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UK commits Typhoons, Tornado GR4s to Libyan no-fly zone

The UK has started preparations to deploy Eurofighter Typhoon and Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft to the Mediterranean region to support an international operation to restrict the activity of forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.

The action was confirmed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on 18 March, who told the House of Commons that further assets, including air-to-air refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft will also be involved.

"Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started, and in the coming hours they will move to air bases from where they can take the necessary action," he says.

The United Nations security council yesterday approved the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent attacks on civilians opposed to Gaddafi, along with a package of other measures against his regime contained within Resolution 1973.

Committing some of its Typhoons will represent the Royal Air Force's first operational use of the type in a role beyond providing quick reaction alert cover for NATO: a responsibility currently being provided from two UK locations, and also on the Falkland Islands.

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The service's Tornado GR4 force, meanwhile, already has 10 of its aircraft deployed at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan, from where they fly missions in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The UN's agreement to allow military intervention against Libya has highlighted several of controversial decisions contained within the UK coalition government's Strategic Defence and Security Review. Outlined last September, this has already removed the option of it committing a Royal Navy aircraft carrier to the region carrying BAE Systems Harrier GR9 strike aircraft - the last of which were retired late last year. Instead, the RAF will be required to fly longer range missions, possibly from its Akrotiri air base on Cyprus.

But with its possible role during a coalition operation against Libya already in mind, the Ministry of Defence has quietly delayed the planned retirement date for the RAF's last two British Aerospace-built Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence aircraft. The pair had been due to leave service on 31 March, but this is believed to have been extended by at least 90 days.

Reports suggest that faced with the prospect of UN-endorsed military action against it, the Libyan government has today called for a ceasefire.

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