High-End Missiles Missing From Libya

U.S. officials are still confused about why Libya’s stockpile of new, advanced SA-24 Grinch man-portable air defense systems (Manpads) were not fired at NATO aircraft during the battle to oust Moammar Gadhafi. The weapons are perhaps the most sophisticated, light, anti-aircraft missiles made by Russia, and they are certainly the most sought after by insurgents shopping the black market.

“We don’t understand why they weren’t used,” says U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham, chief of Africa Command, speaking at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 4. Possible answers are that the Manpads (9K338 Igla-S Russian nomenclature) were not issued to the troops and never left their warehouses, the troops were never trained to use the new weapon, or the systems were missing parts or were in some other way not yet ready for combat.

More importantly now, Ham says, “There are ringing indicators that some Manpads — type non-specific — have left the country.”

There are lots of empty SA-24 shipping crates left in Libyan military warehouses. U.S. officials are investigating whether they had been emptied before the conflict — which could indicate clandestine sales to the black market or a third party — or that they were among the many weapons carried off by looters as thefts of opportunity.

“The first question is how many [SA-24s and other Manpads] were there [originally],” Ham says. “A State Department-led Manpads task force has been operating for a couple of months with neighboring countries to make sure that border security is addressing this concern. It’s very clear to me that [Libya’s] National Transitional Council recognizes that concern . . . and its responsibility to regain [possession] of those that have fallen outside of government control. Everything is on the table [including] a buyback program.”

U.S. intelligence also has determined that the “original losses were not planned” thefts by insurgents or black marketers.

But to help track down stolen weapons and prevent looters from entering Libya will require intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, in particular long-endurance, unmanned aircraft.

So far, “given the missions that Africa Command has been handed, we’ve had the necessary ISR to accomplish them,” Ham says. “It has been principally [operational] in East Africa and more recently with heavy emphasis in Libya and the Sahel region [south of the Sahara Desert, where interest is] focused on how Al Qaeda is getting its hands on the Islamic Maghreb [an Islamic radical militia with its origins in Algeria].

“The near-term challenge, as NATO contemplates concluding Operation Unified Protector [in Libya], is how many of those [ISR assets] do I need to keep?” Ham asks. “How much of the Libya mission set comes back to Africa Command? We’re going through that drill right now.”

In the near term, because of the threat of proliferation of weapons principally, and because of the interim government’s interest in securing Libya’s borders, “we’ll have a sustained U.S. ISR presence at least for the next several months [to aid in monitoring] the arms trafficking routes,” Ham says. “Another [important issue] is emerging requirements. The challenge is access, overflight and bases. We are reliant on host nations to provide that.”

 

-aviationweek.com

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