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Seventy-two years ago today, representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan agreement. This agreement committed the countries to training 50,000 airmen per annum until the conclusion of the Second World War—the goal was roughly 22,000 aircrew per year from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the plan, the aircrews would receive introductory air training with their home air forces, then travel to Canada for advanced flight training. More than 130,000 Allied airmen—pilots, navigators, bombardiers, wireless operators, gunners and flight engineers—had received training in Canada by war’s end.
Here are some photos of BCATP activity drawn from LIFE magazine’s online archive:
When dealing with the news organs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, one can never go too wrong by taking their claims with a liberal pinch of salt. The regime has a long and storied history of making outlandish (if not patently false) claims about its military prowess and capabilities—to engender, one presumes, a feeling of patriotism and camaraderie amongst the hometown crowd. Sometimes they even manage to sell these knee-slapping fabrications to the more credulous members of the world media; other times even the journalists are laughing into their sleeves.
It’s hard not to smile at the jaw-dropping audacity of the Iranian state media, so earnestly peddling the official fictions of the defence ministry. The most egregious embellishments—regarding the doctored photo of a missile test, the Saegheh‘s supposed stealth capabilities, and the “radar evading”, very lightly armed wing-in-ground-effect Bavar 2 craft—are also so unnecessary. Few people outside of Iran would actually believe the defence ministry’s overly optimistic statements.
So when one hears the news that Iran has miraculously acquired an American RQ-170 reconnaissance drone—in reasonably good condition—the immediate response must certainly be scepticism. The doubts are doubled when one learns that the Iranians have changed their story—at first claiming the drone was shot down, then claiming that they had taken command of it and forced it to land, mostly intact.
Still, the thing shown on Iranian TV looks an awful lot like an RQ-170, and some unnamed source who had no qualms about spilling the beans to CBS News claimed it was the genuine article, so… maybe it is?
Hard to say one way or other, based solely on the video. The Aviationist has a half-dozen higher-quality still images, over which one can puzzle and hunt for additional clues. The first thing your correspondent did was grab a nearly head-on shot and crank up the brightness, in order to see whether anything lurked behind the grill covering the engine inlet.
If it’s a model or a mock-up, it was at least built by someone who had the foresight to include detail behind the grill; something that seems like it ought to lead to a turbine and compressor blades.
There’s plenty else, though, that doesn’t add up—hence my ambivalence. Instead of the medium blue-grey paint common to USAF aircraft, this drone sports a yellow-beige colour familiar to anyone who’s built an epoxy model kit. Then there’s the duct-tape-like adhesive covering breaks in the wings just outboard of the topside fairings. If the aircraft had been shot down, then showing it in a damaged state ought not to have been an issue. If it had been landed by Iranians after a successful cyberattack, one could also forgive a multitude of bumps and scrapes; the Iranian pilot, after all, wouldn’t know the particular handling qualities of that aircraft type. Nor would he have been presented with many prior opportunities to refine his descent profile and landing technique. Even if the thing had to be cut into thirds for transport, what would be the point in making such a sloppy repair job visible to the television audience?
The claim to have taken control of the drone is entirely spurious. In years past there have been media accounts of insurgents bootlegging Predator video feeds, but it’s important to note that what the insurgents saw was just the ISR output. The command and control signals are encrypted to prevent the sort of cyberattacks that Iran is trying to claim it can execute. I have no doubt that Iran could purchase jammers of adequate range and power, but this would merely cause the drone to fall back upon its loss-of-signal protocol.
The Pentagon confirms they lost contact with a drone last week, and that its last known position and heading would have brought it down just inside Iran. But this too presents problems. All military drones of a certain size have a Flight Termination System (or FTS)—which, in the dry parlance of the DoD, is designed to put an uncontrolled / hazard aircraft in a zero lift, zero thrust condition via some kind of destructive mechanism. The more expensive sorts of drones (and especially the high-altitude kind who must rely on SATCOM for their C2 signals) have less catastrophic safeguards, too. Their loss of signal protocol is to climb to best comm altitude and return to base (or designated orbit point) while trying to re-establish the C2 link and positive control. This has been relatively standard practice for the larger UAVs, and was successfully implemented in 2002’s X-45 program; it’s hard to believe later designs don’t also incorporate these safeguards.
