Lebanon Ramps Up Requests for Aircraft
Sept 17/14: Helicopter request. A little more than 2 years after asking for 6 Huey IIs, Lebanon requests another 18 Huey II helicopters, as well as associated spares and services, for an estimated cost of $180 million. That’s about the same unit cost as the previous request, and comparable to a request submitted, but then canceled by Iraq in 2007. Huey IIs are refurbished and upgraded UH-1Hs sold “as good as new” by Bell. The bulk of Lebanon’s current but old helicopter fleet is comprised of 23 Hueys which were used to drop bombs – a rather unusual task for rotary aircraft – on Fatah al-Islam in 2007.
The Lebanese Army’s own web site is blunt: “The assistance received from Syria, the USA, and other friendly countries has played a basic role in bridging the gap between needs and available means.”
A number of countries are stepping up to fill those gaps, left in a military ravaged by foreign occupation, a long and losing civil war, and the presence of Hizb’Allah – a foreign-backed private army in Lebanon, with superior firepower. The battle for influence in that country is multi-polar, with countries including the USA, France, and Saudi Arabia moving to counter Syria and Iran’s proxies, and countries like Russia working with independent agendas. The USA has been supplying a wide range of equipment from ammunition to armored vehicles, and is adding tanks, mini-UAVs, and even patrol boats to that list. Belgium has worked to sell some of its own tanks and APCs, France has offered help with Lebanon’s existing French equipment; and in April 2009, Russia went so far as to offer MiG-29 fighters, for free, from its own stocks.
What capabilities would these systems bring? How are those sales going? And how is Lebanon itself changing, in the wake of both Hezbollah’s takeover and Syria’s civil war?
UAVS, Tanks, and Planes
The main internal threat is Hezbollah, who is currently part of a 2009 unity government that is within the orbit of Syria’s Bashar Assad, and of Iran via its Hezbollah foreign legion. Pentration of the army and its institutions is accordingly extensive, which creates hard questions about the aid’s appropriateness, and security risks surrounding systems that are turned over.
Aerovironment’s RQ-11 Raven has become extremely popular in Afghanistan, and seen extensive use in Iraq. While the hand-launched UAV is far too small to carry anything beyond cameras, and is limited to low-flying missions out to about 1-15 miles, its virtues as a readily-used, squad-portable reconnaissance system that lets troops see over the next hill, or into the next block, are well and widely appreciated.
The M60 tank is a development of the M48 Patton, and was the M1 Abrams’ predecessor in the US Army and Marines. While the M1 was developed in response to the threat of the Soviet T-72, it turned out that the M60 was the T-72’s real peer competitor, whereas the M1 proved to be a massive overmatch. Something the M1 crews appreciated during combat in Operation Desert Storm. The M60A3 was the last serving model, sporting electronic upgrades while retaining the rounded turret and 105mm gun. It still serves with a number of militaries around the world. Egypt has the largest regional M60 fleet, followed by Turkey’s “M60 Sabras” that sport significant Israeli improvements to their sighting systems and electronics, as well as a full array of explosive reactive armor.
Recent combat experience teaches that even in urban situations, when tanks enter the fray, fights usually end quickly. Tanks of the M60’s vintage, however, lack the advanced armor protection and shaped designs required to withstand hits from popular threats like RPGs and anti-tank missiles. This can be remedied to some extent by adding explosive reactive armor and other ancillary systems. In their absence, however, M60s could not be expected to last very long against even private armies like Hezbollah, which makes extensive use of anti-tank missiles. The M60A3s, and similar vintage Leopard 1A5s from Belgium, would nonetheless offer an improvement over Lebanon’s existing T-54/55 and M48A5 tanks.
