Operation El Dorado Canyon 1986 Part III

“Today, We Have Done What We Had to Do”

At approximately 1913 Washington time, Weinberger and Crowe received their first post-strike report. CINCEUR tersely stated, “Raid commander reports all aircraft feet wet.” Everyone in the command center was overjoyed. It appeared that the raid had been carried out without any American losses, but the elation was quickly doused when a very discomforting message reached the Pentagon: “First report possibly not correct. We cannot account for one aircraft. Polling our group again.” A follow-up report confirmed that one of the F-111Fs was indeed missing.

At 1920 Reagan’s press secretary, Larry Speakes, officially announced the air strike to the White House press corps and a national audience watching on television. On his way to the press briefing room Speakes had stopped by Admiral Poindexter’s office to obtain last minute details. Poindexter was joined by Shultz, and Speakes noticed that both men exuded “a mood of quiet satisfaction.” They were not jubilant—one American plane was missing—but they were obviously relieved that the United States had finally clobbered the world’s most notorious advocate and practitioner of international terrorism.

At 2100 President Reagan appeared on television from the Oval Office and informed the American public that units of the Air Force and Navy had conducted air strikes “against the headquarters, terrorist facilities, and military assets that support Muammar Qaddafi’s subversive activities,” and that according to preliminary reports the operation was a success. “Today, we have done what we had to do,” Reagan said somberly. “If necessary, we shall do it again.” He expressed hope that this military action “will not only diminish Colonel Qaddafi’s capacity to export terror, it will provide him with incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior.” Reagan emphasized that the United States had not attacked Libya in haste. “We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force,” he stated. “None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qaddafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong.”

In a speech before a group of business leaders the next day Reagan told his audience that “the United States won but a single engagement in the long battle against terrorism. We will not end that struggle until the free and decent people of this planet unite to eradicate the scourge of terror from the modern world.” He also sent a blunt warning to Qaddafi: “We would prefer not to have to repeat the events of last night. What is required is for Libya to end its pursuit of terror for political goals. The choice is theirs Colonel Qaddafi ought not to underestimate either the capacity or legitimate anger of a free people.”

On Wednesday, 16 April, Reagan forwarded to Congress a report on Operation El Dorado Canyon in accordance with the terms of the War Powers Act. In his letter Reagan stated that the air strikes on Libya “were conducted in the exercise of our right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This necessary and appropriate action was a preemptive strike, directed at the Libyan terrorist infrastructure and designed to deter acts of terrorism, such as the Libyan-ordered bombing of a discothèque in West Berlin on April 5.”

Getting Back to “Home Plate”

After the Air Force and Navy bomber crews dropped their bombs, their immediate attention was focused on reaching the safety of their post-strike marshaling areas as quickly as possible. Besides running the gauntlet of alerted Libyan SAM and AAA batteries, they were concerned about pursuit from Libyan fighter planes, some of which might be flown by Syrians or other foreign pilots serving with the LAAF. Nearing the coast the Air Force pilots and WSOs became gravely worried about transiting through the air defenses of Task Force 60 and avoiding a blue-on-blue incident. Fortunately, the battle force had constructed a very simple and effective “delousing” plan for distinguishing returning strike aircraft coming off the beach from Libyan MiGs trailing behind. By following a pre-briefed flight path, which stipulated specific altitude and airspeed parameters, the F-111Fs and A-6Es identified themselves as friendly aircraft to Battle Force Zulu’s antiair warfare commander. The procedures ensured that any LAAF fighters attempting to pursue the friendly planes would be intercepted and shot down by F-14s or F/A-18s performing MiG CAP duty.

By 0213 Tripoli time all Navy and Air Force strike aircraft, except Karma-52, had reported feet wet to the E-2Cs and, in the case of the Air Force bombers, to the command KC-ioA. The skipper of the Coral Sea, Capt. Robert H. Ferguson, remembered his crew’s reaction when he informed them over the ship’s 1MC (general announcing circuit) that all Navy and Marine Corps aircraft were heading back to their carriers. “You could feel the ship vibrate with enthusiasm and confidence that they had done a good job,” he recalled.

While the Hawkeyes and fighters guarded against an LAAF counterattack, the carriers recovered their strike and support aircraft. All Navy and Marine planes were safely on deck by 0253. The actions of a Coral Sea ordnance handler epitomized the concern all personnel in the battle force felt for the men who had just carried out a very difficult mission. “I stayed up all night and counted them as they came back,” the young sailor remembered. “It’s like family out here, you might say. You just don’t like to lose any of your shipmates.”

