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CF Operation Mobile air evacuation

A series of photographs documenting the CF air component’s contribution to Op Mobile, via Combat Camera.

Members of the Canadian Forces Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team (OLRT) arrive at Malta International Airport on Monday, 28 February 2011, aboard a CC-130J Hercules aircraft as part of the multinational effort to assist in the departure of stranded Canadians and other foreign nationals from Libya. About 30 Canadian Forces members with expertise ranging from aircrew to medical and logistics are involved in daily flights into Libya by CC-177 Globemaster and CC-130J Hercules aircraft. (Major Jason Proulx, DND/CF)

A CC-130J Hercules aircraft flies over Libya during Operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Master Corporal Shilo Adamson, DND/CF)

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.

Gary Wallace, Migration Integrity Officer at Canadian Boarder Service Agency (CBSA), welcomes entitled persons onboard the CC-130J Hercules at the Tripoli International Airport in Libya during operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Sergeant Stephen Miller, Load Master, hands passports back to the entitled persons after boarding the CC-130J Hercules in Libya during Operation MOBILE. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Passengers disembark a CC-130J Hercules aircraft during Operation MOBILE. Malta International Airport, Luqa, Malta. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

Ambassador Sandra McCardell, Canada’s Ambassador to Libya, Colonel Tony DeJacolyn, Commander of Joint Task Force Malta, and Major Bill Swales, Task Force Surgeon, discuss the locations of entitled persons throughout Libya. Valletta, Malta. 2 March 2011. (Corporal Jax Kennedy, DND/CF)

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.

RAF civilian extractions from Libya

Nili nomen roboris omen
(The name of the Nile is an omen of our strength)

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.

Libyan oil fields, oil concessions, and potential extraction airfields used by 47 Sqn on February 26th and 27th, 2011. (Click image to enlarge)

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.

HLNR Nafoora/Nafurah 1

Latitude: 29°12’47″N (29.213194)
Longitude: 21°35’32″E (21.592356)
Elevation: 122 ft (37 m)
Runways: 1
Longest: 9910 × 148 ft (3021 × 45 m), paved


HLAM Amal V12

Latitude: 29°28’46″N (29.479500)
Longitude: 21°07’21″E (21.122442)
Elevation: 145 ft (44 m)
Runways: 3
Longest: 5700 × 95 ft (1737 × 29 m), paved


HLWA Waha/Warehouse 59A

Latitude: 28°19’21″N (28.322383)
Longitude: 19°55’48″E (19.930050)
Elevation: 488 ft (149 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 6918 × 94 ft (2109 × 28.5 m), paved


HLZA Zillah/Zella 74

Latitude: 28°35’24″N (28.589878)
Longitude: 17°17’38″E (17.293858)
Elevation: 1085 ft (331 m)
Runways: 2
Longest: 7050 × 95 ft (2149 × 29 m), paved


(Undesignated) Wafa

Latitude: 28°53’29.55″N
Longitude: 10°04’48.55″E
Elevation: 2185 ft (666 m)
Runways: 1
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.


Brigadier James Bashall

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.

Operation Christmas Drop

Senior Airman Joseph Doria and Capt. Stanley Kimball watch after pushing a box of humanitarian assistance goods out of a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules, call sign "Santa 23" to its drop-zone in Yap Islands during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 14, 2010. This year more than 60 boxes will be dropped to 55 islands weighing in at more than 20,000 pounds. Airman Doria is a 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster from Yokota Air Base, Japan. Captain Kimball is the 36th Airlift Squadron flight surgeon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nichelle Anderson)

Airmen from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, watch as the parachute deploys and a box of humanitarian goods travels to the Yap Islands below during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 14, 2010. Operation Christmas Drop is the Air Force's longest-running humanitarian which began in 1952. What started as a WB-50 aircrew returning to Guam on its final flight before Christmas has turned into the longest running humanitarian campaign in the history of the U.S. Air Force and the entire world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nichelle Anderson)

Operation Christmas Drop’s sole purpose is to aid our fellow islanders by coordinating volunteer efforts from both military and civilian agencies and distrubute donations received from all corners of the world. It all started in 1952 when the aircrew of a WB-29 aircraft assigned to the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, formerly assigned to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, was flying a mission to the south of Guam over the Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangi. When they saw the islanders waving to them, the crew quickly gathered some items they had on the plane, placed them in a container with a parachute attached and dropped the cargo as they circled again.

