On Thursday 3rd November 2011 Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attended an event held at RAF Waddington to welcome home and congratulate the personnel who had taken part in military operations over Libya in the UK’s contribution to support UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
Addressing the men and women from the RAF, Royal Navy and the Army he said:
“This was an allied effort. But I am here to pay tribute to you, the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces.”
“It has been your skill, your commitment, your bravery that has made the difference.”
“You have saved countless lives. You have performed magnificently in testing times.”
The UN Security Council Resolution had been passed on the 17th March 2011 and had authorised a no fly zone over Libya as well as “all means to protect civilians”. The UK’s involved was made under Operation ELLAMY and started just two days later.
With less than 24 hours notice Sentinel R1 and E-3D Sentry aircraft deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus supported by VC10 tankers. As night fell on the Tornado GR4s from RAF Marham set out on a 3,000 mile sortie armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles to strike targets deep inside Libya. The sortie lasted for 8 hours and was the longest bombing mission undertaken by the RAF since the Black Buck missions in the Falklands Conflict. To complete the mission the Tornados had to refuel from VC10 and Tristar tankers up to three times on the way to Libya and a further time on the way back.
Typhoon FGR4s were forwardly deployed to Gioia del Colle in support of the no fly zone and flew their first ever combat mission the next day. The Typhoons were soon joined by a detachment of Tornado GR4s who flew armed reconnaissance missions making use of both RAPTOR and Litening pods whilst strike missions continued to be flown out of RAF Marham.
The Typhoon switched roles from policing the no fly zone to strike missions using the Austere air-to-ground capability the RAF had introduced to the Typhoon in CP-193. Operating alongside the Tornados as a strike package the Typhoons were armed with Enhanced Paveway II and the Tornados with Paveway IV and Dual Mode Sensor Brimstones. The latter proving to be very well suited to engaging targets with extremely low risk of collateral damage. The Typhoon completed 594 missions, logging over 3,000 hours and the Tornado completed 1,472 missions, logging over 8,000 hours.
Providing support to the strike missions over Libya was the E-3D Sentry and VC10. The Sentry acted as an airborne command, control and battle management (C2BM) asset as well as a communications platform and flew a total of 227 missions and over 2,000 hours. The VC10 provided air-to-air refuelling not only to Tornado, Typhoon and Sentry but also to the fighter aircraft of the other nations taking part in the campaign. After flying 70 missions out of RAF Akrotiri the VC10s moved to Trapani where they flew a further 360 missions. The move to Trapani reduced the transit time to the refuelling areas from 2 hours to 1 hour allowing the VC10s to operate further in until on the 24th September the first VC10 operated over land. Over 2,100 hours were flown and 8,000 metric tonnes of fuel transferred. They did this whilst also supporting deployments in Oman, the Falklands and providing the National Response role in the UK. This workload saw the VC10 operating at 200% of their normal number of flying hours and required engineering support in four separate locations. Not bad for an airframe that is almost 50 years old!
Both the VC10 and Sentry had also provided support to Op DEFERENCE before Op ELLAMY. The operation involved three C-130 Hercules used to evacuated civilians from a major population centre as well as oil workers from remote locations deep inside Libya. One of the Hercules took ground fire when taking off from Libya after collecting a number of civilians. On hearing this news and that a crewman had been injured an E-3D took fuel from a VC-10 to extend its sortie time and provide top cover to the Hercules until it had safely reached Malta.
Providing the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) function to the campaign was the Sentinel R1. The figures for availability of the aircraft make for impressive reading. A single airframe flew 48 missions in a 53 day period, including 78 hours in a 97 hour window and also three missions in the same day meaning it was only on the ground for 2 hours and 35 minutes that day. A total of 200 missions and over 2,200 hours were flown by the fleet.
Sqn Ldr Brian Wilson spoke of his time as a Sentinel captain on Op ELLAMY:
“We would normally be doing somewhere between 7 to 10 hours on task obviously with a transit in before that and a transit after that. We were routinely doing post 12 hour missions, so long old days.”
“We were working very close with ISR assets across the collation. Then directly and in-directly working with the attack helicopter and with the fast air. Working with pretty much all the assets there at one time or another.”
“We were able to look at a very large area that is very much our expertise. We were able to differentiate on the ground between pro and anti-forces often at times using the same equipment and the same tactics and procedures [as in Afghanistan] and by monitoring the movement and using other forms of intelligence we could work out where the forward edge of the battle was, then watch it move and provide real-time updates of that. There were very few if any other assets that had the capability to do that over such a large area. That was our unique part in that.”
The Nimrod R1 also played a part early on in the campaign after having its out of service date extended. It flew 41 missions and over 330 hours.
The C-17 provided the air bridge from the UK and also undertook a rather unusual mission to transport 40 tonnes of currency to the National Transitional Council in Libya.