Tag Archives: Muammar al-Gaddafi

Breaking – Royal Navy Task Group to Libya

Royal Marines Board Sea King Helicopter on HMS...

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

The Navy News website reports that the bulk of the Royal Navy Task Group that had been exercising off Cyprus has now sailed for operations off Libya.

The Landing Ship HMS Albion, Type 23 Frigate HMS Sutherland, Tanker RFA Wave Knight and support ship RFA Fort Rosalie have broken away from long-planned training exercises to join the international effort against Colonel Gadaffi‘s regime. The Helicopter Carrier HMS Ocean had sailed some days before, carrying Army Air Corps Apaches. Britain already has the Destroyer HMS Liverpool, Minesweeper HMS Brocklesby and the Submarine HMS Turbulent on station.

Albion will serve as the command ship, carring Commodore John Kingwell. She is also carrying Royal Marine Commandos. Sutherland will undertake very similar duties to Liverpool in blockading the Libyan coast, while the auxiliaries will be available to both British and international vessels. There has been no word as yet on the movements of the two other ships in the Task Force - the RFA Landing Ships Cardigan Bay and Mounts Bay.

We were told less than a year ago by ‘call me Dave’ that such a deployment would not be necesary for the next ten years. Thankfully we are operating with allies, as the Task Group has no air cover of its own, no any ability to project any. True, jets may be flying ‘epic’ missions (copyright RAF PR Department) from Britain and Italy, but even the French have sent their carrier close in. Shorter range, more economic, more time on station, more flexible.

In terms of getting involved in the land side of things, its hard to see how that could happen. The embarked military force consists of 40 Commando RM, along with ‘elements’ of 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters. These must be very small elements, as the HQ was in Afghanistan when the Task Force sailed some time ago. Apparently there are also a small number of Netherlands Marines onboard, along with other Brigade troops. A reinforced Commando Group with some support elements does not constitute much of a ground force. On the plus side, the force has just trained in amphibious landings.

The lack of ground forces is in some respects fortunate, as the Task Group has scant ability to land much more than that anyway. Ocean’s tailored air group is more aimed at attack aircraft than transporting men ashore. Albion’s sister Bulwark is currently working up, and could join the Task Group if need be. But apart from that, the Royal Navy is creaking – there are no more ships that could be called upon – they are all either at sea or deep in refit.

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USS George HW Bush departs… for Portsmouth?

070505-N-6854D-003 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (May 5, 2...

USS Anzio, part of the Bush Strike Group (Image via Wikipedia)

Yesterday the USS George HW Bush departed from Norfolk VA on her maiden deployment.

The Bush strike group is deploying to Europe and the Middle East, tasked with supporting maritime security. One would imagine that this deployment has been made with the conflict in Libya in mind. The Bush’s strike group includes the Ticonderoga class Cruisers USS Gettysburg and USS Anzio, and the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers USS Truxtun and USS USS Mitscher. It’s also a first deployment for the Truxtun, and it’s also the first time that a woman has commanded a Carrier Strike Group – Rear Admiral Nora Tyson.

On her way to the Mediterranean it is thought that the USS Bush will take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior, scheduled to take place between 18 and 26 May. Rumours around the internet suggest that the Bush will be stationed off Anglesey, taking the opportunity for her air wing to bomb targets at Pembrey Ranges. It seems that much of the flying activity will be over the South West and Wales. The exercise may also include GPS jamming, courtesy of the Bush’s Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

Why the interest? Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Bush will be arriving off Portsmouth in the Solent on 27 May, staying for the weekend. Any of her strike group might arrive along with her. Of course this is subject to operational demands, but keep your watching here for more information as soon as I get it.

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UN approves no-fly zone over Libya

Muammar al-Gaddafi Mouammar Kadhafi Colonel Qu...

Image by Abode of Chaos via Flickr

The United Nations has approved the imposing of a no-fly zone over Libya, in an attempt to prevent Colonel Gadaffi and his forces launching air-strikes on dissidents unhappy with his rule. Gadaffi promptly announced a ‘ceasefire’, although whether this is genuine or simply to buy time remains to be seen.

In a rare attempt of the UN moving quickly, last night the Security Council passed a resolution approving a no-fly zone over Libya. A no-fly zone is probably the most appropriate way in which the outside world can intervene in Libya, without putting troops on the gound – that would be unthinkable after Iraq. Preventing Gadaffi loyalists from flying aircraft over Libya should give the freedom fighters some breathing space. If in the future troops are to go into Libya it would be better if they came from African and/or Arab countries, to avoid the cat-calls about Western imperialism.

It’s a feather in the cap for the UN, which all too often in modern times has been found to be slow and ponderous. The resolution emphasises that the no-fly zone is to safeguard the majority of Libyan civilians who no longer want to remain under the rule of an erratic and mentally questionable dictator. This sort of scenario is exactly what the UN is there for. Credit as well to France for actually voting for the resolution for a change, rather than vetoing it.

