Libya no-fly zone: Weaponry

A joint operation to enforce a UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya has begun. Here we look at some of the British, French and US aircraft likely to be involved and some of the weaponry they may be using.


Typhoon - Eurofighter

The RAF's Typhoon, or Eurofighter, is an agile aircraft primarily used in air-to-air combat. A number of Typhoons have been moved to Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy, from where they will fly missions over Libya.

Aviation expert Paul Eden said the Typhoon was likely to remain essential to the operation in Libya for as long as there was a risk of any Libyan aircraft becoming airborne.

Typhoons were built to criteria set by the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy to replace the Tornado fighter. They boast stealth technology and weapons systems including medium and short-range air-to-air missiles and various high-precision air-to-ground weapons.

The Typhoon entered service with the RAF in 2003, and is primarily based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.


The Tornado has been one of the mainstays of the RAF since first entering service in 1980 and the aircraft were used to enforce no-fly zones in Iraq.

It is mainly used as a strike or attack aircraft and will have a key role in taking out Libyan surface-to-air missile systems.

The MoD says it expects to move a number of Tornados to Gioia del Colle shortly, where they will join up with the Typhoon fleet to form 906 expeditionary air wing.

Weapons such as the Storm Shadow cruise missile mean that the Tornado can hit targets from a significant distance. The MoD describes the missile as being designed for "long range, highly accurate, deep penetration" against enemy command and control bunkers. It is fired from a Tornado GR4.

Tornado GR4s are also equipped with Brimstone missiles, an effective anti-armour weapon and can also be used for all-weather, day and night tactical reconnaissance.


Nimrod R1 reconnaissance aircraft, derivative of the maritime patrol version, are involved in surveillance operations in Libya.

The monitoring systems are used for reconnaissance and gathering electronic intelligence. It can sit over an area, flying at low speeds for long periods - which can be extended by mid-air refuelling.

The Nimrod R1s are operated by No 51 Squadron, from RAF Waddington.


The Sentinel R1 aircraft, used in intelligence operations in Afghanistan, is also being used in Libya.

It is part of the Sentinel system which is made up of air, land and support segments.

The aircraft are converted Bombardier Global Express aircraft which are fitted with radar and monitoring systems which can be used to track and target enemy ground forces.

The reconnaissance aircraft is scheduled to be scrapped after the UK withdraws its forces from Afghanistan.


France is clearly one of the key players in this crisis.

In diplomatic terms it has been one of the main promoters of UN Security Council resolution 1973 allowing the use of force. French aircraft, thought to be Rafale fighters, according to reports from Paris, have been the first to operate over Libya ensuring, according to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that Libyan government aircraft cannot operate over the Benghazi.

Dassault Rafale

The Dassault Rafale is a multi-role, twin-engined delta wing aircraft capable of mounting air defence, ground attack, and reconnaissance missions.

It is operated by the French Air Force and a variant of the plane is the mainstay of the French navy, operating from the carrier Charles de Gaulle.

The Rafale is equipped with technology which allows it to detect and track up to eight targets simultaneously and generate 3D maps for navigation and targeting.

Mirage 2000

Again a multi-role fighter, the descendant of the famous Mirage III of the 1960s. Entered service in 1982 but some were extensively modernised in the late 1980s to fill a gap until the Rafale entered service.

The strike version of the aircraft, the Mirage 2000D, is likely to be the primary asset in this campaign.

Mirage F1

This is an older model from the Mirage stable, the first aircraft entering service in 1983. While there are several variants, the most important in current front-line service is the Mirage F1CR which is a highly specialised reconnaissance platform carrying cameras, and optical and electronic sensors.


B-2 Spirit stealth bomber

A long-range aircraft capable of staying airborne for many hours.

Its bizarre, jagged-triangle shape is part of its stealth design which uses various technologies to minimise its appearance to enemy radar.

The bombers have taken part in raids on Afghanistan, flying missions lasting more than 40 hours from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and refuelling in flight. The stealth bombers which took part in Sunday night's raid on Libya were also launched from Whiteman.


The F-16 "Fighting Falcon" is a compact, multi-role jet. It is highly manoeuvrable, has a long range, and can perform precision strikes at night and in bad weather. It can also detect low-flying aircraft even in radar clutter.

Paul Eden says their primary, specialised task at this time would be anti-air defence work, known as Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). They have a detection and targeting system designed to counter air defence radars.

As well as the US, other nations including Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Italy are sending F-16s to bases in southern Italy.

E-3 Sentry (Awacs)

The E-3 Sentry - currently being used by the US as well as Nato, the UK and France in Libya - is an airborne warning and control system, or Awacs, aircraft.

It is a modified Boeing 707 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome on top.

The E-3 can locate and track friendly, neutral and hostile aircraft, and relays an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to command centres on the ground or aboard ships.

Able to operate at all altitudes and all weathers, it can be vital in giving an early warning of enemy actions some distance from the main theatre.


The RC-135 is a reconnaissance aircraft, based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

It seats more than 30 people, including the cockpit crew, electronic warfare officers, intelligence operators and in-flight maintenance technicians.

The RC-135's on-board sensors allow the mission crew to detect and identify targets in near-real time, and relay that information to wherever it is needed, either on the ground or to other aircraft. Paul Eden says the aircraft will be "sniffing for electromagnetic emissions from air defence radars".


CF-18 Hornet

The Canadian Armed Forces' front-line multi-role fighter, a version of the US F-18 Hornet, is used for air superiority and tactical support.

Canada has committed six Hornets to help enforce the no-fly zone. The Canadian jets were seen at Prestwick airport in Scotland on Saturday where they landed for a refuelling stop before heading towards the Mediterranean.

The aircraft is equipped with a sophisticated radar system that can track targets in all weather and from great distances. A Sniper Advanced Targeting pod, which contains an infra-red (heat-sensitive) camera and TV camera, allows pilots to see targets at night and in low visibility conditions.

The pod also has a laser designator to guide precision bombing, and a laser spot tracker. The newly acquired Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) allows the pilot to effectively designate targets anywhere around the aircraft.


Tomahawk cruise missile

The Tomahawk Cruise missile is 20 feet (6.1m) long and flies at more than 700 mph for a range of about 1,000 miles, close enough to the ground to take enemy air defences by surprise.

It was originally developed to deliver a nuclear payload, but proved its use in the two Allied wars against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and against Serbian targets in Bosnia as a means of delivering conventional explosives.

Each missile usually carries a 1000lb charge, specially shaped to penetrate hardened concrete buildings.

Storm Shadow missile

Deployed from Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft, the Storm Shadow is a conventionally armed cruise missile.

Developed by the European MBDA consortium, Storm Shadow is intended to be launched from an aircraft, before flying beneath enemy radar prior to hitting its intended target.

Weighing just over one tonne and measuring a little over 16 feet (5m) in length, the missile was first used by the RAF in the Iraq War in 2003.

Storm Shadow is programmed with details of its target prior to launch, and then uses its onboard terrain-following radar and GPS to navigate to the exact co-ordinates. It is intended to be used against fixed targets, and its explosive warhead is able to penetrate concrete installations.