“The only disappointed pilots were those dedicated to the fighter missions in defense of the force,” commented Admiral Breast. “They had expected some opposition but the Libyan Arab Air Force had chosen not to fly that evening.” Lehman predicted that if the LAAF had gone into action “it would have been a real turkey shoot.” A few Libyan fighters took off but wisely decided not to pursue the retreating U.S. aircraft. There were reports that LAAF GCI radars had been rendered useless by the jamming, and that the commander of the Benina Airfield had deliberately disobeyed a direct order to attack the departing Navy bombers and fighters.

For the next three days Task Force 60 maintained a defensive posture north of the Tripoli FIR. It was ready to repulse a Libyan attack and carry out White House-directed contingencies. As the F-111Fs passed through the defenses of Task Force 60, their crews could not relax because they had to confront two monumental realities. First, several airmen witnessed what looked like an F-111F going down in a gigantic fireball. Did a missile or AAA hit one of the planes? If so, which crew was lost? The definitive answer would not be known until the F-111Fs had joined their tankers and the roll call of surviving crews had been completed. Second, many of the F-111Fs were getting low—desperately low, in a few cases—on fuel and had to find and rendezvous with their tankers as quickly as possible. The post-strike rendezvous procedures had been given very little attention at the mission briefings back at Lakenheath. “There was little said beyond ‘get a vector, head north, find your tanker, join on him, and get gas,’” recalled one pilot. According to the plan, the E-2C that served as the command and control platform in the Tripoli sector would give each F-111F a vector, or recommended heading, to its assigned tanker. In general the vectors proved to be very inaccurate, forcing several crews to rely on their tactical air navigation (TACAN) equipment, which provided them with the heading to a particular tanker broadcasting a unique code.

The pilot of Karma-51 captured the tension present in many F-111F cockpits with the comment that the anxious search for the tankers was “almost more nerve-wracking than the actual attack.” Most of the F-111Fs were below their projected fuel states because more afterburner had been used during the mission than anticipated. To make the search even more difficult, the tankers orbiting near Sicily were flying in the middle of several layers of high cirrus clouds. Discovering the inaccuracy of their vectors and realizing their tankers were hidden in the clouds, the pilots and WSOs nervously scoured the skies with air search radars and their eyeballs. No airman could breathe a sigh of relief until every bomber safely rejoined a tanker. Eventually, all surviving F-111Fs were back on a tanker, although not necessarily their assigned tanker.

A couple of incidents demonstrated just how low the fuel state was in some of the planes. In the first instance the pilot of Remit-31 came to the aid of another pilot, who was having difficulty locating his tanker, by doing “a little torching.” The first pilot dumped some fuel and ignited it with his afterburner, creating a huge explosion that both lit up the sky and pointed the direction to the tanker. For a few nervous moments many airmen thought that there might have been a midair collision. In the second case Puffy-11 successfully rendezvoused with its assigned tanker and was taking on fuel when another F-111F suddenly appeared alongside it, flying extremely close to Pufíy-11. The second plane was so desperate for fuel that it seemed to be trying to shove Pufíy-11 away from the tanker. After a few moments the pilot of Pufíy-11 dropped off the tanker, giving way to the other plane.

As the F-111Fs joined up with the tankers the officers in the command KC-10A performed the difficult task of determining whether or not a plane was missing and, if so, which plane it was. The pilot of Karma-51 notified the command plane that he never heard Karma-52 report feet wet. “I don’t think Karma-52 made it,” he said. Several radio calls to Karma-52 over the military distress circuit went unanswered, yet every man held out a slim hope that Karma-52 had only been damaged, that the damage had prevented the plane from communicating, or that the plane would show up soon either information or at one of the emergency divert bases in the Mediterranean area. As the minutes ticked by it became increasingly unlikely that Karma-52 would appear.

Venkus described what it was like for the pilots and WSOs as the process of identifying the missing plane dragged on. “In some F-111F cockpits, this somber delay was especially confusing and difficult,” he noted. “Some crews did not have complete lineup cards, so they were unsure which of their friends matched up with particular call signs. As it became clear that one aircraft had been lost, these crewmen listened closely to the repeated roll calls, trying to recognize voices in order to determine who was missing. Eventually they realized which crew had not returned, and their thoughts turned to their friends’ present plight.”

