Libyan Air Force
|Libyan Air Force |
القوات الجوية الليبية
Libyan Air Force emblem
|Active||1962 (current form 2011)|
|Equipment||14-22 aircraft (including helicopters) |
Yom Kippur War
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)
|Chief of Staff||Saqr Geroushi|
|Commander Mahmoud Berrhouma|
|Fighter||MiG-21, MiG-23, Mirage F1|
|Helicopter||Mi-2, Mi-8, Mi-17, CH-47 Chinook, AW139|
|Transport||C-130, Il-76, An-26, An-32, An-72|
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 operating from 13 military airbases in Libya. Since the 2011 civil war and the ongoing conflict, multiple factions fighting in Libya are in possession of military aircraft. As of 2019 the Libyan Air Force is nominally under the control of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli, though the rival Libyan National Army of Marshal Khalifa Haftar also has a significant air force.
The air force was first established as the Royal Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwat al Jawwiya al Malakiya al Libiyya) in September 1962 by a decision of the minister of defense Younis Bel Khayer, Lt. Col. Salim al-Hsoumi and Lt. Col. Mohamed Shennib were assigned to lead the new force. 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.
Early Years (1962-1969)
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. 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.
Early Gaddafi Era (1969-1989)
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. 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-130s were delivered by the United States and converted in Italy to military versions. Four L-100-30s 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. Libya also received 53 Dassault Mirage 5D and 32 5DE from France along with 15 5DD and 10 5DR followed by 16 Dassault Mirage F1AD, 6 F1BD & 16 F1ED aircraft.
Dassault Mirage 5 aircraft bought shortly after Gaddafi took power and were secretly used by Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. These were later returned to Libya. These aircraft were retired in 2008, becoming used for Pakistan Air Force spares.
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. As of February 2007 Air Forces Monthly reported all aircraft of the type had been retired.
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. 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.
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 crashed Libyan People's Air Force MiG-23 was discovered on the Sila Mountains near Castelsilano, southern Italy. The event is speculated to be connected to the loss of Itavia Flight 870 a few weeks earlier.
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 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). 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, 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.
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.
Post–Cold War to Libyan civil war
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.
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.
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. Also, in the mid-1990s, Libyan air force overhauled and repaired many Syrian Arab Air force Su-24MK fighter bombers, in exchange for overhaul of its own Su-22 bombers by Syrian air force - in an expression of gratitude for this military cooperation, Libyan air force gave to Syrian Arab air force as a gift two of its six Su-24 bombers (one Su-24MK, and its sole Su-24MR, which is a specialized and rare reconnaissance and electronic-warfare variant).
Libyan civil war/NATO intervention
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. On 21 February 2011, two senior LPAF pilots defected – they flew their Mirage F-1ED 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, 161 kilometres (100 mi) west of Benghazi, after refusing orders to bomb the city of Benghazi, thus crashing their Su-22 bomber. Anti-Gaddafi forces and Syrian opposition groups claim that Syrian pilots were flying attacks for the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Also on the same day on 23rd of February 2011 rebels captured the Benina air force base south of Benghazi - during the battle for the airport, one pro-Gadaffi Mi-24 combat attack helicopter (serial number 853) was destroyed on the ground by rebel forces, while two more helicopters (Mi-25D combat attack helicopter serial number 854, and one Mi-14 transport helicopter serial number 1406) were captured by the rebel forces. Rebels claimed to have shot down Jamahiriya fighter jets and attack helicopters over Brega and Ra's Lanuf.
At Brega a Mirage F-1ED fighter jet was shot down by the rebel forces on 2 March 2011, thus leaving just one Mirage F-1BD trainer aircraft in possesion of Gadaffi's loyalist forces. Several days later, on 5 March 2011, rebels shot down near Ra's Lanuf a Su-24MK bomber of the 1124th Libyan air force squadron with a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun (both pilots were killed), and then the next day, on 6 March 2011., rebels also shot down a pro-Gadaffi helicopter (probably a Mi-24) near Ra's Lanuf. 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. By 11 March, the air force was running out of quality jet fuel, and attempts were made to bribe Maltese Air Force officials in order to purchase more fuel. 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, and this is the earliest case of Libyan Air force personnel defecting to the opposition. On the same day on 13 March 2011, according to the news published on 20 March 2011 by the opposition media wing Al Manara Media, pilot Muhammad Mokhtar Osman crashed his fighter jet, an MiG-23BN, on Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli in an apparent kamikaze-style suicide attack on pro-Gadaffi military high command, in which Khamis Gadaffi was heavily wounded and died from his wounds a week later on 20 March; however, this news wasn't confirmed by any independent sources and was right away denied by pro-Gadaffi media wing, and was finally confirmed to be false news when on 9 June 2011 a captured pro-Gadaffi loyalist soldier in Misrata told the rebel forces that he personally saw that Khamis Gadaffi was alive and well, leading his soldiers in Zliten.
