Thursday, 13 November 2014

Is Egypt providing aircraft and helicopters to the Libyan Air Force?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Much has been said on Egypt's involvement in the ongoing conflict between the Libyan National Army and several Islamist factions, and anything from small arms deliveries to airstrikes on weapon depots is mentioned. The extent of Egypt's assistance to Libya is now finally revealed by a series of photos showing aircraft formerly operated by the Egyptian Air Force now in Libyan Air Force service.

Fear of the Libyan Islamist uprising blowing over to Egypt has already led to great concern within the Egyptian government. Supplying heavy weaponry to Libya's outgunned military, almost all of which loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, increases the chances of the uprising being defeated, something of great importance for the Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The Libyan Air Force was practically annihilated by the NATO-led airstrikes during the Libyan Civil War. The airstrikes saw all of Libya's Su-22s and Su-24s destroyed, leaving only a few outdated Mirage F1s, L-39s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s in service, most in desperate need of an overhaul.

While the Libyan Air Force was subsequently reinforced by two Mi-35 attack helicopters from Sudan, one crashed, leaving only one in service. Further losses resulted in only a couple of MiG-21s, MiG-23s and a few helicopters remaining operational, not enough to provide sufficient air cover the Libyan National Army.

It now appears the Libyan Air Force was aided by Egypt to regain some of the lost firepower. Six former EAF mounts, consisting of three MiG-21MFs and three Mi-8s, were recently spotted in use with the Libyan Air Force.

The three MiG-21MFs, serialed 18, 26 and 27, were first spotted in early November. As Libya previously only operated the MiG-21bis, and all came with a camouflage pattern not yet seen on any Libyan aircraft, both aircraft had to come from abroad.

The camouflage pattern is exactly the same as seen on most of Egypt's MiG-21s (as seen in the photo below), leaving little to no doubt on the origin of the three MiG-21s.

Egypt operates a large fleet of MiG-21s, all slated to be decommissioned in the coming years. Selling them for a low price or even donating them to Libya makes perfect sense in light of Egypt's stance on the conflict in Libya.

The other former Egyptian Air Force mount now operated by Libya is the Mi-8. While Libya previously operated dozens of Mi-8/17s, it never acquired any examples that could be armed. A photo taken on the 27th of October 2014 shows a Mi-8 with UB-16 rocket pods while sporting the exact same colour as seen on Egypt's Mi-8s.

The similarity in appearance to Mi-8s currently operated by Egypt is illustrated by the image below.

As Libya never operated any armed Mi-8s, the helicopter came in the the same colour as seen on Egyptian Mi-8s and the Mi-8 belongs to an older batch, nowadays rarely sold for export, it is safe to say this helicopter was also supplied to Libya by Egypt.

The only notable differences in the two photos are the lack of a winch and the removal of the armour plating on each side of the cockpit; the empty spot now showing رعد - Raa'd, meaning Thunder.

As the Libyan Air Force has operated MiG-21s and Mi-8/17s for decades, plenty of pilots and technicians can be found to keep them operational. The move is certainly a smart investment by Egypt to ensure its own security.

It is yet to be seen if Egypt continues delivering heavy weaponry to Libya. If so, it might help the Libyan military to get the edge over the Islamist factions.

Special thanks to ACIG.

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  1. Another main point not mentioned is that Libya never operated MiG-21MF, only bis.
    As such, the two aircraft had to come from abroad.

  2. Great work as always oryx.

    However, how useful will these Mig-21s be against attacking targets inside cities? All Mig-21s have for ground attack are their cannons, rocket pods, and unguided bombs.

    1. Thanks.

      Fairly useful, especially when armed with bombs. As Libya doesn't own any platforms capable of delivering guided weaponry, they'll have to do with what they got.