The UK Ministry of Defence has provided fresh details about its commitment to supporting the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, including the first combat employment of its Eurofighter Typhoons.

At least nine Royal Air Force aircraft types are involved in the UK’s Operation “Ellamy”, with their activities now largely being conducted from Gioia del Colle air base in Italy and RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.

After arriving at Gioia del Colle on 20 March, RAF Typhoons took part in their first combat operation for the UK within less than 24h. Several were involved in a first mission which lasted nearly 5h 30min and was dedicated to policing the no-fly zone under the terms of UN security council resolution 1973.

 RAF Typhoons in Italy - Crown Copyright

RAF Typhoon Italy night - Crown Copyright

Both images © SAC Neil Chapman/Crown Copyright

Pictures of the deployed Typhoons show aircraft in the markings of both the RAF’s 3 Sqn and 17 Sqn operational evaluation unit, both of which are ordinarily based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire. Each of the fighters is armed with Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM and MBDA ASRAAM air-to-air missiles, plus a 27mm Mauser cannon.

Italy has also flown several of its Eurofighters to Trapani in readiness to support the coalition operation, with its examples carrying Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missiles and AMRAAM weapons.

 Tornado GR4 Brimstone etc - Crown Copyright
© Cpl Brad Hanson/Crown Copyright

The RAF has, meanwhile, broadened the scope of its operations using the Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft. Initial sorties with the type conducted from its Marham base in Norfolk involved the release of several MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missiles against air defence targets, but a wider range of weapons and sensors are now being carried. These include MBDA’s dual-mode Brimstone air-to-surface missile and Raytheon Systems Paveway IV precision-guided bombs, plus the Rafael-produced Litening III targeting pod (combination pictured above). Others are equipped with the Goodrich Raptor reconnaissance pod (below).

 Tornado GR4 Raptor - Albanpix Ltd Rex Features
© Albanpix Ltd/Rex Features

“The Tornados are very well equipped to identify any emerging threats on the ground and deliver a dynamic and effective response,” the MoD says. Several of the aircraft landed at Gioia del Colle after completing their missions from the UK on 21 March.

Operations with the RAF’s fast jets are being supported by a host of other UK assets, including Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tankers. Deployed surveillance equipment includes Boeing E-3D airborne warning and control system, British Aerospace Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence and Raytheon Systems Sentinel R1 airborne standoff radar aircraft. Supplies are being transferred to the region using Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130 transports.

“We are still conducing detailed assessment of the effects of military action against specific military targets,” the MoD says. While it declines to detail how much the coalition has degraded Col Muammar Gaddafi’s command and control network and integrated air defences during the opening days of the campaign, it adds: “we have the best possible indication that this operation is having a very real effect; namely the protection of Benghazi”.

Combat aircraft from Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA were all involved in enforcing the no-fly zone on 21 March.