Libyan Air Force

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For the air force of Libya's National Transitional Council, see Free Libyan Air Force.
Libyan Air Force
LIbyan Air Force emblem.svg
Libyan Air Force emblem.
Active 1951 (2011)
Country  Libya
Type Air Force
Role Aerial warfare, close air support,[1] frontier patrol/territorial sovereignty missions[2]
Size 4,500 personnel
Equipment 57 aircraft
31 helicopters
Engagements Six-Day War
Yom Kippur War
Libyan–Egyptian War
Chadian–Libyan conflict
Gulf of Sidra incident (1981)
Gulf of Sidra incident (1989)
Libyan Civil War (2011)
Post-civil war violence in Libya
Libyan Civil War (2014–present)[1]
Chief of Staff Saqr Geroushi[3][4]
Commander Mahmoud Berrhouma[5]
Roundel Free Libyan Airforce Roudel.svg
Fin Flash Free Libyan Airforce Fin Flash.svg
Aircraft flown
Fighter MiG-21, MiG-23, F-1 Mirage
Helicopter CH-47 Chinook, Mi-25, Mil Mi-17, AW139
Trainer Aero L-39,
Transport C-130H Hercules, An-26

The Libyan Air Force (Arabic: القوات الجوية الليبية‎) is the branch of the Libyan military responsible for aerial warfare. In 2010, before the Libyan Civil War, the Libyan Air Force personnel strength was estimated at 18,000, with an inventory of 374 combat capable aircraft[6] operating from 13 military airbases in Libya.[7]

The air force was first established as the Royal Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya al Libiyya) in 1951. It was originally equipped with a small number of transports and trainers: Douglas C-47s and Lockheed T-33s. However, F-5 Freedom Fighters were delivered from 1967. In 1970 it changed its name to the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force. After U.S. forces left Libya in 1970, Wheelus Air Base, a previous U.S. facility about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) from Tripoli, became a LAR Air Force installation and was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. The base housed the LARAF's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities. From 1970 a significant expansion of the air force took place, with a large number of Soviet and some French combat aircraft being purchased.


Cold War[edit]

A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4N Phantom II intercepts a Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-22 "Blinder" bomber being delivered to the Libyan Arab Republic, circa April 1977.

During May 1967 the Kingdom of Libya reached an agreement with the United States to supply 10 Northrop F-5s to the Royal Libyan Air Force.[8] These were the first fighters for the young Air Force which only operated at the time six Douglas C-47 transports and three Lockheed T-33A trainers. Fifty-six personnel underwent training at bases in the U.S., pilots at Williams Air Force Base; a U.S. Survey Team on Expansion came to Libya in August 1968 to supervise the introduction of the fighters. Serviceability of the F-5s declined after the 1969 coup and it appears that most may have eventually been sold to Turkey.

LARAF Soviet-made MiG-17/19/25 fighters and Tu-22 bombers were based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. After the 1969 seizure of power by Colonel Gaddafi, aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Force took residence at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. With Soviet assistance, the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force was organized into one medium bomber squadron with Tupolev Tu-22s, three fighter interceptor squadrons, five forward ground attack squadrons, one counter-insurgency squadron, nine helicopter squadrons, and three air defense brigades deploying SA-2, SA-3, and Crotale missiles.[9] Of the combat aircraft, the United States Department of State estimated in 1983 that 50 percent remained in storage, including most of the MiG fighters and Tu-22 bombers. In 1971, 11 civilian C-130's were delivered by the United States and converted in Italy to military versions. Four L-100-30's were purchased from the Philippines and Luxembourg in 1981. In 1976, 20 CH-47 Chinook heavy transport helicopters were acquired from Italy, 14 of which were transferred to the army during the 1990s.

A Jamahiriya Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25.

The Libyan Arab Republic Air Force operated a large number of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25s, some sources say more than 60 were delivered. Types were of the MiG-25PD, MiG-25RBK, MiG-25PU and MiG-25RU variants. They were operated by No. 1025 Squadron at Jufra-Hun, No. 1055 Squadron at Ghardabiya and an unidentified squadron at Sabha Air Base.[10] As of February 2007 Air Forces Monthly reported all aircraft of the type had been retired.[11] In addition, Dassault Mirage 5 aircraft bought shortly after Gaddafi took power were also retired by 2008, becoming used for Pakistan Air Force spares.[12]

A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4J Phantom II of Fighter Squadron VF-74 Be-Devilers escorting a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 over Gulf of Sidra in August 1981.

