RAF ground attack aircraft are ready to help impose a no-fly zone over Libya as ministers ordered defence chiefs to finalise plans enabling Britain to take part immediately in military action against forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.
Tornado all-weather attack aircraft, equipped with precision weapons, were almost certain to be the first British assets used in any military operation, officials said. They are based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Though due to phased out under the government's defence their performance has been tested in operations over decades. It was not immediately clear whether they would fly from a military base in southern France or from RAF Akrotiri, in one of Britain's sovereign base areas in Cyprus.
It was also unclear whether Eurofighter Typhoons would take part in an operation. Britain has two ships off the Libyan coast, and Chinook helicopters and early-warning aircraft equipped with long-range radar based in Malta, but would need permission from the Maltese government to use them in action over Libya.
For this reason, it would be easier for British aircraft to be based in Cyprus or France, which also strongly supports a no-fly zone. British forces could also use bases in Egypt if the new government there agreed.
Britain and France could begin operating a limited no-fly zone over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with little or no US support, according to analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though it may have only a limited impact on Gaddafi's brutal crackdown on the rebels. However, they warned that it would not stop Gaddafi's ground forces, which are leading the assault on the rebels with tanks and artillery.
IISS fellow Douglas Barrie said Tornado GR4 ground attack or submarine-launched cruise missiles could be used to take out the Libyan air defences, including a long-range surface-to-air missile system thought to be based within 30 to 40 miles of Benghazi.
A force of six to eight Typhoon fighters could be deployed to patrol over Benghazi, supported by two or three tankers for air-to-air refuelling and Nimrod R1 reconnaissance aircraft, temporarily reprieved by the Ministry of Defence, he said.
Barrie said the Libyan air force might have as few as 40 operational fixed-wing aircraft. Most are Soviet-era, Russian-built fighters that are obsolescent in western terms, although there are also some more modern French Mirage F1s.
Another IISS fellow, Brigadier Ben Barry, said a no-fly zone would have little effect on the regime's ground forces. "A no-fly zone can have military effect … But it can have relatively little effect if what the actors want to do is entirely on the ground," he said.
"This could relatively quickly take the military pressure off the rebels and, if integrated into any rebel counter-offensive, it could be as decisive as coalition airpower was in supporting the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2001," he said.
"As in Afghanistan, its effects would be much improved by the presence of special forces on the ground. They might also be able to undertake ground raids on particularly important government targets, albeit with increased risk."
Despite the fiasco of the aborted covert SAS-MI6 operation in eastern Libya earlier this month, special forces could still play a role in the Libyan conflict, analysts suggested.
Friday, March 18, 2011
RAF prepares to help impose no-fly zone over Libya
RAF prepares to help impose no-fly zone over Libya | UK news | The Guardian