Projection of Maritime Power in Libya

Totting up significant events to date:

  • HMS Cumberland and HMS York evacuated the bulk of UK civilians plus other entitled personnel just before things kicked off and have been gathering vital intelligence with their surveillance suites and helos throughout
  • TLAMs from HMS Triumph and US Navy units started neutralising the Libyan air defences immediately approval was given
  • HMS Triumph has also been a vital intelligence gathering asset
  • Aircraft from USS Kearsarge (including USMC Harrier AV-8Bs) destroyed the tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and artillery threatening Benghazi (which caused the passage of UNSCR 1973 in the first place)
  • Aircraft from USS Kearsarge also retrieved the two downed F-15 aircrew
  • HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster are enforcing the embargo of arms to Gaddafi and have helped stop his ships from attacking the rebels from the sea
  • Subject to confirmation, a Rafale from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle destroyed a Libyan aircraft on the ground
Despite the media's preoccupation with the RAF glamour boys (and girls) based 500 nm (926 km) from the action, this is a pretty good advertisement for the projection of power from the sea.

HMS Cumberland deployed from the UK in September and is overdue her return to the UK to join SDSR 'Death Row'. While her 180+ day period away from base port is well within the Harmony Guidelines for RN separated service (averaged annual max of 220 days), it is at least two months more than RAF personnel are expected to 'suffer' within any 20 month period (averaged annual max of 140 days) ;P . Even so, it looks like HMS Liverpool might be going somewhere interesting soon.
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Remember the Tornados that flew an eight hour 3,000 nm round trip from RAF Marham to deliver Storm Shadow cruise missiles from outside Libyan airspace at astronomical expense and effort? They were forced to turn back at the last moment because civilians were detected in the target area. It now appears that Rafale Ms from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle stationed just off the Libyan coast have launched the SCALP EG version of Storm Shadow against targets 135 nm (250 km) inside Libya and returned to their ship before breakfast got cold. Nice photo here.

Even with the RAF based at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, its £35k per hour Tornados and £80k per hour Typhoons still face a 1,000 nm (1,850 km) round trip to the nearest bit of the Libyan coast with all the in-flight refuelling this entails.

Useful picture of the situation below on which to play 'Spot the Union Flags'. It only shows carriers and assault ships so HMS Cumberland, HMS Westminster and HMS Triumph are airbrushed out. However, the UK as a major European maritime nation is still notable for the absence of any large surface units on the plot. Perhaps Ocean will yet save the day with some useful Apache helicopter gunships. These would be even less efficient to operate from Italian bases, if able to operate from them at all.

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If you hang on a couple of weeks, NG, you can add Invincible to the plot... :wink:
But she's already 'SOLD' :winkrazz:
Daily Mail 25 Mar 2011 said:
...This was no time to point out that Invincible — mothballed in 2006 — was subjected to the final indignity of an online auction just last month. Mr Knacker of Izmir came up trumps with a bid of £2 million. Nor is this the time to ask when poor HMS Ark Royal will go the same way. The MoD’s only response to yesterday’s unofficial civilian farewell was to launch an immediate investigation to discover how a mystery dockyard wit had managed to write ‘SOLD’ on the superstructure just below the bridge...
P.S. I'd have linked to the DT version but that hasn't been published online.
Reuters 27 Mar 2011 said:
ABOARD AIRCRAFT CARRIER CHARLES DE GAULLE (Reuters) - Dressed in a khaki uniform and protective helmet, a French pilot emerges from the Rafale fighter jet that just landed on the deck of the Charles de Gaulle carrier, back from another mission over Libya... A Hawkeye radar plane is next to land, soon to be replaced by another on the night flight... "It never stops," says a lieutenant.

