Friday, September 2, 2011

Libya and aircraft carriers

France has flown so far 33% of the NATO sorties over Libya, and with the return of the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in port (after 120 days of operations outside Libya) it has been announced which share of the work fell on CdG’s shoulders. The data is impressive, and proves, once more, the real need for aircraft carriers, and the superior performances they ensure, even in scenarios in which friendly land bases are available.

The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left her home port on 20 March for joining operations in Libya, only a month after a four-month deployment on Operation AGAPANTHUS in the Indian Ocean [providing Close Air Support to ground forces in Afghanistan] from October 2010 to February 2011. This totals nearly 9 months of operations in less than a year for her, as she entered Toulon again only on August 12.

The aircraft carrier was included in Task Force 473 to enforce United Nations Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011 and to provide air interdiction missions as part of the establishment of a no-fly zone, the control of maritime space to meet the specified arms embargo and the protection of the Libyan people by neutralizing military targets threatening them. For Libya ops, she was at sea for 138 days, 120 of which of active air operations, with a peak of 63 consecutive days without a break. In this period, her air group of 18 fixed wing aircraft (10 Rafale, 6 Super Etendard and 2 E-2c Hawkeye) flew 1,350 sorties, a rate of 11.25 sorties per flying day or over 60% per a/c per day.

She saw 2,380 landings and catapult launches and her planes flew 3,600 hours in theatre with an average flight time of 2hours and 20mins (compare this to the 90 minutes trip necessary from Gioia del Colle to Libya’s cost, then think of the fuel, and of all the precious airframe hours wasted and the cost of it all!). Of the 1350 sorties, 840 were strike sorties, 390 Rafale recce, 120 Hawkeye and 240 buddy refuelling sorties. The carrier sailed 40000nm at an average speed of 12kts.

Details have emerged that French attack helicopters operating from ships destroyed 450 targets with helicopter raids launched in every 2-3 days for a total of 250 sorties. Some 12 helicopters are involved, against 5 for the UK, aboard HMS Ocean. 
As of end of August, Apaches of the 656 Squadron AAC flew 49 sorties from Ocean. The ship also has Lynx helicopters from 847 CHF, working for force protection duties, and it also flew 99 Sea King ASaC Mk7 (of 857 NAS) sorties for monitoring movements in the skies and on the ground.

In these days, the RAF flew one of the weirdest sorties of the war, with a C17 bringing in Benghazi pallets of cash. 280 million Libyan dinars (£140m) in cash, part of the frozen, now released Libyan funds. 
HMS Liverpool is in her 110 day of operation outside Libya, and has escorted Free Libya's flagship into Tripoli's harbor. 

By August 4, on 6745 strike sorties flown by NATO, France had flown 2225, well over half of them coming from CdG. France flew 33% of the strike sorties, and is the first Libya contributor.
The second, you will say, is the RAF.

Wrong. The second, despite their limited involvement, is the US, with 801 Strike Sorties by June 30. By that date, they has also flown 2674 sorties of Air Refuelling, reconnaissance, electronic war etcetera. In these fields, they have been the main providers, flying between 70 and 100% of the missions, in particular doing almost the totality of the EW sorties, and giving the baptism of fire to the F18 Growler electronic war plane in the process. They lost an F15E to mechanical failure and a MQ8 Fire Scout drone to enemy fire.

Third appears to be Denmark (!), with 11% of the strike sorties and 705 bombs dropped.

The UK flew 10% of sorties, for 700 strikes by August 15. Average mission length was 4 hours, but most of this time is wasted in transit to and from Gioia del Colle.  
Ellamy started with the Storm Shadow raid of the night between 19 and 20 March, following earlier Tomahawk launches from RN submarine. 
21 March saw the RAF reaching Gioia del Colle, and 3 Typhoons flew their first sortie in the area, and on 22 March they entered Libya's NFZ area for their first ever combat patrol.  
On 23 March, Day 5, 8 Tornado GR4 reached Gioia del Colle as well. 4 April, four more were sent, bringing the number to 12. Currently, after another 4 Tornado were sent following retirement of Norwey and its four F16s on August 1st, there are 16 Tornado GR4 on Gioia, but Typhoon numbers, which had previously been as high as 10, apparently went down to 6. Groups of further Tornadoes flown in all the way from Marham for the Storm Shadow strikes. A mystery that I’d like someone to explain, too. Why wasting money in such complex missions, instead of bringing Storm Shadows to Gioia del Colle, like it is done with Paveway IVs and Brimstones? It would be far cheaper. 
Besides, what's the need for Storm Shadow these days, when the Air Defence system of Libya is totally non existent (if it ever was credible) and thus there is no apparent need for a Stand-Off weapon allowing to avoid SAM sites...? 
It makes me sadly doubt that it is all about the RAF "marketing" itself against the evident performances of Charles de Gaulle and resurgent interest in aircraft carrier warfare. And i'm not the only one having this doubt. A good analysis is provided here on David Cenciotti's Weblog, which is also a very well informed source of info about developments of Libya ops and fighting, full with detail and maps.   

On 27 August, NATO had flown a total of 20,518 sorties over Libya, and 7,732 of those have been strike missions in which the jets either strafed or bombed, according to NATO figures.

Of these, 5,316 sorties were flown by US assets, Pentagon officials said. The U.S. total included 1,269 strike missions and 103 strikes by Predator drones. Recently, Italy also flew a few Reaper sorties, with the new, just-delivered drones acquired from the US.
On July 31, cost of operations for the US to that day had been put at $896 million.

Charles de Gaulle seems to have delivered a message, even in the hard-as-granite heads of british politicians and MOD personnel: at long last, support for proper use of both CVF aircraft carriers is beginning to show in force, from multiple sources, from the Parliamentary Defence Committee to Liam Fox to Gerald Howarth.

