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Precision and Purpose – Airpower in the Libyan Civil War


A fascinating and in-depth study of the use of airpower in the Libyan Civil War from RAND.


Analysis of the British Contribution starts on Page 153.

Click the image to read.

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14 Responses

  1. Pages 153 to 182 make for fascinating reading. A great tribute to the men and women of our armed forces less so of our politicians.

  2. A few things stand out to me:

    1. That even a modicum of a relatively modern AA threat completely changes the game and dramatically increases perceived risks.

    2. That we are truly in “assault breaker” territory if we can detect, direct and target the enemy with air launched weapons that can salvo fire with 99% accuracy.

    3. Due to the above we really can within reason do a lot more with less.

    4. Again, due to the above, we should be weighting more toward the enabling platforms and weapons rather than the platforms that shoot them.

    5. That we have enormous mobility within NATO, using NATO infrastructure (essentially the whole of Europe is our internal LOC)

    As an edit my final thought was that this shows the danger of labelling services or units as “battle hardened” or “operationally experienced”. They are hardened for whatever type of operation they have been involved in, the nature of which can be and has often been very different from other operations. Whilst some experience (especially in CSS areas) is more portable than others we must be guarded in thinking that just because we have done one type of operation it doesn’t mean we are experienced in another type.

  3. There must be some mistake. I thought the UK didn’t do anything for Op Ellamy because we didn’t have HMS Ark Royal and her six Harriers…

  4. I struggle to see how Libya was anything but a failed campaign. Yes the air war part did its bit and helped to tip the balance – but the end result? Surely that is what our military and governments need to plan for? Yes we can sail in like Dr Strangelove, but the ramifications are equally disturbing and horrific. But at least the Rand Corporation doesn’t have a vested interest in publishing this kind of material, so we do have a truly impartial observer.

  5. Apologies, before I even start: have not read the piece, but perplexed by how Phil’s 1st point relates to his other 4.

    And fully agree with Geoff: Something that is brilliantly executed by the military, can still be a failure, if
    – there is no brain at the policy end,
    – or there is an overdeveloped itch for a demonstration effect, to make up for past failures,
    – or if the coalition engaging has no “view” as to what they want to achieve (except who they want to defeat), perhaps simply for the reason that they are a) too diverse, or b) too removed, or c) all of that. The Italians, who actually were heavily invested in the development projects within the country held moderating views, but were checked by accusations of vested interest? (just what stuck to my mind at the time, from all that reporting.)

  6. @Hannay – “There must be some mistake. I thought the UK didn’t do anything for Op Ellamy because we didn’t have HMS Ark Royal and her six Harriers…”

    Ouch, but I’ll bite anyway ;-) . We all appreciate that RAF FJ were there too… well, a 1,200 mile round-trip away from the Libyan coast which meant a maximum of one sortie per aircraft on the days any of them flew at all. As you’ll agree, this wasn’t the most efficient use of assets but the local hotel pools and bars proved popular during all that down time.

    In the meantime, USMC AV-8Bs were using augmentee pilots to fly two or three missions per day from USS KEARSARGE because they were much closer to the AOA. KEARSARGE also provided CSAR assets. The Rafales from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle provided an efficient service too with multiple sorties per aircraft per day. Such a shame we had surrendered our own ability to augment them.

  7. “but perplexed by how Phil’s 1st point relates to his other 4.”

    I meant above as in directly above. Point one can be considered a stand-alone point.

  8. One statement I take umbrage with was that we had no senior officers in the NATO set up in Naples. We actually had 2 RN 2 stars and an Army 1 star, so we may have had no flag rank Raf Officers but to suggest we had no senior officers was wrong. The deputy commander for the whole of OUP was an RN 2 star. The issue was the RAF were too slow to engage at senior level in the joint command structure.

  9. @wiseape
    The coverage at the time said the NEO missions deep into the Libyan desert had SF chaps as protection rather than RAF regiment.
    Media guessing or are the RAF regiment needing usefulness claims?

  10. I see Dual Mode Brimstone gets yet another glowing report. How on earth have we only managed to sell some to the Saudis? You’d have thought they’d be a popular buy seeing as they seem to bring some pretty useful capabilities to the table. I heard rumours that the US was interested did that ever go anywhere?

  11. Re Brimstone
    Is it only integrated on Tornado?
    Who would we be willing to sell it to?
    Does it have ITAR issues?
    How many countries really need it if it is three times the cost of a Paveway (according to that unbelievably biased Guardian article)?

  12. I heard the French were flying their rafale’s before the Growlers and Prowlers showed up and were the only ones who did fly without dedicated jammer escorts right from day 1 cos their Spectra was so good.
    If we haven’t got anything as good doesn’t it make it even more crazy we let ALARM slip out of use? As without ALARM and the unique way of operating it allowed I’d imagine we won’t be able to get away without some sort of jamming capability shouldn’t capability in the future and are basically screwed without the yanks if we have to go up against any half decent sort of air defence? The Libyan’s weren’t exactly first class on the defence front and off the sound of it we’d have struggled to operate even there without help…

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