U.S. Continues Missions to Support Libya No-fly Zone

The United States continues to support NATO operations in Libya, including suppression of regime air defense assets, a Defense Department spokesman said today.

The U.S. military has not received requests from NATO for additional assets, Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan added.

“It has always been the plan that the U.S. role would change -– that we would provide more supporting and unique capabilities for doing that,” he said.

Since April 1, U.S. aircraft have flown 35 percent of all sorties in the effort, 77 percent of all air-to-air refueling sorties and 27 percent of all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties, Lapan said.

American combat search and rescue assets are in the area, he added, noting the U.S. Navy has surface ships and patrol planes participating in the maritime arms blockade.

“We do have U.S. fighter aircraft [available] to NATO … that they can use as part of the air tasking order for suppression of enemy air defense missions, and they have conducted some of those missions,” Lapan said.

The colonel stressed that these missions are in support of no-fly zone operations only, and not for strike missions to protect Libyan civilians. The Air Force F-16s are under NATO command and control, and no special request is needed to release the aircraft for operations against mobile and fixed regime air defense systems, he said.

Eleven U.S. aircraft –- six Air Force F-16s and five Navy EA-18 Growlers –- have flown a total of 97 air-defense-suppression sorties since April 4, when NATO assumed the lead for Libyan operations.

“On three occasions, ordnance was fired by those aircraft,” Lapan said. “We do not characterize those as ‘strikes,’ because [air defense suppression] is considered a defensive, vice offensive, mission.”

[Source: By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, US Department of Defense, Washingon, 13Apr11]

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