[/FONT]Combat Aircraft magazine; Vol 12 n°6
[/FONT][CENTER][FONT=arial] The leading role played by the French AF fast jets in the leading stage of the Lybia operation was daring and impressive
In November 1, 1911, an aircraft carried out an air raid for the first time in history. It took place during the ltalo-Turkish war, and the type was a French-built Bleriot XI flown by Italian military pilot 2nd Lt Guilio Guidotti who threw Cipelli Fragmentation grenades at troops occupying the Taguira and Ain Zara oases, east of Tripoli in what was then Tripolitania, now Libya. Fast forward 100 years to 2011, an air power was again bein deployed 'in anger' over Libya, albeit in rather more potent form — this time with France's "Armee de l'Air" leading the way.
As early as March 4, 2011, with the situation in Libya deteriorating, French military aircraft began to carry out surveillance and electronic warfare missions over the Mediterranean, alongside those of the US and UK. The aim, of course, was to build up intelligence relating to Libya's electronic order of battle and tap into its communications. After the Paris meeting organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday March 19, the other major members of the coalition being built up to impose a no-fly zone, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, agreed to take part in the imposition of UN Resolution 1973. Much to the surprise of many observers, the participants in the summit had hardly left the Elysee Palace when French aircraft went into action.
Three sections of Rafale F3s from Base Aérienne (BA) 113 Saint-Dizier belonging to Escadron de Chasse 1/7 'Provence' took off from their home base at around 11.00hrs. The first four-ship consisted of single-seat aircraft in air defense configuration, each equipped with six MICA missiles — four MICA EMs and two MICA IRs — as well as three 1,250-liter drop tanks. Six minutes later they were followed by another two Rafales equipped with the Reco NG reconnaissance pod, while in the early afternoon a further two-aircraft section comprised one jet in close air support configuration toting four AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire) inertial and CPS-guided modular bombs, four MICAS (again of EM and IR types) and two 2,000-liter drop tanks, with its wingman providing air defense cover in commbat air patrol fit.
At 15.00hrs that same day, two Mirage 2000Ds operated by EC 3/3 'Ardennes' at BA 133 Nancy-Ochey got airborne, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-guided bombs. They soon joined up with a pair of MICA- armed Mirage 2000-5F air superiority Fighters of EC 1/2 'Cigognes' which had departed BA102 Dijon. Naturally, an E-3F -AWACS from BA701 Avord an, for maritime patrol and ELINT duties, an Aeronavale Atlantique ATL2 were already on patrol, while six C-135FR tankers belonging to Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol (GRV) 93 'Bretagne' had taken off from BA 125 lstres in support of the French fast jet assets.
The first mission over Libyan territory as a long and, given the circumstances, Wiring one. The Rafales engaged in setting up the CAP maintained a 60 x 40nm air superiority zone under the control of the orbiting E-3F, while their CAS counterparts opened fire on and destroyed four Libyan government tanks which were about to enter the rebel-held Benghazi area. Close surveillance of the locality was carried out by the two Rafales with the Reco NG pods, the imagery from which was downloaded during their flight back to Saint-Dizier. These valuable images were to be shown as soon as possible to the highest government authorities. After a sortie lasting more than six hours, all aircraft involved returned safely to their home bases.
Meanwhile, two anti-aircraft and air defense frigates of the Marine Nationale, the Jean-Bart and Forbin, were patrolling off the Libyan coast. These ships would, as reported elsewhere, soon be joined by the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its escort and protection ships, the Aconit and Dupleix frigates, as well as the fleet refueling tanker Meuse and a nuclear attack submarine.
A heavy logistical effort was necessary in parallel with France's combat operations. C-160 Transalls on the strength of ET 1/61 `Touraine' at BA 123 Orleans and ET 1/64 'Bearn' at BA105 Evreux carried the equipment required to detach Armee de l'Air combat aircraft to BA 126 Solenzara on the island of Corsica, regularly used as the host airfield for gunnery training exercise deployments. Solenzara thus began to act as another'aircraft carrier/ in the middle of the Mediterranean.
The following days saw Armee de l'Air assets again assuming a leading position in what the French have called Operation 'Harmattan'. During the night between the fourth and fifth days of the commitment, Rafales fired SCALP EG cruise missiles for the first time at night as part of a 20-aircraft raid against a Libyan government base in the Tripoli area. And on March 24 came the notable incident when an on-station E-3F detected a Libyan Arab AF G-2 Galeb flying towards its base at Misrata, whereupon a section of Rafales was sent after it, leading to the Galeb being destroyed by an AASM as it was about to land. An aerial victory (nearly) obtained using an airto-ground weapon: quite a novelty!
In answering a message of congratulation sent by an Armee de l'Air general, the station commander of BA113 Saint-Dizier, Col Michel Friesling, noted that operation 'Harmattan' had seen the air force fighting from its bases in the mother country and in Corsica for the first time since 1940. In the first instance, this had been made possible by the outstanding capabilities of the Rafale, brought to the fore in the fight against Gaddafi's regime.