March 21 2011
The attack on Libya on Saturday night was only the first stage of an operation that will see the might of Britain, the United States and France pitted against the Libyan regime.
There are many options open to Admiral Samuel Locklear as to how far and deep he prosecutes the ground attack aspect of the campaign
The Pentagon said that 110 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) fired by British and US forces were supported by a French air strike on tanks and armoured vehicles in what has been described as the “kinetic” phase of the operation – bombing to take out Libya’s anti-aircraft defences.
Further attacks by British Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, were expected over the night. RAF Marham is home to 9 and 31 Squadrons, which are equipped with air-launched anti-radiation missiles, which home in on the radiation emitted by enemy radar, and Storm Shadow missiles, used to target command and control bunkers and radar stations.
Detailed targeting of Libya’s military infrastructure has been taking place all week using satellite imagery and sorties flown by British and US surveillance aircraft, which have been monitoring movement and communication between Gaddafi’s forces. The commander of the multi-national operation was last night named as Adml Samuel Locklear, pictured, the commander of the Allied Joint Force based in Naples, Italy. Adml Locklear gave the order to crush Col Muammar Gaddafi’s military machine and enforce a no-fly zone after a summit of world leaders in Paris. Striking at Libya’s radar systems and anti-aircraft defences is the first phase of the attack.
During this part of the operation, combat sorties will also be flown by US Navy aircraft, including F-18 Super Hornets from the carrier USS Enterprise, which is in the Red Sea, and by aircraft from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, which was in the port of Toulon.
USS Mason, the guided missile destroyer, and USS Providence, a submarine also armed with TLAMs, and a range of anti-radiation missiles, are expected to be called into action during this phase of the operation, shortly before the RAF goes in.
Once the Libyan air defence system has lost its capability to “see” Nato jets, a process that could take several hours, the ground attack will begin.
There are many options open to Adml Locklear as to how far and deep he prosecutes the ground attack aspect of the campaign. One option might be to destroy Col Gaddafi’s ability to manoeuvre his forces by attacking tank and armoured infantry regiments. In this scenario, it is also likely that the regime’s long-range artillery and mobile rocket launchers would also be targeted.
Once the ground phase of the operation has been completed, the air policing will begin. It is during this stage that Typhoons, which are based at RAF Leuchars, in Fife, and RAF Coningsby, Lincs, will play their part.
The enforcement of the no-fly zone is where the multinational nature of the operation will be seen when Denmark, Qatar, Canada and the United Arab Emirates – and possibly more countries – take part. Coordinating the sorties from different countries, each of which operates differently and with the obvious language barriers, will be one of the main challenges of the operation.