The Libyan Air Force is the air force of Libya, with an air force personnel estimated at 18,000–22,000 and an inventory of 374 combat capable aircraft. There are 13 military airbases in Libya.
After U.S. forces had left Libya in 1970, Wheelus Air Base, a previous U.S. facility about seven miles from Tripoli, became a Libyan Air Force installation and was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. OBN AB housed the LPAF's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities.
LPAF Soviet-made MiG-17/19/25 fighters and Tu-22 bombers were based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. 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.
The air force was first established as the Royal Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya al Libiyya) in 1951. In 1970 it changed its name to the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force.
During the Cold War, aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Force took residence at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. With Soviet assistance, the Libyan 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. In 1971, 11 civilian C-130's were delivered by the USA and converted in Italy to military versions. Four C-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 in the 1990s.
The Libyan Air Force operated a number of MiG-25, possibly more than 60 were delivered, consisting of MiG-25PD, MiG-25RBK, MiG-25PU and MiG-25RU variants.
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.
In the 1970s and 80s Libyan Migs and Tupolevs were common visitors to the international airspace, close to Italy and NATO bases. On July 19, 1980, a Libyan MiG-23 crashed on the Sila Mountains in Castelsilano, Calabria, southern Italy. On 27 June 1980 an Italian plane exploded while on route from Bologna to Palermo, off the island of Ustica. The most accepted theory is that the aircraft was shot down during a dogfight involving Libyan and NATO fighters in an attempted assassination of an important Libyan politician, who was flying in the same airspace that evening.
The Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF) lost a total of four aircraft to United States Navy F-14 Tomcats in two incidents over the Gulf of Sidra, in 1981 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 bombing raids were carried out at excessively high altitudes when met with anti-aircraft fire so the attacks did not play a decisive role. On 17 February 1986, in retaliation for the French Operation Epervier, a single LARAF Tu-22B attacked the airport at N'Djamena. The French air force bombed the Libyan air base at Ouadi Doum as retaliation. One Tu-22 bomber was shot down by captured SA-6 missile during an 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 LARAF bombers that were attacking N'Djamena.
The Chadians seized Ouadi Doum base in 1987 and destroyed or captured two SF.260s, three Mi-25s, two Tu-22B bombers, eleven L-39 jets, two complete SA-8 SAM-batteries and a plethora of additional equipment, weapons, supplies and ammunition, a good deal of which was flown out to France and the USA within the next five days. Four USAF C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft were sent to N'Djamena to collect the captured Libyan equipment. On 5 September 1987 Chadian technicals crossed into Libya and attacked the Maaten al-Sarra Air Base which is 60 miles (97 km) in Libyan territory. The battle of Maaten al-Sarra was a major victory for Chad and several Libyan aircraft were destroyed on the ground with only minor Chadian casualties.
On 8 October 1987, an 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 LARAF immediately organized a recovery operation, and a Mig-23 Flogger was also shot down by another Stinger. In December 1988 a Libyan SF.260 was shot down over northern Chad by Chadian troops.
The Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF) was also involved in combat against Tanzania during 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.
On the other side, the considerable Libyan cargo plane fleet, was apparently employed capably in Chad and elsewhere.
With the collapse 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 was 15 Su-24 Fencers in March/April 1989.
Much of Libyan air doctrine appears now to be of an ad hoc nature and contracted personnel from Yugoslavia, South Africa, Russia, North Korea and Pakistan provide piloting, maintenance and technical services.
The 1990s drop in oil prices and UN embargo made purchase of modern equipment almost impossible. UN sanctions were lifted in early 1999 and Libya 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 are in storage.
In January 2008 Libya bought 4 ATR-42MP maritime patrol aircraft from Italy’s Alenia.
The LARAF MiG-21s do not fly at all due to reported serviceability issues and of 170 MiG-23s delivered, only 30-50 are believed to be flyable aircraft. Those ratios may be similar for several other platforms.
2011 Libyan uprising
During the 2011 Libyan uprising, Libyan 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. On 21 February 2011, two senior Libyan Air Force pilots defected and flew their Mirage F1 fighter jets to Malta and requested political asylum after defying orders to bomb protesters. 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, 100 miles west of Benghazi, after refusing orders to bomb the city of Benghazi. Anti-Gaddafi forces and Syrian opposition groups claim that Syrian pilots were flying attacks for the Libyan government.
Rebels claim they have shot down Air Force jets over Brega and Ras Lanuf. At Brega a Mirage F-1 was shot down and at Ra's Lanuf a Su-24 bomber and a helicopter (probably a Mi-24). Exactly how many and what types of aircraft have been shot down have yet to be confirmed by government or independent sources.
Using air power, the Libyan army checked the opposition advance westwards, towards Bin Jawad in early March.
On March 13, 2011, Ali Atiyya, a colonel of the Libyan Air Force at the Mitiga military airport, near Tripoli, announced that he had defected and joined the revolution.
Rebels claim to have shot down what appears to be a MiG-21 outside of Bohadi
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 AB (near Syrte) to Benina by a defecting pilot, on previous day.
On 19 March 2011, a rebel Free Libyan Air Force MiG-23BN was shot down over Benghazi by rebel air defence forces in a case of mistaken identity. The pilot ejected, but at a very low altitude, and was reported to have been killed as a result. BBC News reported on 20 March that the rebel aircraft was shot down by its own air defenses
Damage to the Libyan Air Force airfield Ghardabiya after being attacked by coalition aircraft, 20 March 2011Later the same day the no-fly zone began to be enforced by a multi-national military coalition. It was part of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 which was adopted two days earlier. US and British warships launched more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Libyan air defences and four US B-2 stealth bombers attacked several airfields. A British Trafalgar Class Submarine also fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan air defences.
On 22 March 2011 a German tabloid Bild has reported that a Libyan Air Force transport aircraft was shot down by coalition fighters 60 miles east of Benghazi.
On 23 March 2011 British Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell was quoted by the BBC saying that the Libyan air force "no longer exists as a fighting force".
On 24 March 2011 several media sources reported that a French Rafale shot down a G-2 Galeb near Misrata. Initial reports of the French action said the Libyan 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
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