On 15 March 2011, Free Libyan air force aircraft conducted its first air attacks against Gadaffi loyalists - according to the opposition, on that day rebel MiG-23BN fighter jet and Mi-24 combat attack helicopter first sunked two Gadaffi loyalist warships near the coast of Ajadabiyah, and then bombed Gaddafi loyalist tank columns outside of Brega and Ajadabiyah; also on that same day, rebel MiG-23BN fighter jets bombed the Ghardabiya air force base, damaging its runway. On 16 March 2011, pilots of one MiG-21bis and one MiG-21UM fighter jets which took off from the Ghardabiya airport defected with their planes to the opposition and landed in rebel-held air force base in Brega.
Rebels claimed to have shot down what appeared to be a MiG-21 outside of Bohadi. On 17 March, a Jamahiriya Su-22UM3K was shot down over Benina AB, the pilot ejected safely and was captured. On 17 March 2011, a "Free Libya Air Force" MiG-21UM crashed after take off from Benina airport due to technical problems, the pilot ejected safely. It was flown from Ghardabiya Air Base near Sirte to Benina by a defecting pilot the day before. On that same day on 17th of March 2011., Gadaffi loyalist fighter jets bombed the rebel-held Benina air force base, damaging three passenger aircraft - two YAK-40 and one Boeing 737-26D operated by Air Libya - that were parked there on the runway.
On 19 March 2011, a rebel MiG-23BN was shot down over Benghazi by rebel air defence forces in a case of mistaken identity. The pilot, colonel Mohammed Mbarak al-Okali ejected but at a very low altitude, and was killed as a result. BBC News reported on 20 March that the rebel aircraft was shot down by its own air defenses
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.
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." 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, but satellite images later showed that the five fixed wing aircraft destroyed were actually MiG-23s.
A Belgian Air Force F-16 hit a Libyan People's Air Force Su-22UM3K plane on the ground during an operation on 27 March. On 9th of April 2011, a Free Libyan air force Mi-25D combat attack helicopter (serial number 854 - the same one that was captured by the rebel forces at Benina air force base on 23rd of February 2011.) bombed positions of Gaddafi's soldiers at Ajadabiya, but it was then shot down by Gaddafi loyalist forces, its pilot captain Hussein al-Warfali was killed - also on the same day on April 9th 2011., a Free Libyan air force MiG-23BN fighter jet was intercepted by NATO fighter jets over Benghazi, and escorted back to its base in accordance with the UN-authorized and established no-fly zone over Libya. 
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. During the entire war and NATO-led intervention in Libya, Libyan rebel forces extensively used their three MiG-21 fighter jets as fighter escort of supply flights to western Libya, guarding transport aircraft that were delivering supplies to besieged rebel garrisons and cities in western Libya, flying despite the NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Libya. These three Free Libya air force jets - two MiG-21bis single-seat and one MiG-21UM two-seat fighter jets - were photographed flying over the Benina air force base south of Benghazi on 27th of June 2011.
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 Mirage F-1ED that had been based in Malta after their pilots refused orders to bomb the opposition during the civil war, were then given permission to return to Libya. The jets were finally returned to Libya on 21 February 2012, exactly a year to the day after they defected. One of these Mirage F-1ED fighter jets, serial number 502, reportedly crashed on 12th of April 2012, killing its pilot, but that crash remained unconfirmed - this accident was proven to be a false news in 2013., when both of those Mirage F-1ED fighter jets flew over Benghazi on the anniversary of the uprising.
