Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Some Statistics On Royal Air Force Operations In Libya

Statistics on Royal Air Force operations over Libya have been rather scant and incomplete.

This has made it rather difficult to judge the performance of British combat aircraft in Operation Ellamy.

However,there are now some useful pieces of information available.

On the 19th of May 2011,Scottish Member of Parliament (M.P.) Angus Robertson asked the following question in the House Of Commons:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many missions the (a) Nimrod R1, (b) Sentinel R1, (c) VC-10 and (d) C-130 have flown in Operation Ellamy."

He received the following answer from the Secretary of State for Defence Dr.Liam Fox:

Aircraft type
Number of sorties (1)
(1) Numbers are rounded to the nearest five."

Mr.Robertson went on to ask the following:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many sorties the (a) GR4 Tornado and (b) Typhoon has flown in Operation Ellamy;what type of mission was flown in each case;and how many weapons of each type were released; 
(2) how many dual mode Brimstone missiles have been used by UK forces in Operation Ellamy to date."

Dr.Fox replied: 

"Up to 8 May 2011 the UK has flown about 300 GR4 Tornado and 140 Typhoon sorties as part of Operation Ellamy.
Both aircraft types have conducted missions to protect civilians in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973,and the Typhoons have also conducted missions in support of no-fly zone enforcement.
In all,approximately 240 weapons have been fired by these aircraft during these missions.
These were a combination of Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles,Enhanced Paveway II and Paveway IV Precision Guided Munitions.
I am unable to provide a breakdown of these figures for reasons of operational security."

Operation Ellamy began on the 19th of March 2011,which means these figures cover the 50 days between then and the 8th of May.

Over that period V.C.10 tanker aircraft have flown 110 sorties or about 2.2 sorties per day.

It is difficult to calculate a sortie generation figure for these aircraft as numbers involved in this operation appear to vary over time,most recently the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that 6 V.C.10s were involved in Operation Ellamy,other sources often put the figure at 3 V.C.10s.

These numbers would give us a best case of 0.73 sorties per aircraft per day and a worst case of 0.37 sorties per aircraft per day.

Both of these figures are well below the 1 sortie per aircraft per day which the Royal Air Force tanker fleet often generates in combat.

The C130 Hercules transports flew 15 sorties or about 0.3 sorties per day ,1 sortie every 3 days on average.

Nimrod R.1 electronic reconnaissance aircraft flew 20 sorties or about 0.4 sorties per day,2 sorties every 5 days on average.

As there is only 1 Nimrod based at Akrotiri,this gives 0.4 sorties per aircraft per day. 

The Sentinel R.1 radar reconnaissance aircraft flew 50 sorties or about 1 sortie per day.

With 2 Sentinels based at Akrotiri,this equates to 0.5 sorties per aircraft per day.

It is likely to take about 4 hours for the Sentinel to transit to and from Cyrus to Tripoli on each sortie.

Tornado bombers flew 300 sorties or about 6 sorties per day.

As there have been 12 Tornados involved for most of Operation Ellamy,this equates to just over 0.5 sorties per aircraft per day,well below the 0.8 sorties per aircraft per day which Canadian Hornets are generating.

Flying sorties of 5.5 hours duration on average,the 12 British Tornados are generating 19 hours on station over Libya each day,an average of 1 hour and 35 minutes on station per Tornado per day (assuming an average transit speed of 500 miles per hour over the 580 miles between Gioia Del Colle and Tripoli).

This compares poorly with the 3 hours on station which each Canadian Hornet generates per day.

Each Canadian Hornet is generating 89% more time on station over Libya per day than each British Tornado.

Typhoon fighters flew 140 sorties or about 2.8 sorties per day.

A total of 240 weapons were released,an average of 4.8 weapons per day or 0.55 weapons per fast jet sortie.

It is interesting to note that,other than a handful of Storm Shadow missiles,these weapons range from the 1,000 pound (450kg) bomb based Enhanced Paveway II down to the 110 pound (50kg) Brimstone.

Thus weapon expenditure in 50 days of combat over Libya probably totals less than about 120 tonnes of ordnance and could be as little as 12 tonnes.

By way of comparison,a large aircraft carrier like the Nimitz class carries about 3,200 tonnes of ordnance,with the replenishment vessel which accompanies it carrying a similar amount.

The French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle carries 600 tonnes of ordnance (other sources say 2,100 tons) and 3,200 tonnes of aviation fuel.

It would be interesting to know how much ordnance is carried by the Royal Navy's Invincible class ships and also by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's replenishment vessels,unfortunately we do not know the answer to that but it is likely to be far higher than 120 tonnes.

The only figures we have for the ordnance capacity of the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are unfortunately expressed in cubic metres rather than tonnes which is less than helpful.


TheRagingTory said...

Surely from a storage point of view, even on a ship, volume matters far more than weight?

Would 6,000tons of ordnance on a CVA compromise speed or handlking?

Weight only really matters on aircraft, because they cant take off if overloaded.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello TheRaging Tory,

it depends,are we talking generally or specifically about a particular ship?

If we are talking about the Queen Elizabeths,they have growth margin up to (I think) 75,000 tonnes so adding 6,000 tonnes of ordnance would not be a problem if you had the space for it in a location where weight distribution problems would not occur (e.g. metacentric height issues).

In general,ships are affected by weight as well.
Imagine a hypothetical ship with a length of 280 metres,a beam of 40 metres,a displacement of 60,000 tonnes,an horizontal cross section of 6000 square metres area at the waterline and (to keep the maths simple) uniform cross section below that.

To float that vessel has to displace 60,000 cubic metres of fresh water (a little less of more dense sea water).

Add 6,000 tonnes of ordnance and it needs to displace another 6,000 cubic metres,increasing it's draught by 10%,which means it has to push 10% more water out of the way when it moves.
At about 20 knots it would be pushing about 4,400 tonnes of water out of the way each second.
That slows the ship down a lot.

Increased draught also reduces the number of ports it can enter and the depth of water it can sail through.
There are also limits to the ship's structural strength and the hull's freeboard (how high the top of the hull is above water) loading up the ship reduces freeboard which can lead to waves washing over the deck.
The weight of that water might exceed the structural strength of things like hold covers leading to flooding which sinks the ship.
Which is why ships have a "Plimsoll line" painted on their hulls.

There is a lot more to it than that but ships are weight limited just like aircraft,the big difference is just the numbers.

The biggest ships can sail with about 2,000 times more payload than the biggest aircraft can fly with.

In terms of volume ships have an advantage,you can add as much as you like as long as it doesn't exceed weight limiting factors - see some of the car transporting ships for example.
Adding volume to a plane is a big issue as it means a lower payload fraction and more air to be pushed out of the way when flying,aircraft are more critical in both respects.


Topman said...

Are you sure there are 12 GR4 in Italy?

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Topman,

there were when this post was written.

The first deployment to Italy was 10 Typhoons,followed by 2 batches of 4 Tornados for a total of 18 aircraft.
After that Typhoons began to return home while Tornados replaced them.
Eventually another 4 Tornados brought the number to 22 aircraft in total.