The UN Security Council has backed a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” short of an invasion “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas”.
In New York, the 15-member body voted 10-0 in favour, with five abstentions.
Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels in an uprising.
Rebel forces reacted with joy in their Benghazi stronghold but a government spokesman condemned UN “aggression”.
Loyalist forces are bearing down on Benghazi, home to a million people.
It is not thought that the US would be involved in the first strikes, but the British and French are likely to get logistical backup from Arab allies. There were reports military action could come soon.
Libya is within striking distance of many NATO bases in Italy, France and Spain. The British Royal Air Force has a base on Gibraltar which is within combat range of Libya. The major Italian air force base at Sigonella, on Sicily would be a major staging base for NATO aircraft. Sigonella is just a few hundred kilometres from Libya.
A large NATO airbase is situated at Aviano, Italy. United States Air Forces Europe has 48 F-16CG/DG (Block 40) fighter bombers from the 510th and 555th fighter squadrons based there. 48 F-15 E fighter bombers are based at Lakenheath, England. Those aircraft can deploy to Aviano within hours. 24 F-15 C/D Eagle air superiority fighters are also based at Lakenheath. Another 24 F-16′s are based at Spangdahlem airbase in Germany. Therefore the U.S. Air Force could muster 144 fighters within hours in an effort against Libya.
F-16′s at Aviano
F-15 Strike Eagles based at Lakenheath, England
It has been reported the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise has traversed the Suez canal and is now in the Mediterranean Sea within striking distance of Libya.
This adds another 60 fighter bombers into the equation. The bulk of the Enterprises aircraft are F/A-18 Hornets and F/A- Super Hornets. The British could add Tornado fighter bombers and the Italians could also provide Tornado fighter bombers and Typhoon air superiority fighters. The French could provide Mirage fighter bombers making the NATO force overwhelmingly superior to the Libyan Air Force.
The bulk of the fighter component of the loyal Gaddafi air force is made up of Mig-21′s (around 20 in service), and the more advanced Mig-23 (around 25-30 in service). The rebel forces have captured a few of these aircraft. The Mig-23 is mainly an air to air fighter but can be used for ground attack.
But the aircraft that is doing most of the bombing on rebel positions is the SU-22 Fitter (around 30-35 in service). This aircraft is a very good ground attack bomber.
Picture of a Polish Su-22
But none of the Libyan aircraft would stand a chance against the advanced American and other NATO aircraft in air-to-air combat. And the NATO forces would likely attack the Libyan aircraft while they are on the ground back at their bases.
Green: Gaddafi control
Blue: Rebel control
My best advice for anyone stationed at a Gaddafi controlled airbase right now would be: “Watch the skies, everywhere, keep looking! Keep watching the skies!”