Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A request to working journalists: What I’d like to know about the Libyan NFZ

What I’d like to read is an article that explores how the Libyan no-fly zone differs from earlier no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia. My guess is that the biggest difference is having Global Hawk and other long-loiter drones. (Last week the Pentagon briefing mentioned that a Global Hawk, a UAV with the wingspan of ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

What I'd like to read is an article that explores how the Libyan no-fly zone differs from earlier no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia.

My guess is that the biggest difference is having Global Hawk and other long-loiter drones. (Last week the Pentagon briefing mentioned that a Global Hawk, a UAV with the wingspan of a Boeing 737, was operating over Libya.) This should relieve pilots of the tiring but sometimes risky job of surveilling. Instead, strike aircraft probably can wait off stage over the Mediterranean until called in to hit a target of opportunity. This reduces wear and tear on planes and people.

Also, particularly tough anti-aircraft sites can be hit by Predator drones firing Hellfire, again reducing the risk to pilots. And Qaddafi and those around him can just be maddened by the buzzing, lawnmower-like engines of low-flying drones.

What I’d like to read is an article that explores how the Libyan no-fly zone differs from earlier no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia.

My guess is that the biggest difference is having Global Hawk and other long-loiter drones. (Last week the Pentagon briefing mentioned that a Global Hawk, a UAV with the wingspan of a Boeing 737, was operating over Libya.) This should relieve pilots of the tiring but sometimes risky job of surveilling. Instead, strike aircraft probably can wait off stage over the Mediterranean until called in to hit a target of opportunity. This reduces wear and tear on planes and people.

Also, particularly tough anti-aircraft sites can be hit by Predator drones firing Hellfire, again reducing the risk to pilots. And Qaddafi and those around him can just be maddened by the buzzing, lawnmower-like engines of low-flying drones.

I’m told that another big difference is munitions, which are much more sophisticated than even the ones used over Iraq 10 years ago.

Also, we are seeing lumbering AC-130 gunships and A-10 ground attack jets thrown into the mix. I can’t remember seeing those in previous no-fly zones, because these aircraft are both designed to destroy things on the ground.

Finally, having people on the ground communicating with you must make a difference, but I imagine those communications are difficult. (I bet this is happening something like this: Libyan on ground is provided with comms to an interpreter in Sicily or the United States to then passes info that reaches a strike coordinator in an AWACs plane who then calls a pilot who speaks French or British.)  

Also, if the rebels continue to succeed, at some point they are gonna get some vehicles. And then the tank plinking gets much harder.

Speaking of Libya, my CNAS colleagues Zachary Hosford and Andrew Exum have a good new policy brief out. I agree with pretty much everything in it except their aside in the conclusion that the intervention was "ill-advised." I think it is just about the best thing I have read on Libya recently. You can read it here.

Here are their four main points:

  • Use Positive and Negative Incentives to Force Moammar Gadhafi from Power.
  • Halt Direct Military Operations.
  • Help Build a Coalition To Provide Non-Military Support.
  • Be Willing to Accept the Status Quo Ante Bellum.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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