Meanwhile, one of the ships in Task Force 60 reported that it had received a very short series of beeps, possibly the signal from the downed F-111F’s emergency radio beacon, then immediately lost the signal. A Navy patrol plane flew over the area where the fireball had been seen, hoping to catch the signal from the F-111F’s emergency beacon. It heard nothing. For more than an hour the Air Force planes loitered in the skies near Sicily, hoping that Karma-52 would join up. By 0314 Forgan and Westbrook were certain that Captain Ribas-Dominicci and Captain Lorence were missing, and Forgan reluctantly ordered the huge strike force back to England. Meanwhile, back at Lakenheath Venkus organized two teams to perform the solemn duty of officially notifying the families of Ribas-Dominicci and Lorence that their loved ones were missing.

Kelso ordered a search and rescue operation for the missing fliers. The SAR effort, which included a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a submarine, found no traces of either of the men or their plane, and the search was terminated at 1700 local time, 15 April.

The Air Force mission was still long from over, and huge challenges still had to be overcome. The pilots had to perform seven hours of grueling, night formation flying and one more in-flight refueling. With the strike and the rendezvous behind them and with their adrenaline worn off, the airmen had to struggle to keep up their concentration and fight off the tendency to relax. A single instant of inattention could result in a midair collision. If an airman became tired he could take a couple of “go pills” or amphetamines that had been provided by the wing flight surgeons.

The early phase of the flight back to England proved to be very interesting for Elton-43. The bleed air problem that had forced the crew to abort their attack on Aziziyah had not been resolved. The “Wheelwell Hot” alarm light indicated that a pipe near the main landing gear was leaking very hot engine air. The emergency demanded quick action to prevent an in-flight fire and possible loss of the aircraft. With the problem showing no signs of improving, Forgan ordered Elton-43 to divert to the U.S. naval air station at Rota, Spain. The plane landed safely at Rota at 0524 local time. The engine was eventually repaired and Elton-43 finally returned to RAF Lakenheath at 2201 U.K. time on 15 April. Since the Spanish government was very concerned about negative political ramifications stemming from any association with the air strike, the emergency recovery of Elton-43 at Rota was not officially announced to the public for a number of weeks.

One at a time sixteen F-111Fs descended through the thinly overcast early morning skies over England and made their final approach to the runway at Lakenheath. At an altitude of one thousand feet their landing lights became visible to the hundreds of ground personnel waiting anxiously on the flight line. Many of those standing on the tarmac—jet engine mechanics, electronics technicians, ordnance handlers, refueling crews, and other wing personnel—had contributed directly to the success of the mission. Three generals—Gabriel, Shaud, and McInerney—also waited to greet the F-111F crews. As the planes landed and taxied to their hardened shelters they were greeted in a scene reminiscent of the B-17s returning from their bombing missions over Germany in World War II. Several individuals in the crowd waved signs, welcoming the fliers home and praising their heroic mission. A few of the pilots and WSOs, their legs very wobbly, needed a little assistance getting out of their cockpits.

Just seconds after climbing down from his F-111F and getting his weary legs back on solid ground, the pilot of Karma-51 was greeted by the generals, who shook his hand and congratulated him on his outstanding effort. Gabriel then asked the Vietnam veteran to compare the defenses over Hanoi to those encountered in Tripoli. The pilot graded Tripoli’s defenses as follows: “On a scale of one-to-ten, . . . the missiles were a fifteens!” He would probably have gotten little argument from the other men who had just flown the mission.

At 0810 U.K. time on 15 April, the last F-111F touched down at RAF Lakenheath. The longest fighter mission in U.S. history, lasting fourteen hours and thirty-five minutes, was over.

Honoring Captain Fernando Ribas-Dominicci and Captain Paul Lorence

According to Air Force regulations, in his capacity as unit commander Westbrook had both the duty and authority to declare Captain Ribas-Dominicci and Captain Lorence killed in action, provided there was a preponderance of evidence to support such a determination. After two days Westbrook concluded that the men were dead. He justified his decision on a couple of factors. First, the Navy’s SAR efforts found no evidence that either man had survived. Second, the men did not appear on Libyan television. No one doubted that Qaddafi would have displayed his prisoners for propaganda purposes. After making this weighty decision Westbrook compassionately informed the wives and families of Ribas-Dominicci and Lorence that their husbands and fathers would not be coming home. On Thursday, 17 April, the Air Force formally declared the two fliers killed in action.96 President Reagan telephoned the wives of the two lost airmen and in an attempt to temper their grief called the officers “heroes of our heart.”

