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Libya op in full swing on French aircraft carrier

by Cecile Azzaro

ON BOARD THE CHARLES DE GAULLE, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - The Rafale fighter jet is catapulted from the aircraft carrier in a deafening roar -- going from zero to 250 kilometres per hour in seconds on its way to the skies over Libya.

"We are playing an intensive role in air operations," Jean-Philippe Rolland, commander of the Charles de Gaulle told AFP during a press tour of the French navy ship deployed in the middle of the Mediterranean to enforce a no-fly zone.

One officer who requested anonymity said the mission was "complex" but that French pilots taking part in reconnaissance and bombing operations on Libya were being "particularly attentive because there are people on the ground."

"They are particularly sensitive to this," the officer said.

Rafale and Super Etendard fighter jets could be seen on the bridge of the ship -- where the runway is just 80 metres (263 feet) long.

There were also Hawkeye radar planes -- part of a task force which includes the Charles de Gaulle, jets, helicopters, frigates and a nuclear submarine.

As some of the fully-loaded jets take off, the whole ship shakes.

When they have flown away, a Dauphin Pedro rescue helicopter sent out in case any of the planes fall into the water lands back on the ship only to take off a few hours later when the planes return from their mission.

While the jets are in flight, training operations continue on the Charles de Gaulle. At one point, commandos could be seen abseiling from a helicopter.

As they land, the fighter jets and radar planes have to snare one of three cables set out across the short runway in order to come to a full stop. If they fail, they have to quickly take off again to avoid falling into the sea.

The mission to impose a no-fly zone, taking out Libya's air defences and radar installations, follows the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution last week to protect civilians and is currently under US command.

Libyan authorities earlier said 114 people were killed and 445 wounded in coalition air strikes between Sunday and Wednesday.

French officers do not divulge the types of weapons being unleashed on Libya or give details on operations but they speak with pride of deploying SCALP air-launched cruise missiles in a joint air force and navy attack.

The missiles targeted a Libyan military facility, they said.

"We can't say this is an easy operation," vice-admiral Philippe Coindreau, commander of Task Force 413, told reporters on board.

"Kadhafi's armed forces are substantial and represent a threat," he said, adding however that coalition forces were "ready to last."

"We have the advantage of assets that can stay for a long time at sea."

MySinchew 2011.03.26



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