Task Force Libeccio

15 November 2011

“Our primary job is the defence of Canada,” said CP-140 Capt Barrie Ransome flying off the Libyan coast. “And, although we cannot be everywhere at once, we, as Canadians, have an international responsibility to stand up for those who cannot protect themselves, we simply cannot stand by and watch these atrocities unfold. By denying rogue dictators/groups the ability to inflict harm, we not only help stabilize a volatile situation but we are also, by extension, increasing the security of Canada.”

When Colonel Muammar Gadhafi’s government attempted to crush local “Arab Spring” protests in Libya with systematic attacks by air and ground forces on its own civilians, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reacted with an international arms embargo and imposed a no-fly zone over the country. Canada joined the United States, the UK, France, Norway, ­Belgium, Italy and Spain in Operation Unified Protector, contributing aircraft and a naval vessel to enforce the UN resolutions.

Operation Mobile, as the Canadian component was called, began on 25 February, 2011 with two task forces in the central Mediterranean region – an aviation component based in Italy, and a naval component (first HMCS Charlottetown and then Vancouver), with an embarked CH-124 Sea King helicopter off shore. There were also unconfirmed reports that the JTF-2 were on the ground working with the famed British SAS commandos.

Although the British, French, Italians and U.S. had conducted military operations in Libya in World War II, Canada had not. On 12 May 2011, HMCS Charlottetown, which was deployed to the northwestern waters near Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, was attacked by shore-based artillery. This was the first time a Canadian warship faced hostile fire since Korea.

Commanded by Brigadier-General Derek Joyce, the land-based element of Operation Mobile is Task Force Libeccio named for the strong southwesterly wind that blows all year in the Mediterranean. The Air Coordination Element was co-located with the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre 5 (CAOC 5) in Poggio Renatico, Italy, providing a direct operational coordination link between the CAOC, the Commander Task Force Libeccio, and the Commander of the Sicily Air Wing.

The CF air component assets included:
7            CF-188 Hornet fighters based in Sicily
(typically flew 4-6 sorties each day)
2            CC-150 Polaris tankers
(typically 1-2 refueling sorties per day)
1            CC-130J Hercules airlifters
(typically 1 sortie per day)
2            CC-130T Hercules tankers
(when they were there, 2 sorties per day)
2            CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, based in Sigonella

As of 28 October 2011, the RCAF had flown over 1539 sorties, including over 946 Hornet sorties, 389 refuelling sorties and 181 Surveillance sorties.

Op Mobile gave the Bagotville-based fighter pilots an opportunity to enhance their combat capability. “Within 24 hours of receiving orders for our aircraft to deploy,” recalls Air Wing Commander LCol Daniel McLeod, “the CC-150Ts were in the air and providing fuel for our CF-188s to fly across the ocean en route to their final destination of Trapani, Sicily.” Pilots quickly adapted known tactics and techniques used in other mission sets to this Strike Coordination and Armed Reconnaissance-coordinator (SCAR-C) mission.

“The Hornets contributed early on to the enforcement of the no fly zone,” BGen Joyce said, “but because of their flexibility in operations, for the majority of the mission they have been major contributors in the offensive strike campaign conducting about 10 percent of all bombing missions.”

New weapons, specifically the GBU-31 and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) were procured, tested and operationally fielded by the Fighter Force to great success. Upgrades to existing systems vastly improved the ability for CF-188 pilots to effectively conduct the tasks assigned to them, the weapons allowing the RCAF to strike very precisely. Currently used are a combination of GBU-10 and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and GBU-31 and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), which uses encrypted GPS signals to steer the weapon to the target with pinpoint accuracy. This autonomy negated any impact of cloud cover or pilot manoeuvres post-launch. Additionally, pilot survivability increases because less time is needed in the target area, and in harm’s way.

“Working within an alliance like NATO, by its nature, requires a huge amount of cooperation with other national contingents at every level,” says Joyce. “For example, Canada’s Air to Air Refuelling aircraft, the CC-150T has distributed over 13,000,000 pounds of fuel to fighter aircraft from participating nations. Our CF-188 aircraft have conducted innumerable coordinated strike packages with other alliance and partner nation fighter aircraft over Libya, and the CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft has hosted a British Fire Control Team in missions to direct naval gun fire from NATO ships and control fighter jets during bombing missions over Libya. At the Operational level, Canadians have fully integrated into the NATO headquarters here in Naples and in the Combined Air Operations Centre in Poggio Renatico, creating an impressive synergy that harnesses the strengths of all the contributing nations. Finally, we have an outstanding level of cooperation with our Italian hosts at each of the four locations in which the units of Task Force Libeccio are located (Naples, Poggio-Renatico, Trapani-Birgi, and Sigonella).”

