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The English Fleet at Cherbourg

The English Fleet at Cherbourg, originally uploaded by The British Monarchy.  5 August 1858, by Gustave le Gray. (The Royal Collection © 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)

UPON CLOSER EXAMINATION: Despite the title given in HM Flickr photostream, a more appropriate title may be “The British and French fleets at Cherbourg”. Since the leftmost ship-of-the-line is quite clearly flying the French tricolour from her main topgallant mast.

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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.

Programmatic diversity

I have no idea how Discovery’s Military Channel manages to retain viewers in large enough numbers to continue justifying their broadcast license. Every time I tune in, they seem to have programmed a show I’ve already seen—and what’s worse, they program similar items together in a block. Here’s a chunk of today’s lineup:

7:00 am — X-Carriers (60min, TV-PG, CC)

From super-computer design facilities to liquid-metal cooled, nuclear propulsion systems, the top secret future of the U.S. Navy’s most dangerous weapons are revealed.

8:00 am — Mega-Carrier, Episode 1 (60min, TV-G, CC)

Over 18,000 men and women have been brought together to build the world’s most technologically sophisticated aircraft carrier: The U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. From initial construction, to its first day at sea, follow the story of its builders.

9:00 am — Toughest Carrier Jobs (60min, TV-PG, CC)

The Toughest Carrier Jobs highlights the skill, training and commitment of the men and women who have the honor of working on what is essentially a floating city: A U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier, which is full of amazingly difficult jobs.

10:00 am — Carrier – Fortress at Sea (60min, TV-G, CC)

Life aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is thrilling, tedious, demanding and dangerous all at the same time. En route from San Francisco to the Persian Gulf, the crew’s extraordinary adventure unfolds.

11:00 am — Mega-Carrier, Episode 1 (60min, TV-G, CC)

Over 18,000 men and women have been brought together to build the world’s most technologically sophisticated aircraft carrier: The U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. From initial construction, to its first day at sea, follow the story of its builders.

12:00 pm — Sinking of an Aircraft Carrier (60min, TV-PG, CC)

Nearly a quarter of a ton of explosives are set to sink the Oriskany Aircraft Carrier during the world’s largest non-military exercise to sink a ship. Bad weather, flooding, short tempers, and grueling labor conditions threaten to halt the project.

1:00 pm — Extreme Machines – Carriers (60min, TV-G, CC)

Footage of the Navy’s huge floating fortress, the John C. Stennis, demonstrates the sophistication and complexity of today’s carriers.

2:00 pm — A Supercarrier is Burning: The U.S.S. Enterprise (60min, TV-G, CC)

A fire aboard a supercarrier detonates the ship’s weapons. The harrowing minutes that follow are packed with terror, heroism, sacrifice and courage. There are 18 detonations, 15 aircraft destroyed, 17 damaged, 28 dead and 343 wounded.

3:00 pm — City of Steel: Carrier (60min, TV-PG, CC)

The construction of the new aircraft carrier, the Reagan, vividly illustrates the remarkable scale of these floating cities and the weapons onboard. A new carrier, the Truman, is put through its paces on its maiden outing.

I like aircraft carriers as much as the next guy, but holy mackerel, that’s nine solid hours of carrier junk. Four hours devoted to carrier design and construction, three to day-to-day operations.

Enough is enough, fellas. Every single one of these shows has been aired a half-dozen times already, and they are not what we would call current. Some still feature the F-14 Tomcat, a fighter that was retired from USN service four years ago.

I seriously wonder how the channel manages to retain viewership.

Getting pwned

Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman of the JCS) takes Senator John S. McCain out to the woodshed for a good and proper beating.

Also entertaining: McCain continues his transformation into Grandpa Simpson by claiming (erroneously) that SecDef Gates had never been in uniform (Gates was briefly a USAF 2nd Lieutenant). McCain also gives the opinions of the President and Secretary of Defense less weight than that of the service chiefs (with regard to DADT), because he regards neither Obama nor Gates as military leaders.

Despite the President’s serious domestic and foreign policy shortcomings, I am starting to think that America dodged a bullet by not electing McCain to the job.

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Controlling UCAVs from other planes

The E-3 Sentry has long been an critical asset for the US Air Force; each of the 32 active inventory aircraft can provide unparallelled air and surface situational awareness in a 250 nautical mile radius around the aircraft.

Now, manufacturer Boeing plans to test controlling a small UAV from an airborne Sentry in the annual (and presciently named) Empire Challenge exercise at USN’s Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake.

AWACS as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Controller: Boeing plans to demonstrate control of the ScanEagle remotely piloted aircraft from an E-3 AWACS aircraft during the annual Empire Challenge coalition interoperability exercise that started Monday and runs through August 13 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. “This will be the first time the company demonstrates full control of an unmanned aircraft by an airborne command and control platform during an operational scenario,” Boeing said in its release. A NATO AWACS will be equipped with a tactical common data link to relay commands to ScanEagle from an onboard operator. The scenario involves an antipiracy operation in which the AWACS detects suspicious activity and directs ScanEagle to a certain location to keep track of a suspect vessel—actually a truck acting as a surrogate pirate ship—while sending real-time video back to the AWACS to help determine whether the vessel is a threat.

