Thursday, August 18, 2011

Janes Defence Weekly Magazine August 10, 2011

France is planning an additional deployment of an undisclosed number of Dassault Rafale combat aircraft to Sigonella airbase on the Italian island of Sicily to conduct flying operations in support of NATO's 'Unified Protector' air campaign over Libya. The French Ministry of Defence has not revealed whether these aircraft will be drawn from the air force or naval aviation fleets, although it is thought they could be drawn from navy stocks. The Rafales are being deployed to Sigonella as the French Navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will leave the Mediterranean this autumn for repairs and maintenance at its home port of Toulon on the southern French coast. The ship and its embarked naval aviation Rafales have been supporting the air campaign over Libya and serving as the flagship for Task Force 473, the French naval deployment in support of Unified Protector, since leaving Toulon to assist operations on 20 March.The incoming Rafales are expected to arrive in Sicily in the early autumn once Charles de Gaulle leaves for Toulon. These new aircraft will supplement the five French Air Force Rafales (four two-seat Rafale Bs and one single-seat Rafale C) that deployed from Solenzara airbase on Corsica to Sigonella in early July. This redeployment enabled the aircraft to perform shorter flights to and from the Libyan theatre of operations and to benefit from more time on station compared with operating from Corsica. Sicily is around 310 miles from the Libyan capital Tripoli, with Solenzara around 671 miles away.