With the United Nations authorization for an internationally monitored no-fly zone over Libya, it seems clear that the United States will play a role enforcing it.
It is not yet clear exactly that U.S. military's role would be. The White House has made clear that they want help in particular from other countries in the Middle East. All planning could be altered by reports of a truce between Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and rebel forces in Benghazi.
But Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norman Schwartz provided a House panel with some insights on what the United States could do, beginning with the deployment of F-22 stealth fighters, which can avoid Libyan air defenses. While some have said that the implementation of a no-fly zone could begin within hours, Schwartz said it would take "upwards of a week" to implement a no-fly zone.
First, Schwartz called public comments by some that a No-Fly Zone could be done in a few days "overly optimistic" and said it would take "upwards of a week."
As for what the U.S. could offer to help: "It would entail numerous assets. Certainly fighter aircraft, F-16, F-15, both air to ground and anti- radiation capabilities." He said the F-22 stealth fighter "would be useful, and I would have the expectation that at least in the early days it certainly would be used." F-22's are based only in the U.S.
Fighter jets need support, however. In addition, surveillance aircraft and tankers to fuel all the other planes would be needed. Schwartz called t he mobilization of a "total force sort of application."
Schwartz: "You've going to have RC-135s, you're going to have surveillance kinds of capabilities that would be used to surveil both the integrated air defense system and others areas as tasked. You'll have tankers to support the short-legged platforms. You would have Compass Call and other capabilities that, again, can jam communications and affect the effectiveness of the integrated air defense and so on. And you would have undoubtedly some bomber aircraft that would give you long dwell over specific target areas.
Compass Call is the name given to a specialized C-130 that provides electronic jamming of radars, communications, etc. RC-135's are specialized intelligence gathering aircraft that specializes in communications intercepts.
"So the bottom line, if we do this, this is a complete force kind of a total force sort of application of our air and space capabilities," he said.
Schwartz said for the Air Force to undertake this mission "it would undoubtedly require resources in Europe as well as those that are based in the U.S. I would like to say, however, that for me the question is not can we do it, but should we, and if so, how. "
He acknowledged there are limited available reconnaissance assets -- unmanned UAV's/drones -- because most are in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Enforcing a no-fly zone means keeping Libyan aircraft on the ground. Their air force, according to Scwhartz, is not enormous.