Sunday, 27 March 2011

Operation Ellamy : A Tornado Sortie

British sources of information about current operations over Libya are rather sparse.

Something interesting can be found on Stuart Hughes' page on

He shows the above video of a Tornado operating over Libya.

The pictures are from the Royal Air Force Mobile News Team and the supporting text appears to be from the same source given the detail.

Here is the text in full in full:

"23 March 2011

An RAF TORNADO GR4 recce mission on the 23 Mar generated RAPTOR imagery identifying Gadaffi's ground forces in a hostile posture 2.5 miles S of AJDABIYA. The imagery was sent to the! RAF's Tactical Imagery Wing (TIW) cell within the JFACHQ in Ramstein for analysis.

24 March 2011

At 1335Z a pair of RAF TORNADO GR4 took off from Gioia del Colle tasked with an Armed Reconnaissance mission in the AJDABIYA area.

At 1435Z, soon after the TORNADO'S arrival over AJDABIYA, the Coalition Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Ramstein passed the coordinates of a number of Libyan Main Battle tanks to Coalition aircraft in the area; this included the two RAF TORADO'S. The information had been supplied by the TIW Cell based on their assessment of the imagery collected on the previous day.

The TORNADO'S arrived over the target area and identified 4 x MBT. The tanks were still positioned 2.5 miles south of AJDABIYA, with barrels elevated and pointing north towards the town. They were deemed to have clear hostile intent. Other Coalition aircraft located and identified the remaining 6 x MBT.

The TORNADO'S th! en rendezvoused with the VC10 tanker on station in the area for fuel while the other Coalition aircraft identified and engaged their targets; destroying 6 x MNT.

At 1450 post refuelling, the RAF TORNADO'S returned to the target area and, having re-confirmed the targets were still in a hostile posture and that the area was clear of civilians, successfully engaged the 4 x MNT with Brimstone missiles.

One of the Strikes was delayed when a civilian vehicle was spotted close to the target, with the aircraft re-engaging once the vehicle was outside of the danger area.

Initial Battle Damage Assessment indicates all three MBT were destroyed.

At 1735Z the TORNADO'S landed back at Gioia del Colle."

We can deduce from the above that it takes a Tornado just under an hour to transit from Gioia Del Colle to Libya.

The Tornado received it's first aerial refuelling less than 1 hour and 15 minutes after taking off.

The Tornado's sortie lasted for 4 hours in total.

As transit time was about an hour one way,the Tornado would have spent about 2 hours "on task" out of it's 4 hours in the air.

As the objective of this sortie is to maintain an aircraft on station,this mission might be described as acheiving 50% mission efficiency.

With a Tornado spending 2 hours over Libya on each sortie,it would require 24 daily Tornado sorties to maintain a 24 hour 2 Tornado patrol over Libya from Gioia Del Colle.

Figures for the Tornado's sortie generation over Libya have not been released.

However,those same Tornados flying sorties of similar endurance over Afghanistan generate about 6 sorties per day from a total of 8 aircraft in theatre.

It would not be unreasonable to extrapolate from that that 32 Tornados would be required in theatre to generate a 2 aircraft continuous patrol over Libya when flying from Gioia Del Colle.

It is interesting to compare these figures with those for the Harriers which the United States Marines are using in Libya.

On a close air support mission the Harrier II has an unrefuelled endurance of about 3 hours with 2 external drop tanks.

Being based just a few minutes flying time off the Libyan coast,it can can spend well over 2 hours on station in Libyan air space without any aerial refuelling support at all.

A Harrier can also fly multiple sorties over Libya each day.

Based in the Mediterranean Sea,Marine Corps Harriers have been reported to be flying 2 sorties per aircraft per day over Libya.

If that sortie rate were sustainable,it may require as few as 12 Harriers with no aerial refuelling support to maintain 2 Harriers on patrol over Libya continuously.


It will be interesting to compare the statistics for the Harriers and Tornados performance over Libya when they are eventually released.

The Tornado is likely to generate far fewer hours on station per aircraft per day than the Harrier with far more aerial refuelling per aircraft per day.

The Tornado and tanker combination also cost far more than the Harrier and carrier alternative.

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