Operational update on Libya - 25 March

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Colonel Gaddafi continues to mount indiscriminate attacks on his own people but it is clear that coalition operations have saved many innocent lives, Major General John Lorimer, the Chief of the Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer, said today.

General Lorimer was speaking to the media at the MOD’s Main Building in London today, Friday 25 March 2011. He was accompanied by Captain Karl Evans and Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn.

See Related Links to watch General Lorimer’s briefing on the Ministry of Defence’s YouTube channel.

Here follows the full transcript from the briefing:

Introductory Remarks

Good afternoon. I am Major General John Lorimer, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer, and I am again joined for today’s briefing by Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn of the Royal Air Force and Captain Karl Evans of the Royal Navy.

Before I begin this briefing on the Libyan situation, I want to draw attention to examples of both the sacrifice and gallantry of our Service personnel in operations elsewhere in the world, particularly in Afghanistan. Sadly, two Irish Guardsmen were killed on Wednesday in Helmand province. Our thoughts are very much with both their families, and indeed with the families of all personnel who are placing themselves in harm’s way for their country at this time.

And this morning we published the latest operational honours list which has recognised the outstanding courage and dedication of 136 servicemen and women, and which was well reported in the media today.

With regards to Libya, let me start by saying that it is very clear that, despite the heavy losses inflicted on his forces by coalition operations, Colonel Gaddafi continues to flout the will of the international community and is continuing to mount deadly and indiscriminate attacks on his own people.

But it is equally clear that our operations have saved many innocent lives already, and I am confident that they will continue to do so.

You will be aware of the Foreign Secretary’s statements on the discussions in Brussels that led to the decision last night that NATO will take over command of the no-fly zone operation, and the expectation that it will assume overall command in a matter of days.

This briefing will focus on UK military activity over recent days. There is little I can add to what the Foreign Secretary has said, except to emphasise the breadth of the coalition behind the action to enforce UN Security Council Resolution [UNSCR] 1973.

I will now ask Captain Evans to give a quick update on maritime developments over the last few days.

Maritime Activity

Captain Evans: On Wednesday night, the Royal Navy Trafalgar Class submarine HMS Triumph launched a further Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, or TLAM, strike. This was the third occasion that Triumph has targeted air defence installations as part of the coalition operation to enforce UNSCR 1973. The launch was filmed for us.

For obvious reasons, I cannot reveal the operational detail, but there is a robust plan in place to provide UK TLAM capability in the Mediterranean for as long as necessary.

NATO has now established Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in order to enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo of Libya. This is the first part of the overall operation to move from US to NATO command.

This means a naval blockade under NATO command to prevent arms and mercenaries entering Libya.

Naval command will flow from NATO headquarters in Belgium, through the Joint Task Force commander embarked in the USS Mount Whitney, and the maritime headquarters at Naples, commanded by an Italian, Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri, and then to the commander of the NATO task group at sea.

In the first instance the afloat commander of the force will also be an Italian.

The alliance is very familiar with this type of operation. NATO naval task groups operate together on a routine basis and have done so for many years. We share a common understanding - this is a key strength of the alliance.

Previous embargo operations or blockades at sea were successfully conducted in the Adriatic during the Bosnia crisis and off Iraq between the two Gulf conflicts.

Turning to the challenge at hand. The portion of coastline commanded by forces loyal to Colonel Gadaffi extends over 600 miles [970km] (just like from Dover to Aberdeen) and includes numerous ports.

The entire coast will need to be monitored. Each warship in the force together with its embarked helicopter has detailed situational awareness out to approximately 60 miles [97km].

Aircraft will further extend the surveillance effort. The information or picture produced by each ship and aircraft is integrated and shared so that the task force commander and each ship of the force have a complete picture.

Combined with intelligence this will permit the commander to decide when boarding operations should be conducted. Warships will patrol for weeks at a time and will be supported by tankers.

