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Qadhafi Era Military Procurement

Libya once had a formidable arsenal, including both French and Soviet fighter planes and combat helicopters, British, Italian and French fast patrol boats, Soviet submarines and missiles, and hundreds of Brazilian and British armored personnel carriers. Libya is now armed with aging pre-sanctions military equipment, much of which has been grounded for lack of spares. UN and US military sanctions have prevented Libya from modernising its 76,000-strong military force, equipped mostly with weapons dating back to the 1970s.

Because of a relatively low level of technical and industrial development--apart from the petroleum sector--since independence Libya was forced to rely on foreign sources of assistance in its efforts to establish a credible military posture. During the eighteen years of the monarchy, the Idris government turned to the West for help in forging a national military system. In the process, the government entered into a number of treaties and other agreements of a military nature, particularly with Britain and the United States. One of the most important of these agreements was the Treaty of Friendship concluded in 1953 by Britain and Libya that included reciprocal pledges of assistance in case of an armed conflict. The treaty, which was to have remained in force for twenty years, granted the British continued rights to the use of military bases along the Mediterranean coast in exchange for extensive military supplies and training assistance.

Similar arrangements concluded with the United States a year later granted the use of Wheelus Air Base in exchange for military assistance grants and the purchase of excess stocks of American weapons. United States military aid was devoted mainly to the organization and development of the Libyan air force. Many of the personnel recruited to that new branch received American training, and most of the aircraft acquired during its early years were provided by the United States.

Since the mid-1970s, arms deliveries to Libya have originated predominantly in the Soviet Union and other communist countries. According to ACDA, these sources accounted for 60 percent of total military imports between 1981 and 1985. Such sources included the Soviet Union (US$4.6 billion), Czechoslovakia (US$875 million), People's Republic of China (US$320 million), and Poland (US$300 million). Major western sources were France (mostly naval craft previously ordered) at US$725 million and Italy, which provided transfers amounting to US$850 million. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was the only other significant West European source, furnishing US$180 million worth of equipment. Such other suppliers as Brazil and Yugoslavia accounted for a further US$2.6 billion.

After the young officers led by Qadhafi deposed the Idris regime, it was almost inevitable that their government would look for new sources of military equipment. One of the many causes of the coup was the monarchy's unwillingness to involve Libya militarily in the Arab-Israeli conflict. To have continued to rely solely on Britain and the United States for arms would have invited domestic and Arab criticism inasmuch as both countries were regarded as hostile to the interests of the Arab world because of their support for Israel. The Libyans therefore cancelled the treaty with Britain and, in March 1970, the British evacuated their bases near Tobruk and Benghazi. United States operational and maintenance support of the Libyan air force ended the following June when American personnel evacuated Wheelus Air Base. Overall American military assistance between 1958 and 1970 had amounted to US$17.4 million in grant aid and US$43.4 million in sales.

In 1970 the Libyan government announced that it had contracted for the purchase of French weapons systems, notably Mirage fighters, valued at US$400 million. Using facilities that were formerly part of Wheelus Air Base, French instructors engaged in the training of Libyan pilots and ground crews to operate and maintain the Mirages. The choice of France as an alternative arms supplier was a logical one for Libya. Not only was France increasingly dependent upon Libyan oil supplies, but its policy toward the Arab-Israeli dispute was acceptable to Qadhafi.

Failing in its efforts to acquire medium tanks from either France or Britain, Qadhafi turned to the Soviet Union. Moscow had quickly recognized the new Libyan regime and responded with equal speed to the request for weapons. In July 1970, the first Soviet military vehicles, including 30 medium tanks and 100 armored personnel carriers, arrived in Libya.

Apart from France, however, during the early 1970s neighboring Egypt had the greatest influence on Qadhafi's drive to upgrade his defense forces. Egypt had supported the coup by positioning Egyptian units at strategic points throughout Libya to help prevent any attempt by royalist forces to stage a countercoup. By 1972 an estimated 2,000 Egyptian soldiers were serving in the country as instructors. Training was also provided for both officers and enlisted personnel at installations in Egypt. After the military academy at Benghazi closed, a number of Libyans were trained at the Egyptian military academy.

The October 1973 War, which drew sharp criticism from Qadhafi over the Egyptian military effort and the willingness of President Anwar Sadat to accept a disengagement agreement with Israel, produced a rift between the two North African neighbors. Egypt withdrew from Libya all Egyptian pilots and two vessels it had lent the Libyan navy. Cooperation in air defense was also terminated as Egypt withdrew surface-to-air missiles it had provided earlier and halted work on the air defenses it had been developing to protect Tripoli, Benghazi, and Tobruk.

Libya then turned to Pakistan for help. A small Pakistani advisory contingent that had been giving training on helicopters and transport aircraft was expanded to about 600--including 40 pilots. Small numbers of Italian, French, and Yugoslav instructors were also introduced for training.

