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Libyan Air Force Modernization Under Qadaffi

Prior to 2011, over half of Libya's combat aircraft were thought to be in storage following the chronic shortage of spare parts for Soviet-era equipment, which in any event was rapidly becoming obsolete. In July 2007 Libya concluded a deal with Alenia Aermacchi to overhaul SF-260OWL primary trainers in service with the Libyan air force. In late 2006, a deal was concluded with the French concern Astrac for the upgrading of Mirage F1 fighter aircraft.

Much of the Soviet-era equipment needed to be replaced including MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters. In 2004, Rosoboronexport made deliveries of military equipment to 59 countries and procured armaments for UN purposes. Russia successfully expanded its cooperation with such countries as Venezuela, Morocco, Libya and Algeria in the recent years. A Russian delegation participated in the first international conference/exhibition in Libya entitled "Airport - New Technology" which took place in Tripoli on May 14-19, 2005.

In arms sales to Tripoli, Russia had encountered tough competition with Western nations since the UN lifted sanctions against Libya in 2003, after Qaddafi announced he would halt the national nuclear weapons program and later accepted responsibility for the 1998 terrorist bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland, agreeing to pay compensation to the victims' families. France is anxious to sell Tripoli 18 Rafale fighter aircraft worth 2.5 billion euros (about $4 billion).

Libya's fighter aviation - Soviet-era MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets - have outlived their usefulness. However, no contracts for the delivery of Russian-made state-of-the-art air defense systems and combat aircraft to Libya should be expected in the foreseeable future. Business daily Vedomosti said 16 April 2008 that Russia wanted to sell 12 Su-35 Flanker multirole fighters and Tor-M2E short-range missile systems to Libya, and offer spare parts and maintenance services for Soviet-era military hardware. An aircraft industry source quoted by the daily confirmed the deal was almost ready, but said the majority of contracts could only be initialed in Libya as the two countries had failed to reach an agreement on the African state's Soviet-era debt, which Russia earlier put at about $3.5 billion.

Russia wrote off Libya's US$4.5 billion Soviet-era debt in exchange for "multibillion dollar" contracts in a move that could potentially ease the way towards the signing of a series of defence export accords. The announcement - reported by Russian state information service RIA Novosti on 17 April 2008 - coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Libya and followed the 14 April 2008 announcement that the two countries were discussing military contracts valued at a total of USD2.5 billion. Jane's reported that the list of materiel included "several squadrons" of Russian anti-aircraft missile system, the S-300 PMU2 Favorit; about 20 Tor-M1 and Buk-M1-2 anti-aircraft missile systems; two aircraft squadrons - one Mikoyan MiG-29 SMT and one Sukhoi Su-30MK - and several dozen Mil Mi-17, Mi-35 and Kamov Ka-52 helicopters.

By 2010 the Libyan Air Force had at least 25 MiG-21 and 125 MiG-23 fighter jets, a number of Su-22 and Su-24 attack aircraft, combat helicopters and military transport planes. Libya had expressed an interest in MiG-35 [multirole fighter], Su-35 [multirole fighter], advanced attack helicopters, and air defense systems. Russia was expecting to resume traditional contacts with Libya in sales of military aircraft] in the near future. Russia had signed and had started the implementation of a contract with Libya on the overhaul of Su-24 attack aircraft in service with the Libyan air force.

Russia's military industrial complex could lose up to $4 billion once the international community introduces sanctions against Libya and weapons supply to the country becomes unlawful. Libya is one of the most considerable buyers of Russia's weapons in North Africa and the Middle East. The already-signed arms deals between Moscow and Tripoli amount to $2 billion, while deals for another $1.8 billion are in the final stage of readiness. In January 2010 the two sides agreed on supply of Russia's small arms, six operational trainers Yak-130 and some armored vehicles for total of $US 1.3 billion. Russia's Irkut Corporation aimed to deliver the first three of six Yak-130 advanced jet trainers on order to Libya by the end of 2010. The remaining aircraft would be delivered at the beginning of 2011. Tripoli has an option for additional aircraft. The contract was signed at the beginning of 2009.

Libya had been supposed to become the first country to get Su-35 fighter jets, the contract to buy 15 jets for $800 million is fully accorded and ready to be signed. Tripoli also expressed interest in buying 10 Ka-52 Alligator assault helicopters, two advanced long range S-300PMU2 Favorit air defense missile system and about 40 short range Panzir C1 air defense complexes for a total over $1 billion.


On December 19, 2003, Libya publicly announced its intention to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)-class missile programs. French President Nicolas Sarkozy used his 25 July 2007 visit to Libya to boost economic and trade relations with that country. Sarkozy's effort to derive real commercial gain from his newfound relationship with Libyan leader Qadhafi was partly intended to make up ground believed lost to the United States and others since Libya's rehabilitation in late 2003. Libya had shown interest in the Rafale, the Dassault fighter that has not yet been sold outside France.

Colonel Muammar Khaddafi, the Libyan head of state, signed an agreement granting six months’ exclusive negotiations for the Rafale when he visited Paris in December 2007. Human rights organizations criticized the visit by the Libyan leader and the prospective arms sales. By March 2009 commercial and technical negotiations on a sale of 14 French Rafale fighter jets to Libya had been largely completed; and politics will dictate the timing of any announcement of a deal.

On 10 December 2007 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi started a five-day official visit to France. French media said his visit would focus on arms supplies, in particular the purchase of Rafale fighters, manufactured by France's largest aircraft maker Dassault Aviation. Paris also intended to help Libya in building a nuclear reactor. Gaddafi's visit to Paris, his first in the past 30 years, ran December 10-15. He met twice with French President Nicolas Sarkozy - on December 10 and 12 at the Elysee Palace.

Nationwide political violence erupted in February 2011, following the Libyan Government’s brutal suppression of popular protests against Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi. Opposition forces quickly seized control of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city. On 17 March 2011 the UN Security Council authorized the use of force in Libya to protect civilians from attack. On 20 October 2011, the Libya National Transitional Council announced that it had captured Moammar Gadhafi during its offensive in the city of Sirte, though he was immediately killed.

Evidence was promised to a French court in January 2013 that could prove former President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted more than €50 million in campaign donations from ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine. He’s currently facing corruption charges and is under investigation over allegations of his involvement in a money laundering operation between France and the Middle East, in which he is believed to have been involved for 20 years. “I can provide you with details of the financing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign,” Le Parisien quoted Takieddine as saying. He told the judge the sums involved would exceed €50 million, as Sarkozy’s 2006-7 campaign was “abundantly” financed by Tripoli. The payments continued after Sarkozy's victory, Takieddine added.

Christophe Barbier, chief editor of French weekly L'Express, told RT that while the allegations are being taken seriously, hard proof has yet to be presented. “Look at the alleged contribution to Sarkozy's campaign – 50 million euros. The maximum presidential campaign expenditure allowed is 22 million euros. Fifty million, that's more than double. So this leftover money certainly didn't go towards the campaign, but instead ended up in someone's pockets,” he explained. “But tangible proof is needed. As of now there is only a statement by one man on trial who is trying to blame someone else to shift the attention away from himself,” Barbier added.

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