Second Civil War
During the NATO-led intervention against the Gaddafi regime in 2011, the Libyan air force was devastated – almost all of its airfields were heavily damaged, and most of its anti-air installations and aircraft were destroyed. Because of that, after the final victory over Gaddafi in October 2011, only a few barely-flying aircraft were left in the Libyan air force that was once armed with hundreds of fighter aircraft and combat helicopters. On 20 June 2012 the Air Force Chief of Staff, Saqr Geroushi, 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 – as the post–2011 air force inherited some intact Mirages, C-130Hs and CH-47s following the civil war.
As the situation deteriorated with the country sliding into the Second Libyan Civil War, any ambitious plan was scrapped in face of the reality with the remaining Gaddafi regime era air-frames divided between the opposing factions. In the following months, both the internationally recognized government and the opposing New General National Congress flew a limited number of air operations against each other. The air force of the internationally recognized government could receive some limited supplies of MiG-21s and Mi-8 from the Egyptian Air Force too. Libyan aircraft carried out airstrikes against Islamists during the conflict, but have sustained considerable casualties. The biggest setback for the pro-GNA forces happened on the 9th of August 2014., when pro-LNA forces captured al-Watiya air force base, where 10 to 12 decommissioned Su-22 bombers, several Mi-25 combat attack helicopters and possibly up to 21 decommissioned Mirage F-1ED fighter jets, as well as all spare parts and weapons for Mirage F-1ED and Su-22 aircraft, were stored there - this defeat crippled the pro-GNA air forces, because now they lost their main source of spare parts for maintaining their Mirage F-1ED fighter jets. The al-Watiya air force base was one of the few that escaped total destruction during the NATO-led intervention in 2011 because in its 43 hardened aircraft shelters were stored almost exclusively decommissioned aircraft, so they were not deemed a threat to coalition forces. Just several munition depots located near the airbase and only three hardened aircraft shelters, one where the last operational pro-Gaddafi Mirage F-1BD trainer fighter jet was stationed, and two where the last two operational pro-Gaddafi Su-22M3 bombers were stationed were destroyed.
In December 2014, a group of Ukrainian specialists from the Odessa Aircraft repair plant arrived in Tripoli in order to restore the combat capabilities of the pro-GNA Libyan air force – the first GNA aircraft that were repaired and brought back to service by the Ukrainians were two MiG-23ML fighter jets from the Rassvet Libya group, one of the key militias in the GNA forces. Both of those aircraft then carried out airstrikes against ISIL militants and pro-LNA forces throughout the 2015. One of the pro-GNA fighter jets, a MiG-23UB aircraft, was shot down on 22nd of March 2015 at Al-Zintan by pro-LNA fighters with an IGLA MANPADs while bombing the pro-LNA positions at Al-Zintan airport. A second pro-GNA fighter jet, this time MiG-23ML aircraft, crashed on 22nd of December 2016 at Tarhouna due to technical problems - both of its pilots, Mohammed Gadosha and Ezzidin Madani, were killed.
At the same time, Ukrainians started to work on the restoration of two MiG-25 and one MiG-25UB aircraft, which were mainly used for reconnaissance of enemy positions from the air - these aircraft were one of several dozen Libyan MiG-25 fighter jets stored for decades after being decommissioned at Al-Juffrah air force base (and so were spared from destruction in NATO-led intervention in 2011 because they weren't considered a threat to NATO-led forces), and these MiG-25 aircraft were relocated by pro-GNA forces from the Al-Juffrah air force base to the Misrata air force base at the beginning of 2015 in order to be overhauled, repaired and returned to active combat service. One of those newly restored aircraft, a two-seat MiG-25PU trainer version, crashed during its first post-restoration flight on 6th of May 2015. (LNA claims that it shot it down, but that remains unconfirmed), during a bombing run on positions of pro-LNA forces at the civilian airport at Al-Zintan - its pilot, colonel Hassan Mahmoud Misrati, successfully ejected and was captured by the pro-LNA forces. Despite poor performances in the war, pro-GNA forces with the help of Ukrainian specialists continued to overhaul and repair more MiG-25 fighter jets through 2017 and 2018 in order to bring them back to active combat service.
