France is to modernise a dozen of Libya’s surviving Dassault Mirage F1 fighters and provide training to Libyan pilots, as part of a recent defence cooperation agreement.
French Ministry of Defence spokesman Gerard Gachet yesterday said that, “the collaboration with the air force is one of the major components of future military cooperation between France and Libya, through the restoring to condition of the Libyan armed forces’ Mirage F1 and the training of personnel”.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet visited Libya between February 24 and 26. He met his Libyan counterpart Osama al-Juwali to discuss defence issues and sign a letter of intent to set up a joint committee to develop bilateral defence cooperation.
Gachet said that Longuet’s visit was not aimed at selling French defence equipment, such as the Rafale, but to help Libya evaluate its military needs and set the basis for cooperation. France had earlier tried selling the Rafale to Libya and conducted talks for 14 aircraft, but a deal never materialised.
Libya bought 38 F1s in the late 1970s, but the arms embargo imposed against Libya by the United Nations (1992-2003) and United States, particularly after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, led to spares shortages, with many of the aircraft being grounded as a result. On November 8, 2006, Libya signed a contract with Astrac (a joint venture between Thales and Safran) for the refurbishment of 12 F1s. The 140 million euro contract was expected to take four years to complete.
France is retiring its F1 fleet and will withdraw its last aircraft in 2014. It has contemplated selling some of these aircraft to Libya.
At a news conference surrounding the talks in Libya, Longuet said that, “Libya’s strategic position joining Africa with the Mediterranean makes it an exposed territory. We have decided to put in a place a working Franco-Libyan committee to look at all these points.”
“This will bring together military staff, engineers, technicians and diplomats who will work on these issues. Cooperation between Libya and France is a long-term project.”
Two French warships arrived at Tripoli’s port in January carrying navy crewmen to train the Libyan navy and help de-mine oil ports. The ministers said a number of Libyan divers would be trained by France.
Juwali thanked France for the leading role it took in backing last year’s rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.
“The cooperation between France and Libya is developing day by day,” he said. “They have expressed their readiness to give us the necessary technical advice to secure our borders.”
In December, French army chief of staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud said France was ready to offer military training to Libya and was examining ways to boost its co-operation with the new government.
Longuet also met the chairman of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
Working groups are studying the various cooperation projects between France and Libya and will report to the joint bilateral defence cooperation committee, which is due to meet in Tripoli at the end of April or beginning of May.
Foreign states are worried about the Libyan interim government’s capacity to secure its Mediterranean coast, which could be used as a gateway into Europe for arms traffickers, al Qaeda insurgents and illegal migrants.
The Libyan conflict has also created new problems for the fragile region to its south.
Regional governments have warned that instability in Libya after the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule is allowing weapons taken from Gaddafi’s arsenal to fall into the hands of al Qaeda’s north African branch and other insurgent groups across the Sahara desert.