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Lebanese Ground Forces - Modernization

There are questions as to whether Lebanon needed to retain their stock of aging and difficult-to-maintain Soviet equipment, particularly the T-54/55 tanks as well as the aging M-48 tanks. The Lebanese wish list included anti-tank launchers, and 100 tanks that work well. Lebanon would seek equipment where available, with possibilities such as purchasing radar from Russia and upgrading the LAF's tanks via purchases from China or Russia.

Since the early 1980's when Lebanon, under the administration of former President Amin al-Jumayyil, acquired considerable quantities of weapons and equipment, mostly from the United States and some from France, Jordan, and other Arab countries, the shipment of arms to the Lebanese legitimate forces has been practically halted. Since the mid-1980's, the only equipment acquired by the legitimate Lebanese Forces came from Iraq, which supplied equipment to the units supporting General Michel 'Awn. Even though the United States and France used fiscal pretexts to justify withholding from the Lebanese Army the supply of spare parts and munitions that would have enabled it to continue operating the U.S. and French-made weapons in its possession, it was evident that this was not the only element that obstructed the resumption of weapons shipments from these two countries.

By 1993, Lebanon acquired in the two years since the al-Ta'if accord was concluded and the legitimate forces reunified, considerable military aid from several Arab countries, especially Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Algeria. This aid has included Soviet-made weapons and equipment used by the forces of these countries, such as T-54/55 tanks, 122 mm and 130 mm field artillery, mortars of varied calibers, anti-aircraft artillery, SAM-7 shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, BM-21 122 mm multiple rocket launchers (40 round).

The Lebanese Army had never before used equipment like this. Various other weapons and munitions were also obtained. This aid was added, of course, to the weapons and munitions the Lebanese Army had acquired in the early 1980's or to whatever weapons and munitions had remained after years of internecine fighting that resulted in a decline in the quality of weapons.

Lebanon acquired from France nearly 40 AMX-13 light battle tanks, AMX VCI infantry combat vehicles, VAB APC's, Panhard AML 90 armored combat and reconnaissance vehicles (armored cars), Milan antitank missiles, and British-made Saladin, Saracen, and Ferret combat vehicles and APC's, which were obtained from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

US Department of Defense (DoD) officials hoped to use new authorities to help other countries fight terrorism to buy spare parts for the Lebanese military. The “1206 funding,” named for the sectionof the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes it, is designed to help other countries build capacity within their national military forces. President Bush approved the program in early May 2006, before the onset of violence between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militia forces.

In the case of Lebanon, DoD planned to spend $10 million to buy spare parts for vehicles, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and commercial utility cargo vehicles for the Lebanese military. Although DoD took steps to buy spare parts, actually handingthem over to Lebanon will be based on two conditions. These conditions, agreed to by the Defense and State departments, are that the Lebanese army be in a position to assert further control over its territory and that equipment provided by the program is used to help reduce Hezbollah’s operational space.

In September 2007 Lebanon was reported to have ordered 40 Leopard-1 tanks and 32 YPR armored infantry fighting vehicles with 25mm guns and spare parts that were “offered by Belgium at a bargain price”. The money would come from what remained of the $100 million donated by Saudi Arabia in June 2007 to help the military crush an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group called Fatah Al-Islam in northern Lebanon. Beirut was waiting for Brussels to clear its own crisis — Flemish and Francophone parties failed to agree on a coalition government following general elections earlier in 2007 — and officially endorse the transfer. Belgium will replace the Army-surplus vehicles with variants of the Mowag Piranha-III.

By 2008 Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Elias Murr and Lebanese Army Commander General Michel Sleiman had developed a vision for transformation of the Lebanese Army to a more Special Operations-capable force equipped with a Close Air Support capability such as attack helicopters. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) faced difficulties during the Nahr Al Bared (NAB) campaign in the summer of 2007. The LAF lost a total of 176 service members as a result of the fighting. (At the end of NAB, the LAF had 168 KIA. Since that time, and additional six soldiers died of their wounds. The two Red Cross workers who were killed at NAB are now counted in LAF casualties.) The LAF had a hard time because of the narrow streets in the camp and the lack of equipment and ammunition for the LAF, and the LAF force structure and training did not meet national requirements.

The primary purpose of this transformed army would be to address terrorist threats inside Lebanon. Syria is still assisting the terrorists that are present in all thirteen of the Palestinian camps. Other Arab nations are using the camps in Lebanon as a dumping ground for their "dirty people."

At the strategic level, Murr said it was apparent that the army needed to shift its training and equipping focus to support more counter-terrorism operations. Murr said, "we don't need this heavy army that was trained and equipped by the U.S. in 1983. Things have changed since 9/11 and we need to rely more on special forces and fewer heavy brigades. We need light and medium weapons and attack helicopters to back up the grond troops." Murr surmised that he needed 10-15,000 Special Forces troops organized in 10-15 Special Forces regiments supported by 20-25,000 conventional troops. He thought that the army's current end strength of 60,000 was too large for the missions assigned. Murr wanted to only retain the five heavy brigades and place them on the borders. The remaining six brigades, and the five intervention regiments, would be disbanded and those personnel billets would be used as billpayers for the new SF Regiments.