Because of Libya's forcing the evacuation from Libya of British and United States military personnel in 1970, the Libyans were rebuffed in a renewed effort to obtain military equipment from the West, except for limited British help with the developing navy. Therefore, Libya turned elsewhere for aid. In December 1974, Libya disclosed a large-scale arms purchase agreement with the Soviet Union, involving Tu-22 bombers, MiG-23 fighters, helicopters, T-62 tanks, and antitank and antiaircraft missiles. A second agreement in May 1975 heralded an even greater flow of Soviet arms and military advisers to Libya throughout the 1970s. Included in the agreement were submarines, of which a total of six were eventually transferred. Subsequent agreements followed in 1977, 1978, and 1980. The value of these transactions was estimated at over US$20 billion between 1973 and 1985.

The new round of arms purchases in 1978, precipitated by the clashes with Egypt in the preceding year, included the MiG-25 Foxbat in its fighter, reconnaissance, and training configurations. This sale to Libya was the first recorded time the Soviet Union furnished the MiG-25 to any country not participating the Warsaw Pact. Deliveries of sophisticated military hardware were accompanied by Soviet and East European technicians estimated by the United States Department of State to have numbered 2,600 in 1984. In late 1985, these technicians were augmented by a considerable number of specialists to install and help operate the new SA-5 missiles. Approximately 7,600 Libyan military personnel had received training in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe by 1984.

Deliveries of modern Soviet armaments continued during the early 1980s, although they tapered off markedly between 1983 (US$2.9 billion) and 1985 (US$1.3 billion), according to estimates compiled by ACDA. Libya was the first non-Warsaw Pact recipient of Haze antisubmarine helicopters. Natya-class minesweepers and Nanuchka-class fast-missile corvettes helped expand the navy. The three batteries of SA-5 missile launchers, including early warning and surveillance radar, delivered toward the close of 1985 failed in their purpose of deterring maneuvers by United States naval elements in the Gulf of Sidra. Nonetheless, when Jallud visited Moscow several months later, it was officially announced that the Soviets had agreed to a new request for aid. Included were an improved version of the SA-5, new monitoring and early warning radar, antijamming devices, M-24 helicopters, and additional gunboats and fighter planes. By early 1987, major arms shipments reportedly had been cut off, either because of Qadhafi's failure to make promised oil deliveries or because of Soviet disillusionment over Libyan performance against United States planes and the abandonment of vast amounts of modern equipment in Chad.

The massive Libyan purchases brought the Soviet Union economic gains and enabled the Soviets to extend their strategic influence farther into the Mediterranean while appearing to reward the antiimperialist and Arab unity stance of the Libyan regime. Nevertheless, Qadhafi's increasingly undependable behavior, his estrangement from other Arab and African nations, and his setbacks in employing modern Soviet weaponry apparently made the Soviets skeptical of Qadhafi and reluctant to be closely identified with him. Although in 1984 the two countries issued a joint declaration in principle to enter into a treaty of friendship and cooperation and confirmed their intention in 1986, such an agreement, which would obligate the Soviet Union to come to Qadhafi's aid if attacked, had not been concluded by early 1987.

Qadhafi refrained from granting the Soviets permanent shore facilities or air bases on Libyan territory; Soviet combatant ships had paid frequent port calls, and antisubmarine planes of the Soviet naval aviation branch had occasionally been rotated to Libyan airfields.

Libya's radicalism, its reckless ventures beyond its borders, and its links to terrorists caused a growing reluctance among Western countries to supply Libya with lethal equipment, a reluctance amounting to formal or de facto embargoes by most Western arms manufacturers. A policy of refusing to ship arms to Libya was reaffirmed in the Tokyo Declaration on International Terrorism in May 1986, signed by the governments of Canada, West Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States. Libya has nonetheless continued to look to non-Soviet suppliers, turning to such peripheral sources as Yugoslavia, Greece, and Brazil.

United States restrictions on military sales date from the mid-1970s when the delivery of eight C-130 Lockheed cargo planes ordered in 1972 was blocked out of fear that they would be used for military ventures in Uganda. In 1978 spare parts were banned for the C-130s Libya already had on hand, and an export license was refused for two Boeing 727s. Qadhafi angrily rejected accusations against Libya of supporting international terrorism, describing the American attitude as "both puerile and unworthy of a great power." He denied that Libya financed terrorism and asserted that the aircraft carriers of the United States Sixth Fleet were engaged in "terrorism" by their very presence in the Mediterranean. Having initially rejected a permit for the export of 400 trucks manufactured by the Oshkosh Company, the United States government relented after receiving written guarantees that the trucks would be used solely for agricultural purposes. However, upon their delivery in 1979, the trucks were converted to military transporters by Canadian mechanics using Austrian equipment.

