Time For an Air Strike

March 7, 2011

Who's afraid of a 39-year old plane? We are.

For the second day, rebels seeking to overthrow beleaguered Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, were hit by a devastating attack by war planes.

While much of the country is in rebel hands, Gaddafi continues to hold out in the capital, Tripoli.  The rank-and-file of the Libyan army have largely gone over to the rebels, as have most of Libya’s senior diplomatic corps and several key ministers.  Despite a few defections, the Libyan air Force, composed mainly of foreign mercenaries and members of Ghadafi’s local tribe, remains loyal to the dictator.

With the rebels unable to press their initial gains, and now subject to withering counter-attacks supported by Gaddafi’s air force, the situation in Libya threatens to deteriorate into a bloody & protracted civil war with uncertain outcome.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The West’s leaders have largely turned a deaf ear to appeals to intervene diplomatically and militarily.  Only Great Britain, led by the tireless efforts of PM David Cameron, seems eager to take bold action.  Last week, Britain made (a botched) attempt to establish diplomatic contact with the rebel leadership, as an overture to likely recognition of the rebels as the legitimate government.  It was recently revealed that Britain’s crack Black Watch Battalion had been placed on 24 hours’ readiness to deploy to North Africa.

For over a week, Cameron has attempted in vain to spur the West into action.   In Washington, the obama administration is displaying its trademark aversion to decisive foreign policy.  France and Italy insist any action be sanctioned by NATO, while NATO insists any action be sanctioned by the UN.  Russia and China promise to veto any UN involvement.

Cameron is right.  The time to take forceful, military action in Libya is now.  Humanitarian concerns aside, and the lofty ideal (call it crazy) of democracies supporting democratic movements, immediate intervention in Libya makes sense for several pragmatic, selfish reasons:

  • Usher in an orderly transition from Gaddafi to a pro-Western government already forming in Benghazi;
  • Avert the co-opting of the rebellion by radical elements and the establishing of an anti-western regime in Libya;
  • Prevent the recently-raided stockpiles of shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles from getting into the hands of terrorists;
  • Avoid general destabilization in the region;
  • Send a clear message to other regimes in in the region facing local pro-democracy movements, hopefully avoiding bloodshed and encouraging peaceful reforms.

While this week’s emergency EU summit may produce a consensus to act, Cameron and Britain may need to take unilateral action to break the logjam of reluctance and cowardice among the West’s leaders.

90,000 Tons of Diplomacy

As President Clinton once noted, “When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘Where’s the nearest carrier?'”

For decades, the United States possessed the unparalleled ability to project its influence around the Globe via its numerous and powerful aircraft carriers. The answer, during this present crisis, as to the location of our carriers is:  ‘otherwise engaged.’   Of the 11 fleet carriers in active service, 4 are in port undergoing maintenance or awaiting decommissioning, 1 is on stand-by, 2 are in the Western Pacific taunting North Korea, with the remainder committed to constant rotation through the Persian Gulf supporting President Bush’ obama’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because of our entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the first time in nearly half a century the US fleet in the Mediterranean has no carrier attached.  In late February, the 50-year old USS Enterprise, which had just sailed through the Suez Canal to augment the forces in the Persian Gulf (The USS Abraham Lincoln having just been dispatched from there to the Pacific), did a 180º and steamed back to the Med to meet the Libyan crisis.

Obama’s Prime Directive

If only this Enterprise had a captain as brash and disobedient as its science fiction namesake!  As it stands, obama’s Prime Directive, of never acting internationally if it might possibly hurt his Approvals at home, remains inviolate.

Thus far the Obama team has given the impression of being too often behind the curve on events in the Middle East, both in anticipating the revolutions and in responding to them….   At some point soon, the administration will need to shift from merely reactive mode into asserting more leadership and setting the agenda.

As bad as obama’s foot-dragging during the Egyptian crisis was, the administration’s stubborn, almost petulant refusal to budge in response to the rapidly escalating and far more volatile Libyan crisis is inexcusable, bordering on criminally negligent.

Following reasonable suggestions by observers — and impassioned pleas from the rebels — to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the idea as “loose talk” and condescendingly sneered that a “no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.”  The commander of US CENTCOM obligingly added, “It wouldn’t simply be telling people not to fly airplanes.”  Gates went on to claim that it would require more airplanes than available from a single carrier.

Gates’ comments are fatuous.  Not only are the military assets already on hand sufficient for the US to unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over Libya, it would be almost child’s play for us to do so.

Piece of Cake

If you accept the word of the obama administration and its lackeys in the MSM, the Libyan air force is a potent threat with sharp, pointy teeth that would maul American air power.  The MSM glibly tosses out figures of 200-250 fighter planes at Gaddafi’s disposal, and points to the ominous threat of hundreds of surface-to-air missiles.

A brief review of expert sources, however, reveals a starkly different picture of the Libyan air force.

Fighter Planes

Of the alleged 200-250 front-line fighters, no more than 70 are actually airworthy:

–  1 Mirage F1 (down from two following a pilot defecting to Malta)

–  30-50  MiG 23

–  21 of the antiquated MiG 21

As well as:

– 39 Su-22 fighter-bombers

– 3  Su-24 fighter-bombers

The pilots and ground crew are mostly foreign mercenaries, neither poorly nor superbly trained.  The aircraft themselves date from the nineteen-seventies and -eighties.  While ammunition is abundant, maintenance is known to have been spotty over the years, with spare parts scarce.  Most of Gaddafi’s planes simply can’t get off the ground.

