The RAF has blown up two apparently abandoned Libyan tanks using a Eurofighter Typhoon jet in a move which appears to have been motivated more by Whitehall infighting than by any attempt to battle the forces of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The following video was released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the events shown took place (this is much faster than normal).
The video appears to show a T-72 tank neatly parked, stationary and unmanned: the target was plainly not in use. The Telegraph reports that the location struck was "an abandoned tank park". Many Libyan armoured vehicles are old and not serviceable due to lack of parts and servicing. RAF sources admitted to the paper that the jets making the strike had had to spend "a long time" searching before they could find a valid target to hit, and that the timing of the strike was "no coincidence".
The video release was accompanied by a briefing to reporters from an RAF air marshal, in which he stated:
"The RAF has never doubted the efficacy of the Typhoon as a potent ground attack aircraft. Last night, it proved we were right."
This hasty effort by the RAF to get Typhoons into ground-attack action took place just ahead of the scheduled release by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of a damning report on the Eurofighter, titled Management of the Typhoon project. This report had been expected to be highly critical of the Typhoon, and indeed it is. It says:
In 2004, the Department decided to retire the ground attack Jaguar aircraft early and to spend £119 million to install ground attack upgrades on early Typhoons to cover the resulting capability gap. These upgrades were ready for use by 2008. A year later, the Department decided to retire the air defence Tornado F3 aircraft early to save money and therefore re-prioritised Typhoon away from ground attack missions to air defence tasks. It is now not using Typhoon's ground attack capability.
The RAF had already taken massive flak over the Eurofighter regarding an earlier report by the National Audit Office, which revealed that the service has only a handful of Typhoon pilots trained to carry out ground-attack missions. At that point the RAF stated that it planned to have enough airmen trained in ground attack to "conduct a small scale ground attack mission by 2014" and to stand up a proper bomber capability for Typhoon in 2016.
It thus becomes fairly plain that in order to carry out this week's small-scale attacks, the RAF must have resorted to measures such as pulling weapons instructors out of training units, disrupting the future personnel pipeline and quite possibly delaying the arrival of a proper, sustainable corps of Typhoon pilots capable of all tasks.
And the service has done all this, seemingly, in order to blow up a couple of abandoned, probably unserviceable 40-year-old tanks (most likely the T-72M "monkey model", as the Russians term the inferior kit they export to despised nominal allies).
Or, more accurately, the RAF has done this in an attempt to wrong-foot the MPs of the Public Accounts Committee.