On April 21, exactly one month to the day after their CF-18s’ first mission over Libya, Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, the Chief of the Air Staff, and Major-General Alain Parent, deputy commander of CEFCOM, paid a visit to the men and women of Task Force Libeccio at Trapani, Italy.
LGen Deschamps informally addressed the Task Force and expressed his pride in the professionalism and dedication they continue to demonstrate. He noted that they are making a valuable contribution to the coalition, which is particularly important during the critical early days of the military operation.
Since their departure from 3 Wing Bagotville on March 18, the six CF-18s from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron have carried out more than 140 sorties in the skies over Libya. Their ongoing mission is to maintain the no-fly zone, help enforce the arms embargo and to protect Libyan citizens from the threat of attack.
The multi-role, upgraded CF-18 is an ideal aircraft for the complex and dynamic environment in this theatre of operations. Able to conduct both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions and to adjust in-flight to the changing conditions on the ground, the aircraft continues to make a significant contribution to this multi-national effort.
While they have engaged and destroyed numerous verified targets on the ground, including electronic warfare sites and ammunition bunkers, sometimes mission success means coming back without using their weapons. The careful selection and verification of targets, along with strict rules of engagement, are designed to minimize the risks of collateral damage or harm to civilians.
“We are here to help the people of Libya, not to harm them,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Sylvain Menard, CF-18/CC-150T detachment commander with Task Force Libeccio. “The loss of one innocent life is one too many.”
In addition to the CF-18 component, Task Force Libeccio includes two CC-150T Polaris strategic air-to-air refuelers, also based in Trapani, while two CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft are based nearby at Sigonella Naval Air Station and the Air Component Command detachment is in Poggio-Renatico, both in Italy.
[Editor’s note: On May 17, two CC-130 Hercules air-to-air refuellers from 17 Wing Winnipeg deployed to Sicily as temporary replacements for a Polaris that returned to Canada.]
The Auroras, one each from 19 Wing Comox and 14 Wing Greenwood, are supporting the arms embargo by patrolling the skies off the coast of Libya. This is essential in establishing stable conditions on the ground, which will allow for effective humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations.
The improved and impressive capabilities of the upgraded Aurora have allowed it to detect and report vessels that may be in contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It has also been used to help develop the overall picture of what is taking place off the coast of Libya.
The deployed tankers are emblematic of the cooperative nature of the coalition as they provide fuel not only for CF-18s, but also to a wide range of other compatible fighter aircraft from other nations, including Britain, France, the United States, Sweden, Italy and Qatar.
In the first five weeks of operations, they provided more than three million pounds of fuel to other aircraft, giving them the added range and endurance they need to carry out their missions safely and effectively. The 437 Transport Squadron tanker aircraft and crews from 8 Wing Trenton were also essential in supporting the rapid response to the CF-18s as they made the long trip from Bagotville to Trapani at the start of the deployment.
The rapid response of Canada’s Air Force was impressive by any standard; less than 24 hours after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) and the order to deploy, aircraft were en route to Italy.
The next day the fighter aircraft and essential support personnel were on the ground in Trapani, and a day later they were ready for their first mission.
The Air Force is committed to supporting this important operation for as long as necessary. Contingency plans have been prudently developed to rotate personnel if required in the coming weeks and months. Their ultimate mission success is also greatly dependent on the support provided by CF personnel back in Canada, as well as from the families and loved ones of those who are deployed. The nation of Italy has also been an excellent host to the forces from Canada and many other nations as they pursue their common goal of helping the people of Libya.