During the Libyan–Egyptian War in 1977 there were some skirmishes between Libyan and Egyptian fighters. Two LARAF MiG-23MS engaged two upgraded EAF MiG-21MF and one MiG-23MS was shot down by EAF Maj. Sal Mohammad.[citation needed] The air force was also involved in combat against Tanzania in 1979 as part of the Uganda–Tanzania War to help its Ugandan allies, with a single Tu-22 flying an unsuccessful bombing mission against the town of Mwanza.[citation needed]

In the 1970s and '80s Libyan MiGs and Tupolevs were common visitors to international airspace, close to Italy and NATO bases. On 19 July 1980, a Libyan People's Air Force MiG-23 crashed on the Sila Mountains in Castelsilano, Calabria, southern Italy.[13] On 27 June 1980 an Italian plane exploded while en route from Bologna to Palermo, off the island of Ustica.[citation needed]

The LPAF lost a total of four aircraft to United States Navy F-14 Tomcats in two incidents over the Gulf of Sidra, in 1981[14] and 1989. In addition, many planes were destroyed or damaged on the ground in 1986 when American planes attacked targets at Benghazi and Tripoli airports.

The air force was extensively used in the fighting in Chad in the 1980s, in support of Libyan ground units. It was reported that many Libyan People's Air Force bombing raids were carried out at excessively high altitudes when met with anti-aircraft fire, so the attacks were not very effective. On 17 February 1986, in retaliation for the Ouadi Doum air raid by the French air force, a single LPAF Tu-22B attacked the airport at N'Djamena. That aircraft ran into technical problems on its return journey – American early warning reconnaissance planes based in Sudan monitored distress calls sent by the pilot of the Tu-22 which probably crashed before reaching its base at Aouzou (maybe hit by twin-tubes that fired at it from N'Djamena airport).[15] One Tu-22 bomber was shot down by a captured SA-6 missile during a Chadian attack on an abandoned Libyan base on 8 August 1987. Another Tu-22 was lost on 7 September 1987, when a battery of French MIM-23 Hawk SAMs shot down one of the two LPAF bombers that were attacking N'Djamena.

The Chadians seized the Ouadi Doum base in 1987 and destroyed or captured two SF.260s, three Mil Mi-25s, two Tu-22B bombers, eleven L-39 jets, two complete 9K33 Osa (SA-8) SAM batteries,[16][17] and a plethora of additional equipment, weapons, supplies and ammunition – a good deal of which was flown out to France and the United States within the next five days. Four USAF C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft were sent to N'Djamena to collect the captured Jamahiriya equipment. On 5 September 1987 Chadian technicals crossed into Libya and attacked the Maaten al-Sarra Air Base which is 96.5 kilometres (60.0 mi) within Libyan territory. The battle of Maaten al-Sarra was a major victory for Chad and several LPAF aircraft were destroyed on the ground with only minor Chadian casualties.[18]

On 8 October 1987, an LPAF Su-22M-22K was shot down by a FIM-92A Stinger missile in northern Chad. The pilot, Capt. Diya al-Din, ejected and was captured. The LPAF immediately organized a recovery operation; subsequently a Jamahiriya MiG-23 Flogger was also shot down by another Stinger. In December 1988 a Libyan People's Air Force SF.260 was shot down over northern Chad by Chadian troops.

By contrast, the considerable Jamahiriya cargo plane fleet was apparently employed effectively in Chad and elsewhere.[citation needed]

Post–Cold War to Libyan civil war[edit]

Former LARAF Sukhoi Su-22M3 Fitter-H

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the elimination of military aid by the new Russian Federation, Soviet/Russian support was drastically curtailed. The last major delivery of Soviet aircraft to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was six Su-24 Fencers in March/April 1989.

The Libyan armed forces' air doctrine of the 1990s and 2000s appeared to be of an ad hoc nature, and contracted personnel from Yugoslavia, South Africa, Russia, North Korea and Pakistan provided piloting, maintenance and technical services.[citation needed]

The 1990s drop in oil prices and a UN embargo made purchase of modern equipment almost impossible. UN sanctions were lifted in early 1999 and the Libyan People's Air Force started prospective negotiations with Russia about upgrades for its MiG-21s and MiG-25s while also expressing an interest in MiG-29s, MiG-31s and long-range SAMs. However, many of the transport and combat aircraft were in storage.[citation needed]

In January 2008 the Jamahiriya bought 4 ATR-42MP maritime patrol aircraft from Italy’s Alenia.

