Nato aircraft have flown 5 900 sorties over Libya and engaged more than 3 000 targets since combat operations began, the alliance has announced, with French and British helicopters destroying more than 300 targets since June 4.
“Nato has controlled the Libyan air space around the clock, every day since the implementation of the No-Fly Zone, using Nato’s sophisticated airborne warning and control system,” said Colonel Roland Lavoie, Nato spokesperson for Operation Unified Protector.
“It is important to note that having full control over the air space is a key part of Nato’s mandate to enforce a No-Fly Zone, while also allowing the safe movement of all legitimate humanitarian and diplomatic flights entering Libya,” Lavoie said on Tuesday. He said that that 528 flights carrying humanitarian aid have been safely coordinated through Libyan airspace.
Lavoie noted that 5 902 sorties had been flown over Libya, during which aircraft engaged 3 025 targets. Nato spokesman Oana Lungescu said that “these are legitimate military targets, and they include over 350 radar systems, SAM missiles and site storage. They also include approximately 190 command-and-control facilities and a stunning over 850 ammunition facilities, which shows you…what large quantities of ammunition the Gaddafi regime has been accumulating in the last 40 years.”
Since the beginning of June, the UK has had four Boeing/Westland Apaches from the Army Air Corps’ 656 Squadron based on the Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean assault ship in the Mediterranean. The aircraft were originally put on board as part of an exercise, but the vessel was moved off the Libyan coast in May.
“This was the first operational mission flown by British Army Apaches at sea,” British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said. “The additional capabilities now being employed by NATO further reinforce the UK’s enduring commitment and NATO’s determination to … ensure that the people of Libya are free to determine their own future.”
Meanwhile, France has Aerospatialte Gazelle and Eurocopter Tigers aboard the French Tonnerre amphibious assault helicopter carrier sailing off the Libyan coast. On June 4, Tigers and Apaches were used for the first time against targets within Libya.
Apaches are flown in either two- or four-aircraft strike packages but they have also flown in conjunction with Royal Navy Westland Lynx HMA8 and Sea King 7 helicopters, which primarily collect intelligence and surveillance date.
A fifth Apache is now aboard HMS Ocean, having been transported to the region using a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, according to Flight International.
The use of helicopters has, “increased the sense of risk and uncertainty in the minds of the pro-regime leaders and forces and had a valuable psychological effect,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Cook, from Joint Helicopter Command’s air manoeuvre planning team.
Nevertheless, fast jets continue to strike targets in Libya. France claims to be flying 25 percent of total sorties, using Rafales, Super Etendards, Mirage 2000D/N/-5s, E-2C Hawkeyes, E-3F AWACS and KC-135 tankers, Aviation International News reported. French Rafale operations have now moved from Solenzara to Nato base Sigonella in Italy.
The Royal Air Force said its Tornados and Typhoons have demonstrated “an incredible 99-percent success rate against fixed targets, and 98 percent against moving targets”.
The United States continues to support operations over Libya, primarily by providing Predator unmanned aerial vehicle patrols. The US has a number of air assets involved in the Libya campaign, including the U-2 high-altitude spy plane, E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System ground surveillance aircraft, RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft and the Navy’s P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The US provides nearly 70 percent of the NATO operation’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity, according to a White House report. Additionally, the Air Force is still providing EC-130J aircraft to the operation to conduct psychological warfare operations by broadcasting coercive messages. Other US aircraft operating in the theatre are aerial refuelling tankers, including KC-10s and KC-135s. The US also provides the majority of the alliance’s tanker capability.
Between March 31 and the end of June, the United States has flown a total of 3,475 sorties in support of OUP. Of those, 801 were strike sorties, 132 of which actually dropped ordnance, the US Africa Command said last month.
Although Nato recently claimed to have degraded Ghadhafi’s military capacity to the point where he is no longer capable of running any major offensive operation, the organisation has not been able to prevent rocket attacks on the besieged city of Misrata. And there is no sign of a rebellion against the regime in Tripoli and other heartlands.