On Monday, 21 April, a memorial service for Ribas-Dominicci and Lorence was conducted in a hangar at RAF Lakenheath. A huge crowd came to honor the brave men who had lost their lives in Operation El Dorado Canyon. Ambassador Price delivered a moving speech in which he lauded their courage, discipline, and devotion to duty. The emotional ceremony concluded with a formation of Air Force jets performing the missing man flyby—the traditional military salute to lost comrades.

Libyan Reaction to the Raid

The Libyan government claimed that its air defense forces shot down three American aircraft and went so far as to say that it had recovered an F-111F from the sea and was turning it over to the Soviet Union. In a desperate attempt to retaliate against the United States, Qaddafi ordered his army to launch two Soviet-built SS-1 Scud B ballistic missiles at the U.S. Coast Guard long-range navigation station on the Italian island of Lampedusa, located approximately 170 miles north of Tripoli. The missiles detonated harmlessly two miles offshore, sending two large columns of water into the air and shaking the homes of the island’s six thousand residents.

The Libyan government announced that the U.S. raids on Tripoli and Benghazi killed thirty-seven Libyans and injured ninety-three, but their figures do not specify how many of those individuals were civilians killed or wounded by stray American bombs, how many were military personnel operating Libyan air defense equipment, how many were people present at the five targets, or how many were persons killed or injured by SAM components falling back to earth. Qaddafi was reportedly in his underground command bunker at the time of the bombing while his wife and children were asleep on the ground floor of their residence within the compound. Qaddafi survived the attack on Aziziyah rattled but unharmed, but other members of his family were not so fortunate. According to JANA the attack killed Qaddafi’s fifteen-month-old adopted daughter and seriously injured his two youngest sons, aged three and four. The news about Qaddafi’s daughter surprised many Western analysts and journalists, because no announcement had ever been made that he had adopted a child. His wife supposedly had adopted a baby girl about ten months earlier. There was no denying that the U.S. air strike killed innocent men, women, and children, but a huge moral distinction can be made between killing Libyan civilians by accident and deliberately murdering Americans through acts of terrorism.

“Red Flag,” “Strike U,” and Results

The successful execution of Operation El Dorado Canyon can be traced to several initiatives taken by the Air Force and Navy to improve their strike warfare proficiency in the decade following the Vietnam War. Among the steps taken by the Air Force were the procurement of sophisticated weapons, the development of innovative delivery tactics, and the establishment in 1975 of the “Red Flag” training program, which emphasized “train as you fight” realism. Red Flag, the massive strike exercise conducted at Nellis AFB in Nevada, was designed to give bomber and fighter crews a training experience that was as close as possible to actual combat. During a typical exercise crews flew several sorties against a series of heavily defended targets. They practiced tactics designed to defeat enemy air defenses, elude enemy fighters, and put bombs squarely on target. The air warfare skills honed at Red Flag were heroically demonstrated in the night sky over Tripoli.

The Navy’s badly executed raid on Syrian antiaircraft batteries in Lebanon on 4 December 1983 spurred the service to revamp its strike warfare methodology. The raid failed to use tactics that would have taken advantage of new weapon systems and technologies developed after the early 1970s. Secretary Lehman, an A-6 B/N in the naval reserve, immediately identified the deficiency: “The Navy air wings produced what had been trained into them, and what had been trained into them was a twenty-year-old Vietnam daytime ‘Alpha’ strike, and it was totally inappropriate.” In a typical Alpha strike attack planes crossed the beach at twenty-thousand feet, gradually descended to ten thousand feet, dove to three thousand feet, released their bombs, pulled out, and ran for the coast. Those tactics did not fool Syrian gunners in the Biqa Valley.

The outcome of the Lebanon mission prompted Lehman to establish a naval warfare center devoted to the development of strike warfare doctrine and tactics—an attack aviation version of “Top Gun.” In May 1984 the Naval Strike Warfare Center opened at Lemoore Naval Air Station in California. One year later “Strike U”—as it is known throughout the Navy—moved to Fallon NAS in Nevada, where aircrews could enjoy wide open spaces and year-round, near-perfect weather while they carried out their training programs. Prior to departing on its overseas deployment a carrier air wing would spend three weeks at Fallon studying the latest doctrine, practicing all facets of a strike mission, and participating in a realistic, full-blown war game that provided an opportunity for the wing to practice the tactics and skills that Strike U had validated. With a training syllabus that emphasized night attacks, terrain-following flight profiles, and standoff weapons, Strike U had an immediate and positive effect on the Navy’s attack community. “When the navy flew over Libya in the spring of 1986, they knew their business,” wrote Daniel Bolger. Since the “Sixth Fleet planned the mission, the new Fallon mentality . . . permeated the operation.”

