• Monday, June 17, 2019

The Libyan Air Force, refurbishing its old Su-22 fighter-bombers?

Discussion in 'Arab Defence Forum' started by Major Shaitan Singh, Mar 3, 2015.

  1. Major Shaitan Singh

    Major Shaitan Singh SENIOR MEMBER

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    An Echorouk News TV report on the Libyan Air Force's (LAF) activities in Al Watiya airbase confirmed that work has been put into reintroducing the Su-22 into the arsenal of the Libyan Air Force, a rumour that had been floating around since early December 2014.

    The Libyan National Army (LNA) and LAF almost unanimously sided withGeneral Khalifa Haftar, who is part of the internationally recognised government currently residing in Tobruk. Haftar strives to eliminate any Islamist terrorist organisation within Libya as part of Operation Dignity. He is opposed by Libya Dawn, which is fighting for Libya's unrecognised parliament and currently in control of Benghazi and the capital Tripoli, together with various other Islamist factions, Ansar al-Sharia and even the Islamic State. A complicated matter to say the least.

    Libya Dawn can be considered the strongest opponent to Khalifa Haftar, and its forces even succeeded in establishing their very own air force. At least four Soko G-2 Galebs are currently present at Misrata and one or two MiG-23s should have been made operational at Mitiga, but were reported to have left the airbase some time later.[1] Libya Dawn also claimed to have an operational MiG-23 at Misrata and, even though the base doesn't house any aircraft of the type, even claimed to be working on a MiG-25 here.[2] It remains unknown if the operational MiG-23 is actually one of the examples formerly based at Mitiga. To add to all this, Libya Dawn is also in control of Tripoli International Airport (IAP) and Benina airbase/IAP.

    The almost complete annihilation of the Libyan Air Force by the NATO-led airstrikes and heavy attrition in the past years has diminished the Libyan Air Force's firepower to an all time low. However, it continues to operate several MiG-23MLs and MiG-23UBs, three MiG-21MFs donated by Egypt, several MiG-21bis and L-39s and numerous helicopters. Amongst these are numerous Mi-8s, at least three of which donated by Egypt, and several Mi-25s and Mi-35s, some of the latter originally acquired from Sudan. The LAF was also reported to have acquired four Su-27s from Russia, although this rumour was quickly dismissed as misinformation.[3]

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    A lack of sufficient operational airframes, which are already spread thin throughout Libya, forced the LAF to look for other solutions to acquire aircraft and helicopters to support the Libyan National Army from the air. While Egypt delivered three MiG-21s and three Mi-8s, this wasn't enough, and these aircraft are unable to cover the whole of Libya.

    The LNA is currently fighting against Libya Dawn, Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State on multiple fronts. The heaviest battles take place in Benghazi, where they are fighting with Libya Dawn for control of the city. The LNA is also poised to retake Libya's capital, Tripoli, where the next offensive will surely take place soon.

    Al Watiya airbase, also known as al-Watya or al-Zintan, remains the only airbase in Libyan Air Force hands located near Tripoli, and is thus vital for any future offensive aimed at recapturing the capital. Al Watiya itself was recaptured by the Libyan National Army on the 9th of August 2014. The airbase was originally constructed by the French, and housed a part of Libya's Mirage fleet before their gradual withdrawal due to a lack of spares, caused by the imposed arms embargo. Al Watiya was also home to a squadron of Su-22s (S-32MK) and a part of the Su-22M-3 fleet. All of Libya's Su-22M-3s were destroyed by the NATO-led airstrikes during the Libyan Civil War, which also targeted Al Watiya airbase. Two Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) housing Su-22M-3s as well as several munition depots were targeted here. Libya's Su-22s (S-32MK), stored in some of the remaining forty-three Hardened Aircraft Shelters were already decommissioned long before the revolution, and thus escaped unharmed as they were not on the NATO's target list.

    Only one operational aircraft is currently stationed at Al Watiya, and this MiG-23UB has already been busy targeting munition depots and other targets of interest in and around Tripoli. Just a single MiG-23UB is completely insufficient to provide the much needed fire support for the Libyan National Army in any future offensive around Tripoli however.

    Although the MiG-23UB is originally a twin-seat training variant, it can be armed with UB-16 and UB-32 rocket pods for the 57mm S-5 rocket and various types of bombs, all carried on the MiG-23UB's four hardpoints.

    The only other type of aircraft available in larger numbers at Al Watiya are ten to twelve Su-22s decommissioned at least two decades ago, none of which are in flying condition. But as overhauling older aircraft is the LAF's only chance to regain some of the firepower it lost over the years, these old Su-22s have to do for the time being. Libya is believed to have received two squadrons of Su-22s, and even more Su-22M-3s in the late seventies and early eighties, some of which were even sent to the Gulf of Sidra to take on U.S. F-14 Tomcats in 1981.

    An interview with Colonel Muhammad Abdul Hamid Al-Satni (3:44) revealed the Libyan Air Force's plans for the Su-22s:

    ''We … [inaudible] Su-22 aircraft, they were almost non-functional, but thanks to Libyan military personnel, all Libyans, no foreigners, we have been trying to put one or two of the ten to twelve aircraft back into service. This is the first one we managed to repair and it will be deployed in a week or ten days in the battle to liberate Tripoli.''

    One or two Su-22s are thus supposedly being made operational again, likely by cannibalising the other Su-22s. But while the Colonel says the operational Su-22 is right behind him, both of the aircraft are covered in a thick layer of dust, and still have their green Jamahiriya roundel and flag applied to their fuselage and tail, creating some confusion about their supposed overhaul.

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    This however doesn't mean the Libyan Air Force is not working on getting one or two examples operational again, and might be related to the security situation instead.The activities of the Echorouk News TV team were strictly monitored by LAF personnel, as it is forbidden to take images in the airbase so as not to reveal the exact location of the precious aircraft on the airfield. While this might seem exaggerated with forty-three Hardened Aircraft Shelters to hide them in, Libya Dawn is poised to destroy the MiG-23UB, and even tried to find its exact location by sending a Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV over Al Watiya, which was subsequently shot down by personnel of the airbase.[4]

    Therefore the actual overhaul of the Su-22(s) is likely taking place elsewhere in the airbase, with the two Su-22s in the video acting as the examples worked upon to hide the real location of the supposed operational Su-22(s).

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    Opposed to the MiG-21s and MiG-23s, which are actually fighters, the Su-22s are true fighter-bombers. Equipped with six hardpoints instead of the four seen on the MiG-21 and MiG-23, they can carry their ordnance over a longer range.

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    Getting these Su-22s back into service will surely prove to be a big challenge, even for the experienced mechanics of the LAF. However, should they succeed the aircraft will be of great value during any upcoming offensive to recapture Tripoli. Only time will tell wether the engineers' efforts are in vain or whether they're just what's needed to tip the balance in the LNA's favour.