On Monday the North Atlantic Council announced that it will begin operating airborne early-warning flights in response to the situation in Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces are largely in control of Crimea. NATO will fly Boeing E-3 Awacs airborne early-warning aircraft in the airspace of member states Poland and Romania, which both border Ukraine. The flights are intended to “enhance the alliance’s situational awareness” of events in Ukraine.
In the wake of the Euro Hawk cancellation in Germany, the future of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system based on the similar Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV is in doubt. Germany intends to offer for AGS whatever alternative platform it decides to employ for the Cassidian integrated signals intelligence system (ISIS) that was the payload on the Euro Hawk. The Royal Air Force Raytheon Sentinel R.1 ground surveillance aircraft is also on offer.
In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a “phased adaptive approach” (PAA) for the missile defense of Europe to be deployed in four phases with a mix of sea- and land-based assets. A critical element is the Raytheon Standard Missile 3 interceptor, which in its Block 1A configuration forms the basis of PAA Phase I capability, which has now been implemented.
Officials from Raytheon UK and personnel from the Royal Air Force (RAF) are emphasizing the excellent performance of the Sentinel R.1 Airborne Stand-Off Radar (Astor) system over Afghanistan and Libya. They are hoping that the UK Ministry of Defence will reverse its 2010 decision to withdraw the ground surveillance system, which flies on five Bombardier Global Express business jets, after most British troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
NATO officials expect to sign the long-awaited contract to provide an Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) capability within the next three months. Northrop Grumman will provide five Global Hawk Block 40 UAVs, while a consortium of European companies that includes EADS Cassidian and Selex Galileo will provide transportable and mobile ground stations. Initial operating capability (IOC) is slated for 2017-18.
British, French and U.S. aircraft began the action in mid-March, in a “coalition of the willing” named Operation Odyssey Dawn that was led by U.S. Africa Command. On March 31, NATO took command. Eleven other nations sent aircraft to join the campaign.
By the time that Tripoli fell with surprising ease to rebel forces, NATO had flown more than 20,000 sorties during Operation Unified Protector. More than one third of these were strike missions, although weapons were not released on every sortie.
Recent briefings in Brussels and London on Operation Unified Protector reveal that attack helicopters provided by France and the UK are now making key contributions to NATO-led operations over Libya, which has been extended until the end of September.
A week after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates praised Denmark and Norway for punching above their weight in the Libyan operations, both countries indicated they would scale back their contribution of F-16 fighters. They “have provided 12 percent of allied strike aircraft yet have struck about one-third of the targets” said Gates, praising them for the effective use of their limited resources.
Although rebel forces have gained hardly any ground in Libya, NATO officials are still optimistic that airpower alone will eventually force Col. Ghaddafi’s regime from power. To that end, air strikes have increasingly focused on Libya’s defense and security infrastructure, including vehicle, ammunition and missile depots; intelligence and secret police headquarters; the presidential complex in Tripoli; and other command and control sites.
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