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The War Nerd / March 23, 2011

Who ever imagined Libya…I mean Libya, with a record of O-and-Forever, with a knockout from Chad on its record…would put on a show like this? Some of the pictures I’ve seen are so amazing I’ve been trying to figure them out for days. Like this one of a dead Libyan tank after the French Air Force hit it. Look at that turret! Flew clean off, like the turret-chassis joint’s almost intact, and landed 30 yards away. That’s what they call a precision air-to-ground munition.

I’ve been trying to figure out what munition did it, in fact. It’s like going back to my yout’, when Jane’s was a bunch of big blue books, actual leather books that gave your arms a good workout and couldn’t be taken out of the Reference Room. But even zipping around the net googling “French air ground antitank” I don’t get a sure line on what hit that tank. The French were using Rafales in that strike, and the Rafale can carry the Apache, Exocet or AASM air-to-ground munitions.

But the Apache is a huge cruise missile, their version of a Tomahawk (they even stole the Injun idea for the name) and is mainly for popping out runway-cratering submunitions. It’s clearly not what hit that tank; if it had, with those cluster bombs, there’d be a bigger mess instead of this clean decapitation. It’s like something peeled the lid of this Soviet tin can, and it wasn’t cluster bombs. If the Apache had been carrying HE warhead instead…well, the damn thing weighs more than two tons, so with a simple HE warhead there’d be no tank left to photograph. OK, so it wasn’t an Apache.

Exocet? Maybe, but I doubt it. Exocet is another giant weapon, an antiship missile. In the Falklands War, an Exocet hit a British destroyer and sank it even though the warhead failed to explode. The missile itself just gutted the ship. Way too big to’ve made this clean chop on the Libyan tank.

That seems to leave this third, weird weapon, the AASM.

It’s a cheap kit solution to smartening up your dumb gravity bombs, sort of like making your Halo-zombie stepson sit next to a Korean in Algebra. But the bomb it’s usually fitted to is 250 kg, 550 pounds, which would’ve made tank salad, not a clean popped turret.

The French AF has to be using something else to kill tanks, but those are the three weapons the references list for the Rafale. Am I missing something obvious—like, can you fit some basic tank killer, HOT or Milan, to a Rafale? I’m asking readers: anybody have a better idea what the French used? They must have some smaller smart air-to-ground weapon but they don’t seem to be advertising it very well.

And I mean “advertising” seriously. The French sell a lot of weapons and this war is a giant showroom/infomercial for their defense industry. They should be sending pictures of that tank turret decorating the Sahara and stamping the name of the munition that did it on every copy. No way to run a bomb factory, damn it.

We can probably find out ourselves. I’ll bet somebody out there in NATO-land knows what the Rafales used. So let me know in the comments and I’ll try to follow up. After all, this daily blog thing should make two-way communication easier.

Ship Killers

Speaking of antiship weapons, I was checking out what the Libyans have, or had. They’re compulsive shoppers, Qaddafi’s procurement officers, and a lot of what they buy doesn’t make much sense. Like the “Libyan Navy,” if you can say that without laughing. But just thanks to the law of averages, they make a buy now and then that’s so good it’s scary, especially if you’re a French aircraft carrier sitting in the Mediterranean. I’m talking about the Russian antiship missile “Moskit” (“Mosquito”). The Russians sold them to Libya in 2009 as part of a deal for three anti-ship fast patrol boats of the Molniya class.

The Moskit is supposed to be the fastest antiship missile in the world, hitting Mach 2.2 at low altitude. Unstoppable by shipborne defenses. If you ask me, ALL shipborne missile defense is bullshit, with as much chance of stopping a serious missile swarm as an embroidered “God Bless This Naval Vessel” hanging on the bow, but an antiship missile that fast is even more lethal than the slow cruise-missile type (like the Exocet or our Harpoon—both fly about 1/3 as fast as the Moskit but they’ll still kill ships.)
The problem is that the Libyans bought this fantastic-sounding weapon as part of a sucker package like big weapons-dealing countries always sell dupes like Qadaffi. The real profit is in the boat itself, these three Molniya class platforms. Useless. No navy on earth will let a Libyan military vessel onto the Mediterranean to launch those missiles. Not the way to do it at all if you’re a non-air power.

If only they’d listened to me…or van Rypen. I wrote about how Gen. Paul van Ripen beat the US navy in war games off Iran, using civilian planes, fishing boats and anything else he could use to distract the fleet’s defenses.

What Qadaffi should’ve done is buy the Russian missiles and associated gear, fit them in the dirtiest trawler he could find, refit the trawler and base it as far away from other Libyan military installations as he could.

Because those bases are smoking ruins now, just when there’s a juicy aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, heading out from Toulon for Libya.

Another useless weapon

Carrier captains are so desperate to prove they’re useful they’ll jump in anytime, like your couchsurfing friend when it’s time for one of any chores that don’t involve actual sweat. That means that there’ll be a target big enough to end the war just winking at Qadaffi from now on: “Hit me, Muamar, you bad boy.” And he can’t, because he’s put the weapons that could do it on platforms that come straight out of WW II.

The key to fighting this kind of war is hiding behind civilians. Qadaffi knows that in his mongoloid way, which is why his surviving tanks all ran for Benghazi when the cruise missiles started hitting, like a freeway fugitive ducking into a mall parking lot where the ghetto birds can’t track him. But he doesn’t realize it as totally as he ought to. He needs weapons platforms that make flinchy NATO commanders reach for the Maalox. Fake fishing trawlers that look exactly like the Tunisian anchovy fleet. Fake pleasure boats, fake Cessnas, and best of all…fake refugees. You’re not going to like me for this, but I’ll tell you the perfect NATO-ship killing platform: an old leaky Haitian-style fishing boat full of weeping civilians, all covered by heavy machine guns in the cabin ready to sweep anybody who stops weeping off the deck at .50 force. And a Russian antiship missile where the crew’s cabin used to be. Just imagine the tender scene, those refugees waving to a NATO destroyer or maybe if you get lucky the carrier itself (a long shot, I admit)…then half the cabin wall is kicked into the Med and that giant Moskit spits out. A lot of sentimental news correspondents are going to get some great footage, but at the expense of their pension plans, watching it zoom toward their press deck.

But I’m just sayin’. Passin’ the time. Unless there’s a new career in this. Remember the RV in Stripes that was refitted as an “urban assault vehicle”? Comedy then, but not now. Pilots don’t fire without permission; controllers don’t give permission if there are going to be pictures on the big internet news services showing dead civilians. There’s a big future for that Harold Ramis battlewagon out there.

Read more:, Gary Brecher, The War Nerd

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Add your own

  • 1. Eddie  |  March 25th, 2011 at 6:57 am


    By the way. The French airforce have a long tradition of using this approach to anti ship combat. Check out these guys.

    The missile would be flying lower and much faster(the last minute or so of the flight).

  • 2. abc123  |  March 26th, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Eddie: You are right, thanks for the links. Perhaps the next generation of aircraft carriers (if there will be a next generation) will have solar powered UAVs (Helios) that follow them everywhere and detects threats.

    I do not think the carrier is a dead concept though. They are a liability and an asset at the same time. They are too useful not to use regardless if they are vulnerable.

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