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Libyan Air Force Modernization

During Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011, NATO air operations destroyed virtually the entire Libyan air force on the ground. Any course of action involving a No-Fly Zone would require establishing Air Superiority and freedom of maneuver. To achieve these things, NATO needed to eliminate the threats posed by a fairly robust Libyan Integrated Air Defense System and a relatively incapable but still lethal Libyan Air Force.

After the revolution, the air force fleet was largely depleted, and efforts have been made by the Chief of Staff of the air force, Saqr Jarushi, to restore it, both in compliance with, and in violation of, the UN arms embargo.

By early 2012 the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) and the Libyan Defence Ministry were said to have discussed together proposals for the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet and the Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets in service with the UAE Air Force (UAEAF). Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour Bin Khayal was said to prefer delaying a possible deal between Libya and France for the Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets in service with the UAE Air Force (UAEAF). Tripoli Military leader Abdul-Hakim Belhadj is said to prefer that the Libyan Air Force (LAF) buys the F-16 fighter jet within the context of its rebuilding project. In January 2012 Saab of Sweden was said to be holding contacts with the Libyan Air Force (LAF) to place offer for its JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter jet.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet paid on 24 February 2012 a three day visit to Tripoli during which he signed a Letter of Intent with his Libyan counterpart Osama Al-Juwaili to boost military cooperation between both countries. By March 2012, the General Staff of the Libyan Armed Forces was said to have plans to buy training and tactical combat aircraft for the Libyan Air Force (LAF). Libyan Defence Minister Osama Al-Juwaili was said to be calling for Libya to begin looking for fighter jets that suit its financial and technical capabilities.

In March 2012 the UAE is said to have reactivated contacts with Libya to sell it the Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets in service with the UAE Air Force (UAEAF). The Pentagon is said to have advised Libya Air Force (LAF) to buy F-4 Phantom and F-5 fighter jets. As of April 2012 the Head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and Libyan PM Abdurrahim Al-Keib were said to be in disagreement over plans to buy F-16 aircraft and the Emirati Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets for the Libyan Air Force (LAF). The Libyan Air Force (LAF) is said to have not received any complete offer from either France or the UAE for the Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets in service with the UAE Air Force (UAEAF). Chief of Staff of the Libyan Armed Forces Major-General Yusef Al-Manqoush, who accompanied Libyan PM Abdurrahim El-Keib on his visit to Abu Dhabi on 15 April 2012, is said to have held a separate meeting with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on a deal for the Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets in service with the UAE Air Force (UAEAF).

In June 2012 the air force chief of staff, Saqr Geroushi said that putting forward proposals to purchase two squadrons of French Rafale fighter aircraft, as well as a number of French F1-Mirage jets. There are also plans to purchase Eurofighter Typhoons from the United Kingdom, as well as C-130 Hercules cargo planes and Chinook helicopters from the United States. Geroushi said that the plan required the distribution of the new aircraft across Libya, stipulating the intention to base the Eurofighters at Tobruk and Benina airbase in Benghazi, with the French fighters being based at Gordabaya and Wattya military airbases to cover the entire Libyan south. The military airbases at Jufrah, Sebha and Kufra will also be used, it was announced.

In July 2012 Libyan Defence Minister Osama Al-Juwaili was said to have gotten reactions from the new French Administration to his requests about a contract signed with Sofema in 2006 to refurbish 12 Mirage F1 fighter jets and about a deal for 14 Rafale aircraft initialled in 2010. In August 2012 recently elected President of the General National Congress of Libya Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf is said to have asked the Libyan Defense Ministry to postpone all contacts with friendly countries on plans to buy fighter jets or military vessels. The Libyan Defence Ministry was said to have a project to set up vehicle-mounted short and medium-range air defence units in the Libyan Air Defence.

The Pentagon was said to be trying in October 2012 to convince Libya to buy the 12 Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets in service with the Qatari Air Force (QAF) [lausible] and to buy the Northrop Grumman F-20 Tigershark (initially F-5G) instead of the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet [obviously nonsense].

As of March 2013 unmanned Libyan drone aircraft are being used for the first time by the Libyan Air Force, to carry out inspection tasks. The drones were used in the operations and inspections division of his branch. The aircraft carry out aerial surveillance and gather information, which would be relayed to the division as part of its radar operations.