Exactly what part the UK can play in such a no-fly zone is open to question. Any RAF aircraft will be operating at maximum range from either Malta or more likely Cyprus. 10 years ago we could have quickly moved an Aircraft Carrier and its task group to the North African Coast, complete with a squadron of the proven Sea Harrier. Even the vision of a British Carrier over the horizon would probably be enough to rein Gadaffi in. But thanks to the RAF undermining the Fleet Air Arm, and now the ConDem Government axing the aircraft carriers, that can’t happen. And to think they told us the cuts would not mean a loss in capability.

There was an interesting post on Think Defence the other day highlighting the aircraft in the inventory of the Arab League. Some basic research has shown that the member states making up the Arab League possess over a thousand fighter aircraft (including F-16′s, F/A-18 Hornets, Mirage 2000′s and Typhoons) , 10 tankers and 13 AWACS-type surveillance planes. Why then are European and other countries even needing to get involved?

So, what Air Forces can Libya put into the air? Information is patchy, but Global Security lists the following:

  • 29 Mirage F1 (two defected to Malta after being ordered to bomb protesters)
  • 45 Mig-21 ‘Fishbed’ (most believed to be grounded, two known to be shot down)
  • 115 Mig-23 ‘Flogger’ (most believed to be grounded, at least 13 captured)
  • 94 Mig-25 ‘Foxbat’
  • 53 Su-22 ‘Fitter’ (one lost crashed, others claimed captured)
  • 6 Su-24 (two believed lost)
  • 7 Tu-22 ‘Blinder’
  • 37 Mi-24 ‘Hind’ (at least 7 lost)

The Libyans also possess around 216 Surface to Air Missiles, including the Russian SA-8 ‘Gecko’, SA-6 ‘Gainful’, SA-5, SA-3 ‘Goa’ and SA-2 ‘Guideline’. Some of these are capables systems, but whether the Libyans have the electronics and radars in order, enough missiles and good enough training to use them effectively is another matter.

Those are the raw numbers; we can probably half them at least thanks to airworthiness, lack of spare parts, and problems with maintenance and ground crew. Serviceability has been drastically affected by years of embargos and sanctions. The US State Department estimates that around half of Libyan aircraft remain in storage, including the Tupolev Bombers and most of the Migs. We also know very little about the Libyan aircrew’s training standards: probably nothing to worry too much about. And technologically there is nothing there to match the modern NATO-standard fighters.

Lets compare against what a US Aircraft Carrier of the Nimitz class carries as standard:

  • 24-28 FA/18E and FA/18F Super Hornets Fighters
  • 20-24 FA/18C Hornets Multi-role
  • 4-6 EA-6B Prowler Electronic Warfare
  • 4-6 E-2C Hawkeye AEW
  • 2 C-2 Greyhound logistics
  • 8 S3-B tankers
  • 6 Sea Hawk Helicopters

Formidable indeed. A US Carrier Group off the Libyan Coast would have Gadaffi cowering in his tent. Add in a Marine Expeditionary Force – they carry a singificant number of aircraft – and its even more formidable. It just goes to show, the utility of the aircraft carrier should not be underestimated (yes that means you, Dave and Gideon).

Therefore we can see that although the Libyans do not have any first class air-defence to write home about, they do possess a large number of basic but effective ground attack jets and helicopters. Getting these off the backs of the anti-Gaddafi forces would be a significant move to toppling the man without going in ourselves.

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HMS Cumberland waiting off Libyan Coast

from http://www.dtic.mil/jointvision/graphics/...

HMS Cumberland (Image via Wikipedia)

According to news reports the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Cumberland has been ordered to halt her voyage home from the Gulf in order to standby off Libya. Regular readers will recall that Cumberland and her Type 22 sister ships are to be decommissioned later this year. A reminder, if any is needed, that British interests and the safety of British national is being imperilled by defence cuts.

I’m not entirely sure what use a Frigate would be for evacuating the 500-odd British nationals living in Libya. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an assault ship, a Frigate does not have large hangars or vehicle decks in which to accomodate people. And a ship the size of the Type 22 has a crew of around only 200 in the first place – how would such a ship cope with a few more hundreds mouths to feed, one wonders? And Libya is a lot further from the UK than the north Spanish coast was during the Volcanic Ash Cloud rescue effort last year, meaning a longer sea journey.

This is yet another hollow commitment from the Government. In order to be seen to be doing something, regardless of whethers its worthwhile or not, a soon-to-be-decommissioned Frigate is sent to await a task for which it is wholly unsuited. And its another indication of how short-sighted our defence planning is – politicians want warships off the balance sheet, but when the proverbial hits the fan they are only too happy to commit them to action.

I’m reminded of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict several years ago. The then Foreign Secretary eagerly promised a British Frigate to patrol off the coast for illegal arms shipments. Apparently it was quietly pointed out that no Frigates were available, and that if the Foreign Secretary wanted one, then he had better make one magically appear from nowhere.

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