No Moammar, No Fly: How to Stop Gadhafiâ€™s Planes
|3:34:50 PM, Sunday, March 13, 2011|
â€œKeep the surveillance planes flying. Fry the radar. While the sun hangs in the sky, let Libyaâ€™s pilots know theyâ€™re on borrowed time if they take off.
Thereâ€™s a lot of talk about setting up a no-fly zone over Libya â€” especially now that Moammar Gadhafi used his planes to take the oil refinery city of Ras Lunuf back from the rebels, and especially now that the Director of National Intelligence proclaimed that Gadhafi would eventually beat back the opposition, unless thereâ€™s some serious outside support. But NATO stopped short of any such decision on Thursday. A raft of U.S. military leaders, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Adm. Michael Mullen to Gen. James Mattis of Central Command, have warned that a no-fly zone is neither a simple or antiseptic operation.
Air Force leaders and veterans of no-fly campaigns contacted by Danger Room agree with that caution. Keeping Gadhafiâ€™s planes and helicopters out of the sky is no cakewalk, and the objectives are anything but clear. But they sketched out the following picture of what one might look like.
Blowing up Libyaâ€™s surface-to-air defenses is the first wave of a no-fly campaign, as Secretary Gates noted. But to do that, thereâ€™s an even more preliminary step: use the AWACS surveillance and command planes that NATO is now flying 24-7 to find Libyaâ€™s radars, command and control and missile stations. â€œIâ€™m absolutely certain,â€ says retired Gen. Pete Piotrowski, a former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, â€œthat the intelligence community knows the location of the surface to air missiles and the radars,â€ thanks to the AWACS.
High-speed anti-radiation missiles, or HARMs, can then take out the radars â€” which would render the Libyansâ€™ missiles dumb without having to take out every missile station. Bombing would take care of the Libyan command and control centers, too, once AWACS identifies them. And a blind Libyan air command canâ€™t challenge NATO aircraft. â€œIf you take out the command and control, [the Libyans] may get lucky,â€ says retired Maj. Gen. Irv Halter, who helped run Operation Northern Watch, the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, â€œbut theyâ€™ll be looking through a soda straw.â€
A trickier target will be the Libyan fleet of attack helicopters, which Marine Commandant James Amosidentified as a crucial part of Gadhafiâ€™s arsenal. While itâ€™s possible that precision weaponry from the NATO aircraft thousands of feet above could take the copters out, military analyst Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution suggests using French and British carriers in the southern Mediterranean to launch helicopters of NATOâ€™s own, plus â€œmissiles and naval gunfireâ€ to keep the copters grounded. (Thereâ€™s also talk of cratering runways and helicopter staging areas, so the aircraft canâ€™t get off of the ground.) â€¦â€