While a number of ‘platforms’ are used to create the overall intelligence picture for the entire operation, the two CP-140 Aurora aircraft, one from 19 Wing Comox, (Britich Columbia), and the other from 14 Wing Greenwood (Nova Scotia), became the Cinderella stars of the show. With its 17-hour endurance and 9266 km range, the Aurora proved ideal for this kind of operation – flying Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) patrols. Imagery captured with its overland equipment mission suite (OEMS) allowed the crew to record live video feeds from improved electro-optic infrared cameras.

“The aircraft was primarily brought into service to fill the role of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) during the Cold War,” explains Aurora pilot Capt Barrie Ransome, “ however, when the Cold war ended, the many other capabilities of this outstanding platform were employed, all of which were over water. Not anymore. This will be a game changer. The entire crew is highly motivated and extremely focused as we bring this new capability to the Aurora Community. This is exactly the type of mission that motivated us to become military aviators and devote our lives to addressing injustices in the world.”

At the end of each mission, the imagery is analyzed and transmitted to CAOC for review. The ISR package the Aurora Flight provides has been held up as the example within NATO for how intelligence reporting should be done.

When asked if the CF-188 pilots had encountered surface to air missiles (SAM), the Air Wing commander admitted that SAMs and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) are a consideration on every mission. “Even a single lucky shot, from a simple hand held SAM or from one of those AAA guns that are seen mounted on the back of pick-up trucks, can seriously damage an aircraft. Tactics and onboard sensors are both employed to defeat the threat. Avoiding the threat areas and altitudes, keeping a vigilant eye out for missile launches and AAA fire, and maintaining a healthy respect for the threats’ capability, is to prevent complacency have keep RCAF aircraft and aircrew safe.”

What would the rebel’s chances of success have been without the support of NATO airstrikes? “ I want to make it clear,” BGen Joyce replied sternly, “that the UN mandate in UNSCR 1973 for Operation Unified Proterctor is focused on reducing the war fighting capacity of the Gadhafi’s Regime. Our operations have not been focused on supporting the rebel’s operations, but rather targeting Gadhafi’s ability to direct violence and death to his own people.” 

August 2011 – Task Force Libeccio Air Weapon System Technicians remove a GBU-10 bomb off a trailer as part of their loading procedures of a CF-18 Hornet aircraft during Operation Mobile in Trapani, Italy on 21 August 2011. There were approximately 350 personnel deployed to Italy as part of Task Force Libeccio.

Asked what criteria was being used to designate targets, Air Wing Commander LCol McLeod was specific: “We continue to strike targets that have a direct link to attacks on civilians, military facilities, such as command control centres, artillery and armoured vehicles. The decision to strike is made with great thought and consideration. We have clear ROEs (rules of engagement), and we go to great lengths to reduce risk to civilians when attacking targets. It should also be noted that a team of senior/experienced RCAF CF-188 pilots and CF lawyers in coordination with our NATO counterparts in CAOC 5 assess every potential target against both NATO and Canadian National Targeting Criteria prior to its assignment for engagement. The Canadian National Rep can always veto a target assignment if it does not meet Canadian National targeting criteria and/ or initiate a Canadian National Targeting Board in Ottawa if required.”

On 26 September 2011, the House of Commons adopted a motion to extend Canada’s participation in Op Unified Protector to the end of December 2011. “Canada, our allies and partners alike have made a difference by mounting a complex operation in a very short time,” BGen Joyce considers the NATO operation a success. “Carrying out our mandate to the letter, and with the highest degree of military professionalism to avoid harm to the Libyan people and their infrastructure. We saved countless lives by significantly reducing the Gadhafi Regime force’s ability to inflict violence on the Libyan people.”
Peter Pigott wishes to thank Captain Marie-France Poulin TF LIBECCIO, FO LIBECCIO HQ Naples.
© FrontLine Defence 2011