Last week when this RQ-170 lost contact with its ground-based pilots, it ought to have turned around to come back to the barn. That it apparently did not (and now has a starring role on Iranian television) presents more questions than your correspondent could presume to answer. But perhaps the biggest is how—absent any positive control from the ground—would it manage to come down in such an intact state? The RQ-170 is believed to have an operating ceiling of 50,000 feet, and perhaps more usually inhabits the slightly less rarified altitudes common to long-haul airliners and fast business jets. Descending safely from such a height is not beyond the realm of possibility—the drone may have entered either a flat spin or a “falling leaf” stall, robbing it of much forward and vertical velocity, but arriving unscathed on the ground after such an occurrence would be exceedingly rare and unlikely.
I don’t know what to think, to be honest, but it will be fascinating to learn the truth one day.
To the glory of God and to the memory of 11447 officers and men of the forces of the British Empire, who fell fighting in the years 1914-1918 between the River Douve and the towns of Estaires and Furnes, whose names are here recorded but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.
Amongst the more than 11,000 persons listed on the memorial who have no known grave are three Victoria Cross winners; one from each component nation (England, Scotland and Wales) on the island of Britain.
Sapper William Hackett, VC
254th Tunnelling Company, Corps of Royal Engineers
b. 11 June 1873, Nottingham, England.
d. 27 June 1916, Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée, France.
Private James MacKenzie, VC
2nd Battalion, Scots Guards
b. 2 April 1889, Dumfries, Scotland.
d. 19 December 1914, Rouges Blanc, France.
Captain Thomas Tannatt Pryce, VC
4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards
b. 17 January 1886, The Hague, Netherlands (Welsh by ancestry).
d. 13 April 1918, Vieux-Berquin, France.
A series of photographs documenting the CF air component’s contribution to Op Mobile, via Combat Camera.
A close look at the approach plate indicates that they are on approach to Runway 27 at Tripoli International Airport (HLLT). Here’s a closeup from another image from the same flight, along with my admittedly ancient chart for Tripoli’s Rwy 27 ILS approach.
I am a little curious about the maps in the last photo. The map closest to the camera depicts the location of CF air and naval assets around the islands of Malta. The far map is Libya, but it is difficult to read except for a half-dozen notations. I’ve done my best to reproduce it here.
Presumably the red- and black-outlined areas depict government- and rebel-held areas within Libya, though the resolution is not great enough to see what all those small notes actually say. What is clear are the large notations and numbers, which indicate 29 CEPs in-country as of March 4th. CEP is the acronym for Canadian Entitled Persons, the “entitled persons” being individuals who are entitled to ask their government to help them leave a foreign country on the taxpayer dime when a crisis arises. Wait, isn’t everybody entitled to have the government spring to their rescue when a crisis arises? Theoretically, yes, but CEPs are those that the government considers it more or less mandatory to evacuate; the evacuation of everyone else happens on a “best effort” basis. If non-CEPs make it out too, that’s great; but if not, oh well.
In the case of Canada, CEPs are typically citizens working abroad (including diplomats and embassy staff), dual citizens, and others with a legal right of residence in Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) will actually define who is (and is not) a CEP at the beginning of the government’s crisis response, so that definition is somewhat flexible; it can expand or contract depending on the scope of the crisis, the number of people requiring evacuation, and the amount of resources on hand.
Last weekend, the United Kingdom mounted a combined-arms effort to evacuate citizens stranded at remote oil fields in the Libyan desert. As order broke down in Libya, Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) teams arrived in-country via commercial flights, disguised as ordinary business travellers. Moving into the eastern Libyan desert, they reconnoitred the situation at oil facilities near Nafoora, Amal and Waha, and marshalled a hundred-odd civilians toward a pair of airfields controlled by rebels. A trio of C-130s from No. 47 Squadron were summoned, entered Libyan airspace (without knowledge or authorization from either rebels or the Gaddafi government) and plucked the evacuees out of the desert. Then the C-130s went back and did it again the following day.