By March 2013 most of the country’s radar stations were working again. and an operations center for Misrata’s defence sector had been opened. On 14 April 2013 the head of the army’s air defences, Brigadier-General Juma Hussein El-Abani, confirmed that the Ministry of Transport planned to implement a major radar project to monitor Libyan airspace. The project would begin with work at the radar station at Tripoli International Airport. In addition, a civil aviation information centre would be built in Benghazi to act as a back-up for the main center in Tripoli. The air navigation centre in Jufra would be under the direct control of the air defence forces which would also operate the radar station in Sirte. Radar stations in Sebha and Tazirbu would be upgraded. In May 2013 a British military delegation was reported to have visited Libya and held a meeting in Benghazi with a delegation of the Libyan Defence Ministry on the Libyan UAV procurement plan, and the British Black Hornet Nano UAV. The US embassy in Benghazi is said to have asked the Libyan Defence Ministry to abide by the US conditions on what concerns its plans to buy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and reinforce surveillance along the border with Tunisia, Algeria and Chad.

From the date of the adoption of resolution 2009 (2011) until the adoption of resolution 2174 (2014), Libya could procure military materiel if notified in advance to the UN Committee. Libya wanted the Security Council to remove the 2011 arms embargo in order to reinforce “the abilities of the Libyan air force so that it may be able to monitor Libyan territory and borders and prevent the terrorists from breaching oil fields and oil facilities and so that it can protect the fortunes and the wealth of the country,” according to UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi.

On 04 March 2015, Libya’s UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi asked the Security Council to lift the arms embargo imposed against the country in 2011. Libya requested the approval of the UN Security Council for an exemption to the delivery of weapons, including eight helicopters, six fighter jets, and four fighter-bombers. Spain asked that the request be put on hold. Britain, France, Chile, Lithuania, New Zealand and the United States backed the request.

In early 2015 Libya, already the recipient of three MiG-21MF fighters from Egypt, was getting two more, as it fought common militant islamist enemy groups. The Libyan Air Force has reportedly taken delivery of four new Russian-made Su-27 Flanker fighter aircraft from an undisclosed country. An unnamed Libyan official was quoted by official pro HoR LANA news agency as saying that informed military sources in the Libyan National Army (LNA) confirmed on 05 January 2015 that four new Sukhoi fighter jets effectively joined the squadrons of the Libyan Air Force.

A new United Nations Panel of Experts report released on 23 February 2015 said despite denials from the government in Cairo, it had evidence which proved that the Egyptian Air Force had transferred at least two Mi-8 helicopters and some refurbished MiG-21 fighter jets to the Tobruk-based Libyan government faction.

"A number of new aircraft are in use in the Libyan air force, including some whose features appear to be consistent with aircraft used by the Egyptian air force, such as some MiG-21MF aeroplanes and a Mi-8 helicopter. For example, the identity features of the Mi-8 helicopter were obviously concealed on purpose and painted over, but the locations of these exactly match those of Egyptian aircraft.

"The Panel wrote to Egypt asking whether Egypt had ever transferred the Mi-8 helicopter to Libya. In its response, Egypt stated that it had not provided Libya with any Mi-8 helicopters nor any MiG-21MF aeroplanes. However, the Panel concludes from the analysis above that this Mi-8 helicopter is originally from the Egyptian fleet," the report said. The air force obtained additional Mi-8 helicopters, including at least one (tail No. 1464) that was consistent with Egyptian Mi-8 helicopters.

Libyan air force aircraft are alleged to have made numerous trips to from Sudan to the Mitiga airport carrying military supplies. In addition, Sudan was also accused of transferring an unknown number of Mi-24 helicopters to the Libyan Air Force.

The UN Panel was investigating the transfer of MiG-21F jets to Tubruq, which appear to be consistent with those owned by Egypt. Information and pictures published on the official Facebook page of the Egyptian air force tend to confirm the transfer. The Panel provided Egypt with the serial numbers of some of the aircraft, but no response to the tracing request has been received to date. Egypt responded that the Panel’s information regarding the transfers was incorrect and that it was fully committed to the implementation of resolution 1970 (2011) and subsequent relevant resolutions.

By early 2016 Misratah airbase was operating between 15 and 20 aircraft, including Mirage, L39, Soko, MiG and Mi-8 aircraft. Their refurbishment and piloting (in some cases) and the provision of ammunition therefor have required external support. Armed groups from Misratah had recruited foreign pilots to fly Mirage F1 and L39 aircraft, including Ecuadorians and Ukrainians. Sources also mentioned that the aircraft were being maintained by a team of Ecuadorians.

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Page last modified: 12-03-2016 19:26:03 ZULU