In addition to renewed Air Force and Navy proficiency in strike warfare, a number of important factors contributed to the operational success of Operation El Dorado Canyon, America’s strike against international terrorism. First, Admiral Kelso had been entrusted with control over nearly all of the operational aspects of the mission by his superiors in Washington and Europe. Kelso, his principle subordinate commanders—Admiral Mauz and Colonel Westbrook—and their staffs, planned the strike, marshaled their resources, and executed the mission when their forces were ready. A senior Pentagon official who testified before Congress on the lessons of El Dorado Canyon emphasized that one of the most significant elements accounting for the success of the operation was that command and control of the mission was entrusted to the onscene commander, Kelso. “The Sixth Fleet commander was given the time frame to attack, and he had the responsibility of putting it all together,” stated the official. “He also had the flexibility and authority to cancel the strike right up until the last moment if it looked like weather or operational factors could be a problem.”

Second, the precision with which the strike was conducted caught Qaddafi’s armed forces completely off guard. In a magnificent feat of planning and execution, separate Air Force and Navy attack groups operating from bases nearly three thousand miles apart struck their targets at exactly the same instant. In less than twelve minutes all targets were hit and all planes, except one F-111F, reached the safety of the Mediterranean. The 0200 TOT stunned the Libyans who, despite the warnings they had received for several days, were totally unprepared to defend against the raid. “Runway lights were on and continued to burn during the attack,” noted W. Hays Parks. “Although antiaircraft fire and missile launches were reportedly heavy at each target, the element of surprise, the darkness, jamming by the EA-6B/EF-111 force against the Tripoli defenses and by the EA-6Bs against Benghazi, and air defense suppression by the A-7 and F/A-18 support aircraft rendered the Libyan defenses ineffective.”

Third, coordinated planning between Navy and Air Force commands, dual service training exercises, and the exchange of liaison officers were instrumental in the flawless integration of a joint strike force in a radio silent, night attack against heavily defended targets. According to Lehman the success of Operation El Dorado Canyon “demonstrated the real cooperation, integration, and sharing of tactical training and know-how that is the real relationship between and among our armed forces.”

Finally, Kelso’s insistence on a large strike force insured that all five targets would be attacked with devastating results. During the planning phase the Sixth Fleet commander and his subordinates acknowledged that some of the strike aircraft would probably suffer equipment failures prior to reaching their targets. Therefore they assembled a potent force with enough redundancy to accomplish the mission. “Without Pave Tack, TRAM, and guided weapons, the entire operation would have been impossible,” stressed Daniel Bolger. “A few aborts did not detract from the advantages created by American technology.”

Many of the factors that accounted for the successful raid against Libya would be repeated five years later during the war to liberate Kuwait from the army of Saddam Hussein.

Task Force 60 and the Confrontation with Libya: An Operational Summary

The dispute between the United States and Libya in the 1980s demonstrated that the decisive application of military power could influence an adversary and facilitate the attainment of specific foreign policy goals without resorting to a war or a costly commitment of military forces. At the heart of American power arrayed against Libya was the U.S. Navy’s formidable Battle Force Sixth Fleet—Task Force 60. The battle force contained one or more battle groups, each consisting of an aircraft carrier, an air wing of advanced tactical aircraft, and a shielding flotilla of modern cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. Owing to the overwhelming strength and flexibility of the battle force, U.S. ships and aircraft operated with impunity in the Libyan-claimed waters and airspace of the Gulf of Sidra and vigorously repulsed all attacks and threats of force by the Libyan military. In retaliation for Tripoli’s sponsorship of a terrorist assault on American citizens, Task Force 60 and units of the U.S. Air Force based in Europe planned and executed a devastating air strike on terrorist headquarters and support facilities in Libya.

President Reagan’s application of naval force against Libya was a modern example of “gunboat diplomacy.” It was limited in scope, it supported specific national objectives, it was carried out with few political costs and no losses to personnel, it frustrated the enemy’s ability to respond militarily, it secured favorable political outcomes in the dispute with a foreign power, and it was successful enough to forestall a large-scale military deployment to maintain those outcomes.

