Coalition nations involved in the first phase of UN-sanctioned operations against the regime of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi have provided details of their offensive activities mounted during the opening hours of hostilities.

Spearheading the campaign under the banner Operation “Odyssey Dawn” were assets from the US Air Force and US Navy. The former deployed Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bombers from Whiteman AFB, Missouri, Boeing F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath in the UK and Lockheed Martin F-16CJs from Spangdahlem air base in Germany to participate in air strikes staged in the early hours of 20 March local time.

 B-2 Whiteman - USAF
The USAF deployed B-2s from Whiteman AFB (above) and F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath in the UK

 F-15E - USAF

Both images © US Air Force

“Three B-2 Spirit aircraft from Whiteman AFB led strikes on a variety of strategic targets over Libya,” the air force says, with their non-stop mission having lasted more than 25h. “US fighter aircraft created airspace where no enemy forces could advance on Libyan opposition troops.”

The navy flew missions with land-based Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, while US Marine Corps Boeing AV-8B Harrier IIs mounted strikes against Libya’s air defence infrastructure and ground forces loyal to Gaddafi. Navy submarines and surface ships also launched more than 100 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles against high value targets.

Activities mounted by the UK also included the deployment of submarine-launched Tomahawks, plus the longest-range bombing mission mounted by the Royal Air Force since the Falklands War of 1982.

The Ministry of Defence says several Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft returned to their Marham base in Norfolk on 20 March after completing a 2,600nm (4,830km) mission to strike air defence targets using MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

“Key elements of the Libyan integrated air defence system were targeted as a necessary step in shaping for the establishment of the no-fly zone, as part of the coordinated coalition plan to enforce the UN security council resolution [1973] and protect Libyan civilians,” the MoD says.

The RAF last used Storm Shadows in combat during the first days of the second Gulf War with Iraq in 2003.

RAF armed Tornado GR4 - Crown Copyright 
© SAC Lisa Conway/Crown Copyright
The UK's Tornado GR4s released Storm Shadow cruise missiles on 20 March

RAF Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tankers and Boeing E-3D Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft provided support from the service’s Akrotiri air base in Cyprus. Pre-strike ground surveillance was conducted using a Raytheon Systems Sentinel R1, part of the airborne stand-off radar system, also operating from the Mediterranean island.

The UK on 20 March strengthened its commitment by deploying GR4s and Eurofighter Typhoons to Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, using the name Operation “Ellamy”.

“It makes operational sense to be closer to the no-fly zone and our military assessment confirmed that this is the most suitable forward mounting base for these assets,” the MoD says. Its support aircraft will continue to operate from Akrotiri.

The French air force operated a package comprising Dassault Mirage 2000-5, Mirage 2000D and Rafale strike aircraft, with some of the latter pictured carrying Sagem AASM precision-guided bombs prior to leaving Saint-Dizier air base (below).

Rafale AASM - Sipa Press Rex Features 
© Sipa Press/Rex Features

Paris is meanwhile preparing to deploy a naval battle group to the waters near Libya headed by the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The vessel will sail with an embarked air wing including eight Rafale F3s, six upgraded Dassault Super Etendards and two Northrop E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft, the French navy says.

 Tornado ECR v Libya - Italian air force
© Italian air force

Italy provided four Tornado ECR electronic combat and reconnaissance aircraft (above) armed with Raytheon AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles, with another two Tornados having provided tanker support. The aircraft were flown from Trapani airport in Sicily.