“When I first went feet dry [over land], I had to pinch my arm to tell me this mission was real and not an exercise”.
This was what one of the Swedish Air Force Gripen pilots told his Chief of Operations after his first mission over Libya in Operation Unified Protector last year.
That chief was Lieutenant Colonel Hans Einerth, who told Aerospace Forum Sweden about the success of the first real missions flown in a threat environment in the Swedish airforce history.
Lt Col Hans Einerth TUJAS, Swedish Armed Forces.
Based at Sigonella on Sicily, the Swedish detachment of eight Gripen fighters, eight pilots and 35 ground crew generated 30 per cent of the Allied coalition’s Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) imagery during the campaign, flying 574 sorties over Libya and making 2271 reconnaissance reports to the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) on the Italian mainland.
Imagery from the Gripen’s SPK 39 recce pod was downloaded, analysed and distributed within 2 hours after landing. As yet the pod does not have a datalink capability for its 25-megapixel photos, but that is coming. Einerth says that it would be ideal in future to have the imagery analysts near to the user at the CAOC, and a broadband datalink would make this possible. Well-trained imagery analysts are still vital in this day and age.
Study by a practiced eye of infrared images of Gadaffi’s oil storage facilities showed the rise and fall of petroleum supplies during the conflict, allowing the coalition to judge the level of activity of Libyan government forces. Despite the multiple sources of ISR data from satellites through UAVs and long-range patrol aircraft, fighter aircraft bring many advantages such as speed, self defence capability and flexibility, particularly in a non-permissive environment, Lt Col Einerth stressed to the forum.