I never cease to be amazed by the generosity and compassion of our men and women in uniform.  Regrettably I learned of Operation Christmas Drop too late to be of any practical assistance, but it’s worth keeping in mind for next year.

RELATED: An account of a drop from 374AW.

Colonel Mark Hering, the 374th Operations Group commander, participated in Operation Christmas Drop in December of 2009.

“I can say that in my 20 years of flying the C-130, it was one of the most moving missions, just hearing the voices on the other side of that radio and the excitement from all the islanders, hearing that a C-130 and a bundle from the sky were coming inbound.”

— Love, 2nd Lt. Christopher.  “Operation Christmas Drop a team effort.”  374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, 17 December 2010.

Change of pace

An F-22 pilot takes a C-17 out for a spin.

Col. Thomas Bergeson, 3rd Wing commander and F-22 Raptor pilot, gets comfortable on the flight deck of a C-17 Globemaster III before takeoff from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, March 26, 2010. This is Colonel Bergeson's first time behind the controls of the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Some thoughtful person has taped a “cheat sheet” for him below the AFCS (automated flight control system) panel.

See the whole photo essay at AF.mil.

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Dawn delivery

A C-17 Globemaster III waits for an air crew going on an air delivery mission at an air base in Southwest Asia Feb. 2, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

Tech. Sgt. Kevin Owen sits on the ramp of a C-17 Globemaster III while flying over the mountains of Afghanistan after an air delivery mission, Feb. 2, 2010. Sergeant Owen, a 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and the crew delivered 34 container delivery system bundles to a base in Afghanistan as part of a combat re-supply mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

8 Wing and CFB Trenton get new CO

Lieutenant Colonel D.B. (Dave) Cochrane, CD, will take command of CFB Trenton and host unit 8 Wing on February 19th, 2010, following his promotion to full colonel.  Col. Cochrane was previously commanding officer of 426 Transport Training Squadron from 2006 through 2009; this unit prepares aircrews to fly the CC-130 Hercules tactical airlifter.

Col. Cochrane takes over from LCol. David Murphy (8 Wing Operations Officer), who was designated acting CO last Tuesday following the arrest of Col. Russell Williams.

MTJA airfield flow and relief operations

Here’s a brief update to my prior post on the Jacmel aerodrome, as I have become aware of additional information. There are a number of good articles from multiple sources, each providing lots of good information. (Specifically a January 30th article in the Winnipeg Free Press; a January 29th article from Agence France-Presse; a January 19th article in the Globe & Mail; and an undated DND press release.)

I will collate and summarise the data points below to make it easier to comprehend, so that one does not have to flip between the various sources to get the big picture.

  • The strat-lifters (CC-150, CC-177) typically operate between CFB Trenton (CYTR) and Norman Manley Intl Airport (MKJP) in Kingston, Jamaica. The tac-lifters (CC-130) then take the cargo from Kingston to Jacmel. (See map below for more details.)
  • The CF installed airfield lighting at Jacmel in order to permit 24-hour flight operations; a fueling station has also been set up.
  • HMCS Halifax remains on station in Baie de Jacmel, providing radar coverage for air traffic separation.
  • CFB Trenton is burning through 500,000 litres of fuel a day. Keep in mind, though, that this is for all of CFB Trenton’s flight operations (training, flights to Afghanistan, etc), not just those relating to Haiti.
  • MGen Yvan Blondin elected to have Canadian Forces aircraft utilise Jacmel; USAF had previously surveyed the field and decided that its 3,300ft asphalt runway was too soft to handle the stress of high optempo, and too short to provide adequate margin of error for tactical airlifters.
  • CF engineers determined that the runway could sustain regular CC-130 operations, so long as the aircraft’s total weight (aircraft, fuel and payload) does not exceed 100,000 lbs / 45,359 kg.
  • The minimum landing distance for a CC-130H with a 100,000lb payload is approximately 3100 feet (1000 foot touchdown zone, 2100 foot rollout distance). This gives pilots a 200 foot margin of error.
  • The aerodrome has handled up to 64 aircraft movements in a single day.  This breaks down as 2.67 movements every hour, or one every 23 minutes.
  • The runway is already pitting and suffering damage from the optempo surge. High optempo is likely to last for 60 days and slacken thereafter.