Lebanon’s fixed-wing fighter/attack force currently consists of about 4 Hawker Hunter jets, a 1950s era subsonic design that remains an aviation classic, and an OV-10 Bronco turboprop observation and light attack plane. In contrast, the used MiG-29s offered for free by Russia are late 1980s high-performance fighters, intended as a competitor to the F-16. Early versions are mainly air interceptor aircraft, though some Soviet MiG-29As were also given nuclear strike roles. Subsequent MiG-29Cs were confined to Soviet forces, incorporating radar improvements and an enlarged spine with extra fuel and an active electronic jammer system. Neither variant is suitable for delivering precision ground attack ordnance, a capability restricted to subsequent MiG-29S upgrades and modifications.
An interesting but very logical shift occurred in early 2010, when Russia and Lebanon agreed to substitute Mi-24 “Hind” helicopter gunships for the MiG-29s. The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s saw some air-air engagements involving Iraqi Mi-24s and Iranian AH-1J SeaCobra helicopters, but the Hind’s main use is as a ground attack platform. It fits Lebanon’s military requirements and base infrastructure far better than the MiG-29s would have, but it also introduces an interesting new capability into Lebanon’s correlation of forces.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanon’s government is a triple-edged sword for the Lebanese military.
On the one hand, it makes hostilities with Lebanon’s army unlikely so long as the accord lasts. The other 2 edges, however, are sharp. One is that it gave Hezbollah free rein to re-arm and organize. Hezbollah’s agenda is set in Iran and not in Lebanon, which has set the stage for future conflicts within and beyond Lebanon. For instance, Hezbollah is currently functioning as Iran’s Condor Legion equivalent in Syria’s civil war.
The other edge is that Israeli officials have said that since Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, acts carried out by Hezbollah would be considered to be coming from Lebanon’s government – i.e. acts of war rather than terrorism. The strong implication is that any Israeli response would encompass all of Lebanon, not just Hezbollah. So far, that has largely kept a lid on things.
Contracts and Key Events
Aircraft requests as ISIS threat creeps in.
Sept 17/14: Helicopter request. A little more than 2 years after asking for 6 Huey IIs (q.v. July 25/12), Lebanon requests another 18 Huey II helicopters, as well as associated spares and services, for an estimated cost of $180 million. That’s about the same unit cost as the previous request, and comparable to a request submitted, but then canceled by Iraq in 2007. Huey IIs are refurbished and upgraded UH-1Hs sold “as good as new” by Bell. The bulk of Lebanon’s current but old helicopter fleet is comprised of 23 Hueys which were used to drop bombs – a rather unusual task for rotary aircraft – on Fatah al-Islam in 2007. Source: DSCA 14-20.
Sept 12/14: AC-208Bs. US ambassador David Hale says the USA will send “an armed Cessna” , and also arm a Cessna it had previously provided to the Lebanese Army. they’re referring to the AC-208B conversion, which allows the Caravan to independently carry, target, and fire 2 AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided missiles. It’s hardly a regional power projection tool, but it’s a fine platform for surveillance and strikes on isolated guerrilla groups.
“It is our intention to support those requests for additional aircraft, using funds generously made available to Lebanon by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia…” [q.v. Dec 30/13]
That won’t use much of their $3 billion offer, and it’s a good investment for all concerned. Beyond the usual hijinks in Lebanon, the Sunni ISIS group has reached beyond Syria and Iraq into Lebanon, taking a number of Lebanese soldiers captive and beheading them. Iraq is already using AC-208Bs successfully against ISIS, and the USA is stepping up efforts to contain the group via 3rd parties since it has abandoned its own combat presence in Iraq. The Saudis also see ISIS as a threat, one that’s approaching the level offered by Iran and its legions. Sources: Lebanon Daily Star, “US arming Lebanon military to combat ISIS: Hale” | Kuwait News Agency, “US to deliver armed light Cessna aircraft to Lebanon to combat ISIL”.
2012 – 2013
8 Huey IIs; Man-portable radios
Dec 30/13: Saudi Arabia. Lebanon couldn’t help but be drawn into the Sunni-Shia proxy wars that are engulfing the Arab world. Saudi Arabia pledges $3 billion in military aid to Lebanon’s government, in a move that’s clearly designed to strengthen that government at the expense of Iran’s Hezbollah. Specific equipment isn’t specified, so we’ll see how all of this works itself out.
