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IDEX 2019: Lebanese Air Force adapts for terrorism fight

12th February 2019 - 12:00 GMT | by Alan Warnes in Bahrain

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Lebanon has had to increase the capabilities of the its armed forces in a bid to stop the rise of terrorism in the country, according to the Commander of Lebanese Air Force.

Brig Gen Pilot Ziad Haikal told Shephard that: ‘The civil war in Syria has been spilling into Lebanon since 2013, which led to ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Levant] and Al Nusra jihadi groups setting up fortified positions along our western border.’

He added that the service was ‘now operating aircraft at four bases, Beirut, Hamat, Kleyaate and Rayak that house many of our new assets’.

The Lebanese Air Force recently took delivery of six A-29 Super Tucanos as well as 12 pilots which trained on the new mounts at Moody AFB, Georgia.  

‘The A-29 will be our premier fighting platform, working alongside the six light attack MD530G helicopters when they arrive. Both can fire the 70mm [APKWS] laser guided rockets and will provide tactical possibilities that didn’t exist before; the system should be more effective and lead to a reduction of collateral damage,’ Haikal explained.

‘We are now implementing the standard operation procedures for the A29s so they can work with other platforms.’

The US Embassy in Beirut announced on 17 December 2017 that the Lebanese armed forces would receive three new US DoD arms packages, valued at more than $120 million. 

This included six new MD 530Gs, six new Insitu ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles, and leading-edge communication and night vision devices. The MD530Gs were contracted on 1 October 2018.

The chief added that these new assets ‘will help us to conduct border security and counterterrorism operations, and just as importantly defend our country and the Lebanese people’.  

‘Until now we had to use transport helicopters with a limited capability in the air-to-ground attack roles, which has led to UH-1 Hueys and IAR330SM Pumas being converted into bombers,’ he outlined.

‘We had guns available on the Hunters, as well as the plans and designs, so we fitted them to the helicopters.’

The Lebanese Air Force had originally converted UH-1H Hueys into aerial bombers during the 2007 Al Bared War, when the Fath Al islam terrorist group moved into the troubled state. 

‘Several UH-1H Hueys were upgraded to drop old 250kg and 400kg bombs originally acquired for our old Hunters.’

When more terrorists started settling in Lebanon during 2013, a close air support asset was essential to thwart their activities. 

‘We had acquired seven IAR 330SMs from UAE, so when we needed gunships, we converted the bigger helicopters. We adapted them to use the 20mm ADEN cannon pods and SNEB 70mm SNEB rocket launchers that, like the bombs on the Hueys had previously served our Hunters.

‘We designed pods for the guns and the rocket launchers. With the aid of two pylons, we integrated the systems on to the Puma. Having tested they would work, we put them on to the Pumas, then ground tested them before the air test,’ he explained.

‘We had to train the pilots in these roles and then bring them up to speed in combined operations. They performed very well during the many close air support missions around Arsal and Tripoli, usually working alongside a SA342L Gazelle [spotter plane] and Cessna 208 Caravan [airborne command post] during day and night ops.’

When terrorist groups attacked a Lebanese Army post on 2 August 2014, the Puma was once again called in to strike their positions, which led to them being eliminated. Three years later, in August 2017, a decision was made to clear all terrorist groups from Lebanese soil, in what was known as the Fajr Al Joroud Battle.  

‘We received small arms fire several times, but haven’t lost any aircraft even if one Puma which was hit suffered an engine failure.’

One recently new capability is unmanned aircraft vehicles. 

‘We were using Aerosande UAVs from January 2014, operated intensively by US forces to monitor all the areas and gather all the information we required on the terrorist groups. Now we are getting 12 [Insitu] ScanEagles to operate ourselves. We also started to use Copperhead laser guided artillery rounds on the Pumas, with the Cessna 208s lasing them on to the ground.

‘All these experiences showed we could adapt to combat situations even when we had little equipment. So why not change the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] according to the needs and combine different arms using conventional weapons?

‘The three Cessna 208 Caravans have been great and we are planning to upgrade them with the MX-15HDI, so the imagery would be higher definition. We are using them for close air support [with AGM-114 Hellfire], ISR [Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance] and battlefield control.

‘The Bulldogs will continue to be used by the LAF for flying training selection. We usually take ten students per year, with three to four of them going to fixed wing and the rest to helicopters.’

A modern air defence system is another LAF priority as well as a full radar surveillance system. But more pressing and a relatively new problem facing Lebanon, is to resolve the many jamming issues which have affected operations.

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