• Monday, August 10, 2020

Libya's Mirage F.1AD fighter-bombers, back from the grave?

Discussion in 'Arab Defence Forum' started by Major Shaitan Singh, Mar 27, 2015.

  1. Major Shaitan Singh

    Major Shaitan Singh SENIOR MEMBER

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    Libya's Mirage F.1s can look back on a turbulent career while serving as the Libyan Air Force's most potent assets, flown by their most potent pilots. From intercepting United States Navy aircraft near the Libyan coast and being deployed to Chad to challenge the Chadian Army to being sent off to engage protesters during the revolution of 2011, which was fortunately prevented by the defection of the pilots to Malta.

    The ongoing unrest still ravaging through Libya at first appeared to have ended the Mirage F.1's Libyan career, but work is now underway to bring a small number of Mirage F.1AD fighter-bombers back into service again at Al Watiya airbase.

    Libya originally acquired thirty-eight Mirage F.1s, comprised of sixteen Mirage F.1AD fighter bombers, sixteen Mirage F.1ED interceptors, six Mirage F.1BD trainers and a huge stock of spare parts and weaponry in the late seventies. These aircraft entered service in 1011 and 1012 Squadron respectively, newly formed in preparation for the delivery of the Mirages. Both squadrons were based at the French-constructed Al Watiya airbase (also known as Al Watya or Woutia), with a number of Mirages permanently detached to Aouzou in Chad. Al Watiya's strategic location close to the Tunisian border and Tripoli resulted in it being the main hub for Libya's Mirage squadrons. The Mirage F.1 was one of the most active aircraft of the LAAF (Libyan Arab Air Force) throughout the eighties and nineties.

    However, a portion of the Mirage F.1 fleet had to be stored in the nineties because of the arms embargo imposed on Libya, which prevented it from acquiring spare parts for its air force. Although Libya could at first count on a large stock of spare parts, much of it was already spent by that time. The situation was only made worse when a large shipment of Mirage F.1 spare parts was donated to Iran, which was also unable to acquire any spare parts for its (ex-Iraqi) Mirage F.1s. The generous donation, much to the Libyan Air Force's frustration, was a personal order by Gaddafi, and the Libyan Air Force's protests proved futile.

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    The late nineties and the beginning of the 21st century saw the pool of available airframes continuously dwindling, which forced 1011 Squadron, flying the Mirage F.1AD, to stand down, with its aircraft joining the other Mirages already in storage.

    Although Libya was interested in bringing a part of the fleet back to operational condition after the lifting of the arms embargo in 2003, and several plans for the overhaul of twelve of the Mirage F.1s and the acquistion of more examples were indeed made, only a limited amount of work was actually carried out. To no one's surprise, Libya was thus left with only a few operational airframes at the start of the revolution in 2011, comprised of two Mirage F.1EDs interceptors and one Mirage F.1BD trainer.

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    The two Mirage F.1EDs were quickly sent off to attack protesters in Benghazi. The pilots, not interested in causing a bloodbath, flew their Matra rocket pod armed Mirage F.1EDs to Malta and asked for political asylum here.

    These two Mirages later returned to Libya after hostilities ceased, and once again, plans were laid out for the resurrection of the Mirage F.1 fleet, with airframes in storage destined to be overhauled in Tripoli. Although several airframes were indeed transferred to the overhaul facility in Tripoli, the unrest in Libya put an end to these plans. The operational fleet was meanwhile cut back to just one airframe as the single Mirage F.1BD trainer was destroyed by the NATO-led airstrikes in 2011, and one of the Mirage F.1EDs crashed in 2012, killing its pilot. The involved aircraft can be seen below.


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    This ended the career of the Mirage F.1 in Libya, with the fleet now divided between the overhaul facility in Tripoli and Al Watiya airbase, both in hands of Libya Dawn. All of the airframes in storage at Al Watiya luckily escaped the NATO-led airstrikes, simply because they were not deemed a threat. Out of the forty-five Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) present at Al Watiya, only the two housing the last of Libya's Su-22M-3s were targeted in addition to the Mirage F.1BD and several munition depots located near the airbase.

    The hope of Mirages roaring in Libya's sky ever again now seemed further away than ever with both the overhaul facility, housing the airframes in the best condition, and Al Watiya in the hands of Libya Dawn. Al Watiya was recaptured by the Libyan National Army (LNA) on the 9th of August 2014 however, and the LNA encountered a large amount of stored airframes in the remaining forty-three Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS), including at least one squadron of Su-22s, what was left of the Mi-25 fleet and possibly up to twenty-one of Libya's remaining Mirage F.1s.

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    According to personnel on the base, work was underway to bring one or two Su-22s back to operational condition, but this hasn't yet materialised in the form of an operational Su-22 at Al Watiya. Only two operational aircraft are currently based at Al Watiya. These MiG-23UBs are responsible for providing all of the much-needed fire support for the LNA in and around Tripoli.

    At least one Mirage F.1AD is now being made operational again, likely by cannibalising the other airframes still present at Al Watiya or with help supporters abroad. While the Mirage F.1AD is capable of carrying air-to-air missiles such as the R.550 Magic, it is unlikely any of these remain in operational condition, and the aircraft is likely to be used solely against ground targets. It can rely on the most skilled mechanics and pilots (once the elite of the LAAF) however.

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    Libya's F.1AD fighter-bombers could be the latest in a string of aircraft in the troubled Middle East once presumed to have found their final resting place that are now being refurbished to fight once more. With the amount of parties attempting to utilise every asset available to them, they are certain not to be the last.

    Special thanks to Tom Cooper.