Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No fly zone?

Gaddafi continues to hang on by a thread. More and of his military are switching sides and supporting the rebels (protesters). As Gaddafi tries to use more of his military might, more of his military are defecting or fleeing from Libya. It appears at this point that providing safe areas and providing support to the rebels is going to be far more effective than any military action.

The Pentagon and British Defence Ministry are preparing plans to establish no-fly zones over Libya. The idea being to keep Gaddafi from using helicopters and close air support aircraft to bombard Libyans. The problem is when you start shooting down aircraft, innocent people have a tendency to get hurt.

Russia and China are almost guaranteed to vote against such a plan at the UN. Turkey, a NATO member, is against the use of any military in Libya. The British plan to use a base in Cyprus which will strain relations with Turkey.

There is much more to lose if we use military action at this point versus waiting Gaddafi out.

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Quimbob said...

The U.S. should definitely stay out. But it seems feasible that Italy, France & England could do the no fly zone thing. It could thwart the military from destroying ammunition stores. If the military is defecting already, the threat to Libyan pilots & a better armed rebel force might incentivize them to more quickly stand down.
Maybe act as the EU instead of NATO / UN?
(sent from my cozy home in Ohio...)

Skyflea said...

Enforcing a no-fly zone sounds easy -- just send up a few fighters to shoot down anything that looks menacing -- but it is a major campaign requiring anti-aircraft suppression, AWACS, tanker support, diplomatic clearances for overflight, and so on. Operations Southern and Northern Watch was over a country whose air defenses had just been hammered in Desert Storm and whose leader had a chance of remaining in power if he behaved. Not so in Libya. Gaddafi's back is to the wall and he will do anything to hang onto what he has left.

Skyflea said...

An excerpt from an e-mail sent by the Air Force Association CEO:
The air defense system could not threaten the F-22. The Libyans have older systems. The network is integrated for a common radar picture. However, their aircraft are older -- mostly Mig 21s and Mig 23s with some light attack/trainers and some ground attack aircraft. The Surface to Air missiles are also older SA-2s, SA-3s (Viet Nam era) and about 50 SA-6s. The latter are lethal to almost all aircraft except for the F-22. They would have to be dealt with in any regard. But it is not clear what kind of maintenance they have undergone ... nor how well the Libyans are trained on the system.
The central issue, in my mind, with a no-fly zone (NFZ) is a policy one. What do you want to do? It is too facile to say: Stop aircraft from killing people and destroying things ... as it begs the question of: “Soooooo, are you OK with ground forces killing people and destroying things?” If the latter is answered in the negative, then the air piece is only one part of a larger answer. [I worry this option is being considered just to be seen as “Doing Something.”]
A second, but lesser important question is: How long do you want to do this. If the answer is: We don't know ... but plan for a month or so. Then we'll need a couple hundred aircraft for 24/7 ops ... and either 3-4 carriers plus land-based support or bases in nearby nations or both. Italy is the best choice ... and to get its OK, we'll need either a NATO sign off, a UN Security Council Resolution, or just plain leaning on a good friend with a weak government. Other basing options are a bit unsavory. Egypt probably won't help ... neither will Tunisia. Algeria has its own terrorist problems. Israel won't want to be seen in an active role. Other African choices are pretty far away with little infrastructure.
A subset of the first issue -- more in the tactical realm -- is you would want to take out some of the air defenses no matter what systems you use ... and that means killing Libyan troops ... with all the unintended consequences of such actions. Secondly, what do you do about helicopters? They are hard to kill ... especially if they know you are coming. What if they just set down on the top of a building? You can't get them with an air-to-air missile; you'd need bombs [or as some of our members have pointed out – bullets] ... and that may mean civilian casualties ... especially if you don't hit that which you are aiming. Also, you don't generally configure fighters for both air-to-air missions and air-to-ground ones at the same time. Thus the need for more aircraft. The F-22 does carry both types of weapons internally and can do the job. I cannot address the policy question of whether Sec Gates would entertain a request from EUCOM/AFRICOM to deploy the F-22. Some believe he would be reluctant to approve the aircraft’s deployment.
Finally, the Navy is not configured for round the clock operations, except in a short-term surge mode and has to keep a bit of its airpower to defend the fleet. This means less for NFZ ops. The good news is that you would not have to establish a NFZ over the entire country -- probably just the major cities and perhaps a few key air bases.
Bottom line: creating a NFZ over the country is “do-able” – but not simple … and I would want to get the policy pieces answered before we embarked on this option.