March 26, 2011

Eurofighter Typhoon Makes First Combat Experiences over Libya

History in the making: Typhoons fly first combat missions in Operation Ellamy
Yesterday, the commander of British aircraft operating over Libya, Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, announced that the Libyan Air Force has been defeated and Coalition forces could now operate “with near impunity.” The aircraft that mostly contributed to this result have names that sound very familiar to those who have followed airborne combat operations during the past three to four decades: Rafale, Mirage 2000, Tornado, F-18, F-15, F-16, B-2 and Harrier jump jets. Leaving out the Rafale, this predominantly represents a large share of Coalition combat aircraft types that had been involved in the 1991 Gulf War (since, naturally, having added a few technological improvements and different configurations).

However, one aircraft that significantly supported Operation Odyssey Dawn over Libya during the past week has not seen combat operations before; and it is not a stealthy, so-called fifth-generation air superiority fighter, such as the F-22, which, by the way, has “too limited communications”, and “too advanced capabilities” for the Libya conflict, according to a DailyTech report. [1]

Military history books and technology databases will henceforth note that the Eurofighter Typhoon saw its first combat operation during the “military intervention in Libya” (let’s wait a little to see what the definite designation of this undertaking, with a yet undetermined outcome, will be). Keep in mind that this is an aircraft that was designed during the 1980s and 1990s. Further, it has been often criticised by experts and other observers for merely being a relic of the Cold War era and already outdated by the time it entered service.

The Royal Air Force’s Typhoon fighter aircraft have proven, during the first five days of Operation Odyssey Dawn – or Operation Ellamy, as British forces call their involvement in Libya – that they are a legitimate asset for conventional military tasks, such as those now required over Libya.

On Monday, March 21 (the third day of the operation), Major General John Lorimer, spokesman for the British Chief of Defence Staff, announced: “Today, Typhoons flew their first-ever combat mission while patrolling the no-fly zone in support of UNSCR 1973.” In a later briefing, Lorimer explained: “These aircraft mounted their first-ever mission into hostile airspace, patrolling the no-fly zone under the control of an RAF Sentry AWACS aircraft and supported by an RAF VC10 tanker.”

RAF Typhoon pilot Wing Commander Jez Attridge told the BBC in a recent video interview made at the British post in Gioia Del Colle, Italy: “RAF Typhoons are engaged every single day in operational missions back in the UK, protecting the UK airspace itself. So, again, this is no different from the way that we normally operate and train. For me, it was just a case of getting on with the job.”[2] Although, Bagwell confirmed that British jets had not been fired at during the course of the operation, it has certainly not been the usual routine when Typhoon pilots entered Libyan airspace for the first time.

Having deployed to Italy on Sunday evening and flying the first combat mission over Libya the next day, proves that the Typhoon fighter aircraft has been effectively integrated into the Royal Air Force operational structures since the RAF received its first Typhoons in August 2007. This fact was also underlined by Attridge: “To deploy to Italy and operate within twelve hours of arriving here, I think, shows the flexibility and the capability not only of the Royal Air Force Typhoons, but of the Royal Air Force.”

Furthermore, Operation Ellamy saw another first: the Royal Air Force confirmed that on Wednesday, the first female Typhoon pilot took part in combat operations over Libya. The name of the female pilot was not disclosed, but it was reported that she has been part of a sortie that took off from Gioia Del Colle.

According to Lorimer, the Typhoons deployed to Gioia Del Colle are aircraft from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Leuchars in Fife. They form up as 906 Expeditionary Air Wing and are supported by 907 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

The Typhoon fighter aircraft have been exclusively used for patrol operations, supporting the Tornados during their ground attack missions. According to the British Ministry of Defence, a mission of a Typhoon fighter patrolling the skies over Libya amounts to an average of five flight hours. The overall number of aircraft involved and sorties flown could not be officially confirmed. However, Typhoon fighter aircraft have been engaged in combat experiences during each day since their deployment to Italy and will certainly continue to do so during the further course of the operation.
By Nicolas von(Defpro)

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