POLITICS
11/01/2011 05:54 EDT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 EST

Canada CF-18s End Libya Campaign, Head For Home

CP

TRAPANI, Italy - The Royal Canadian Air Force has hauled down the flags at the Sicilian air bases from which it has conducted the Libyan bombing campaign.

Brig.-Gen. Derek Joyce, the task force commander, says the seven CF-18s, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes, the pilots, flight crews and technicians will be returning home over the next few days.

He said after a seven-month deployment, there is a sense of mission accomplished among members of the Canadian air force who flew 450 fighter missions over Libya — roughly 10 per cent of NATO's total.

In addition, the Aurora patrol planes, which monitor the coastline back home, flew 179 surveillance missions to help the alliance target air strikes against forces loyal to former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The air force also contributed an air-to-air fuelling capacity.

The jet fighters, which were initially sent in to patrol a United Nations-imposed no-fly zone, conducted a series of strikes on ground targets, such as pro-Gadhafi tanks and artillery positions.

The bombing allowed forces of the National Transitional Council to advance.

Joyce said the campaign allowed the air force to use new technology such as GPS-guided bombs for the first time.

Known as J-DAMS, the all-weather bombs can be dropped through the clouds on targets with precision accuracy. Up until the latest mission, Canadian pilots only had experience with laser-guided munitions, which require the pilot to see the target.

The U.S. and other NATO countries have long used GPS-guided munitions.

Joyce said the first Canadian J-DAMS were dropped in missions on October 1st.

The intelligence and surveillance missions conducted by the Auroras were also invaluable, he said.

The CP-140s, normally based out of Greenwood, N.S. and Comox, B.C., were recently updated with a high-tech suite of long-range sensors that give the four-engine plane an ability to pick up and transmit real-time images of targets.