An Update on RAF Libyan Operations


07/03/2011: During the Paris Air Show, MBDA provided a venue for a presentation by RAF Tornado pilots on their operations in the Libyan theater.  Two RAF pilots presented findings on the Tornado and use of precision weapons in the Libyan case.  Both were from 9 Squadron: RAF Marham.  The first presenter was Flight Lt. Mark Lawson (Pilot) and Flight Lt. James Cooke (Weapons Systems Officer).

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Photo Credit: SLD 2011

Two-man crews operate the Tornado, with the pilot in the rear operating the weapons systems.  The first squadron of Tornado operated first in 1982.  The Tornados operated in the longest strike UK operation since World War II.  The initial strikes operated from the UK and involved three air refueling en route to Libyan targets. They also operated a mixed formations whereby the Eurofighter operated with the Tornados on some of the operations.  According to the RAF pilots, the Eurofighter provided the situational awareness, which the Tornado lacked.

The Storm Shadow cruise missile was used as the initial strike weapon and had a very high level of success and hits on targets.  The Brimstone was used as well in follow up operations in destroying Libyan armor.  This was the first operation in which the UK used the ASRAAM missile.  The AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile is an infrared homing (“heat seeking”) air-to-air missile, produced by MBDA. It is currently in service in the Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force, replacing the AIM-9 Sidewinder in those services.Target sets included air, armor, garrisons, surface to air missiles. Their key role was battlefield air interdiction or BAI.  And the typical load carried by the Tornado included mixes of LITENING targeting pod, Paveway IVs, Brimistone missiles, an integral gun, ASRAAMs, Storm Shadow, and counter-measure pods. The Brimstone was the weapon of the choice for urban targets in the operation.

The Reconnaissance Load Out highlighted a RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado) Pod.  This a reconnaissance pod used by the Royal Air Force on its fleet of Tornado GR.4A and GR.4 aircraft. RAPTOR is manufactured by the Goodrich Corporation.The RAPTOR contains a DB-110 reconnaissance sensor, an imagery data recording system and an air-to-ground data link system. The sensor is electro-optical and infrared, allowing day or night missions. The data link allows imagery to be exploited almost instantly.

Obviously, there was a mix and match capability for the weapons on the aircraft, dependent upon the planned target set.  This meant in effect shifting from use of Storm Shadow early in the operation to increased reliance upon the Brimstone for urban operations. And also it was clear that collateral damage limitations were an important constraint shaping precision strike operations.