Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 21, 2011

An Air Picture for Libya, One Way or Another

Europe always makes war a challenge. During the years of no-fly zone enforcement in the Balkans (1993-95), European ham-radio enthusiasts collected and shared information on the operational communications frequencies used by NATO aircraft. A friend of mine came back from Sarajevo carrying someone’s self-published – but very popular – paperbound “book” of NATO communication lore, purchased from a bookstall on a street corner. A Dutch naval officer with whom my Italy-based command worked closely said the same book could be bought in Amsterdam.

The Internet has only expanded the opportunities for amateurs to follow military operations. As day 3 of the coalition effort against Libya ends, European media report that the ham-radio contingent is at it again. But in 2011, a printed book would be way too “dial-up”; today’s ham operators are copying positional updates from aircraft communications and putting them out on Twitter. The air-tracking dilettante now has other resources too, like and, which allow for comparison and analysis of continuously updated data from different sources.

Air Force B-2s flying from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri this weekend managed to disguise their approach to Libya by using deceptive call signs. But the special-purpose “Commando Solo” aircraft was identified almost immediately by a Dutch ham operator with a military background. Fortunately, Commando Solo is the uniquely configured EC-130J used to broadcast messages to audiences in a target country like Libya, so whoever listens to it is at least hearing something the U.S. government wants to be heard. Courtesy of the enterprising Dutchman, you can listen to Commando Solo’s message to Libyans here.

Although the significance of this to the security and effectiveness of coalition operations should not be exaggerated, it’s not meaningless either. The coalition’s central purpose is blinding Qaddafi’s air-defense systems and keeping his aircraft on the ground. If his early-warning radars and air command centers were functioning, the Tweets of random amateurs about enemy aircraft positions would be little more than entertainment.  But Qaddafi’s military systems have been taken out. Assuming he’s still got Internet access, there are some Twitter feeds he should be subscribing to.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. That’s ok… because we just lost an F-15E to age and overuse… Crew is safe, though the shock from ejecting and such is not to be sniffled at, at least they are alive and not captured.

    When your newest usable fighter aircraft are approaching drinking age, you have a serious problem, and the US Air Force has a large issue. Not enough new aircraft – Less than 200 F-22’s and exactly 0 F-35’s if any of those are ever fielded. The existing stocks of F-15 and F-16’s are old, and their airframes stressed beyond many original design limits.

    We have a paltry number of B1B and B2 aircraft, and our tanker fleet is basically 50 years old.

    That a HAM with some knowledge figuring stuff out doesn’t surprise me. The equipment in question was made 3 to for technical generations ago. When you can purchase a 6 Terabyte disk array for less than half a grand and a 16 CPU 6 gigabyte or more 64-bit computer attached to it for right around a 1000 to 1500 we are talking about technology way beyond what was imagined in 2001… when the same rig for $2500 would have cost 2.5 million.

    The Air Force needs 500 F-22’s and orders for 750-1000 F-35’s to replace its aged and over used fleets of F-15’s and F-16’s… Tomorrow.

    The Bean Counters and Isolationists be damned… They are wrong, short-sighted, and tragically parochial.

    Dark times ahead. Sorry for being gloomy, but I am seeing the seeds of a major foreign policy and military debacle starting to sprout.


    • That force isn’t going to be bought anytime soon, Fahvaag, absent a truly major crisis; adn then the buildup will take years. Commitments need to be reduced to fit the force available.

    • The US taxpayer “needs” 500 F22s and 750 F35s like it needs to be flayed alive. Thinking about it, 500 F22s and 750 F35s WOULD be flaying the taxpayer alive. What have you in mind – the full-scale invasion and occupation of China?

      No doubt, if we provided the military with these toys, it would devise some pretext for using them. This is a case of the means driving the mission. We “need” to get a grip on military madness before it bankrupts us. It is debt, not the lack of military hardware, that is threatening our freedom.

      • You really need to get a grip on your preconcetions, Paulite. Did the military find a pretext for getting involved in this gratuitous Libyan adventure? Or did civilian politicians with no skin in the game engineer our involvement? To characterize Barack Obama as a member of the military industrial complex is preposterous.

        • You have a point, Sully. But you misunderstand. I’m not saying that any of these military interventions was the idea of our military. However, if Obama had this Libyan thing in mind and had gone to the military, and the military had told him “no way” unless we have another 500 Raptors or whatever, Obama would have had no option but to make a virtue of necessity.

          I agree that it is disappointing that Obama has succumbed to this interventionist nonsense. I am not really concerned whether his motives are humanitarian or showing the Arabs whose boss, or replacing Ghaddafi with someone more to our taste. That is merely reverse engineering the issue.

          The question Obama (as Bush before him) should have asked is what vital US interest is being furthered by intervening in the Libyan civil war. The answer in every case is – None whatsoever. We are doing this because we can.

          No we can’t

  2. Are you saying that the military community that’s presumably prepared to fight an infowar and carry out deception operations against China isn’t capable of spoofing a ham radio operator, Opticon? That sounds like a problem with essential capabilities rather than a problem with meddling amateurs.

  3. “Are you saying that the military community that’s presumably prepared to fight an infowar and carry out deception operations against China isn’t capable of spoofing a ham radio operator, Opticon?”

    No. I entered the caveat that we shouldn’t overemphasize the significance of this. But it’s worth it for people to know that the military HAS to spoof ham radio operators. It’s something no one thinks about or even realizes. The ham radio operators aren’t putting stamps on their military information and mailing it once a day; they’re posting it in real-time where millions of people — including the enemy — can see it.

    That probably doesn’t matter much in the Libya situation, although if I were on active duty, charged with scoping the counter-intel threats to own forces, I wouldn’t ignore it. But there are other kinds of ops in which it could definitely matter.

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