Assignment: Protecting civilians

Assignment: Protecting civilians

Spring 2011 – the Arab spring. In Libya, a bloody civil war rages as the Gaddafi regime indiscriminately attacks its own people. At the start of April, the Swedish parliament decides to provide NATO with armed assistance. Less than 23 hours later, a unit with Gripen aircraft from the F17 Airwing in Sweden takes of for their new assignment. The mission is to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

Seven months later, the mission is completed and the Swedish contribution with Gripen has greatly impressed foreign officers and NATO. During the mission, Gripen's advanced reconnaissance capability proved increasingly valuable. Therefore in a second stage the Swedish mission was expanded. The mission focused on direct reconnaissance of the Gaddafi regime's ground forces in coordination with the coalition's operations. The moment the Gripen aircraft landed, intelligence officers were on hand to receive the digital images taken by the aircraft over Libya. Within a few short hours, the reconnaissance reports were at NATO's flight headquarters.

The speed and quality meant that NATO turned to Sweden for highly significant targets. The reconnaissance images from Gripen were reviewed by special image interpreters, whose analysis provided the operational commanders with detailed and valuable information about conditions at different targets for combat operations. On several occasions, for example, it was discovered that civilian settlements were close to the intended target. This enabled humans and important civilian functions to be spared.

Sweden contributed eight Gripen aircraft and advanced reconnaissance equipment to the NATO-led operation. The air unit was based on the Italian island of Sicily, delivering a total of 250,000 reconnaissance photos over seven months and helping to protect the civilian population of Libya.