From the early days of Op Deference the coalition depended on an ability to react swiftly to events.

The ability of Air Power to generate capability and rapidly mobilise saw RAF aircraft policing Libyan skies and attacking targets within hours of the execution order.

Despite the distance between the UK and Libya, the reach of the Tornados supported by aerial refuelling tankers meant that the RAF were able to launch UK based attack sorties for the first time since the Second World War - the furthest ever conducted from the UK.

It was not uncommon for Attack and ISR aircraft to service targets in the western, central and eastern coastal regions of Libya on the same sortie.

Height not only allowed our platforms to fly above the residual threat but it also gave a largely unobstructed observation of activity on the ground. Air assets provided intelligence on the otherwise inaccessible areas of Central and Southern Libya.


RAF operations began at the end of Feb 11 when a Non-Combatant Evacuation (NEO) of Entitled Persons (EP) was ordered under the name of Op Deference.

Two Sentry E3Ds deployed from RAF Waddington on 26 Feb 11; the first was on station within 17 hrs of the request from PJHQ. RAF Lyneham forward deployed three C-130 Hercules to Valetta Airport, Malta on 22/23 Feb 11. At a very late stage, the task changed from evacuating EPs from Benghazi (a task conducted by the Royal Navy) to recovering them from desert strips in central Libya.

On 26 and 27 Feb 11, more than 400 entitled persons from over 30 different nations were evacuated by the RAF to Malta.

Op ELLAMY 19 Mar 11 – 31 Oct 11

UNSCR 1973 was passed on 17 Mar 11; it authorised “all necessary measures, short of the deployment of a foreign occupation force, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas from attack”. That same day, the RAF Typhoon Force was given warning of deployment and a day later an Operations Warning Order directed HQ Air Command to prepare Tornado GR4 to strike Storm Shadow targets from the UK on 19 Mar 11.

On 20 Mar 11, ten Typhoon aircraft deployed from RAF Coningsby to Gioia Del Colle (GDC) in Southern Italy and by lunchtime the next day two Typhoons were flying Combat Air Patrols in support of the No Fly Zone. On the same day the first of four Tornado GR4s deployed from RAF Marham to GDC via missions in Libya. Throughout this period, combat aircraft were supported by E-3D Sentry, Nimrod R1, Sentinel and VC10 AAR forward deployed to RAF Akrotiri. As the campaign progressed and to extend time on task, AAR aircraft and E-3D’s were moved to Trapani, Sicily, and Sentinel was moved to GDC.

On average 953 RAF personnel were forward deployed at any one time; working from Poggio, Gioia Del Colle, Trapani and Akrotiri. Almost 2,000 passengers and more than 890,000 kg of freight were moved by air in support of Op ELLAMY.

Tornado GR4

Tornado GR4’s strike capabilities and the size of the Tornado GR4 force enabled the RAF to maintain the Op HERRICK (Afghanistan) commitment while having the capacity to conduct a separate, contingent Operation. The multi-role nature of the aircraft saw it conducting precise long range deep attack missions with stand-off missiles, precision urban and interdiction targeting with state-of-the-art smart weapons and vital tactical reconnaissance with specialised pods. Up to 16 Tornado GR4s were deployed to GDC at any one time.

On 19 Mar 11, four Tornado GR4s launched on an historic 3,000 mile round trip to conduct a deep strike Storm Shadow attack on key Libyan installations.

The aircraft returned to RAF Marham in the early hours of Sunday morning having achieved 8 direct hits from eight weapons delivered. A second deep strike sortie launched that same evening; as the aircraft manoeuvred for launch, they received intelligence of civilians in the target area and the attack was successfully aborted.


For the first four days Typhoon operations were supported by only 31 ground crew, sustaining an operational tempo of four missions per day. In order to protect Libyan civilians the focus moved to interdicting Pro-Gadhafi Forces on the ground, rather than preventing air attack, and on 31 Mar 11 the Typhoons began moving to the Air-to-Surface role.

The first Typhoon Op ELLAMY multi-role sortie was flown in mixed formation with a Tornado GR4 on 7 Apr 11.

These mixed formations combined complimentary capabilities, providing a range of graduated response weapons, a full Air Defence capability, an ability to see the air picture and receive tasking through data link, and an organic Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability provided by Litening III pods.

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconaissance (ISTAR)

E-3D Sentry flew in excess of 2000 hours and provided the airborne command and control necessary to co-ordinate ISTAR, NEO and fast-jet activity while keeping NATO and UK commanders informed.

Nimrod R1 flew almost 350 hours in support of Libyan operations before its retirement at the end of Jun 11. It provided critical electronic surveillance of pro-regime military and police networks. Sentinel provided Moving Target Indicator (MTI) data and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery during 2100 flying hours in support of Libyan operations.

On 15 Aug 11, Pro-Qadhafi Forces launched SCUDs against Anti-Qadhafi Forces and Libyan civilians; ISTAR assets provided warnings, analysed areas of interest and revealed possible SCUD equipment.

Air to Air Refuelling (AAR)

AAR was pivotal to campaign success, with long distances and duration of taskings. Alongside other Allied tankers, the RAF VC10 and [link not available] fleets were crucial in sustaining operational tempo.

RAF tankers flew in excess of 2500 hours and delivered over 30 Million pounds of aviation fuel.

Operational Support

The very rapid deployment of Force Elements to 5 different locations necessitated a flexible and agile response from the RAF’s logistics organisations. An air line of communication was established rapidly to transport mission critical items and munitions, while 2 MT Sqn were absolutely critical to the deployment and sustainment of the Op, transporting over 1.3 million kgs of freight. 3 Mobile Catering Sqn deployed to both Gioia del Colle and Trapani, providing 37,000 meals per month from tented facilities. The pace of activity continued during the redeployment, with the MV HURST POINT (a roll-on, roll-off ferry), 2 Gp’s AT fleet and 2 MT Sqn combining to transport 1.9 million kgs of freight to the UK over a 6 week period.

In response to a request from the Maltese Government, RAF armourers deployed with one day’s notice to disarm weapons loaded to 2 Libyan Mirages which had defected.

British forces overseas

Forces are based in the Falklands to demonstrate the government’s continued commitment to the security of UK overseas territories in the South Atlantic.

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