Here’s an image I created using data from the Great Circle Mapper, showing approximate transit times for CF flights.

And another pre-earthquake image of Jacmel’s tiny terminal and apron.

Night mission

At Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., 1st Lt. David Redwine boards a C-17 Globemaster III before launching an air delivery mission in support of Operation Unified Response Jan. 20, 2010. Lieutenant Redwing is a pilot assigned to the 15th Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)

Capts. Ryan Nofziger and Aaron Kottlowski takeoff for a humanitarian aid mission to Haiti in a C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 20, 2010, from Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Pope AFB is participating in the relief effort to save lives and alleviate human suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson)

Airman 1st Class Ryan Merriman provides security for a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and its crew as earthquake relief supplies are unloaded at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 16, 2010. Airman Merriman is a member of a 437th Security Forces fly-away security team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson)

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Airlift: a distraction?

As an aviation-related blog, naturally the Company focuses its attention on the aerial aspects of the relief effort in Haiti.  But airlift has some inherent limitations, chief among them being that even the very largest aircraft have tiny payload capacities when compared to ships.  In typical logistics doctrine, airlift happens first because it can reach an affected area in hours, whereas sealift takes days (or sometimes weeks).  But as the conflict or crisis drags on, airlift’s priority wanes once sealift is established.  Writing at the US Naval Institute blog, author Galrahn (who also writes at Information Dissemination) is anxious to see sealift get the attention it deserves.  While I don’t necessarily agree with his characterisation of USAF’s effort, it’s an interesting read.  And it is inarguable that sealift’s throughput and cost effectiveness is an order of magnitude greater than airlift; airlift’s primary advantages have always been speed and flexibility, not volume.

Todd H. Guggisberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Logistics and Resource Operations (DLRO) US Army Command and General Staff College emailed me today with an important observation.

As a retired career Army logistics officer, I am following the events closely.  Understanding what it means to feed/water/shelter 3 million people is difficult for most Americans.  One of my logistics students did a quick estimate and came up with a requirement for 2,000 cargo trucks per day to supply ONE humanitarian ration to 3 million people per day….and rations are easy compared to water.

That might explain why there has been a policy change regarding the danger of airdropping relief supplies. Are things getting critical? Probably more than most Americans probably realize.

One C-17 airdrop represents ~30,000 rations (usually divided between humanitarian rations and bottled water), and we would need to conduct more than 100 C-17 airdrops per day and equally distribute those rations just to get just 1 bottle of water or 1 humanitarian ration to each of the 3 million people the UN says are in need in Haiti today. The SOUTHCOM focus to date on the one runway airfield is a distraction, by no fuzzy math is it possible for ~180 planes around the world to meet the demand of the Haiti catastrophe

— galrahn.  “Obama’s Public Diplomacy From Haiti Wears Combat Boots.”  US Naval Institute blog, 19 January 2010.

I am sure the US Navy (and allied navies) are working hard at opening up critical port facilities; but this bound to be somewhat camera-unsexy.  It involves a lot of planning, surveying, diving and so forth, things the land-based media can’t film easily.  It takes far less effort for a camera operator to sit at an airfield and get shots of aircraft taxiing around, while a reporter makes concerned noises.  They will continue to film the airport because that is what they know, and because more of their audience back home have flown aboard commercial aircraft into an airport (and can relate to that).  Very few audience members will have known the experience of sailing into a major seaport aboard a ro/ro bulk carrier, and helping to unload it.

Combine this with the media’s usual lack of knowledge/interest in military matters, and odds are most reporters on the ground don’t know that the next few hours in the seaports are where the battle for Haitian lives will be won or lost.

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