The intent was to place all of these special forces under a single command structure that will be known as the Lebanese Special Operations Command (LSOC). The units that will comprise this command are the Marine Commando Regiment, the Ranger Regiment, the Air Assault Regiment and the Mountain Battalion that was being trained and equipped by the French.

By 2008 the LAF was in USCENTCOM-led discussions with the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) to transfer M60 tanks to replace the aging Soviet T-55s and U.S. M-48 tanks. This transfer will require Third Party Transfer (TPT) authority from the US. Lebanon's leadership was apprehensive about a planned second tranche of 46 M60-A3 tanks because of dissatisfaction with the first 10 A-3s that arrived from Jordan in May 2009. UAE had "committed" (but not yet provided by 2009) $17 million for ten M60 tanks slated for delivery to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and had not yet committed $98 million to finance the remaining 56 tanks [for a total of either 56 or 66?? tanks].

LAF would be well served with V-hulled wheeled vehicles in lieu of more heavy tracked vehicles (e.g. M113 personnel carriers and tanks) because they would be more maneuverable and less destructive on Lebanon's roadways. LAF Commander General Jean Kahwagi stated in 2009 that he had the required $9 million to purchase 45 German Leopard tanks, but as of mid-2009 there had been no progress in lifting the hold to allow the EU to transfer the tanks.

A five-year modernization plan was presented to the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the beginning of 2013. Lebanon announced a surprise $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia in December 2013. The Saudi pledge is almost double the Lebanese army's entire 2012 budget allocation. Since then, Riyadh's regional rival, Iran, also said it is ready to provide aid to the Lebanese army.

In February 2014 the Lebanese side presented Saudi Arabia with a preliminary list of weapons and gear that it wanted. The Lebanese were said to be shopping for air-defense systems, a major weakness in their military capabilities, attack helicopters, mobile artillery, naval patrol boats, special forces equipment and reconnaissance/surveillance systems.

In August 2014, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion to strengthen the Lebanese army and in October 2014 the US announced it had delivered a new shipment of Hellfire missiles and would also supply light aircraft. The aircraft would be paid for out of the additional Saudi funding.

In November 2014 France and Lebanon signed a 2.4 billion euros / $3 billion Saudi-funded deal to provide French weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman then described it as “the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces”. The deal came as the poorly-equipped Lebanese army fights jihadists - including militants of the so-called Islamic State group or Daesh - along its border with Syria and its main northern city Tripoli. There were no immediate details on what weapons systems would likely be delivered under the agreement, or when Lebanon would receive them.

Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia had an interest in boosting the Lebanese army because it was seen as under-equipped compared to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Everything in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy was overshadowed by its perception of a rising Iranian-led Shiite belt as a threat. France wanted Lebanon to remain Francophile and Francophone. The Americans and the Russians were also making offers to the Lebanese army. Each country was an ideal complementary strategic partner for the other, with Riyadh purchasing French weapons to reduce its dependence on Washington, and Paris hoping for new commercial opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia had refused to pay commissions to intermediaries of French weapons suppliers. The spat targeted ODAS, a marketing company jointly set up by the French government and arms exporters in 2008, with offices in France and in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had to be convinced that ODAS is not just an intermediary, but also organises deliveries. The Saudis also had their own intermediaries, reflecting the murky web of commissions traditionally attached to the international arms trade.

The two-year plan represents one fifth of France’s average arms exports. The list includes armored personnel carriers, Gazelle helicopters with air-to-ground missiles and navy patrol ships. Top-rate weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles that would have questioned Israel’s regional air supremacy now off the table. France planned to start supplying the equipment in the first quarter of 2015 and over a period of three years thereaftr, ending with the delivery of helicopters in 2018.

Saudi anger toward Lebanon was kindled in January 2016 after Iranian demonstrators ransacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to protest Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric. Lebanon did not endorse official statements of condemnation issued by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation because the statements also criticized Hezbollah.

On 19 February 2016 Saudi Arabia suspended the $3 billion aid package for the Lebanese army to buy French weapons. The kingdom has also canceled the remainder of $1 billion in aid it had earmarked for Lebanon’s internal security service.

In the presence of the Lebanese army commander representative and the American ambassador in Beirut, on 15 August 2017 the Lebanese army received eight Bradley armored vehicles in a first batch of $100 million US military aid to Lebanon. The vehicles were part of 32 others the Lebanese army is expected to receive from Washington in the coming months. This was part of a US investment, estimated at more than $100,000 which aims to supply the Lebanese army with new capabilities. Washington had also supplied Beirut with defense equipment including guns, military vehicles, ammunitions, rockets and others in 2016.

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Page last modified: 15-08-2017 11:43:27 ZULU