The 3-minute video below was taken from the Sunday operation. It depicts a Hercules transport departing Malta, flying in formation with other C-130s, overflying an airfield (identified in other videos as HLZA Zillah/Zella 74), arriving at the airfield, loading passengers—with engines running, a normal combat loading precaution—and the subsequent flight back to Malta.
In combined Royal Air Force and Special Forces operations, C-130 Hercules aircraft flew into Libya to recover UK citizens stranded at remote oil installations.
The first operation, which took place on Saturday, recovered around 170 people from desert locations south of Benghazi. About 70 of these were British. The second operation into the eastern Libyan desert on Sunday rescued nearly 200 stranded civilians, of which about 20 were UK nationals.
— “Prime Minister praises military effort in Libyan evacuations.” Ministry of Defence | News, 28 February 2011.
The effort was not without some difficulty; some airfields had been blocked off by rebel forces and could not any landings. Rebels also misidentified one aircraft as a Libyan government plane and fired upon it; one bullet penetrated the cockpit but fortunately did not wound anyone.
[BBC’s Frank Gardner] said an insurgent group on the ground which fired at the aircraft had mistaken it for a Gaddafi regime plane. They have since apologised for the incident.
Some of those rescued described the moment the Hercules was shot at, forcing it to abandon a landing.
One British oil worker said: “The aircraft took two hits on the right hand side of the fuselage, you just heard ‘bang bang’ as the rounds actually struck.”
Another said after failing to land at two blocked off fields, the Hercules was trying again at a third when the firing started, forcing them to abort.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one of its C130 aircraft appeared to have suffered “minor damage consistent with small arms fire”, adding that “there were no injuries to passengers or crew and the aircraft returned safely to Malta”.
…One round bounced off the pilot’s helmet but he was unscathed during Sunday’s rescue of oil workers.
— “Libya unrest: UK rescue plane had a ‘narrow escape’.” BBC News, 28 February 2011. [Emphasis mine]
Identifying the airfields involved in the extraction effort is not so easy. MoD has been somewhat tight-lipped about the exact airfields it utilised, and media reports generally do not name the fields, either. A report in the Daily Telegraph lists oil facilities that the SAS and SBS teams investigated, but they do not specify the airfields involved.
The extraction teams flew into to the desert oil facility of Nafora before splitting up and heading to Amal and Wafa.
They then collected around 150 oil workers and escorted them towards two airfields south of the rebel held city of Benghazi.
The airfields had already been secured by militia opposed to Colonel Gaddafi and private security personnel working for the large number of international oil companies operating in the region.
On Saturday afternoon, without the permission of the Libyan authorities and in broad daylight, two specially equipped Hercules C130 transport planes took off from Luqa Airport in Malta for the 40 minute flight across the southern Mediterranean.
— Evans, Martin and Andrew Hough. “Libya: special forces come under fire during rescue of stranded civilians.” Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2011.
I am a little doubtful that Wafa is the actual town/facility name, because Nafoora and Amal are in the eastern Libyan desert, while the Wafa oil field is hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country—along the Tunisian border. With apologies to the Telegraph, I consider it far more likely that the third site was actually Waha (not Wafa); it’s only a hundred-odd miles away from Nafoora, is accessible via roads from there, and could be reached in the same day with a borrowed vehicle. It would be impossible to reach the western Wafa facility from Nafoora, except via aircraft.
I’m afraid I also have to quibble with the given flight time of 40 minutes from Malta to the destination airfields. Amal’s airport is the closest of the three potential sites listed by the Telegraph, and it is still over 500 nautical miles distant from Malta International Airport in Luqa. By way of comparison, a turbofan-powered Boeing 737 can fly from Toronto to Montreal in about 40 minutes at 0.74 Mach, and the distance between those two cities is only 274 nautical miles. According to USAF’s air mobility planning document, a turboprop-powered C-130 travelling at its normal cruise speed (and accounting for slower speeds during takeoff, climb, descent and landing phases of flight) will average just 242 knots over 500 nautical miles. This would give a C-130 a travel time of at least two hours to either Nafoora or Amal.
