The French air force has stepped up the intensity of its Operation “Harmattan” activities against pro-Gaddafi forces, launching its first MBDA SCALP-EG cruise missiles and also destroying a Libyan aircraft which had violated the UN-mandated no-fly zone in the country.

Overnight on 23-24 March, a package of four Dassault Mirage 2000Ds conducted a strike mission against an air base around 135nm (250km) south of the Libyan coast using SCALP-EG weapons, the French defence ministry says. Two of the aircraft were drawn from a detachment at Solenzara air base on Corsica, while the others flew from a base on the French mainland.

Two Rafale Ms launched from the French navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle were also involved in the operation.

In a separate action, a French air force Boeing E-3F airborne warning and control system aircraft identified an illegal Libyan aircraft movement near Misrata, east of the capital Tripoli. The service vectored a strike package onto the target as it returned to its base, and a Rafale destroyed it using a Sagem AASM air-to-surface weapon.

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

Early media reports suggested that the Libyan aircraft targeted in the incident was a Soko G-2 Galeb trainer, but the French air force has yet to provide confirmation.