The Charles de Gaulle is a week into its mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi... French forces said on Saturday that they had destroyed seven Libyan aircraft -- five planes and two helicopters -- in the western town of Misrata, where pro-Gaddafi units have mounted an assault to try to oust rebels.
Maritime air power, anywhere, anytime

Félicitations to la Marine Nationale.
Interesting combination of old and new technology being applied to good effect by USS Kearsarge and her Harriers off Libya:
USMC website 24 Mar 2011 said:
USS Kearsarge, at sea — As 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit AV-8B Harriers conducted air strikes on Libya as part of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, the new Lofted Communications System was operationally deployed for the first time aboard ship, March 20. The helium-balloon transmission system was used to bridge the gap in communications from ship to Harriers conducting air strikes against the Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi's ground forces and air defenses, as part of an international effort to halt an offensive against the Libyan populace.

Normally, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft would be used to relay and ensure command and control from the ship. The system, which was first tested in Kuwait in January 2009 during the MEU’s sustainment training for its 2008/2009 deployment, costs a fraction of the expense to put additional aircraft in the air and doesn’t risk additional lives...
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Libya mission for Portsmouth based HMS Liverpool

Portsmouth News 29 Mar 2011 said:
HMS Liverpool left Portsmouth this morning to go to Libya. The Type 42 destroyer has been sent to the warzone to help enforce the NATO naval blockade as part of Operation Unified Protector. She will replace Type 22 frigate HMS Cumberland which is being sent back to Britain to be decommissioned after more than a month in Libya.

Liverpool, which has a crew of around 280, joins Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Westminster, in the Mediterranean...
Cumberland left the UK in September 2010 for deployment east of Suez so her ship's company will be glad to get back. Liverpool had better not hang around for too long as she's due to join Cumberland on SDSR 'Death Row' next year (link).
US Africa Command website 29 Mar 2011 said:
USS MOUNT WHITNEY, In Port, Mar 29, 2011 — A U.S. Navy P-3C Maritime Patrol aircraft, a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft and guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) engaged Libyan Coast Guard vessel Vittoria and two smaller crafts after confirmed reports that Vittoria and accompanying craft were firing indiscriminately at merchant vessels in the port of Misratah, Libya, during the evening March 28, 2011.

The P-3C fired at Vittoria with AGM-65F Maverick missiles after multiple explosions were observed in the vicinity of the port rendering the 12-meter patrol vessel ineffective and forcing it to be beached. Two small crafts were fired upon by an A-10 using its 30mm GAU-8/ Avenger Gatling cannon, destroying one and forcing the other to be abandoned.

Barry provided situational awareness for the aircraft by managing the airspace and maintaining the maritime picture...
Portsmouth News 31 Mar 2011 said:
THE captain of HMS Westminster has told how he was ready to open fire on Colonel Gaddafi’s gunboats – but did not have to pull the trigger. That’s because just being off the coast of Libya was enough to keep the dictator’s warships holed up in port. The Portsmouth-based frigate has stood down from operations in Libya after helping international forces establish a no-fly zone over the North African country...
British Forces News 4 Apr 2011 said:
She fired the first British Tomahawk missile at Libya as Operation Ellamy began, now she has returned home flying the Jolly Roger – the submariner’s traditional battle ensign. Six small tomahawk axes on the flag reveal the role the hunter-killer took in disarming Colonel Gaddafi's air defences. Her cruise missiles were fired during three nights of firings. Her first action paved the way for a successful RAF bombing raid on an underground ammunition dump at Sebha, 300 miles inside Libya.

HMS Triumph returned to Devonport on Saturday having spent the entire period on Operation Ellamy – the British codename for the mission to enforce the UN resolution – undetected by land, sea or air forces...
This clip from Andrew Neil's Daily Politics Show has to be seen and heard to be believed:It shows Nick Harvey, our Defence Minister, repeatedly stating that no aircraft have flown from British carriers since 2003. What's even more tragic is that none of the other politicians on the panel knew any better. The gist of this pantomime is outlined below but the iPlayer video is even better.
Andrew Neil's Blog: Not Available for Service (I haven't quoted the comments)
BBC website 6 Apr 2011 said:
Mea Culpa! Today I suggested to Defence Minister Nick Harvey, when he didn't seem to know the whereabouts of HMS Illustrious, an aircraft carrier, that it had been mothballed and was therefore unavailable for Libya. I was wrong: it's not in mothballs. But it is unavailable for service.

