Iraq Survey Group Final Report
L-29 RPV (Al Bay’ah)
Following the failure of the MiG-21 RPV program in 1991, Iraq’s Military Research and Development Center (MRDC) in 1995 began a program call Al Bay’ah to modify the Czech L-29 trainer aircraft into an RPV. According to a report, in 1997, MRDC’s Drone Directorate became the Ibn-Firnas Center and continued with the development of the L-29.
- Ibn-Firnas modified the L-29 with a remote-control system using four cameras (primary and secondary forward view; primary and secondary cockpit view) feeding two displays at stations in a control van adapted from the control system of the Italian Mirach-100 UAV. Initial taxi tests of the L-29 RPV took place at Al Rashid Airfield in Baghdad, but due to an accident (the aircraft impacted the runway barriers), Ibn-Firnas moved the program to Al Mutasim Airfield (also known as Samarra East Airfield).
- The first flight test occurred on or about 13 April 1997 and was successful, followed by a second successful test in June 1997. These tests remained in the airfield traffic pattern.
- The third flight test was intended to test the maximum range of the video and command signals. The aircraft successfully flew 60-70 km southeast of Al Mutasim, but then the ground station lost the video signal from the aircraft and it crashed. Following this, Ibn-Firnas attempted to improve the aircraft’s controllability by installing the auto stabilizer system from the Chinese C-611 anti-ship cruise missile. This modification was largely unsuccessful due to excessive instrument drift.
Although bombing of Al Mutasim in 1998 during Desert Fox delayed progress on the L-29 RPV, Ibn-Firnas conducted approximately 26 more flight tests between 1999 and 2001. All these tests had a pilot in the cockpit and focused on improving the control system.
- A single source stated that in the spring of 2001, Ibn-Firnas attempted an unmanned flight that resulted in a crash. Following this crash, Ibn-Firnas recommended canceling the program. Huwaysh agreed and terminated funding for the program.
- The initial program manager for the L-29 RPV program was Dr. Mahmud Modhaffer. Dr. Mahmud departed the program in 1996 and was briefly replaced by Dr. ‘Imad until 1997. Dr. ‘Imad was subsequently replaced by MIC Deputy Director Muzahim Sa’b Hasan Muhammad Al Nasiri, who, according to a worker on the program, had very little technical competence.
Roles and Missions
Multiple sources have described different roles and missions for the L-29 RPV. These include acting as a decoy for coalition aircraft, an air defense target, reconnaissance, and potentially a CBW delivery platform. ISG has not been able to confirm or deny that the L-29 had an intended CBW delivery role.
- Former officials of Ibn-Firnas reported that the aircraft was to be used as a decoy for coalition aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones. It would lure them into an ambush using SAMs (colloquially referred to as a “SAMbush”), although this mission was never flown. Ibn-Firnas personnel also reported that the aircraft was to be used as a target drone for the Air Defense Forces.
- A management level official reported that the aircraft would be used for reconnaissance and possibly electronic warfare. He also described the intended use of the aircraft in November 1997 as a “SAMbush” decoy.
- An Iraqi aircraft engineer, with indirect access to the information, reported that in 1995, many Iraqi Air Force engineers believed the intended use of the L-29 RPV was to attack a US aircraft carrier with chemical or biological weapons. This source claims to have been informed by colleagues who worked on the L-29 RPV that the aircraft would be outfitted with biological weapons to attack a US carrier in the Persian Gulf, but the source had no information on how that attack would be conducted. In addition to the indirect information about biological weapons, the source also speculated that the L-29 RPV could be armed with chemical weapons.
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