Besides MiG-25 aircraft, the Ukrainians also refurbished both Mirage F-1ED fighter jets of the pro-GNA air forces (serial numbers 502 and 508 - the same two that defected to Malta on 21st of February 2011.), and with their help the pro-GNA forces brought them back into operational status by early 2015, using them extensively to bomb both ISIL militants and pro-LNA forces throughout 2016. - but on 3rd of June 2016, one of the two pro-GNA Mirage F1ED fighter jets crashed west of the city of Sirte due to technical problems, its pilot ejected safely (according to other sources, ISIL militants shot it down, its pilot, a Portuguese mercenary, was killed). The last remaining pro-GNA Mirage F1ED fighter jet was not airworthy as of 2017. and was put in storage by the pro-GNA forces, as it lacked an functional engine due to lack of spare parts.
The main work by the Ukrainian specialists was done on the GNA fleet of light attack aircraft - after the fall of Gaddafi, Dawn of Libya forces possessed five G-2 Galeb and 2 L-39ZO Albatros light attack and trainer aircraft, and during 2015 a further 12 L-39ZO Albatros light attack aircraft were restored and brought back to service by the Ukrainians. During the 2015., all 14 operational and combat capable pro-GNA L-39ZO and G-2 fighter jets, as well as two Mi-24 combat attack helicopters, were stationed at the Misrata air force base, and conducted air strikes against both ISIL militants and pro-LNA forces thought the entire spring of 2015. Several more L-39ZO aircraft of pro-GNA forces were stationed at the Tripoli Mitiga air force base, but these ones were not actively involved in the hostilities. Because of the poor state of the unguided bombs and rockets they used, both L-39ZO and G-2 aircraft of the pro-GNA air forces relied mostly on cannon fire in their ground-support combat operations. Despite the pro-GNA L-39ZO Albatros having mediocre combat characteristics, they avoided combat losses - one pro-GNA L-39ZO crashed due to technical problems near the university of Sirte on 10th of August 2016. (ISIL claims that they shot it down), both of its pilots, commander of Misrata air force base brigadier general Mukhtar Fakroun and co-pilot colonel Omar Dogha, died in the crash.
During all of 2016, the pro-GNA Libyan Air Force carried out numerous air strikes on positions of the group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had taken control of parts of northern Libya around the city of Sirte - using their L-39ZO, Mirage F-1ED and MiG-23ML fighter jets, pro-GNA forces conducted dozens of airstrikes on ISIL positions both outside and inside of the city of Sirte during the entire summer of 2016., but with limited results. By the summer of 2016, the resources of the pro-GNA MiG-25, Mirage F-1ED and MiG-23ML aircraft were seriously exhausted because of the war, leaving these aircraft almost nonoperational in pro-GNA air force, and the main combat unit of the pro-GNA Libyan air force from then on thus became the L-39ZO Albatros.
Since 2016, both the Tobruk-based House of Representatives backed by Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army as well as the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli have had many military aircraft in their possession. The Air Force has nominally been under the GNA's control. After Haftar gained power in eastern Libya, its part of the pro-LNA Libyan air force, made of MiG-21 and MiG-23ML fighter jets, was actively restored and modernized by Egypt and UAE military, and pro-LNA air force conducted numerous air strikes on Islamists positions throughout eastern Libya, especially in Derna and Benghazi, during the entire 2016. and 2017., but suffered heavy losses in aircraft and personnel in progress - one of the pro-LNA MiG-23ML fighter jets, serial number 6472, crashed due to technical problems on January 4th 2016. near Benghazi, at Benina air force base after returning from a bombing raid against islamists, its pilot ejected safely (the Islamists claim that they shot it down). At the same time, using the captured equipment in Al-Watiya air force base, pro-LNA forces started to bring back to active service several Su-22 bombers and Mirage F-1ED fighter jets during the 2014. and 2015.