Before 2011, the LPAF MiG-21s did not fly at all due to reported serviceability issues and of 170 MiG-23s delivered, only 30-50 were believed to be flyable aircraft. Those ratios may have been similar for several other platforms.[citation needed]

Libyan civil war / NATO intervention[edit]

During the Libyan Civil War, Libyan People's Air Force warplanes and attack helicopters launched repeated airstrikes on protesters, reportedly targeting a funeral procession and a group of protesters trying to reach an army base. The human rights researcher Ahmed Elgazir had reported, that the Libyan News Centre (LNC) received a satellite phone call from a (not named) woman who was "witnessing the massacre in progress". This Information could not be verified, since phone lines in the country had been blocked.[19][20] On 21 February 2011, two senior LPAF pilots defected – they flew their Mirage F1 fighter jets to Malta and requested political asylum after defying orders to bomb protesters.[21]

On 23 February 2011, pilot Abdessalam Attiyah al-Abdali and co-pilot Ali Omar al-Kadhafi – crew of a Sukhoi-22 – ejected with parachutes near Ajdabiya, 161 kilometres (100 mi) west of Benghazi, after refusing orders to bomb the city of Benghazi.[22] Anti-Gaddafi forces and Syrian opposition groups claim that Syrian pilots were flying attacks for the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.[23] Rebels claimed to have shot down Jamahiriya jets over Brega and Ra's Lanuf.[24]

At Brega a Mirage F-1 was shot down and at Ra's Lanuf a Sukhoi Su-24 bomber and a helicopter (probably a Mi-24) were also forced down. Exactly how many and what types of aircraft have been shot down were not confirmed by Jamahiriya government or independent sources. Using air power, the Libyan military checked the opposition advance westwards, towards Bin Jawad in early March.[25] On 13 March 2011, Ali Atiyya, a colonel of the Libyan People's Air Force at the Mitiga military airport, near Tripoli, announced that he had defected and joined the revolution.[26] Rebels claimed to have shot down what appeared to be a MiG-21 outside of Bohadi. On 17 March, a Jamahiriya Su-22M-3K was shot down over Benina AB, the pilot ejected safely and was captured.[27] On 17 March, a "Free Libya Air Force" MiG-21UM crashed after take off from Benina airport due to technical problems. It was flown from Ghardabiya Air Base near Sirte to Benina by a defecting pilot the day before.[28]

On 19 March 2011, a rebel MiG-23BN was shot down over Benghazi by rebel air defence forces in a case of mistaken identity.[29] The pilot ejected, but at a very low altitude, and was reported to have been killed as a result.[30][31] BBC News reported on 20 March that the rebel aircraft was shot down by its own air defenses[32]

Damage to the Libyan People's Air Force airfield Ghardabiya after being attacked by coalition aircraft, 20 March 2011

Two days later, the UN Security Council adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 which legitimised the operation. U.S. and British warships launched more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Jamahiriya air defences and four U.S. B-2 stealth bombers attacked several airfields.[33]

On 23 March 2011, British Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell was quoted by the BBC saying that the Libyan People's Air Force "no longer exists as a fighting force" and that Libyan air defenses had been damaged to the extent that NATO forces could now operate over Libyan airspace "with impunity."[34] On 24 March 2011 several media sources reported that a French Dassault Rafale destroyed a G-2 Galeb near Misrata. Initial reports of the French action said the LPAF plane, a G-2/Galeb with a single engine, was in the air when it was hit. French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard later said the plane had just landed when the attack took place.

On 26 March 2011, the French Air Force reported that five Soko G-2 Galeb aircraft were destroyed on the ground at Misrata airport together with two Mi-35 helicopters,[35] but satellite images showed that the five fixed wing aircraft were MiG-23s.[36]

A Belgian Air Force F-16 hit a Libyan People's Air Force Su-22M-3K plane on the ground during an operation on 27 March.[37]

On 7 May 2011, after weeks of complete inactivity, the Libyan People's Air Force conducted a successful air raid over the rebel-held fuel depots at Misrata setting them on fire. The rebels reported that the raid was conducted with crop dusting aircraft, but probably SF.260 light attack aircraft were used taking off from Misrata airport. NATO failed to intercept the bombing mission.[38]

Following the defeat of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and the rebel victory in October 2011, the no fly zone was lifted and two grounded Jamahiriya air force Mirages that had been based in Malta after their pilots refused orders to bomb the opposition during the civil war, were to be returned to Libya in February 2012.[39] The jets were finally returned to Libya on 21 February 2012, exactly a year to the day after they defected.[40]

Military airports[edit]

Military air force bases include:[41]


On 20 June 2012 the Air Force Chief of Staff, Saqr Geroushi,[3] announced plans for the rebuilding of the Libyan Air Force. The plans included proposals for the purchase of two squadrons of French Rafale fighter aircraft, a number of British Eurofighter Typhoons; and additional new French F1-Mirage jets, American C-130H Hercules cargo planes and CH-47 Chinook helicopters[4] – as the post–2011 air force inherited some intact Mirages, C-130Hs and CH-47s following the civil war.[2]


A Mig-25 of the Libyan Air Force
A Mil Mi-24 sits on the tarmac

current inventory[edit]

