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Gaddafi Gets Desperate: Ballistic Missiles Enter the Conflict

There are reports today that forces loyal Libya’s isolated leader Muammar al-Gaddafi launched a Scud missile against rebel forces. Al Jazeera reports that the launch took place 80km east of Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold, and landed somewhere east of Brega, home to key oil facilities. Here’s my estimation of what this looked like:

As you can see at the bottom, it’s about a 230km shot, well within the range of Gaddafi’s Scud B missiles. (I estimated the launch and impact points based on reports.) It reportedly landed in the desert and didn’t kill or injure anybody. This isn’t a particularly surprising result–basic ballistic missiles aren’t very accurate, and their inaccuracy worsens at long ranges. They need a weapon of mass destruction in their warhead, a very large target (like a city), or a lot of luck to be effective. To give an example, I ran an estimate at work of a very similar shot with a derivative of the Scud B a few weeks ago (you can do this with Microsoft Excel if you know the formulas!) against a target that was about 2km by 2km in size. In 100,000 simulated launches, the low-end estimate was a 65% hit rate. Not very good. Brega looks to be about 6km by 1-2km, with an airport, water treatment plant, and outlying town outside that area. Not having hit any of that shows just how inaccurate Gaddafi’s missiles are–they may be even more errant than the derivative I ran my simulation with. (We also can be confident it’s inaccuracy, and not bad targeting, as targeting information is available online via Google Earth, and Gaddafi used to rule Brega anyway.)

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