Libya shopping for Russian arms


Libya reportedly intends acquiring 20 Sukhoi fighters and other aircraft in a new $1 billion weapons deal, the Russian Interfax news agency reports.

The agency says Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is planning to purchase 12 to 15 Sukhoi Su-35 “Flanker-E” multirole fighters (pictured), four Su-30 “Flanker-C” and six Yakovlev Yak-130 combat training aircraft.

Interfax added the contracts could be signed by the end of this year or early next year with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms exporter.

Libya bought heavily from the former Soviet Union during the Cold War and that arsenal is now largely obsolete.

The country was shunned by the international community through the 1980s because of its support for international terror groups such as the Irish Republican Army and much of the 90s as a result of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

Earlier this decade it faced further ostracism because of its nuclear weapons programme.

Since being rehabilitated in the eyes of the US and the European Union after abandoning these programmes in December 2003, Gadhafi has been seeking to modernise his aging arsenal.

The European News Network reports France has sold Libya missiles and other equipment, but on a far smaller scale than Russia.

“But it is currently making a big pitch to sell Gadhafi 14 Dassault Rafale multirole jet fighters, patrol ships, helicopters and armoured vehicles worth $5.8 billion.

“The current rundown state of Gadhafi’s military, denied new equipment for more than two decades, left it lagging behind its regional neighbours, who have been conducting major upgrades of their armed forces,” the network said.

“An April 2008 visit to Tripoli by Russian President Vladimir Putin and a subsequent visit to Moscow by Gadhafi in early November 2008 – his first since 1985 – raise expectations that Libya was planning to buy aircraft, missiles and armour worth $2.5 billion from Russia.

“Putin agreed during his visit to write off Libya’s Cold War debt to Moscow of $4.5 billion in return for lucrative energy and arms deals.”

The Moscow business daily Vedomosti reported at the time that Gadhafi was seeking two squadrons of Su-30MK2s – 36 to 40 aircraft.

Other Russian sources said he was also interested in the long-range, high-altitude NPO Almaz S-300 air-defence system, the shorter-range NPO Almaz Tor-M2E and NPO Almaz BUK-M1 surface-to-air missile systems as well as combat helicopters, Kartsev-Venediktov T-90 main battle tanks and at least one diesel-powered submarine.

The Arab states of North Africa, known as the Maghreb, began significant military upgrades in 2006.

In March of that year Algeria, which had been ravaged by a civil war with Islamist militants throughout the 1990s, concluded an agreement with Moscow for weapons worth $7.5 billion.

Although Algeria, a stalwart Soviet client during the Cold War, was opening up to the West, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001, Moscow won the contract by writing off $4.74 billion of Algeria’s Soviet-era debt.

Soon after, Morocco, Algeria’s traditional rival with whom it is locked in a decades-old dispute over the mineral-rich Western Sahara, announced it planned a major upgrade of its military.

Although short of funds, it started with a French deal to upgrade its Dassault Mirage F1 fighters.

That triggered concerns that the Maghreb states, never the best of friends, were engaging in a regional arms race, with the United States, France, Italy and Britain likely to trail far behind a resurgent Russia in arms sales, the ENN said.

“Since then Morocco, a stalwart US ally starved of meaningful procurement for two decades, has opened negotiations with France about buying at least one FREMM frigate.

“The United States offered 24 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters for $2.5 billion, effectively edging out potential French aircraft purchases.”

The timing of Morocco’s foray into the international weapons market has increased the perception that Rabat felt the need to respond to Algeria’s deal with Russia,” Jane’s Foreign Report observed recently.

Libya’s return to the global arms market was generally expected since, Jane’s noted, its military “is, if anything, in a worse state than any of its Maghreb rivals.”

But it added that “coming on top of the Moroccan and Algerian deals, it is easy to see why Libya could be seen to be joining a Maghreb arms race.”