Perhaps, Libya taught the lesson once more, for the hundredth time. One has to hope that it is not forgotten again.


  1. Besides, what's the need for Storm Shadow these days, when the Air Defence system of Libya is totally non existent (if it ever was credible) and thus there is no apparent need for a Stand-Off weapon allowing to avoid SAM sites...?

    More the target it hits rather than being long range.

    I'm surprised your sucked in so easily by all the 'RAF showing off' stuff. There are many people in all shades of uniform in the MoD that wished it worked like that! But it doesn't.

    I wouldn't get too bogged down by dry stats more a case of effect than numbers.

  2. "More the target it hits rather than being long range."

    Might be, but i have my doubts that the Paveway III BLU-109 assembly can't pierce the targets that BROACH can.
    And it still does not explain why a stock of missiles weren't dispatched to Gioia to save the bother of such long and expensive missions.

    And i do hope that it is not showing off but, as far as i am aware, it wouldn't be the first time it happens, and the Uk is not the only place where this happens.

    And sorry, but this "it is more about effect than numbers" phrase is something i'd expect from politicians.
    It is, pardon me, bullshit 99% of the time.
    Also because you are implying that the other countries, doing more missions, delivered less effect.

    It might be. At times. But it would be arrogant to assume that US and France can't do the job as well as the RAF, sorry. I'm not into propaganda, and i believe in numbers. They are essential in understanding situations. They are not the whole picture, but they are a large part of it. Always.
    Not just when they tell a comfortable story.

  3. Yes there are things that SS can breach that PVIII can't.

    Think of it of bullshit if it's more comfortable for you, it doesn't make it any less true. But let me put it this way, despite all the top trumps stats bloggers on the internet go orgasmic about, no-one in GdC, PJHQ or any HQ spends a fraction of the time worrying about sortie rates that preoccupies those on the internet.

    It doesn't imply it's true, it is. Not all countries are able to do the same for reasons obvious.

    They can but people draw too much of a conclusion from them.

  4. Hi Gabriele,

    Well done the RAF. They did what they could.
    It was lucky that there was an air base nearby, that the RAF was able to use.
    Also, the RAF was able to over fly countries to reach targets from the UK.
    Long range strikes by a limted number of aircraft from the UK should be and is the limit of RAF combat operations, apart from UK air defence.
    If you want to have air power in theatre, able to fly strike, CAP etc missions, from your own air base, in my opinion you need a carrier.
    As the French have shown.


  5. Well done to the RAF indeed, they are doing well, and the long range raids, as much as i criticize, are actually demonstration of reach and capability.

    But. Numbers tell us many things. Tell us that the aircraft carrier CdG is the source of a big share of the applied NATO's firepower.
    Tell us that France is willing to step up to lead the european side of NATO as the US want, while the UK is lagging behind due to cuts, even if there's Afghanistan balancing things.
    Tells us that Tornado really is aging and that wasting 90 minutes going and 90 minutes returning takes a toll on crews and airframes.
    The comparison in sortie generation rate of the embarked Rafales (considering also the buddy-buddy sorties, besides) and GR4s in Gioia is not flattering.

    So, yes. This has been, like it or not, a tangible (less impressive than Falklands, perhaps, but still very clear) demonstration of the need for aircraft carriers for doing work seriously and effectively.

  6. Gabriele,

    Once again an excellent post, you correctly highlighted the simple truth which is that the RAF contribution to the Libyan campaign has been lamentable and the whole affair perfectly underlines the need for both Queen Elizabeth class carriers to be completed with Catapults and used to provide a near continuous availability of carrier strike coupled with the helicopter capability of HMS Ocean (and preferably a new flattop to replace Bulwark and Albion as already studied).

    As clever and as innovative as the RAF has been in generating its long range sorties it is glaringly obvious that CdG was the primary sortie generator, the RAF is running at near capacity balancing tornado fleets over both Libya and Afghanistan and that ultimately the decision to gut the RAF and remove the carrier strike capability from the RN was completely inconsistent with the governments foreign policy.

  7. Well, Libya proved many things. Long endurance, intended as time on target, continues to be immensely desirable.
    Tomahawk continues to be the "first hour" weapon of choice, followed by Storm Shadow, which currently, though, is a bit awkward to deliver, as apparently there are "political problems" to bringing the missiles into Gioia del Colle, so that the raids with Storm have all been flown from the UK, meaning huge effort for just an handful of missiles to be delivered.
    Apache navalization was nothing short of genial, and it finally is proved. If only we could invest a bit of money in foldable rotors for at least the 14 new Chinooks, that would make them so much easier to use at sea, too...!
    It also proved that the Sentinel-ASTOR is a very precious bit of kit, and that embarked radar early warning/ground surveillance is also fundamental.
    It also proved the value of Nimrod R1, for which replacement with Rivet Joint has now been secured.

    And yes. It undoubtedly proved that carriers remain absolutely necessary, and cost-effective in practically all scenarios.

  8. Hi gabby,

    'Tells us that Tornado really is aging and that wasting 90 minutes going and 90 minutes returning takes a toll on crews and airframes.'

    It does to a certain extent but long sorties in the desert has been the Tornado's thing for twenty years now so it's nothing new and it's impact is well known.

    'The comparison in sortie generation rate of the embarked Rafales (considering also the buddy-buddy sorties, besides) and GR4s in Gioia is not flattering.'

    Like I said you read too much into the numbers. Without being offensive you've only got a fraction of the information, in the context you're reading too much into it. Have a look round on the defence forums, there's some posts on this Op from those serving(specifically within air ops GdC). They give a good insight into the figures and how they are used and why they view them differently.


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