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Thursday
Mar102011

The Nuts and Bolts of a No-Fly Zone in Libya

U.S. State Dept.(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. officials and the Pentagon have pushed back against calls from Capitol Hill and the international community to implement a no-fly zone in Libya, citing the logistical difficulty and need for military action. Supporters of a no-fly zone point to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's military advantage against rag-tag rebels who have little or no military training.

As the United States and others contemplate what actions to take in Libya at NATO meetings Thursday in Brussels, here is a look at some possible options, from the view of Steve Ganyard, a former fighter pilot who has enforced no-fly zones in Bosnia and flown combat missions in Iraq, as well as served as a deputy assistant secretary of state.

QUESTION: What would it actually take to implement a no-fly zone?

ANSWER: The first thing that would have to happen is we would have to bring in aircraft to take out surface-to-air missile systems and enemy fighters that are on the ground.

Q: What would you actually have to take out? What does Libya have in terms of air defenses?

A: There are air defenses all the way 600 miles from Bengazhi to Tripoli and inland 2 to 300 miles into the southern part of the oil fields. You would have to take out not just the airfields themselves but the surface-to-air missile systems that are defending the key ports and airfields themselves.

Q: What it would take in terms of ships?

A: It would take a sizeable buildup of both naval and air forces. We'd put forces in Sigonella, Sicily, in Crete, NATO air space here in southern Europe. We'd have to have aircraft carriers off shore, we have air-to-air refueling tankers off shore and we'd have to have fighter combat air patrols off shore before we even thought of going inland.

Few Options Make Sense

Q: You're talking hundreds of aircraft?

A: Hundreds of aircraft, numerous ships, support aircraft; all just offshore and then we would think about what it would take to take out those enemy air defenses and then what would it take to establish the combat air patrol and a no fly-zone. You probably have AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] just off the coast. They can see hundreds of miles inland. They can see fighter and helicopters --

Q: But watching them does what?

A: It does absolutely nothing unless you have the military force to take on the aircraft that are flying now, and to be able to go in and take out those that are on the ground, just surveying the area really does no good...Until we get over Libya, and are able to take detailed close-up pictures, we are not doing ourselves any good by having air-to-air surveillance offshore of Libya

Q: What about establishing humanitarian relief?

A: I don't see how you do humanitarian relief unless you have secured the shoreline. And to secure the shoreline you are going to have to establish fighter coverage overhead to protect the ships that come ashore.

Q: In terms of military options, when you look at Libya, what makes sense?

A: Very little. Nothing makes sense without a sizeable military buildup, which will take weeks if not months, in southern NATO airbases, and then we'll take a protracted campaign that will need to roll back the enemy air defenses and roll back the fighters that are on the ground. Once that is done, we establish orbits overhead in key strategic places to prevent Libyans from flying. I think we have options. They are not necessarily military; aiding rebels, we can provide covert arms...doing more through finances, taking away money from Gadhafi.

Q: What would you do so they [Libyan rebels] can talk to each other?

A: One of the things Gadhafi has done is shut down the Internet. We can put de facto Internet servers and cell-phone towers.

We could actually put U.S. aircraft off shore that can serve as airborne servers for Internet access or de facto cell-phone towers so they could re-establish communication in those areas that Gadhafi has shut down.

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