Here’s the Saudi dilemma, in a nutshell: what to provide? If the money is used to provide small arms, anti-tank missiles, and good training, it would probably make the biggest difference on the ground. The bad news? These items are small and portable. Hezbollah’s infiltration of the armed forces and power within the government means that many of the items in question won’t stay in government hands. On the other hand, if Saudi aid is used to provide higher-end items like armed helicopters, armored vehicles, etc., then the bad news is that $3 billion doesn’t actually deliver as much as one imagines. Especially in a military whose support systems and infrastructure are questionable. That high-end approach is also vulnerable to counter-strokes: all Hezbollah would need to do, in order to incapacitate new fleets, would be to threaten the maintenance workers in order to ensure that they do a poor job. Sources: CS Monitor, “Saudi Arabia promises record $3 billion in military aid to Lebanon”.
July 31/13: Radios. Advanced Technology Systems Co. in McLean, VA receives a $26.7 million multi-year, firm-fixed-price, foreign military sales from Lebanon for TETRA trunked radio communication systems. TETRA is an abbreviation of TErrestrial Trunked RAdio. It has been defined and approved by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and is a standard for radio communication in the same way that GSM is a mobile telephony standard. It’s often used to create networks for first responders and internal security forces, but a number of militaries around the world also use them.
Work will be performed in Lebanon. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W15P7T-13-C-D082).
May 26/13: Syria/Lebanon War. In the New Yorker, war correspondent Dexter Filkins reports:
“It’s official: the war in Syria has spread to Lebanon. In an extraordinary speech Saturday, Hassan Nasrallah, the bearded and bespectacled leader of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, promised an all-out effort to keep the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. “It’s our battle, and we are up to it,” Nasrallah said in a televised address. The war, he said, had entered “a completely new phase.”
This is a terrifying development; the beginning of a regional war. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed armed group, has been fighting inside Syria for months, something I detailed in an article on the group in February. But Hezbollah was intervening in Syria covertly…. As more and more Hezbollah fighters died inside Syria, that lie could no longer be sustained. The truth is out.
On Saturday, by declaring his undying loyalty to the Assad regime, Nasrallah has signalled an escalation in Hezbollah’s involvement…”
Nov 1/12: Hueys. Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Hurst, TX receives a $33.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for single-engine UH-1H+ Huey II helicopters and related support services. Work will be performed in Hurst, TX with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-G-0011).
U.S. Army Security Assistance Command has confirmed to us that this order will be transferred to the “government” of Lebanon. The July 25/12 DSCA request was for 6, and this appears to cover that number.
July 25/12: Helicopter request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] a potential sale to Lebanon of 6 Huey II helicopters and associated equipment, parts, training, and logistical support, at an estimated cost of $63 million. Hezbollah is still in charge, albeit somewhat weakened by the civil war in Syria, which interferes with supply lines to their masters in Iran. The US DSCA claims that:
“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by providing Lebanon with necessary mobility capabilities to maintain internal security, enforce United Nation’s Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and counter terrorist threats… The Huey II will augment Lebanon’s aging fleet of UH-1H aircraft.”
If Congress agrees enough to avoid overtly blocking the sale within 30 days, Lebanon can begin negotiations with Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, TX. Fortunately for Bell, “Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Lebanon.”
Jan 12/12: AC-208Bs. Alliant Techsystems, Inc. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $16.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for one used Caravan Cessna 208B aircraft, continued contractor logistics support, and spares with associated repair and return effort. This supports a Foreign Military Sales Program and the Lebanon Air Force Caravan Program.
The C-208B is a single-propeller plane that’s often used for flight training and light cargo duties. The Iraqi Air Force have turned them into low-cost AC-208B “Combat Caravan” surveillance and close support planes by adding a surveillance/targeting turret, accompanying internal displays, and M299 racks for Hellfire missiles on the wings. official reports indicate that the planes headed to Lebanon are Combat Caravans.
Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 16/16. The ASC/WINK/FMS at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH acts as Lebanon’s agent in this matter (FA8620-12-C-4005). See also Flight International.
June 13/11: Takeover. The new Lebanese government names its cabinet, which Hezbollah and its supporters dominate. BBC.
Jan 14/11: Patrol Boats. Maritime Security Strategies, LLC in Tampa, FL received a $29 million firm-fixed price contract to construct a 42-meter coastal security craft and provide associated equipment, material, training and technical services to the Government of Lebanon. This will be the first sale of the firm’s AMP-145 multi-mission platform design, though their regional orders also include 2 60-meter Offshore Supply/Command Vessels under construction for the Iraqi Navy.
MSS’ managing partner, USN Rear Admiral (ret.) Robert Cox touts “new designs and features that deliver significant cost and performance improvements over the current industry offerings,” including fast reconfiguration. The hulls are an epoxy-resin composite, with an aluminum deck and superstructure. American shipbuilders have had mixed results with composite hulls, but they are coming into wider international use due to their weight advantages, which translates directly into greater speed, increased maneuverability and lower fuel consumption.
The Lebanese Navy’s AMP-145 incorporates ITAR compliant controls and automation, including embedded sensors in key components, and a non-militarized, passive Integrated Bridge System (IBS) from Raytheon Anschutz GmbH that manages the ship’s automation system, as well as feeds from CCTV and a FLIR thermal imaging cameras. Surface search X and S-band ARPA radars, a full package of navigation sensors, data management software, GMDSS A3, and all other electronics and safety equipment completes the IBS and Command and Surveillance package. The C2/Operations Center is fitted with a customized Situational Awareness Display which shares all charts, targets and craft movements with the Integrated Bridge System. Depictions of the craft show a 30mm cannon and mounts for 7.62mm – 12.7mm machine guns, but armament details were not provided.
Work will be performed in Tampa, FL, and is expected to be complete by January 2012, though the company has set a delivery date of end 2011. MSS will work with its primary design agent and shipbuilding partner, RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames, LLC, of Tampa, FL to design, produce and outfit the ship. The MSS/RiverHawk team is currently completing epoxy-resin composite hull construction and rigging in of the major engineering systems at VectorWorks Marine facilities in Titusville, FL. The aluminum decks and superstructure are nearing completion in RiverHawk’s Tampa yard, where they will be mated to the hull, and several South Florida sub-contractors will also play significant roles. The contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC, who manages the contract on behalf of its Foreign Military Sale client (N00024-11-C-2241).
- Length: 43.5 meters
- Breadth overall: 8.5 meters
- Draft: ~ 2 meters
- Displacement: ~ 265 metric tons
- Crew Complement: 6 – 22
- Speed: > 25 knots
- Range @ 11 Knots: > 2600 nm
- Effective Limits @ 12 Knots: Sea State 4
- Survivability: Sea State 5
- Endurance: 5-7 days
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has taken its marching orders and withdrawn from the government in Lebanon, setting up a minor political crisis as the country waits for a UN report that’s likely to indict Hezbollah members, as well as its foreign backers in Syria and beyond, for the Hariri assassination. See also: Maritime Security Strategies | Al-Defaiya | Al-Jazeera | Reuters | Voice of America | Israel’s Ynet News.
Dec 17/10: HOT missiles. Agence France Presse reports that France will give Lebanon 100 MBDA HOT anti-tank missiles to equip Lebanon’s SA342M Gazelle helicopters. A Lebanese official told AFP that: “The missiles will be delivered before the end of February and are being given with no conditions attached.”
The move has sparked concern among some American political figures. Lebanese received 12 Gazelle helicopters in mid-2007, and in January 2010, it signed an agreement to refurbish them (vid. Jan 22/10 entry).