To face these 50+ front-line fighters, the US already has the 48 F-18 Hornets aboard the Enterprise: three squadrons of the new “Super-Hornet” air superiority fighter, carrying sophisticated tracking and guidance systems for their many onboard missiles, and one squadron of Marines specially-trained in dogfighting.   Contrary to Secretary Gates’ low opinion of them, in a straight-up battle, the Enterprise’s Hornets would make mincemeat out of the Libyans.

(Gates perhaps also neglected to consider the 175 aircraft of all types in service with the US Sixth Fleet based in Naples, or any the USAF assets in Europe and the mid-East.)

Surface-to-Air Missiles

Of legitimate concern are the 88 long-range and 53 short-range anti-aircraft missiles in Gaddafi’s arsenal, all Soviet-made.    But here, too, the obama administration is grossly overstating the threat.   The location of every static Libyan missile battery is clearly known and easily targeted.  As was done over Iraq and Serbia, AWACS tracking planes could detect the instant a missile battery attempted to get a radar lock on one of our aircraft, and F-117 “Stealth” fighters (or possibly the brand-new F-22s in their first combat action) would obliterate each battery in succession.

Most experts consider the Libyan air defenses highly vulnerable: “Advances in electronic warfare and [Electronic Counter-Measures] have made many of the older Soviet-era SAM systems obsolete in a modern air combat environment. Libya’s … systems are no exception.”

One former Air Force chief of staff equates the Libyan missile defense to that of Serbia’s, which was completely neutralized with the loss of but a single plane.  With Libya, this former Air Force official envisions a scenario similar to the no-fly zone imposed over Iraq in 1991:  “Every time the Iraqis turned on a radar, we hosed them.”

AWACS are already monitoring Libya, while long-range stealth fighters are capable of reaching Libya from their bases in the US.  Imposing a No-Fly zone long-term would require additional, land-based combat aircraft, operating either from Europe or out of bases currently at our disposal in Oman, Tunisia, Qatar and Egypt.

Attack Helicopters

By far the greatest threat to the Libyan rebels are the numerous ground-attack aircraft, primarily helicopters, in Gaddafi’s air force.  These include about 38 of the devastating Mi-24 “Hind” heavy gunships, 14 medium attack helicopters, and numerous lighter aircraft that could be pressed into the ground attack role.  (As with the jets, chronically poor maintenance likely means only limited numbers of these aircraft are actually flyable.)  Once air superiority is achieved over Libya, these helicopters can be quickly neutralized, most simply by destroying them on the ground and their airbases along with them.

As noted above, complete and swift victory over Gaddafi’s air power is achievable by just the US assets already on-hand.  Add the potent Italian Aeronautica Militare, with two major bases just 300 miles away on Sicily, the French Armée de l’Air, and the RAF flying from Crete, and it’s obvious that total eradication of Gaddafi’s air power within 48-72 hours would be a piece of cake.

And, without his air force, Gaddafi cannot hold out.  As Der Spiegel notes:

Although a large part of Libya’s army has defected and joined the rebel forces, its air force appears to have remained almost completely loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, it is one of the main factors still propping up the regime and the most serious threat to the insurgents who control the eastern part of the country.

Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy

Quite frankly, the West’s reluctance to aid the Libyan rebels in their struggle for freedom is despicable, especially considering how eagerly we sullied ourselves in a deal with Gaddafi a few years back, when he promised support against al Quaeda (with a little sweet crude thrown in to sweeten the deal) in exchange for us forgetting his own active role in international terrorism.

On the whole, the Western democracies’ record on promoting democracy around the world is embarrassing.  The USA has little to be proud of:

  • In 1918, the United States took sides in the war in Europe, ostensibly to “make the world safe for democracy”, but really to make the shipping lanes to England safe for American capitalism;
  • In Vietnam, the US was willing to lose 40,000 killed to prop up a corrupt regime and ostensibly save the Vietnamese from the perils of communism;
  • Reagan zealously crushed 700 Cuban construction workers on tiny Grenada who were threatening future malpractice cases, but bugged out of Lebanon, where a US presence could have actually fostered peace;
  • Papa Bush didn’t hesitate to depose a minor tyrant in central America, but carefully preserved the genocidal Hussein sitting atop vast oil reserves;
  • We’ve spent the better part of the past decade mired in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which should really have been named Operation Halliburton Profit;
  • The most obama could muster in support of the Egyptian revolution was a severe tongue-lashing of Hosni Mubarak.

And now, the United States, with by far the most powerful military in the world, is claiming utter impotency to grant the appeal of a popular but outgunned freedom movement to take out the rotting air force of a fading tyrant.

Strike Now

The president and the Secretary of Defense have intentionally misrepresented the situation, by belittling our military capability while grossly over-inflating that of Gaddafi.  Why?  Because, when the interests and profits of capitalists are concerned, we are more than ready to spend copious money, effort and blood.  But when freedom, democracy and human rights are in the balance, we can’t be bothered to lift a finger.

It’s time for an air strike on Gaddafi.  Time to blow his pathetic little air force to smithereens and send him to hell.  Time to atone for our sins all these years.  Time to put our planes where our mouths are, time to use the power we possess to support the ideals we allegedly espouse.  If we do not, we should rightly be deemed a pariah among the nations of the world.

(c) 2011 by ‘tamerlane.’  All rights reserved.