Typhoons, Sea Kings return to UK after Libyan duties

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Six aircraft from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have returned to the UK after participating in the NATO-led operation to safeguard Libyan civilians.

Four Eurofighter Typhoons landed back at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on 16 September, six months after the type had been deployed to Gioia del Colle in Italy, in what was to become the type's multi-role combat debut.

According to the RAF, Typhoons assigned to NATO's operation Unified Protector logged more than 3,000 flight hours during the detachment, flying both air policing and air-to-surface strike missions.

 
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Meanwhile, two of the navy's Westland Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control system aircraft have returned to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, after a roughly four-month tour of duty over Libya.

Operated by 857 Naval Air Squadron since late May, from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the pair logged almost a combined 100 sorties in support of the NATO mission.

In addition to supporting strike activities involving five British Army Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters, the Sea Kings gathered real-time information about the movement of forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, using their Thales Searchwater 2000 surveillance radars.

 
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The UK's continued commitment to the Libya mission is being met using 16 Panavia Tornado GR4s, forward-deployed at Gioia del Colle, plus a reduced detachment of two Apaches.

Operations are also supported using types including the RAF Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tankers, Boeing E-3D Sentrys and Raytheon Systems Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft.

Meanwhile, the UK Ministry of Defence has announced that NATO has agreed to release HMS Ocean and its embarked helicopters from their contribution to operation Unified Protector. "The vessel is offloading equipment in Souda Bay [Crete] and in due course will proceed through the Suez Canal en route to the Red Sea," it said.