Nov 13/10: Unblocked. The congressional hold on $100 million in military aid to Lebanon clears, as Rep. Howard Berman [D-CA] and Nita Lowey [D-NY] drop their opposition after a classified briefing and presenting results of a “thorough inter-agency review” by the Obama administration. Berman: “As a result, I am convinced that implementation of the spending plan will now have greater focus, and I am reassured as to the nature and purposes of the proposed package.” Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Resident Scholar Aram Nerguizian, whose report on U.S. military aid to Lebanon is coming out later in November 2010, has said that American aid can help the armed forces keep a lid on Lebanon, and “keeps Lebanon from escalating beyond the range of the real.” Israel, on the other hand, seemed less reassured:
“Iran’s domination of Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah has destroyed any chance for peace, has turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and made Lebanon a hub for regional terror and instability”
Lifting the hold Congressional may release funds while the present “lame duck” session is still alive, until and unless future action affirmatively blocks it. Berman chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, and Lowey heads the House Appropriations committee’s foreign operations subcommittee. They will be reduced to ranking minority members in the new Congress, however, and Berman’s likely successor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL], opposes further aid to Lebanon as well as to the Palestinian Authority. Lebanese Daily Star | Agence France Presse | Israel’s Arutz Sheva | Bloomberg | Foreign Policy Magazine | Jerusalem Post | Fox News | UAE’s The National | Reuters | Voice of America.
Aug 8/10: Blocked. The US Congress is blocking $100 million in aid to the Lebanese military, amidst concerns it is cooperating with Hezbollah. The Congressional holds come in the wake of an Aug 3 shooting of 2 Israeli officers while brush was being cleared along the northern border. One Israeli officer was killed and another seriously wounded in the firefight, which also killed at least 2 Lebanese soldiers and a journalist. There are reports that the Lebanese troops in question were using American-supplied weapons. Associated Press | Jerusalem Post | al-Manar TV (Hezbollah affiliate) | Lebanon Daily Star | Australia’s The Age/ Reuters re: clash.
June 3/10: The USA delivers $427,000 worth of weapons, body armor and bomb investigation equipment to Lebanese security officials, via a $1 million anti-terrorism assistance program for Lebanon from the U.S. State Department. UPI.
May 24/10: Rising US concern. Foreign Policy magazine’s blog The Cable documents rising concern within the Pentagon and Congress over continued military aid to Lebanon, in the wake of what they see as a blurring of the lines between the government and Hezbollah.
Feb 26/10: Make Hinds, not Fulcrums. NaharNet reports that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has returned from a visit to Russia, and…
“Russian authorities agreed to substitute the 10 MiG-29 fighter jets previously mulled military aid with Mi-24 advanced military helicopters “based on the request of the Lebanese side that conducted technical and functional studies on the Russian fund for the Lebanese Air Force.”
The Mi-24 “Hind” helicopter gunship became famous during Russia’s war in Afghanistan, and it remains popular with militaries around the world. The most modern version is the Mi-35. Unlike most attack helicopters, it has secondary troop transport capabilities.
Jan 22/10: Lebanon has reportedly signed an agreement with the French company Euro Tech to revamp 13 Gazelle helicopters transferred in 2007, equipping the 10 Puma helicopters granted by the UAE, and training Lebanese helicopter pilots.
The Puma helicopters are expected to start arriving within the first half of 2010 in 2 batches of 4 and then 6 machines. Reports suggest, however, that France is hesitant to supply Lebanon with missiles for the Gazelle helicopters, for fear they would end up in Hezbollah’s hands. The Lebanese Air Force reportedly used up all of its missiles in the 2007 Nahr el-Bared battle against Fatah al-Islam terrorists. Nahar Net.
Nov 16/09: Media report that Russian military experts will be visiting Lebanon in the next few days and staying until Nov 26/09. They will be assessing the conditions at Lebanese airports and bases, assessing their ability to support MiG-29s and other equipment. A formal contract for the 10 MiG-29s is expected very shortly after their report. China’s Xinhua reports that the MiG deal is causing some trepidation in certain parts of Lebanon:
“Since then, the deal has sparked an internal debate about the necessity of obtaining these aircraft in a small country like Lebanon, which has a national army and an armed militia Hezbollah, which owns thousands of short and mid-range rockets.”
