as many questions as answers and no doubt the rules of engagement will become as clear as mud in due course.
David Cameron has suddenly realised what a terrible dictator Gaddafi is, after several months of selling weapons and doing oil deals and several years of saying precisely nothing. I checked Hansard earlier today, pretty slim pickings if you are looking for condemnation from the MP for Witney.
There are so many contradictions here, if we are concerned enough about the oppression of civilians by their government then surely we would be mobilising against Bahrain, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe but of course we don’t care enough about those nations or realise which side our bread is buttered.
Read the full text of the UN Resolution 1973 (2011) here but in summary;
- 10 for, non against, 5 abstentions (China, India, Brazil, Russian Federation and Germany)
- Demands an immediate ceasefire
- No fly zone across all Libya except for humanitarian support and to enforce the no flow zone
- Tightening of asset freeze, ban on flights
- Excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory and arms embargo
- Authorises all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian population areas from the threat of attack
- Excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory
As with most of these resolutions there is room for interpretation, what exactly do all necessary measures actually mean, what is the definition of occupation?
Would a special forces team, coordinating air strikes actually constitute an occupying force?
Once the news filtered out it was obvious that the goal of Gaddafi would be to buy time, muddy the moral waters and drive a wedge between moderate voices and those who are up for a dust up.
Right on cue came a cease fire and an invite to those abstaining countries to come to Libya and report that the cease fire was being observed. No doubt these observers would duly stumble upon grisly scenes of crimes against humanity, all very convenient of course.
Playing for time, time that is to move up forces, consolidate his logistics and get his forces into built up areas and possibly stock up with in flight meals!
If he does manage to get in close to Benghazi he knows that target identification and likely tough rules of engagement will make interdiction from the air very difficult.
What Gaddafi’s end game is not certain, he has called the bluff of those wanting to get involved and from the strength of 1973 it would seem that bluff has been well and truly called.
What next is the real question.
President Obama has set down a number of ultimatums including restoration of utilities, withdraw several towns away from Benghazi and free movement of humanitarian aid.
Will air forces interdict air defences, command and control locations, fuel and ammunition stores before implementing the no fly zone for example?
For obvious reasons, US forces will play a supporting role, logistics, backup aircraft and maybe combat search and rescue from one of their carriers (USS Enterprise) currently be repositioned in the area. It is thought that European forces will take the lead with additional support from a number of nations.
The forces shaping up might include RAF Typhoon’s, Tornado’s, Nimrod R1’s, E3 Sentry’s and airborne refuelling aircraft. The Tornado GR4’s would probably be used for ground attack and reconnaissance with the Typhoons acting in the offensive counter air role but both can cross over into each others roles. The R1 will have course been flying off the coast mapping and analysing anything that emits an electronic signal, building up a picture of opposing forces. If we can muster one, a Sentinel R1 or two would also provide invaluable all weather ground scanning and target indication.
Submarine launched Tomahawks could also chip in.
We always tend to downplay the UK’s military capabilities but if I was an African mercenary or Gaddafi loyalist driving a Mig, Toyota or T62 tank I would be proper shitting myself. An AK, artillery piece or 23mm cannon might be fearsomely effective against civilians but they are not much use against AMRAAM’s, Paveways, Storm Shadows, Tomahawk and Brimstones.
Joining UK forces will be Belgian, Canadian and Danish aircraft with others such as Italy, France and Spain also likely to contribute. Also, lets not forget the considerable naval presence in the area which could provide naval gunfire support as a last resort and a range of other more likely used capabilities. All of these can operate at night, unlike Libyan forces. Not many signs of Arab League nations volunteering to chip in yet, despite the fact that they can actually muster between them a serious force, probably more than capable to do the job themselves, much better to stand on the sidelines and bask in the glory should it go well, or condemn it should things go tits up.
Lets see how much words are translated into deeds.
It will also not go unnoticed, should Arab League nations take part, that they will be supporting democracy abroad but not tolerating it at home.
Malta seems to have denied host nation support which will no doubt have the carrier junkies up in arms demanding that we reverse the decision to withdraw the Harrier GR9’s and CVS. The reality of carrier and land based aviation is that they are complimentary, it is a boring and non confrontational answer but it is the sensible one nevertheless. Ark Royal with a handful of GR9’s would have been extremely effective in the strike and interdiction role but without a radar, the GR9’s would have required support from others, again, a complimentary set of capabilities which we will no doubt miss both in this and other operations likely to occur in the future.
That said, Sigonella is about 280nm/40 minutes away from Tripoli and Misratah and to Benghazi, slightly longer, 300nm or about 50 minutes. These distances were routinely being exceeded on the Balkans and Iraq so whilst a carrier would have been damned useful, not sure they are essential.
It will be interesting to see what role Egypt and Tunisia play in basing issues.
After what comes next is what comes after the what comes next!
Do we actually know anything about the forces of Libyan democracy, what are they going to be like now that we have taken sides in a civil war?
Given that Germany abstained, what next for a common EU foreign policy, is the Anglo French military alliance starting to displace the Franco German political alliance?
So for now, its watch, wait and wish those involved the best of luck.
No doubt the law of unintended consequences is limbering up for a good outing.
In the meantime, have a bit of Brimstone and Stormshadow porn
French aircraft attacked a ground target and
112 Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK surface vessels and submarines struck over 20 locations that were involved with command and control and air defence.
Targets based on a collective assessment of threats to pilots who will be enforcing the no fly zone and Libyan civilians
US is in command of Odyssey Dawn, the coalition operation to enforce UN Resolution 1973 (2011) but this will be transferred to a coalition commander for subsequent phases
MoD confirms RAF GR4’s fired Storm Shadow and a Trafalgar class submarine fired Tomahawk cruise missiles. Tornado GR4’s flew 3,000 miles from RAF Marham to complete the mission, making it the longest range mission since the 1982 Black Buck raids.
RAF Sentinel and Shadow aircraft also involved, Typhoons on standby. HMS Cumberland and Westminster in the area.
Bomb damage assessment now being carried out