Air Strikes Cannot Prevent Stalemate in Libya; Typhoon Makes Combat Debut

 - April 21, 2011, 4:06 AM
A UK Royal Air Force Eurocopter Typhoon dropped air-ground weapons in Libya this month.

NATO-led air operations over Libya have failed to prevent a stalemate in the civil war there, although humanitarian aid flights and shipments have been protected. Air strikes on the heavy weapons of the Gaddafi regime have continued, but NATO commanders admitted the difficulty of identifying and attacking regime forces that move in light vehicles and trucks.

There have been two reports of rebel or civilian casualties resulting from the airstrikes–an almost inevitable occurrence, given the lack of NATO forward air controllers on the ground to identify and precisely designate the correct targets. The Eurofighter Typhoon dropped air-ground weapons in combat for the first time earlier this month.

UK Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft based at Gioa del Colle in Italy targeted tanks with Enhanced Paveway II 2,000-pound bombs. Of the four Eurofighter partners, only the UK has introduced such a capability, which has been available since mid-2008.

The majority of airstrikes have been flown by the UK (using Tornado GR4s based at Gioa) and France (using Rafales and Mirage 2000Ds based at Solenzara Air Base on the island of Corsica, and Rafales and Super Etendards embarked on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle). About 40 percent of the 150 daily air sorties have been flown by strike-equipped fighters, with Danish and U.S. Air Force F-16s also participating, following a NATO call for more air-ground capability.

Eight Swedish Gripens have also joined the allied fleet enforcing the no-fly zone. According to the chief of the RAF, secure voice and data communications links in the have been “severely stretched” during the Libyan campaign.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton said that Link 16 capability was the key. “We must have explicit standards and a better architecture,” he added.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems is urgently adding the helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS) to RAF Tornado GR4s in a contract worth $13 million. The HMCS was previously added to the RAF Harrier GR.7 fleet, but they were grounded last December after a defense review.