Aviation News

NOV 04 2011
Aviation News: Deputy Prime Minister Visits RAF Waddington to Pay Tribute to UK Armed Forces’ Role in NATO’s Campaign Over Libya

On the evening of March 17 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 which gave mandate to any countries wishing to police and, if necessary, enforce a no-fly-zone over Libya by military means. The Resolution came about as a reaction to the civil war taking place in Libya and the revolution occurring as battle raged between the forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and those seeking to topple his 40-year old regime.

What started out as protests on the streets of Libya rapidly became a rebellion that spread throughout much of the country with Gaddafi’s opponents forming an interim governing body, the National Transitional Council. The UN was quick to freeze Gaddafi’s assets, restrict the means by which he and his inner-circle could travel and also referred the matter to the International Criminal Court.

However, with forces loyal to Gaddafi pushing forward and re-taking a number of cities, including Benghazi, Resolution 1973 was agreed, following which Gaddafi announced a ceasefire, but failed to adhere to it.

On Saturday, March 19, just two days after the Resolution had been passed, a conference involving international leaders took place in Paris, and it was later that day that military action commenced, with Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) aircraft attacking first with strikes on Libyan heavy armour.

At its peak, the UK had 2,300 personnel, 37 aircraft and four ships committed to Op ELLAMY, with more than 3,000 sorties flown, more than 2,100 of which were strike sorties, successfully destroying around 640 targets.

As Gadaffi’s regime broke up, concluding with the controversial death of the man himself in his hometown of Sirte, NATO declared that operations would officially conclude on October 31, meaning a return home for those forces still in theatre.

Despite initial concerns as to the backing Resolution 1973 would receive in terms of actual military assets, a significant number of international forces eventually participated under the NATO banner, with those of Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United States alongside those from the UK. Significantly, Arab League nations also took up the mantle with Jordan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates committing to the cause while Sweden also did so despite not being a member of NATO.

Yesterday’s event at RAF Waddington brought together many of the UK aircraft and supporting assets which took part in the operations together with their operating crews to share experiences and explain the vital role played by air power in assisting the people of Libya. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was on-hand to officially welcome them home, emphasise the importance of the work they carried out and to congratulate them on a job well done.

Parked outside on one of Waddington’s capacious hard standings were some of the heavy Royal Air Force elements comprising, C-130J Hercules that deployed to Malta on evacuation and support duties, Tristar and VC10 support and tanker aircraft, E-3D Sentry surveillance and command platform and also a BAe125 from 32(TR) Squadron which supported the deployment. Nearby, two AAC Apaches, a small number of which flew attack sorties from HMS Ocean and a pair of RN assets, a Sea King ASaC7, which provided surveillance, also from HMS Ocean and also a Lynx, the type providing support for RN vessels in theatre.

Inside the hangar where the DPM addressed the men and women who had gathered to greet him were Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado GR4 and Sentinel R1, alongside some of the vital logistical units that supported Op ELLAMY. Missing from the event were C-17, which conducted resupply missions to UK forces throughout the Mediterranean and of course the Nimrod R1, which flew 41 missions up to June 22 having seen its time in service specially extended, though it has now been retired from duty.

Squadron Leader Jody McMeeking became just the third Royal Air Force pilot to complete 1000 hours on Typhoon, while flying operationally on Op ELLAMY.

“I joined the Royal Air Force to fly and to fight with military hardware so to go away and take part in this operation was a huge privilege.

“As a Flight Commander on the squadron my first job was to make sure everyone was fully trained, was ready to go and that we were able to prosecute the targets we were asked to prosecute, make difficult decisions in real time and safely return in one piece.”

Royal Air Force Typhoons deployed on Sunday, March 20 and incredibly, flew their first combat missions, policing the No Fly Zone, less than 24 hours later. On the April 6 they flew their first air-to-ground missions alongside Tornado GR4s and dropped weapons for the first time on April 12, eventually completing 594 sorties and a total of 3000 hours.

“I was very fortunate as my previous experience was on the Typhoon evaluation squadron and I had done a lot of the work making sure it was ready as a war fighting machine, so I was very confident that Typhoon would do a fantastic job and it did exactly that.

“The Typhoon force didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We’ve worked very closely with the Tornado Force and, previously, Joint Force Harrier, to see what we could learn from them to ensure that we became as capable as we could be.

