Imposing a no-fly zone over Libya may take “upwards of a week,” U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told a Senate committee today.
Schwartz dismissed as “overly optimistic” public estimates that setting up a zone might be accomplished in a few days. “But it is clear we could establish a no-fly zone if that was the mission,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a budget hearing.
“The question is, is a no-fly zone the last step or is it the first step,” because that alone “would not be sufficient to reverse the momentum” of Libya’s military forces against the rebels, he said. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said on state television that his forces will begin an assault on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi tonight.
The Pentagon, in a detailed, unclassified listing of Libya’s air defense and air force, said the majority of Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missile batteries are along the Mediterranean coast.
The missiles include Russian-made SA-2, SA-3, SA-5, SA-6, and SA-13 systems, the Pentagon said.
The SA-5, at its longest range of 300 kilometers, provides Libya “significant standoff capability,” said the statement. Libya has about 50 SA-6 missiles of the type used by Bosnian Serbs to shoot down Captain Scott O’Grady’s F-16 in 1995.
The air defense system is spread over 30 missile sites, which are alerted by more than 15 early warning radars, said the list, provided by a spokesman, U.S. Navy Commander Robert Mehal.
The “existence of these systems poses a significant threat to U.S. and NATO aircraft,” the statement said.
Libya’s air force has some advanced aircraft including more than 100 MiG jets, 30 helicopters and 15 transport aircraft, “but much of it is obsolete or inoperable,” the Pentagon said.
Libya’s air force includes only one squadron of advanced ground attack aircraft, the Russia SU-24. As much as 80 percent of the air force is “non-operational,” the Pentagon statement said.
The U.S. aerial armada “would undoubtedly” include F-16 jets outfitted to attack radar sites, bombers capable of dwelling over Libya for hours, and, at least in the early stage, the stealth F-22 Raptor made by Lockheed Martin Corp., Schwartz said.
RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic eavesdropping and surveillance aircraft would take part, along with EC-130H Compass Call planes for jamming communications. “This would be a complete force application,” Schwartz said.
The United Nations is debating today whether to support the Libyan opposition with a no-fly zone or other military action.
Speaking today in Tunisia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said options being considered for action against Libya include the use of drones, bombing air defense systems and arming rebel forces.
“The overall readiness of Libyan aircraft is poor by western standards and most aircraft are now dated or obsolete in terms of avionics or upgrades,” the Pentagon statement said. “Overhaul and combat repair capability is also limited.”
Libya’s attack helicopter squadron consists of Russian Hinds and “readiness is reportedly poor,” it said.