The Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN) have continued attacks against targets in Libya as part of Nato’s Operation Unified Protector, with RAF fighters flying more than 2 400 hours in support of combat operations.
The UK Ministry of Defence reported that during the early hours of Monday morning, RAF Tornado and Typhoon aircraft returned for a second night of precision strikes against the large military vehicle depot at Tajura, on the outskirts of Tripoli.
At around the same time, other RAF aircraft conducted a surgical strike on the military Identification Friend or Foe antenna at Tripoli Airport using Brimstone missiles.
At sea, the frigate HMS Iron Duke used her 4.5-inch (114mm) gun to fire a barrage of illumination rounds off Zlitan, to the west of Misurata. The star shells helped Nato aircraft to accurately target regime positions in the area, including two rocket-firing sites.
Further military action took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. Major General Nick Pope, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Communications Officer, said, “On Tuesday morning, an RAF patrol over Zlitan identified a regime mortar position and destroyed it with a Brimstone missile. The pressure was maintained on Gaddafi’s troops in the area during the night when HMS Ocean launched her Apache attack helicopters against regime forces repressing the population in and around Al Khums; Fleet Air Arm Sea Kings provided airborne radar cover.
“The targets were a vehicle checkpoint and a group of buildings which previous Nato surveillance missions had established as being used by regime forces. Hellfire missiles were successfully used to destroy the group of six buildings, as well as a large building at the checkpoint.
“Whilst allied aircraft continued to patrol the length and breadth of Libya, NATO taskings kept the UK’s operational contribution focused on Zlitan throughout Wednesday. RAF jets attacked some 29 buildings in and around the town which had been variously confirmed by detailed reconnaissance and analysis as command and control centres and military supply, ammunition and fuel storage facilities used by Colonel Gaddafi’s troops in repressing the local people.
“Our aircraft also struck five multiple rocket launcher systems and a pair of heavy infantry weapon positions in the area. HMS Iron Duke took action against artillery positions which she observed firing towards Misurata; a number of high explosive rounds from her 4.5-inch [114mm] gun quickly silenced the regime guns.
“After dark, Ocean once again launched her Apaches, which used Hellfire missiles to destroy two large military vehicle sheds near Al Khums.”
RAF Tornados and Typhoons have flown 1 114 sorties over Libya, amassing 2 395 flight hours, according to Eurofighter. Together, their sorties account for 21% of those conducted by NATO, as well as accounting for 15% of all Nato strikes. Overall, Typhoons have conducted 91 strikes against Libya and Tornados 455.
“The average hours flown per aircraft during this operation have increased from 24 to nearly 90 per month,” said RAF Wing Commander JJ Attridge, Typhoon Detachment Commander. “I feel qualified to say that the Typhoon has come of age…From a pilot’s perspective, the aircraft is spectacular. Despite spending on average 7 hours in the cockpit per mission you could not find a more comfortable aircraft to fly. The cockpit is large by fast-jet standards and the information from the radar, DASS and LINK-16 is displayed easily and accessibly.
“Due to the aircraft’s huge excess power it enables the flight from Gioia to Libya, some 650 miles, to take just over an hour, cruising at 40 000 feet, 0.9 mach, even with a war load of 4 Enhanced Paveway II 1000 lb bombs, a Litening III Targeting POD, AMRAAM and ASRAAM missiles.”
The Tornados and Typhoons attacking Libyan targets were joined earlier this week by four more Tornado GR4s, which arrived at Gioia del Colle Air Base in southern Italy.
One of the jets arrived fitted with a RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado), which enables the aircraft to provide detailed reconnaissance imagery over large areas.
As a secondary function, the Tornado GR4 jets will also be available to boost the strike capability of NATO operations over Libya.
“The arrival of the additional GR4s will be a considerable boost to the already potent combat intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability that the Tornado GR Force already brings to Operation Ellamy,” said Officer Commanding 2 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, Wing Commander Nick Tucker-Lowe. “These additional aircraft will allow us to further increase our presence over the skies of Libya and ensure that we continue to protect Libyan civilians.”
Crews from 2 (AC) Squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, have been operating the 12 Tornado GR4 aircraft already based at Gioia del Colle since May 2011.
There are also six Typhoon jets deployed alongside the Tornado GR4s, currently operated by personnel from 3 (Fighter) Squadron, RAF Coningsby.