April 9/09: Naharnet Newsdesk reports confirmation of American arms shipments to Lebanon by US State Department officials David Hale and Colin Kahl:
“Hale said the shipment includes 41 Howitzer artillery and 12 Zodiac boats. He said the Lebanese military will also be receiving in May 12 pilotless Raven aircrafts that would help the army monitor any attempt to fire rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. Hale said the delivery also includes one Cessna Caravan aircraft, which is expected to arrive end of April to provide air support for ground forces. A set of 20 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and the first batch of 10 M-60 tanks will also be arriving in May, according to Hale.”
April 8/09: The Pentagon’s AFPS reports on progress:
“Toward helping it fulfill that role, the United States has provided more than $410 million in military assistance to Lebanon since 2006. That support has included Humvees, trucks, M-198 howitzer artillery pieces, M-4 and M-16 rifles, body armor vests, MK-19 grenade launchers, shoulder-fired rockets, spare helicopter parts and millions of ammunition rounds.
More recently, the Defense Department has been working with the Lebanese government to expedite delivery of Cessna close-air-support aircraft with precision Hellfire missiles and [RQ-11] Raven unmanned aerial vehicle systems. The United States is also working to transfer M60 Abrams tanks to the Lebanese military from other countries in the region, Kahl said. These systems, expected to be delivered by June…”
Dec 19/08: Defense News quotes “a senior U.S. state department official… in Beirut” saying that he U.S. plans to deliver M-60 tanks to Lebanon in spring 2009. the official stresses that the US does not see any competition with Russia or other countries, as all assistance to help the Lebanese government is welcome.
Dec 1/08: The Pentagon’s AFPS publishes “U.S. Forces Help Lebanese Military Assert Control“, which discusses American efforts to re-equip Lebanon’s army:
“The United States and Lebanon signed a military cooperation agreement in October , establishing the U.S.-Lebanese Joint Military Commission to provide an official framework for the bilateral U.S.-Lebanese military relationship… “The most important [recommendation] was that the Lebanese military needed a lot of help in the military basics… They needed trucks, Humvees, parts and ammunition more than they needed high-end, expensive weaponry.” They also need training… In 2006, the United States renewed its security relationship with Lebanon, and since then has funneled more than $400 million in foreign military sales money… “Our part of that is to help build up the Lebanese armed forces so the Lebanese government can be sovereign in all its territory.”
…The United States has sent 285 Humvees to Lebanon, and another 312 will arrive by March. The United States has sent 200 trucks to the Lebanese and 41 M-198 155 mm artillery pieces. The Lebanese army also will get night-vision equipment and some tactical unmanned aerial vehicles. “Behind it is all basics – 12 million rounds of ammo, spare helicopter parts, shoulder-fired rockets,” Straub said. “We want them to play their role in controlling Lebanese territory. We also want them to deter the terrorist threat.” The United States is committed to getting Lebanon more modern tanks, and the U.S. military is working on delivering M-60A3 tanks.”
Dec 18/08: The UK’s Times reports that Russia will provide Lebanon with 10 MiG-29 fighter jets, for free, under an agreement on military-technical assistance. Rosoboronexport’s Mikhail Dmitryev said that the jets would come from Russia’s existing stock, and added that Moscow was also in talks to supply Lebanon with heavy armor. The country currently operates very old T-54/55 Russian tanks.
Aug 27/08: Belgian defense minister Pierre Crem visits Lebanon to finalize an agreement to sell 43 Leopard 1A5 tanks, and 28 M113 derivative armored personnel carriers (16 AIFVs and 12 conventional), to Lebanon. RTL Info via MplL.
M113s form the backbone of Lebanese mechanized forces, thanks to significant donations from American stocks. The AIFV model adds a 25mm gun. The Leopard 1A5 is a modernized Leopard tank, roughly on par with or slightly better than the American M60A3.