A second pro-LNA MiG-23ML fighter jet, serial number 6132, was shot down on 8 February 2016 by the Islamists during its bombing raid on Islamists' positions in the town of Derna (LNA claims it crashed due to technical problems), its pilot colonel Younes al-Dinali ejected safely. A third pro-LNA fighter jet, this time an MiG-23UB serial number 7834, was shot down by the Islamists during its bombing raid on islamists positions in Garyunes area, Benghazi (LNA claims that it crashed due to technical problems), on 12 February 2016, its pilot ejected safely. A fourth pro-LNA fighter jet, this time MiG-23BN serial number 8985, crashed due to technical problems west of Benghazi on 6th of July 2016., its pilot colonel Idris Al-Obeidi died in the crash. A fifth pro-LNA fighter jet, this time MiG-23ML serial number 26453, was shot down on 15 January 2017 by the islamists during its bombing raid on islamists positions in Ganfouda/Bosnib area, Benghazi, its pilot colonel Younes Aldinali ejected safely. In April 2017, as a response to pro-LNA air force bombing attack on pro-GNA Tamanhint air force base near Sabha in southern Libya on 5 April 2017, pro-GNA L-39ZO Albatros aircraft successfully bombed pro-LNA Brak al-Shati air force base, 80 kilometers north of Sabha, reportedly destroying one pro-LNA MiG-23 fighter jet on the ground. Also, on 29 July 2017 a sixth pro-LNA fighter jet, now MiG-23UB serial number 8008, was shot down by the islamists during its bombing raid on islamists positions in the town of Derna, its pilot Adel Al-Jihani ejected safely but was heavily wounded and then captured by the islamists, he later died of his wounds in the captivity.
Several pro-LNA MiG-21 fighter jets were also lost between 2014 and 2017 – the first pro-LNA MiG-21bis crashed in the city of Tobruk on 2 September 2014. due to pilot error during a pull-up maneuver while performing in a memorial flypast for another pilot, Ibrahim Al-Manifi, who was also killed in a plane crash few days earlier (Islamists claim that they shot it down), killing its pilot Rafa al-Alani and at least one civilian on the ground. Another pro-LNA fighter jet, now MiG-21UM, crashed due to technical problems during takeoff on 18th of May 2016 at the Tobruk airport, pilot colonel Mohamed Rabie al-Shawa died in the crash while co-pilot captain Abdul Quader Mohamed survived the crash. On 29 March 2017, another pro-LNA MiG-21bis crashed at the city of Tobruk after returning from a bombing mission against islamists positions in the town on Derna - its pilot, LNA air brigadier Saleh Joudah, the commander of the Gamel Abdul-Nasser air force base in Tobruk, was killed in the crash, along with four more civilians on the ground. A third pro-LNA MiG-21bis was shot down over Al-Sabri district in Benghazi by the islamists on 17th of April 2017. during a bombing raid against islamists positions. Another pro-LNA MiG-21 fighter jet was shot down by islamists MANPADS over the town of Derna on 31 July 2017 during its bombing raid on islamists positions in the town of Derna, both of its pilots ejected safely and were then captured by the Islamists. Also, on 18 May 2017 pro-GNA militias launched a successful surprise offensive on the pro-LNA Brak al-Shati air force base in the area of Fezzan in southern Libya, killing over 140 pro-LNA soldiers and civilians (of which 40 were executed after being captured), heavily damaging the Brak al-Shati air force base, and also destroyed one inoperable pro-LNA L-39ZO Albatros fighter jet on the ground.
Also, pro-LNA Libyan air force lost at least six to eight helicopters - Mi-8, Mi-14, Mi-24/Mi-35 and Mi-17 - between 2014. and 2017., most of them crashed due to technical malfunctions, but one pro-LNA Mi-35 combat attack helicopter was shot down at Ras Lanouf and another pro-LNA Mi-35 combat attack helicopter was abandoned by the pro-LNA forces at Ras Lanouf air force base during a pro-GNA militant surprise offensive in March 2017., the helicopter was subsequently destroyed on the ground by the pro-GNA militants in order to prevent its recapture by the pro-LNA forces. Before that, on 17 July 2016, a pro-LNA air force Mi-17 helicopter was shot down by the islamists with an chinese-made FN-6 MANPADs near Magrun, 70 kilometers south of Benghazi, killing its entire crew and all personnel on board - three pro-LNA Libyan crew members and three French DGSE special forces intelligence officials.
