Friday, April 29, 2011

Libya ops: inert warheads, aircraft carriers, Italy and marketing

So, Italy has reportedly carried out its first two Libya air stikes. I'll admit i'm amazed that the air force was allowed to do it for real... knowing the politicians we have, i doubted in a serious commitment.

I'm really glad to be proven wrong for once.

Three Tornado IDS flying from the airbase of Trapani Birge employed GBU-16 laser guided bombs against Gaddafi's vehicles, and two AV8B Harrier II + of the Navy did follow suit, employing GBU-32 JDAMs to hit a compound - apparently one of the command centres already hit by the coalition, which hadn't quite been disabled and needed a second touch.
The AV8B Harriers came from the aircraft carrier (ergh, honestly, through-deck cruiser works better) Garibaldi, which is the third "aircraft carrier" employed in Libya, after Charles de Gaulle and USS Kearsarge, a US Marines unit which launched Harrier strikes in the early hours of Odyssey Dawn.

Of course, the enemies of the truth will always bang their heads about carriers being not necessary and land bases doing fine. A map, in its simplicity, proves them wrong.

Sigonella, the NATO airbase closer to the areas of the fighting, is well over 400 miles away. Gioia Del Colle, from which UK assets operate, is even further away, up to 800 or more miles away from the targets.
And note that Libya is a "lucky" operation, because the area of the battle is straight ahead of NATO's "natural aircraft carrier" (carrier haters never use its nickname, curiously) Italy. Akrotiri could be used, but aside from being well far away, Cyprus has officially asked the UK to avoid launching Libya-related missions from the airbases on the island, and the UK government has accepted. Even Italy at one point threatened to make the bases unavailable during the early confusion about who exactly had to lead the coalition's ops over Libya.
This shows, once more, all the limits of land bases, whenever they are.
And the cost of fuel for the strike ops and the constant need for air refuelling, alone, are another good pro-carrier argument.  Libya can of course be tackled even without carriers. But this means accepting all the costs and limitations of not doing it.

And next time it might prove simply not possible to properly mount an operation without the capability to deploy airpower indipendently from any foreign agreement and soil concession.

But overlooking this always white-hot argument, i'll move forwards to a few other interesting news:

France is using "inert" training bombs for killing Gaddafi tanks in urban areas. This is a curious news that caught my eye, but thinking about it, one has to say that it is not a bad idea at all: a 454 kg block of concrete coming down in a dive from 10.000 meters has some very serious kinetic power, while the absence of explosive reduces the collater damage drastically.
As a further premium factor, inert warheads for training are cheapter than 'true' bombs. It might be a good idea for the RAF, as well, which regularly use inert bombs made of concrete and fitted with Paveway guidance kits in training exercises.

On the marketing front, now the India deal for 126 jet fighters is a duel: only the Typhoon and Rafale have been shortlisted, and thanks to Libya both planes have shown their military worth.
Rafale has admittedly had more to show: the french are ahead in terms of weapon integration and pilots training, so that their fighters have been able to do more than RAF Typhoons (and much more than Italian Typhoons, which lack even that "austere" land attack capability that RAF's FRG4s have), but the Typhoon is advantaged by (reportedly) better terms of technology transfer, and it was reportedly very liked by the indian pilots who had a chance to fly on it during trials. Rafale had nearly been dropped out of the competition early on instead.

Typhoon is long reported as the favorite in the run, and while the Rafale should not be undervalued, i will add my little thought: my biggest worry was the american political weight. The US have all but told India that the extent of the relationship between the two countries was heavily dependant from the fighter jet contest... yet India officially dropped both F16 and F/A-18. A clear political message.
And also a signal that both the F16 and F/A-18, which still are undoubtedly good machines, are however inexorably growing old and outdated.

The road for the Typhoon might really be open now.


  1. The uk are using Cyprus for Libya ops, although the Cypriot gov asked them not to they can't really do anything about it. Units are out there now supporting the op.

    The inert bombs have been used in built areas for a few years now. I know the raf used them since at least 2003 if not earlier.

  2. I had never heard of inert bombs used in combat before.

    As to Akrotiri, the UK government agreed not to base COMBAT planes there.
    At the most, air tankers and AWACS have been using the base for Libya-related activity, but no Typhoons and no Tornados.

  3. Op telic 1 was the first I heard of it, used by one of the marham sqns in built up areas against snipers.


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