I’ve illustrated the potential destinations and flight times in the graphic below. I’ve also included all of Libya’s oil concessions (territories leased to Libyan or foreign petroleum companies for exploration and exploitation of oil fields) and known oil fields; this helps give us an idea of where the most petroleum-related activity is taking place, and subsequently where the most foreigners are likely to be.
If you’re curious as to what the airfields look like, they have asphalt-surfaced runways with lengths between 5,700 and 9,900 feet, and a minimum of ground equipment and support facilities. Here they are—and you can, of course, click the images to enlarge them.
Latitude: 29°12’47″N (29.213194)
Longitude: 21°35’32″E (21.592356)
Elevation: 122 ft (37 m)
Longest: 9910 × 148 ft (3021 × 45 m), paved
Latitude: 29°28’46″N (29.479500)
Longitude: 21°07’21″E (21.122442)
Elevation: 145 ft (44 m)
Longest: 5700 × 95 ft (1737 × 29 m), paved
Latitude: 28°19’21″N (28.322383)
Longitude: 19°55’48″E (19.930050)
Elevation: 488 ft (149 m)
Longest: 6918 × 94 ft (2109 × 28.5 m), paved
Latitude: 28°35’24″N (28.589878)
Longitude: 17°17’38″E (17.293858)
Elevation: 1085 ft (331 m)
Longest: 7050 × 95 ft (2149 × 29 m), paved
Elevation: 2185 ft (666 m)
Longest: Unknown, presumed paved
This is the outlier, the undesignated airfield near the Wafa oil field. It doesn’t appear to have any assigned ICAO code and isn’t listed in the aviation databases I have access to. I can only assume it is a private airfield for use of the relevant petroleum companies, and the airfield data has not yet made its way into general circulation.
Well done to No. 47 Squadron, as well as the SAS and SBS men that they support. Britain has at least retained some idea of what an air force is for, and how it might be used in non-permissive scenarios. A British general, Brigadier James Bashall, chairs the ponderously-named multinational force—the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Coordination Cell—that coordinates international military extractions through the British High Commission in Malta.
Canadian policymakers (and the general public from which they are drawn) are much more timid creatures, less willing to hazard our military aircraft on the unauthorised aerial intrusions for which they are designed. So our own evacuation efforts are dependent on the approval of Gaddafi’s bureaucracy and have had somewhat mixed luck, with a chartered aircraft being sent away empty, one C-17 initially being denied landing rights in Libya, and a C-130 being turned around midway to Tripoli due to lack of ramp space.
The Canadian aerial contingent in Malta consists of four CF aircraft (two C-17s and two C-130Js) who are tasked with assisting the evacuation of non-combatants from Libya via Operation Mobile. The first Canadian evacuation flight was made by a C-17 from Trenton’s 429 Sqn on Saturday, February 26th; it flew 24 Canadians, 12 citizens of the United Kingdom and 3 Australian diplomats from Tripoli International Airport to safety in Malta.
The commander of the Canadian NEO mission in Malta, Lt-Col. Anthony DeJacolyn, has ruled out the possibility of non-permissive entry into Libyan airspace (on the orders of his political masters, of course), so in essence Canadian forces will fly when and where Gaddafi gives them leave to do so.
OTTAWA — The Canadian military has no plans to conduct extraction raids into Libya and citizens who want out of the chaotic North African nation should make their way to embarkation points, the commander of the mission said Friday.
The perils of such complex special-forces operations were highlighted this week with the capture of three Dutch marines, who were apparently trying to rescue evacuees in a region under the control of forces loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Intense negotiations for their release were said to be going on in Tripoli on Friday while Libyan state television showed images of the trio, one of whom appears to be a woman.