Illustrious has been in Rosyth, Scotland since February 2010 for a £40m refit. It won't be completed until August at the earliest and after that will need to undergo sea trials. In fact, Mr Harvey's ministerial colleague Peter Luff told the House of Commons on 14th March this year that HMS Illustrious is scheduled to return to operational service in spring 2012. And when it is it will no longer be able to carry fixed-wing aircraft: just helicopters.

Mr Harvey was unable to tell us any of this when he was on the show. But with Illustrious out of commission (for conversion) and HMS Ark Royal with a "for sale" sign on it on an MoD website, there are no aircraft carriers that Britain can deploy in Libya or elsewhere for the foreseeable future with fixed-wing aircraft.

Mr Harvey said there was nothing new about this: that fixed wing aircraft had not flown off a British carrier since 2003. Probably best that I refer you to the comments section of the Daily Politics website, where our viewers provided convincing and substantial testimony that Harriers were flying off British carriers as late as 2010 - but cannot now.


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In the whole Tornado VS Naval assets debacle you really have to look at the maths: £33k per hour, per aircraft operating costs, plus the associated servicing required after the operation; the in flight refuelling costs - all to deliver 3 stand off weapons!

The consider the vulnerability of the three air assets - in sum an expensive and needlessly risky advert for the RAF, doing a task TLAM could just as easily have done [and I know the argument about BROACH vs TLAM warhead but thats moot in this instance].

Politics not warfare.
In the whole Tornado VS Naval assets debacle you really have to look at the maths: £33k per hour, per aircraft operating costs, plus the associated servicing required after the operation; the in flight refuelling costs - all to deliver 3 stand off weapons!

Then consider the vulnerability of the three air assets - in sum an expensive and needlessly risky advert for the RAF, doing a task TLAM could just as easily have done [and I know the argument about BROACH vs TLAM warhead but thats moot in this instance].

Politics not warfare.
The cost of rolling on Ark Royal until 2015 has been set at £105m (link). The £37k per flying hour Harrier GR9s were only sacrificed in favour of the £35k per hour Tornado GR4s in SDSR owing to the last minute intervention of the Chief of the Air Staff with the Prime Minister. This was specifically against the military advice of the First Sea Lord (link).

Not only would a dozen or more carrier-borne GR9s poised 12 nm off the Libyan coast have provided a more flexible and responsive ground attack capability with a higher sortie rate (ideal to react to the fast ebb and flow of current events) but a carrier could also have carried half a dozen helo gunships, all safely based within a few miles of the quickly-shifting frontline. From what I'm hearing on the news, these would be the answer to a maiden's prayer at the moment.

Some land-based Typhoons (at £70-80k per flying hour) would still have been useful for their range of more sophisticated heavyweight weaponry. However, it will certainly be interesting to see the eventual price ticket for deploying and sustaining 22 RAF aircraft (with the suggestion of more to follow) in Italy, renting base facilities, purchasing fuel at local prices, transporting, accommodating and feeding several hundred aircrew and support personnel, using COMAIR for conveying PAX and stores and flying 1,000 nm round trips to the Libyan coast with the £80k per hour tanker support and extra fuel incurred, all on a possible long-term basis.

I'm also guessing that there's more trouble to come in that part of the world. Wherever it breaks out, a carrier could move 500 nm per day to address it with little fuss or muss.
Good to know the RN is involved here too (see photo):
Canadian Press 16 Apr 2011 said:
U.S. Navy Lt. Patrick Salmon is getting ready for another day at work, strapping himself into the cockpit of his strike jet and roaring off this French aircraft carrier for his daily attack mission against Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces. He'll be launched into action by Kyle A. Caldwell, another U.S. Navy lieutenant who operates the flattop's catapult systems. When Salmon is ready to set his plane back on deck, yet a third U.S. Navy lieutenant, Philip Hoblet, will be standing by in a French rescue helicopter, hovering just off the ship's bow in case any of the returning pilots are forced to ditch into the sea.