After Libya cancelled the treaties with Britain and the United States, France became its main alternative arms supplier. Support for the Mirage fighters by Dassault, a French manufacturer, consisted of both pilot and ground crew training in Libya and France and periodic major overhauls of planes at the Dassault plant. However, the strained relations between the two countries over Chad brought an end to this support. Reportedly, France held discussions concerning the more advanced Mirage 2000 in return for Libyan compliance with its 1983 withdrawal agreement from Chad, but Libya's continued involvement there ruled out any sale. The only major French arms transfer was the US$600 million sale of ten Combattante fast-attack craft with missiles the last of which was delivered in 1984 under a contract negotiated six years earlier.

Libya was involved in a series of significant transactions with Italy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1978 the Italian aircraft company Siai-Marchetti secured a contract to supply SF-260 light aircraft intended for training and reconnaissance. The G-222 military transport plane assembled by Aeritalia was also supplied to the Libyans. The Italian firm of Oto Melara received orders for a large number of Palmaria 155-mm self-propelled howitzers. Over a three-year period, a complete renovation of a British-built frigate was carried out in a Genoa shipyard. Four corvettes of the Wadi/Assad type were contracted for in 1974, but the last of these vessels was not delivered until 1982. Both the frigate and the corvettes were fitted with Otomat missiles.

An arms-supply relationship with Brazil began in 1977 with a Libyan order for several hundred armored cars at a cost of over US$100 million. A contract in 1981 for US$250 million covered purchases of additional armored cars, rockets, bombs, and missile launchers. Negotiations were interrupted after Brazil's 1983 seizure of four transiting Libyan aircraft loaded with weapons for Nicaragua. Resumption of negotiations in 1986 was expected to lead to Brazilian sale of EMB-312 Tucano trainer aircraft, EMB-121 Xingu transports, and additional Cascavel and Urutu armored vehicles.

In late 1985, Libya signed an agreement with Greece covering the sale of US$500 million in equipment, including the Artemis-30 antiaircraft gun and the Steyr armored personnel carrier, manufactured in Greece under license from Austria. Yugoslavia was reported to be supplying a number of Galeb jet trainer aircraft in addition to those already in service, as well as Koncar-class missile boats to be armed with Soviet-designed Styx missiles.

On 06 November 2008 Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said his country was considering buying Ukrainian-made weaponry for defense purposes. Qaddafi arrived in Kiev for talks with President Viktor Yushchenko and top government officials. The three-day state visit to the former Soviet republic is his first since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., and comes as the third leg of a tour that started in Moscow and continued in Minsk.

"We have discussed military technical cooperation [with the Ukrainian leadership]," Qaddafi told a news conference in Kiev. "We are interested in buying modern defensive weaponry for suitable prices," he said, adding that Libya was considering military-technical cooperation with other countries as well.

Meanwhile, Andriy Honcharuk, a deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential staff, said that the two countries would set up a joint venture in Africa for maintenance of Ukrainian helicopters. "The joint venture will begin its work in the nearest future," he said. He added that the enterprise would modernize, maintain and repair helicopters primarily used for humanitarian and relief operations in Africa. Ukraine was the world's 10th biggest arms exporter from 2003 to 2007, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Deliveries of Russian air defense systems, combat aircraft and warships will be among the key issues to be discussed during the upcoming visit to Moscow of Libya's president. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi will pay an official visit to Russia at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev from October 31 to November 2, 2008. Before Muammar Qaddafi came to Moscow, analysts thought he would sign military contracts worth between $2 billion and $4.5 billion with Russia. However, while the Kremlin staff was busy searching for a place to build a Bedouin tent for Qaddafi, the "son of the desert" was thinking about his bargaining tactic in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Russians viewed the three countries as fraternal, but Qaddafi saw them as the "Slavic bazaar" where they compete against each other.

The colonel's itinerary was carefully plotted, from Russia to Belarus and to Ukraine, because in Moscow the Libyan leader saw the full range of Russian military items for sale, such as the Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, the Su-35 multirole fighter, the T-90 tank, and the latest version of the S-300 air defense system. Even the Russian army lacked most of these novel systems, which definitely were not cheap. Russia had other cheaper, simpler arms for sale. It inherited them from the Soviet Union, just as Belarus and Ukraine did.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko offered Qaddafi Soviet-made weapons. Two factors - the price and the buyer's feeling about the seller - are crucial at a bazaar where sellers offer similar goods. Qaddafi was an experienced politician with a personality comparable to those of Russia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Belarusian President Lukashenko.

Muammar Qaddafi recalled that it was Belarus that "extended a hand of friendship" to Libya when international sanctions were imposed on it. Qaddafi first met with Lukashenko in 2000, when the Belarusian president was in Libya on an official visit during which the two leaders created the groundwork for bilateral relations. Qaddafi told Lukashenko he was always welcome in Libya, and the Belarusian leader promised to come to Tripoli again.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2013 19:13:00 ZULU