…Meanwhile in Malta, Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Tony DeJacolyn said, “There are no current plans to extract Canadians.”
“The current concept of operations is to move Canadian entitled persons and instruct them to move to points of exit, whether it be by sea or air.”
…The air force has been flying missions, but getting landing permission is a nightmare because there is no electronic link with Tripoli. All requests for landing rights are faxed and often there are few people at the other end to collect the documents.
— Brewster, Murray. “CF rules out raids in Libyan evacuation mission; waits for orders on aid.” Canadian Press via Macleans, 4 march 2011.
The idea that our air force should seek permission from a tyrant’s collapsing bureaucracy is a farce. But this is Canada, so we pay for our men and women in uniform to be better-dressed surrogates for Air Canada and WestJet, rather than a force that can go into hostile environments and remove Canadians (and allies) at the decision of the Dominion government. As the SAS, SBS and RAF have demonstrated, this is not a lack of equipment or capability; it is simply a failure of political will. I’ll be sure to remember that at the polling station, next time the opportunity comes around.
The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.
“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
— Chulov, Martin and Helen Pidd. “Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war.” Manchester Guardian, 15 February 2011.
(Via the Tiger on Politics.)
There’s no question that Saddam Hussein was brutal tyrant of poor moral fibre—a despot who employed chemical weapons against his own citizens—and every punishment that was finally heaped upon him was undoubtedly deserved. There is no question that the first Gulf War had been ended only by a temporary ceasefire—whose terms Saddam had repeatedly violated from 1997 onward with malice aforethought. But I would not blame the policymakers, diplomats and servicemen of the United States for feeling a twinge of resentment at having been misled by a zealot into an essentially avoidable endeavour.
Saddam’s story is one we might have seen earlier, in an alternate history. If the French and British had gone to war in 1936, when Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles by remilitarising the Rhineland, it’s likely we would have a much sunnier image of the 20th century’s most famous dictator. Let’s suppose der Führer also managed to survive the 1936 war, clinging to power in an economically crippled Germany (still hobbled by Versailles reparations), only to be deposed by an Allied invasion ten years later when an escaped scientist (an Einstein perhaps, or a von Braun) fabricated details of a Nazi superweapon program. Without the horrors of a worldwide war and the additional nightmare of the Holocaust to prejudice our judgment, he would probably be a university campus hero today, like Che Guevara; just another hopeless, seedy foreign outlaw snuffed out by the reigning imperialists of the day.
Saddam was not Hitler, of course, though he was demonstrably brutal, tyrannical and anti-Semitic. But even given all of that, one’s attitude toward the errors and deception underlying our casus belli probably depends on whether one believes Saddam’s greatest evils lay behind or ahead. It’s a question to which—perhaps fortunately—we won’t ever have a definitive answer.
TRUE LIES UPDATE: A reminder that belief in Saddam’s WMD program was very much a bipartisan affair.
“If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”
— President William J. Clinton, Statement on Iraq, 17 February 1998.
“Iraq is a long way from Ohio, but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”
— Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Town Hall meeting on Iraq, Ohio State University, 18 February 1998.
“He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.”
— National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, Town Hall meeting on Iraq, Ohio State University, 18 February 1998.
“Mr. Speaker, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
— Representative Nancy Pelosi (D—California), Statement in support of air strikes underway against Iraq, 17 December 1998.
“This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf war status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.”
— Congressmen John McCain, Jesse Helms, Henry Hyde, Richard Shelby, Harold Ford Jr., Joseph Lieberman, Trent Lott, Ben Gilman, Sam Brownback. Joint letter to President George W. Bush calling for stepped up action against Iraq, 5 December 2001.
“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”
— Senator Carl Levin (D—Michigan), Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, September 2002.
“As a condition of the truce that ended the gulf war, Saddam Hussein agreed to eliminate Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and to abandon all efforts to develop or deliver such weapons. That agreement is spelled out in U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq has never complied with the resolution.”
— Senator Tom Daschle (D—South Dakota), Statement on authorisation of the use of United States armed forces against Iraq, 10 October 2002.