In August 1981 Battle Force Sixth Fleet, commanded by Rear Adm. James E. Service and consisting of the Nimitz and Forrestal CVBGs, carried out a major FON exercise in and near the Gulf of Sidra. The goal of the naval maneuver was to reject Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s illegal claim of sovereignty over the waters of the Gulf of Sidra south of 32° 30’ north latitude. When two Libyan Su-22 Fitter J aircraft attacked a pair of F-14 Tomcats over the gulf the Americans acted swiftly in self-defense and shot down the aggressors with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles in a dogfight lasting about a minute.

On three occasions during the first three months of 1986 Sixth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Frank B. Kelso dispatched Task Force 60 to the vicinity of Libya to defy once again Tripoli’s claim of sovereignty over the gulf and confront Qaddafi over his practice of sponsoring, supporting, and encouraging acts of international terrorism. In January and February the Saratoga and the Coral Sea battle groups conducted Operations Attain Document I and Attain Document II. In each event the battle force, commanded by Rear Adm. David E. Jeremiah, promptly achieved naval and air superiority in the Tripoli FIR. Navy and Marine Corps aviators performed nearly 150 intercepts on a variety of Libyan aircraft, but not one Libyan pilot achieved a firing position on a U.S. fighter plane. In March, following the arrival in the Mediterranean of the America battle group, the huge battle force (totaling 26 warships and 250 carrier-based aircraft) carried out Operation Attain Document III, a large-scale freedom-of-navigation operation that involved extensive surface and air activity below 32° 30’—Qaddafi’s “line of death.” When Libya attacked American aircraft with long-range SA-5 surface-to-air missiles and threatened the force with missile patrol boats, the fleet defended itself with quick and deadly precision. A-7E Corsair IIs disabled the missile battery with HARMs, and A-6E Intruders sank two Libyan vessels with Harpoon antiship cruise missiles and Rockeye cluster bombs.

In a daring act of retaliation for Qaddafi’s sponsorship of a terrorist bombing of a West Berlin nightclub that killed two American soldiers, A-6Es from the Coral Sea and the America and F-111F bombers based in England struck and severely damaged important terrorist facilities in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. In support of the joint strike Task Force 60 pilots skillfully performed several crucial missions. A-7Es, F/A-18s, and EA-6Bs suppressed enemy air defense systems; F-14s and F/A-18s protected the strike groups and the battle force from Libyan aircraft; E-2Cs performed long-range air and surface surveillance, strike coordination, and fighter control; and KA-6Ds and KA-7s provided invaluable tanking services.

Battle Force Sixth Fleet operations in the vicinity of Libya were conducted without suffering a single casualty. This remarkable achievement was the product of thorough preparation and a demanding training regime that achieved and maintained a high level of combat readiness. Of the many factors that contributed to the operational success of the battle force, a few are particularly noteworthy. First, flexible and unambiguous ROE were instrumental in neutralizing the Libyan armed forces. Frequent face-to-face discussions, timely approval of additions or modifications to the ROE, and the delegation of appropriate ROE ensured that commanders and aircrews knew what actions they could take in self-defense and under what circumstances. Second, employment of a multicarrier battle force permitted around-the-clock air operations for fleet defense while maintaining short-notice strike capability. Third, a streamlined command, control, and communications structure facilitated quick crisis response and avoided many of the C3 problems frequently associated with the operation of multiple carrier battle groups in close proximity. Fourth, during later operations the superior sensors and C3 facilities of the Aegis cruisers significantly enhanced the capabilities of the battle force’s antiair warfare and antisurface warfare commanders. Fifth, combat operations benefited from the superior performance of several modern U.S. weapons systems—most notably Aegis, the F-14 Tomcat, the F/A-18 Hornet, TRAM, Harpoon, HARM, and LAMPS MK III. Finally, the exchange of liaison officers and coordinated planning by Navy and Air Force staffs insured the complete integration of the joint strike force in a high-speed, low-level night attack.

The Reagan administration’s employment of U.S. military forces in conjunction with strong political and economic measures sent a powerful message to Qaddafi and achieved important results. Libya’s claim of sovereignty over the Gulf of Sidra was thoroughly discredited, and Qaddafi would wisely reduce his involvement in international terrorism. When tasked by national authority, Battle Force Sixth Fleet, unencumbered by the need to seek approval from foreign governments for its movements, established a powerful presence off the coast of Libya where it exerted a profound influence on Qaddafi’s regime, exacted “swift and effective retribution” against any element of Libyan armed forces that meant it harm and, in one instance, projected decisive power ashore. After fulfilling each mission the battle force withdrew safely over the horizon.