Loitering munition finds in Libya highlight export control gaps
Israel may have to tighten its defence equipment export controls, after evidence emerged that Turkey has provided one of the sides in the Libyan civil war with the Harop loitering munition system.
In images posted on Twitter on 6 April, the Libyan National Army claimed to have found wreckage of a Harop near Hamada in the northwest of the country.
Meanwhile, images of the dismantled fuselage of a Warmate in Libya appeared on social media in mid-April, as clear evidence that the Polish loitering munition system is being used in the war-torn North African country.
Turkey had purchased Harop from Israel before relations between the two countries deteriorated in 2009.
Capable of being launched from the air or ground- or sea-based canisters, Harop (pictured above) carries EO/IR seekers providing 360° coverage and is capable of loitering, detecting and then destroying specific targets on either land or sea by locking onto their radio emissions.
Harop comprises a munitions unit, transportable launcher and a mission control shelter, which enables a human operator to control the system in real time.
The loitering munition system is armed with a 16kg warhead and is equipped with a POP-250 day/night payload made by the Tamam division of IAI. It has an operational range of 1,000km and a mission endurance of 6h.
When the Harop systems were sold to Turkey, the agreement included restrictions on third-party sales but these seem to have been ignored, perhaps because Israel-Turkey relations are so poor.
Neither the Israeli MoD nor Harop manufacturer IAI would comment officially on the apparent transfer of Harop to Libya.
However, a senior source close to the Israeli military told Shephard that Israel will have to ‘look into’ the legal safeguards that form part of every export licence for defence materiel.
This would have to be handled ‘with sensitivity’, the source said, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have dramatic implications for the global defence equipment market.
‘Israel will have to walk a thin line between the legal end-user agreements and the need to keep exporting Israeli-made systems,’ the source added.
Israeli loitering weapon systems are in high demand. Shephard Defence Insight records delivery of 50 Harop units apiece to Azerbaijan and India, for example.
Sources said on 15 April that Azerbaijan is evaluating more Israel-made loitering weapon systems to meet specific operational requirements. In late 2018, the Caucasian republic acquired the Elbit Systems SkyStriker system as it sought to strengthen its autonomous strike capabilities.
Elbit refused to comment on the contract when asked by Shephard, but videos of tests in Azerbaijan with SkyStriker were recently published online.
The SkyStriker is the first such system developed by Elbit. The electrically propelled, catapult-launched weapon has a operational radius of 40km and a loitering endurance of up to 2h. Its modular warhead bay is designed to carry 5-10kg of munitions.
Warmate is a lightweight unmanned vehicle that is capable of performing a wide range of tasks. Depending on the type of payload installed, it can be used for observation and reconnaissance (with the GS-9 observation head), reconnaissance and combat missions against enemy personnel (observation head with GO-1 fragmentation charge) or lightly armoured vehicles (observation head with GK-1 shaped fragmentation charge).
Warmate manufacturer WB Group confirmed to Shephard that the images showed a dismantled fuselage of the UCAV equipped with a GK-1 HEAT IR warhead with an IR camera. This indicates that it was damaged during preparations for a combat flight at night.
While the cause of the damage remains a matter of speculation, it is worth noting the undamaged mountings on the wings and fins. Power supply unit elements and electronic equipment seem to have been dismantled.
‘WB Group has no knowledge about any of its UAVs which could have been shot down or lost during combat operations,’ said Remigiusz Wilk, director of communications at the Polish company.
He added that it is extremely difficult to determine where and when this particular Warmate was damaged and lost: ‘None of the pictures… on social media allows us to identify the location, country or region, where the vehicle was found.’
It is also unknown which side in the Libyan conflict was operating the Warmate system. Wilk said that WB Group has sold it to the Polish Armed Forces, multiple NATO members and other export customers. According to the European Forum on Armed Drones, two unnamed Middle Eastern countries have procured Warmate. In 2019, the Warmate was presented integrated with German company Rheinmetall’s new Mission Master UGV.
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