October 16, 2011:
Libya has been a major combat effort for the British Royal Air Force (RAF), which sent over fifty aircraft. These included Tornado and Typhoon fighter-bombers plus several types of support aircraft. The small force of British Tornado fighter-bombers flew over 1,400 sorties (out of 19,000 flown by all aircraft from all nations) and spent over 7,000 hours in the air. Up to 16 Tornados, flying out of Italian air bases, carried out recon and combat missions over Libya, day and night. This was a major contribution for a 30 year old aircraft nearing the end of its service life.
Recon proved to be a more important mission that first anticipated. Back in July, four additional Tornadoes were sent to serve mainly for reconnaissance missions, to keep a better eye on the complex Libyan battlefield. The four additional Tornados were equipped with four of the eight RAPTOR digital photo recon pods the RAF. RAPTOR can spot targets at 72 kilometers in daylight and at 36 kilometers at night using infrared sensors. The digital images can be seen by the pilot, and transmitted to other aircraft, ground units or ships, in real time.
Four more Tornados are not needed for bombing largely because Britain has a small guided missile (Brimstone) that enables fighters to carry a dozen of them, and hit a dozen individual targets with high accuracy. Originally developed as an upgraded version of the American Hellfire, Brimstone ended up as a Hellfire in general shape only. Weighing the same as the Hellfire (48.5 kg/107 pounds), Brimstone was designed to be fired by fighter-bombers, not just (as with Hellfire) from helicopters and UAVs. Aircraft can carry more of these lightweight missiles. These are perfect for small targets, including vehicles that need to be hit, without causing injuries to nearby civilians or friendly troops.
Not all missions were flown out of Italy. On August 10th, six Tornado GR4 fighter bombers took off from an air base in southern Britain, flew 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) to Libya, and launched a dozen Storm Shadow stealth cruise missiles at key targets. The round-trip mission from Britain took eight hours, with aerial refueling aircraft available over the Mediterranean to provide sufficient fuel to get back to Britain. This was the first RAF combat mission launched from Britain since World War II.
The Storm Shadow air launched stealthy cruise missile got its first combat experience over Iraq eight years ago. The 5.2 meter (16 foot) long, 1.3 ton missile has a 250 kilometer range and carries a penetrating warhead. The missile is a British modified version of the French Apache missile and entered service in late 2002, costing about $1.2 million each.