- Number of aircraft carriers needed to enforce a no-fly zone: at least 2 by most calculations.
- Number of operational aircraft carriers that the UK owns: 0.
- Number of operational aircraft carriers that France owns: 1. That has all sorts of maintenance issues and is just returning from an extensive trip in the Indian Ocean. Given it's history, it should think about heading home as fast as it can.
- Number of operational aircraft carriers owned by rest of European NATO allies: 4. Of the smaller variety (less than 27k tons)
- Number of operational aircraft carriers that the US owns: 11.
Friday, March 4, 2011
With pundits and leaders (PM Cameron specifically) calling for NATO action to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, I'm at a loss on how this could be done. Even if we put aside the fact that the preponderance of the alliance does not want to get involved militarily, there's a plain old numbers problem with doing this. Let's go through this:
Well, well. Thank you Mr. Cameron for your interest in NATO (and the UK specifically) taking the lead on this important issue, in spite of the fact that you have no way of doing this without essentially asking the U.S. to do almost all of it for you. You either can't do sums or you're trying to goad the U.S. into action while assuming the lead. Well done, old boy. Buddy is only half of a word.
I am against a no-fly zone personally as I don't think the U.S. can answer the questions posed by the Powell Doctrine. If we can't answer those questions, I'm certainly against another open-ended military commitment with vague objectives. But make no mistakes, given the geography of the area, we're not talking about a multi-national coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. It's a U.S. enforcement. While our Special Relationship has been tense the past few years, it takes a lot of gall to clamor for NATO involvement and take the mantle of leadership upon yourself when you don't have the kit to back it up. Maybe that whole SDSR thing doesn't meet your national aspirations. Maybe you ought to give it a rethink. Or this is going to keep happening and our relationship is going to get more tense before it gets better.
UPDATE: Just a couple of point of clarification. Yes, the primary impediment to a no-fly zone is political. I get that. If that impediment is removed, it will be difficult to implement.
Land basing becomes difficult as well - although not impossible. Malta is not a NATO member, which would make air basing there difficult. I've also hear Cyprus, Crete and bases around Corsica. I can't speak for the infrastructure at these places, but I would hazard that it would be quite expensive to move the equipment and personnel necessary to these places. Especially for such long sorties to Libya, never mind time on station once they're there, and the flights back. For example, Crete to Tripoli would take nearly 2/3 of the fuel capacity of a Tornado (with extra fuel pods and no ordnance) just to cross the water between the two places. That's a long ways to go if you're planning on patrolling once you get there. Maintenance, fuel, refuel, and crew requirements make this a very expensive operation. No, I think carriers would be the best option (save Malta of course - but I'm making a NATO-internal argument here).
Finally, I hope our French readers do not take offense at my comments on the Charles de Gaulle. It was not a swipe at the French military, it was commentary on the shoddy maintenance record of that ship over the past few years and the fact that it's been in extensive operational use for Afghanistan and in exercises in the Indian Ocean. I'm not a naval expert, but when you combine those things, I would guess that the de Gaulle should head to port for some much needed sustainment maintenance. I could be quite wrong though.