Is a Libyan No-Fly Zone As Difficult As Obama Team Protests It Is? Not Really, Say Former Air Force Brass
Calls for a U.S. or NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya to aid the fledgling rebellion against dictator Muammar Qadhafi have been met with protests by Obama administration officials that it is a logistical nightmare requiring careful planning and forethought.
While that's something to that argument, fears of Libya's air force are way overblown, some retired Air Force officers argue, according to Aviation Week's David Fulghum, in his March 8 blog post, "Libyan Air Defenses Would Fade Fast" (emphases mine):
Dominating Libyan airspace would not be a tough or geographically overwhelming task for the U.S. and its allies, say airpower advocates.
Objections to the U.S. establishing a no-fly zone over Libya are based on erroneous suppositions made by leaders in the Pentagon – such as U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis – who do not have the aviation experience needed to make such a decision, say two senior, retired U.S. Air Force officers.
There also have been mutterings among aviation advocates that the no-fly zone idea is being downplayed so that budget support for Army and Marine Corps ground forces will not be minimized by some sort of aerial coup. Those opposing the hands-off approach of the U.S. Pentagon are promoting a congressional call-in campaign in support of allied domination of Libyan airspace.
Two points used during congressional hearings to dismiss the value and thoroughness of an aerial blockade are that it would not prevent helicopter flights and that Libya is too large to a space to cover on a 24-hour basis. An informal group of former senior officers have been promoting a call-in campaign to interest high-profile leaders such as Sen. Kerry to quickly conduct more hearings on the feasibility of an air blockade.
Despite statements by the Russians that they would not support any military action against Libya – which would include establishing a no-fly zone – some U.S. officials believe there may be flexibility in Moscow’s position. Britain and France has stated support for the concept.
“I think the U.S. should ask the United Nations Security Council for a resolution and that would force the hand of Russia and China,” said one of the generals. “We also should ask for support from NATO so that the U.S. Air Force could use Italian bases.”
Any attack, the two generals contend, would be far more limited in scope and greater in effect than critics have suggested.
“[Defense Secretary Robert] Gates has said that a no-fly zone can’t stop helicopters,” the first Gen. says “That’s wrong. There are only three places in Libya where helicopters can stage, fuel, rearm and re-equip – one in Tripoli, one in Benghazi and one in the eastern oil fields that are in the hands of the rebels. They are all near the coast. All the rest of Libya is barren.
“The U.S. Air Force has specialized in operations to take down integrated air defense, crater runways and destroy helicopter staging areas,” he says. “We know where they are. You can shoot down low-flying helicopter with Aim-9X Sidewinders. The suppression would take 24-48 hours with assets that aren’t being used for Iraq or Afghanistan. We cleaned out Baghdad in 24-hr. in 1991 and 2003. Libya wouldn’t be that intense. The SA-6 is the best surface to air missile they have and the old F-1 Mirages are the best fighter.”
To date the media have dutifully recorded and passed along the objections of Obama administration officials about both the logistical and geopolitical headaches involved with imposing a no-fly zone over a sovereign country without UN authorization. If the analysis of these former Air Force officers is correct, the former are not really an issue and its more a matter of the Obama team's political resolve to act, even if doing so requires short-circuiting the UN in favor of a "coalition of the willing" to borrow a phrase from the George W. Bush administration.
At any rate, it would behoove the media to examine if the Obama administration and the Pentagon are being far too cautious from a military standpoint when it comes to assertively dealing with Qadhafi, a known sponsor of terrorism with American blood on his hands.