–  Daily Report, Air Force Association, 27 July 2010.

Seems like an interesting concept, although AWACS birds are already extremely high-value targets, being exactly the sort of expensive, low-density/high-demand asset that has to be spread thin in order to cover the C2BM (command and control battle management) requirements of US unified combatant commanders all around the globe.

Putting a bunch of UCAV pilots aboard—especially once UCAVs evolve into ACM-capable fighters in their own right—will make it just that much more important for the OPFOR to destroy these assets as quickly as they can.

IRONY ALERT: From the same AFA Daily Report piece, we learn that the Pentagon is looking to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).  For those not in the know, JFCOM is the sponsoring agency for the Empire Challenge coalition interoperability exercise.

JFCOM in Crosshairs of Pentagon Advisory Board: The Defense Business Board has identified the elimination of US Joint Forces Command as one way of trimming the Defense Department’s excess overhead. This move is among the initial observations from the senior advisory panel’s look into how the Pentagon could shed more than $100 billion in nonessential overhead between Fiscal 2012-16 to free up funds for modernization and personnel. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for the board’s input. According to press reports, board members think Norfolk, Va.-based JFCOM is ripe for the ax since it is bloated with more contractors on its payroll than military and civilian personnel, and some of its organizations apparently have the same mission and even similar names. The panel is scheduled to submit its final recommendations to Gates in October. Already Virginia lawmakers, including Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), are circling the wagons to save the command. (See The Hill report and Virginian-Pilot report.) (McDonnell statement) (Cantor statement) (Scott statement)

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DoD’s historical images of the Korean War, 1950-53

A reminder of how much effort it took to turn back North Korean aggression the last time, courtesy of the Flickr feed from US Army Korea’s Installation Management Command. Some 26,791 Canadians also served in the Korean War, among them one of my great-uncles.

DDE-219 HMCS Athabaskan, one of the three Canadian destroyers sent to Korean waters to serve under General MacArthur, Commanding General for the unified U.N. forces assisting the Republic of Korea in defense against the invasion by North Korean Communist forces. (DoD/National Air and Space Museum, #50-9086-306-PS)

Korean War – HD-SN-50-00936, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

Two North Korean boys, serving in the North Korean Army, taken prisoner in the Sindang-dong area by elements of the 389th Inf. Regt., are interrogated by a U.S. soldier shortly after their capture. September 18, 1950. (US Army/Pfc. Francis Mullin. NARA File #111-SC-348805)

Korean War – HD-SN-99-03153, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

LSTs unloading at Wolmi-do, Inchon, Korea on D-plus and Marine trucks taking supplies to advancing troops. (DoD/NARA File #127-GK-234P-A408288)

Korean War – 127-GK-234P-A408288 LST’S unloading at Wolmi-do, Inchon, Korea , originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

MARINES LAMBASTE ENEMY AT NIGHT—Tanks of the 1st Marine Tank battalion bark death and devastation into the briefly day-lighted Korean night, as Marine tankmen fire a night mission at enemy supply installation somewhere in Korea. (DoD/NARA File #127-GK-233I-A157650)

Korean War – 127-GK-233I-A157650 1st Marine Tank battalion, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

Airview of bombs dropped by U.S. Air Force, exploding on three parallel railroad bridges across Han River, southwest of Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea. Bridges were bombed early in war to delay advance of invading North Korean troops. (DoD/National Air and Space Museum, #50-9025-306-PS)

Korean War – HD-SN-50-00935, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

Hit the Silk—Paratroopers of the veteran 187th Regimental Combat Team jump from FEAF C-46 transports during a training operation carried out in Korea. (DoD/National Air and Space Museum, #82298 AC)

Korean War – HF-SN-98-07354 187th Regimental Combat Team, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

GENERAL MACARTHUR INSPECTS KOREAN WAR FRONT: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander in-Chief, Far East Command, on an inspection tour of the South Korean Forces after the surprise attack by the North Koreans. (DoD/NARA File #111-SC-343024)

Korean War – 111-SC-343024, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

Korean women and children search the rubble of Seoul for anything that can be used or burned as fuel. November 1, 1950. (US Army/Capt. F. L. Scheiber. NARA File #111-SC-351697)

Korean War – HD-SN-99-03162, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

In "Operation Comeback" thousands of Chinese and North Korean Communist POWs were released from Prisoner of War Compoundss, in Korea after renouncing Communism for freedom. Here, at Seoul, Korea crowds are gathered to greet Chinese ex-POWs prior to flight to Formosa. (DoD/National Air and Space Museum, #85043 AC)

Korean War – HF-SN-98-07419, originally uploaded by US Army Korea – IMCOM.

There are literally hundreds more of these images in the Korean War Historical Images set; go have a look.

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