About a no-fly zone over Libya
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had this to say on one of the Sunday shows today:
Richardson made recommendations for that policy. "What I think the U.S. Needs to do is, one, covertly arm the rebels. We should take that step. Develop a no-fly zone."
"Some kind of no-fly zone is going to be necessary mainly to send a message to Libya’s military and Gadhafi that the U.S. and international community is not with them," he continued.
Does anyone know what all of that entails? Establishing a No Fly Zone I mean. We need a reality check.
Here’s a guess based on what I know has to happen to establish air superiority/air dominance (and this is being written quickly without any real attempt to research it) in an area.
First, intelligence has to be developed pinpointing both air defenses and where hostile aircraft are located. That takes a little time. Most likely that’s an on-going effort right now.
Secondly, a time and date have to be established and communicated to the Libyan government of when the NFZ will be established. The obvious message is “if anything is in the air and identified as a Libyan military attack asset, it dies.”
Third, someone gets to go test it out to see what the state of Libya is willing or unwilling to do. I.e. some intrepid pilots get to sortie into the airspace and see what the reaction will be.
If they are fired upon by enemy air defense, then step four is a country wide (perhaps, depending where the NFZ is located) SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions must be run. Step four may be run with or without a check to see the Libyan reaction to foreign aircraft introduced into their air space.
SEAD missions are usually a combination of cruise missiles and what used to be called Wild Weasel missions (they may still be, I’m just not up on the parlance). The WW missions are usually the job of multi-role fighters toting HARM missiles. Once a site lights up their sector with radar trying to lock on the WW, this missile is fired, locks on to the radiated signature of the search radar and follows the beam right back to the source. Meanwhile the source is feeding missile sites the WW’s data and trying to knock it out of the sky.
Once the air defenses are suppressed (which can take some time with a proficient enemy and mobile air defenses), then you can introduce air superiority platforms into the conflicted skies to keep other aircraft from flying. Their job is to keep the Libyan attack air assets from flying in the areas designated NFZ.
And they can only engage hostile aircraft according to whatever Rules of Engagement (ROE) have been agreed upon and issued. And then there’s the SAR piece to be put together.
That’s just the tactical portion of it (or at least the portion that comes to mind as I write this).
On the planning side of things, you have to determine, given the size of the NFZ, how many aircraft are going to be necessary to patrol that 24/7 until the mission is called off.
Now you back off of that and try to figure out A) where they’ll be based, B) how they’re be supported logistically and C) where that logistical support will come from. Then you have to get it all together at the proper places.
Since you’re going to have to base out of the country, you’re talking increased flying time to get in an out of Libya which decreases the time on station/target. You want to maximize their time on station, which means tanker support.
If it is a multi-nation effort, like NATO, now add in all the coordination over an above the usual coordination problems that such an effort brings to the table. Things such as what the share of the mission will go to each country, what logistics assets they’re going to have to share, who’ll be in command, etc.
Said succinctly, doing this isn’t something you just snap your fingers and boom, NFZ established. I’m sure there are things I’ve left out. But you get the idea. Establishing an NFZ is a huge undertaking (and, as I understand it the first site for land based aircraft near Libya is 350 miles away). And it brings me to something White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said today about the same subject – something I agree with completely:
"They talk about it like it’s a game or a video game or something."
"When people comment on military action, most of them have no idea what they’re talking about," he said.
Precisely. Most people and politicians are clueless about what it takes to mount this sort of an operation.
And factored in on top of all of this, are the politics of the situation. We have to ask, do we really want American planes flying over Libya? In fact, you have to ask, given the colonial past, do we want any Western aircraft flying over it?
Of course that leaves few choices as to countries that could capably handle it, but my druthers are that if the West decides a NFZ must be established, countries other than the US do it.
This is as much a European problem as anyone’s. My guess is (and unfortunately I have a feeling this administration will play right along and eventually get sucked into it) they’ll try to lay it off on the UN with an eye on the US being the major participant in a UN backed effort to enforce an NFZ.
Of course that won’t stop the importation of civilian mercenaries into Libya unless those enforcing the NFZ are prepared to shoot down chartered civilian aircraft or unarmed military cargo aircraft. And if the air route is cut off, I have no doubt that Gahdaffi’s minions will establish an overland route as an alternative to the air routes.
Anyway, I understand the desire for an NFZ and the hoped for outcome – keep Gahdaffi’s fighters and attack heli’s on the ground so they’re not bombing and rocketing innocent civilians. Got it. The question is, is that our job?
I’m feeling a big “no” as the answer. Time for others to step up. Time for others to take the bulk of the action if there’s to be any (we could lend some tanker and other log support). It would actually be good for the world for that to happen … to see the Western powers who’ve depended mostly on the US to be their military arm having to pick up the mission and conduct it.
I’m wondering if they could (I know the Brits understand how it is done since they flew Desert Fox missions with us). Oh, and as a side note, every day spent dithering about whether or not to do it means another day’s delay in actually doing it (and it could take a few weeks to a month or so to get everything in place, depending on who is doing it).
But I’ve got to say, I’d like to see someone else do it for a change.