The United States, which originally led the Libya campaign, has been steadily reducing its role over the past two weeks. On March 31, it handed over command and control of the international campaign to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and shortly after that it ceased all attack missions over Libya — setting of a search by NATO for more planes capable of carrying out precision strikes against Gadhafi's forces.

NATO said Friday that the U.S. still flies one-third of the Libya operation's missions. But that refers to surveillance and refuelling missions, not to attack flights over Libyan territory. But even though the U.S. has withdrawn its forces from the front lines of the NATO campaign, a handful of Americans serving on this French navy carrier remain at the forefront of the action. They are members of a little-known French-American naval exchange program in which U.S. officers spend time in the French navy — known as the "Marine Nationale" — and French officers spend time in the U.S. navy...

The carrier, known in the navy by its nickname "Le Grand Charles," began reconnaissance flights over Libya on March 22. Attack missions followed almost immediately, and the ship has acted as the tip of the spear for NATO s aerial campaign ever since...

Caldwell, who has worked on several U.S. carriers, said the similarities between the two navies outweigh the differences, and said the major distinction was the number of sorties he handles a day. "On U.S. carriers we trap about 160 aircraft a day at sea, but here it's just 35-40 a day," he said...
35 to 40 sorties per day is still a fairly hefty contribution for 20 odd aircraft. As with the USMC AV-8B Harriers of USS Kearsarge, prior to their withdrawal from operations, it shows that most carrier borne aircraft are achieving two sorties per day owing to their closer proximity to the Libyan coast (unlike their land-based counterparts which are struggling to achieve even one).
Yes, I know it's the Sun so some of the figures may be arguable but...
SIXTY Harrier jump jets that could be blasting Libyan tyrant Gaddafi's bloodthirsty gangs sit in UK hangars - waiting to be scrapped under defence spending cuts.

The warplanes are at RAF Cottesmore near Stamford, Lincs, after a £750million revamp. Meanwhile, Britain is struggling to maintain its expensive mission supporting Libyan rebels. The axed jets are in mothballs - while Britain blows £30million a WEEK struggling to carry out bombing missions over wartorn Libya.

The huge bill goes on basing RAF jets, their crews and ground staff in Italy, plus fuel and ammunition. But Harriers could do the job from an aircraft carrier for £40million a YEAR...
For those who prefer a more upmarket paper, try this from yesterday's Sunday Times:
The RAF is spending an estimated £40,000 a night for pilots and support staff to stay at four-star hotels in southern Italy while they conduct bombing missions against Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s forces in Libya. The scale of the costs — more than £1.2m on hotels each month — is raising eyebrows in sections of the military community. It has also reignited ill-feeling between the RAF and the Royal Navy over David Cameron’s decision to scrap Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier jump jets that flew from it...

Last week the MoD announced that 12 RAF Typhoon jets would join missions from Gioia del Colle, in southern Italy, in addition to the eight Tornados already based there...

Local hoteliers say 700 RAF staff are based at hotels in the surrounding area. They are block-booked for six months until September, with many on half board. One hundred RAF personnel are staying in a four-star hotel in Conversano, 24 miles from the airbase. The hotel charges £100 a night for a double room. Outside Monopoli, 30 miles from the airbase on the Adriatic coast, 300 RAF personnel are staying at a separate four-star tourist complex, while in Gioia del Colle, three miles from the airbase, about 70 staff are staying at a third hotel...
Just as a reminder, a full Fleet Air Arm air group capable of supporting up to 18 carrier-borne Harrier GR9s (able to achieve twice the number of sorties of land-based aircraft owing to their closer proximity to the Libyan coast) would comprise about 350 personnel (link). They would be accommodated free of charge with each costing around £2.34 per day to feed (daily victualling allowance). No transportation costs would be involved as everyone would travel into the theatre of operations courtesy of the grey funnel line and live within feet of the flight deck, aircraft hangars, fuel supplies, ordnance, workshops and spares.

Owing to the premature retirement of SHAR (Sea Harrier) without upgrade or replacement, some land-based RAF aircraft would be useful for the AD (Air Defence) role but it appears that other air forces are happily accepting this role even though they are reluctant to perform ground attack missions.

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