Air Activity

General Lorimer: Thank you. As has already been mentioned, the NATO Secretary General last night announced that agreement had been reached for NATO to take command of the no-fly zone. The US will remain in command until then and will ensure a smooth transition.

At the last MOD briefing, on Tuesday, we explained that RAF Typhoons, based at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, had commenced combat air patrols to enforce the no-fly zone.

These patrols have continued daily, and the combination of forward basing and air-to-air refuelling means that patrols are typically now able to spend in excess of four hours at a time on station over the Libyan coast.

Having previously flown their attack missions direct from RAF Marham in Norfolk, the first contingent of Tornado GR4 aircraft joined the Typhoons at Gioia on Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday, a further two formations of Tornados flew south from Marham on armed reconnaissance patrols and on completion of their mission joined the others at Gioia del Colle, thus assembling a sizeable force of both GR4s and Typhoons as 906 Expeditionary Air Wing.

As with the Typhoons, the Tornados have continued to fly daily from Gioia, and again the forward basing means that the time they are able to spend on patrol has been significantly increased, in effect more than doubling the protection each mission provides for the Libyan people.

Throughout all these operations the Typhoons, Tornados and other coalition aircraft have received invaluable support from RAF tanker and surveillance aircraft operating out of RAF Akrotiri as 907 Expeditionary Air Wing.

Air Vice-Marshal Osborn will now give you a bit more detail on a particular action that took place yesterday.

Air Vice-Marshal Osborn: The Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 is able to carry a uniquely impressive array of different sensors and weaponry on a single sortie, which makes the aircraft highly flexible and very suited to the armed reconnaissance role.

It can identify possible targets from long range, gain detailed information for analysis, and then subsequently attack the targets itself with a variety of precision weapons carefully selected to minimise the risk of collateral damage, or set up the conditions for a follow up attack by other coalition aircraft.

We saw an excellent example of that flexibility yesterday afternoon. While Typhoon, supported by Sentry E-3D, secured the airspace, a pair of Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s were on patrol near Adjabiya, equipped with Litening targeting pods, and carrying, amongst other weapons, Brimstone precision guided missiles.

They also had intelligence on likely target locations from previous RAPTOR [Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado] images, and using this they were able to identify a group of Libyan T-72 tanks, with their weapons trained on Adjabiya. Their highly accurate attack with Brimstone missiles hit three of the tanks, completely destroying them.

The Tornados were by this time running low on fuel, so they handed the target over to another coalition patrol, which then attacked with laser guided bombs and hit another three tanks. Having refuelled from an Royal Air Force VC10 tanker aircraft, the GR4s then returned to assess the results of the combined attacks.

They then identified another tank, still threatening innocent civilians, and successfully attacked it with Brimstone missiles.

This highly agile use of air power is not easy and we should not forget the level of training and disciplined professionalism required from our Royal Air Force personnel, both in the air and on the ground, to complete this mission.

Indeed, I believe that the Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 is currently the only aircraft in the world which has this range of weapons and sensors available to it, and which our crews evidently used to the full.


General Lorimer: Thank you.

So to sum up, what effect have these operations, and those of our coalition allies, achieved thus far? Attacks on the integrated air defence system, whether from Tomahawks or aircraft, have reduced the threat from Colonel Gaddafi’s long range surface-to-air missiles to a negligible level.

It is significant that we have not detected any attempts at engagement by such systems since the start of our air operations.

Coalition air sorties have therefore been able to focus on finding, and where necessary attacking, targets such as the regime’s armoured and mechanised forces, artillery batteries and shorter-ranged mobile missile batteries.

We have not been able to stop all Colonel Gaddafi’s attacks, and we would never pretend that we could. But every day that he continues to defy UNSCR 1973, his forces suffer the consequences. They are losing aircraft, tanks, guns that they cannot replace. His ability to use these weapons against his own people is diminished daily.

Thank you and good afternoon.