“That’s what we did on Op ELLAMY. Working with the Tornado GR4s was excellent for us as we had less experienced Typhoon pilots flying sorties alongside much more experienced Tornado crews and therefore the Typhoon guys and girls learn from them and increase their own experience as a result.

“I’m so proud of what Typhoon achieved on this operation, not just in the way it successfully delivered the effect that was required of it but also the way in which it looked after its pilots. Serviceability was excellent and you only need ask any of the engineers to see how pleased they were with that. One particular aircraft alone released 55 weapons and every single one of them hit exactly where it was supposed to and delivered exactly the effect that was needed.

“Seeing it all play out on the ground in real time and then watching it on the news an hour or two later was quite surreal though, I must admit!”

One of the key words that kept coming back to me during yesterday’s event was that of integration. The way in which Royal Air Force assets worked together, and indeed with assets from other nations, undoubtedly played a hugely significant part in ensuring the success of the air campaign.

“The size of the air packages surprised me at the beginning. My first strike sortie was made up of Royal Air Force Tornados and Typhoons, French Mirage 2000s, Canadian F-18 Hornets and Italian Tornados - so a truly multi-national effort! Quite often you would get to a target area and there would be other strike aircraft all stacked up, talking to each other, passing targets on to one another and all liaising with the ISTAR assets – it really was a privilege to be part of that.

“Most of all though, I feel proud to have been part of the whole Royal Air Force team that was operating out there. The E-3 Sentry, the Sentinel and of course the tankers, as we couldn’t have gone anywhere without them; everyone played their part. When you put all those pieces together, it just goes to show that the UK can quickly deploy and take part in large scale operations.”

Some of the numbers associated with those supporting elements are quite staggering, and between the March 31 and October 22 101 Squadron’s VC10s and 216 Squadron’s Tristars conducted nearly 500 sorties between them, while NATO tankers actually delivered a total of 352,624,824 lbs of fuel during the campaign.

E-3Ds operated from Trapani and completed 227 missions and 2000 hours while the Sentinel continued to demonstrate its huge worth by flying 200 missions and 2200 hours of its own. Its longest missions were of some 12.5 hours duration and, at one point, Sentinel was airborne for 78 hours in a 97 hour window, while one aircraft, ZJ691, flew three missions in one day and was on the ground for just 2.35 hours. One can but wonder how it is that this hugely reliable, capable and demonstrably valuable asset, has found itself deemed surplus to requirement once ops in Afghanistan are complete?

Speaking of which, the Tornado GR4 also continued to demonstrate its great value to the Royal Air Force, flying strike and armed reconnaissance missions from both Gioia Del Colle in Italy and from RAF Marham, completing a total of 1472 sorties and some 8000 hours. The GR4 played a leading role as the conflict unfolded, carrying out precision strikes using the Litening targeting pod and a variety of munitions, including a number of historic missions from Marham utilising the Storm Shadow long range air-surface missile – an eight hour round-trip of more than 3000 miles.

So, after learning more about what was clearly a hugely successful campaign for the UK’s armed forces, the last word should go to the man who commanded them – Air Commodore Gary Waterfall. Less than twelve months has passed since he was the last commander of Joint Force Harrier, which, if nothing else, just goes to show how unpredictable the modern day world really is.

“As Air Component Commander, I really am proud of what was achieved with this campaign. To sit there in a multi-national environment and see people turning round to the Brits and saying ‘can you do this for us?’, ‘can you bring this product to bear?’, ‘can we use your Tornados for this?’ – that kind of thing made me very proud.

“The people we’ve got, not just the brave and fearless boys and girls who flew over Libya, but the armourers, engineers and also all those back in the UK, like those here at RAF Waddington who probably haven’t had much sleep for seven or eight months, they are all brilliant.

“One of my buzz words throughout the campaign was ‘People over process’. This was not a traditional force-on-force conflict, like Op GRANBY perhaps, where we deployed to Iraq, this was about using our people cleverly and not sticking rigidly to a process, but using our people where we needed to, to come together and get the best out of the assets you see here today.

“I’m sure that, like me, everyone here is very proud, and for the Deputy Prime Minister to recognise that so publicly has been excellent.”

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