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  • Libyan Air Defenses Would Fade Fast
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 6:32 PM on Mar 08, 2011

    Dominating Libyan airspace would not be a tough or geographically overwhelming task for the U.S. and its allies, say airpower advocates.

    Objections to the U.S. establishing a no-fly zone over Libya are based on erroneous suppositions made by leaders in the Pentagon – such as U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis – who do not have the aviation experience needed to make such a decision, say two senior, retired U.S. Air Force officers.

    There also have been mutterings among aviation advocates that the no-fly zone idea is being downplayed so that budget support for Army and Marine Corps ground forces will not be minimized by some sort of aerial coup. Those opposing the hands-off approach of the U.S. Pentagon are promoting a congressional call-in campaign in support of allied domination of Libyan airspace.

    Two points used during congressional hearings to dismiss the value and thoroughness of an aerial blockade are that it would not prevent helicopter flights and that Libya is too large to a space to cover on a 24-hour basis. An informal group of former senior officers have been promoting a call-in campaign to interest high-profile leaders such as Sen. Kerry to quickly conduct more hearings on the feasibility of an air blockade..

    Despite statements by the Russians that they would not support any military action against Libya – which would include establishing a no-fly zone – some U.S. officials believe there may be flexibility in Moscow’s position. Britain and France has stated support for the concept.

    “I think the U.S. should ask the United Nations Security Council for a resolution and that would force the hand of Russia and China,” said one of the generals. “We also should ask for support from NATO so that the U.S. Air Force could use Italian bases.”

    Any attack, the two generals contend, would be far more limited in scope and greater in effect than critics have suggested.

    “[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates has said that a no-fly zone can’t stop helicopters,” the first Gen. says “That’s wrong. There are only three places in Libya where helicopters can stage, fuel, rearm and re-equip – one in Tripoli, one in Benghazi and one in the eastern oil fields that are in the hands of the rebels. They are all near the coast. All the rest of Libya is barren.

    “The U.S. Air Force has specialized in operations to take down integrated air defense, crater runways and destroy helicopter staging areas,” he says. “We know where they are. You can shoot down low-flying helicopter with Aim-9X Sidewinders. The suppression would take 24-48 hours with assets that aren’t being used for Iraq or Afghanistan. We cleaned out Baghdad in 24-hr. in 1991 and 2003. Libya wouldn’t be that intense. The SA-6 is the best surface to air missile they have and the old F-1 Mirages are the best fighter.”

    During 1991’s Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, some helicopters were actually destroyed by precision guided bombs dropped by U.S. fighters from much higher altitudes. A deal with Russia to upgrade Libya’s missiles, helicopters and strike aircraft collapsed with the onset of the rebellion. Air Force officials say they also have proven that attrition models for air-defense suppression missions are flawed and mismatched to the actual campaigns fought by the USAF.

    Tags: ar99, Libya, Mirage, no-fly-zone, USAF

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