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-21 Soviet Union fighter 7[42]
MiG-23 Soviet Union fighter-bomber 3[42] one lost to combat in March 2015[43]
Mirage F1 France fighter 2[42]
Antonov An-32 Ukraine transport 1[42]
Antonov An-26 Ukraine transport 2[42]
Antonov An-72 Ukraine transport 1[42] STOL capable aircraft
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H 3[42]
AW139 Italy utility 1[42]
Mil Mi-8 Russia utility Mi-17/171 8[42]
Mil Mi-14 Russia ASW / SAR 4[42]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 3[42]
CH-47 Chinook United States cargo / transport CH-47C 3[42] licensed built by Elicotteri Meridionali [44]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 1[42]


  1. ^ a b "First images of Mig-21s in Free Libya Air Force markings". The Aviationist. 21 April 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Libyan Air force to be re-equipped with Rafale and Typhoon multi-role fighters. And some U.S. planes too.". The Aviationist. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012. ...Geroushi said that the Libyan Arab Air Force is looking to purchase two squadrons of French Rafale, along with a number of French Mirage F-1 aircraft (to bolster those they already have). The Libyans also plan to buy Eurofighter Typhoons from the UK as well as some more C-130 cargo planes and Ch-47 [sic] Chinook helicopters from the United States. 
  3. ^ a b George Grant (23 June 2012). ""Business as usual" for British embassy following rocket attack on ambassador". Libya Herald. Retrieved 6 September 2012. Sir Dominic [Asquith] refused to confirm or deny whether or not the British government had been approached by Libya for the purchase of a number of Eurofighter Typhoons, as announced earlier this week by the air force chief of staff, Saqr Geroushi. 
  4. ^ a b "Libyan air force set for major upgrade". Libya Herald. 20 June 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Air force commander shot in Benghazi hit-and-run attack". Libya Herald. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Military Balance 2010. International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2010. p. 263. 
  7. ^ Middle East Military Balance: Libya
  8. ^ "The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast Page". Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  9. ^ Library of Congress Country Study Libya, Chapter 5:National Security, 1987
  10. ^ Gordon, Yefim. Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbat: Guardian of the Soviet Borders (Red Star Vol. 34). Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing Ltd., 2008. ISBN 978-1857802597.
  11. ^ Libya Opens Up Air Forces Monthly, February 2007, p. 4 & 69
  12. ^ Libyan Mirages in Use for Pakistan AF Spares, Air Forces Monthly, June 2008 issue, p. 32
  13. ^
  14. ^ Library of Congress Country Studies, Libya: Encounters with the United States, 1987
  15. ^ Page A7, The Citizen, Ottawa, Canada, 18 February 1986
  16. ^
  17. ^ Tom Cooper, Libyan Wars, 1986-1989, Part 6, Air Combat Information Group, 2003. Retrieved October 2011
  18. ^ "THE WORLD: CHAD; NDJAMENA SENDS TROOPS INTO LIBYA". New York Times. 13 September 1987. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  19. ^ "Report: Libya air force bombs protesters heading for army base". Haaretz Daily Newspaper. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  20. ^ Yasmine Ryan (21 February 2011). "Report: Libyan protesters fired on - Africa". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  21. ^ "Updated: Libyan fighter jets arrive in Malta". Times of Malta. 21 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  22. ^ "Libya pilot rejects Benghazi bombing, ditches plane". Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  23. ^ "Syrian pilots said to be flying Libyan fighter jets". World Tribune. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  24. ^ Potter, Mitch (2 March 2011). "The Star in Libya: Rebels quash Gadhafi raid". The Toronto Star (Toronto). 
  25. ^ "Libya: Gaddafi tanks and planes attack rebel towns". BBC News. 8 March 2011. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "The Boresight: Libyan Conflict: Fixed-wing Combat Aircraft make an Appearance". Retrieved 2013-12-13. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Fighter jet 'shot down' over Benghazi". BBC News. 19 March 2011. 
  30. ^ Xinhua, [1], 19 March 2011
  31. ^ "Libya: French plane fires on military vehicle". BBC News. 19 March 2011. 
  32. ^ "Benghazi 'bombarded by pro-Gaddafi forces'". BBC News. 20 March 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  33. ^ Sam Dagher , Adam Entous, and Keith Johnson (20 March 2011). "Allied Forces Attack Libya". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  34. ^ "Gaddafi's air force 'defeated'". BBC News. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  35. ^,7340,L-4048029,00.html
  36. ^ "UPDATE 1-French forces destroy seven Libyan aircraft on ground". Reuters. 26 March 2011. 
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "World Air Forces 2015 pg. 22". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  43. ^ "Attrition". Air Forces Monthly pg. 94 (Key Publishing). May 2015. 
  44. ^ "Elicotteri Meridionali CH-47C Chinook". Retrieved 5 October 2015. 

World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 337 Sheet 03

Further reading[edit]

  • Libyan Air Force article, Air Forces Monthly, September 2010