After suffering heavy losses in aircraft and air force personnel during its campaign against Islamist forces in eastern Libya through 2016 and 2017, Haftar's pro-LNA Libyan air force received several MiG-23MLD fighter jets from Russia in February of 2017, as well as several MiG-21MF fighter jets from Egypt (in addition to earlier deliveries of Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopters and MiG-21MF fighter jets from UAE and Egypt during 2014 and 2015), as replacement for its losses; Egypt and UAE also provided extensive training of new pro-LNA fighter pilots and reconstruction and modernization of pro-LNA libyan air force bases. The military support of Egypt and United Arab Emirates to Haftar's pro-LNA forces went even further than the supply of weapons and other military equipment, as both Egyptian air force and United Arab Emirates air force conducted multiple airstrikes on both pro-GNA forces and islamists positions through eastern Libya between 2015 and 2017. During those airstrikes, according to the egyptian sources, Egyptian air force aircraft were often targeted by islamists with chinese-made FN-6 MANPADs, which were supplied to the libyan islamists by Qatar via Sudan.
In April 2019, Haftar's army launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord, during which Air Force planes loyal to the GNA attacked LNA positions. In response to pro-GNA Libyan air force strikes on LNA positions during April 6th 2019., Haftar's pro-LNA forces declared a no-fly zone over entire Western Libya on that same day, and on April 7th 2019 pro-LNA Libyan air force started conducting numerous airstrikes on pro-GNA positions across western Libya. On 8 April 2019, a series of airstrikes was carried out by both pro-LNA and pro-GNA air forces - pro-GNA fighter jets bombed on that day the pro-LNA al-Watiya air force base, 130 kilometers south of Tripoli, and in response to that attack pro-LNA MiG-21 figher jets launched from that same air force base successfully bombed the pro-GNA Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, damaging it, and after this pro-LNA bombing raid, the Mitiga International Airport was temporarily closed between April 8th and April 10th - during those airstrikes at Mitiga airport, pro-LNA air forces reportedly damaged one pro-GNA air force CH-47 Chinook helicopter on the ground.
Haftar's LNA army posesses superior air force capabilities than the GNA forces - unlike GNA air forces, which is crippled by the lack of spare parts and jet fuel, Haftar's air forces are well armed and well equipped with the help of Egypt and United Arab Emirates. While as of 2019, Haftar's pro-LNA air force possesses two Mirage F-1ED, 12 MiG-21, three MiG-23ML and one Su-22 fighter jets, most of them recently refurbished and modernized by Egypt and UAE, pro-GNA air forces possess only two MiG-23ML, one MiG-25, five G-2 Galeb, between 9 to 13 L-39ZO Albatros fighter jets, and five SIAI Marchetti SF.260 training aircraft, as well as eight Mi-24 combat helicopters (of which, only about two to four Mi-24 are operational and combat-ready). Most of the pro-GNA Libyan air force is stationed at the Misrata air force base. Also, Haftar's pro-LNA forces are well armed with many ZPU-2 and ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun installations, as well as with at least one Kvadrat/2K12 Kub medium-range anti-air missile defence systems, and a variety of different MANPADs.
Further airstrikes were made by both pro-GNA and pro-LNA air force aircraft throughout western Libya between April 8th and April 13th, with pro-GNA fighter jets targeting pro-LNA advancing troops near Sirte, Tripoli International Airport, Gharyan and at the outskirts of Tripoli, while pro-LNA fighter jets targeted pro-GNA positions at Misrata, Tripoli International airport and thought the city of Tripoli - on April 10th, during heavy fighting south of Tripoli, pro-LNA military 166th brigade claimed to have shot down with an ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun a pro-GNA L-39ZO Albatros fighter jet, which flew from the Misrata air force base. There has been no independent verification or footage supporting this claims; however, images of a Phantom 3 quadcopter purpotedly shot down by the LNA did emerge. On April 14th 2019., pro-GNA forces shot down a pro-LNA MiG-21 (later verified to be a MiG-21UM in the area of Ain Zara, Tripoli, with an Chinese-made FN-6 MANPADS (pro-LNA forces claim that the aircraft crashed due to technical problems), its pilot Jamal Ben Amer ejected safely and survived. On April 17th 2019., pro-LNA forces captured in the Tripoli outskirts from pro-GNA forces several chinese-made FN-6 MANPADs, confirming the claims that pro-GNA forces have been armed with such advanced anti-aircraft weapons, which were also not previously in use by the Libyan armed forces before the NATO-led intervention in 2011. - according to the pro-LNA and Egyptian sources, the chinese-made FN-6 MANPADs were supplied to pro-GNA forces by Qatar via Sudan.
Between April 14th and April 18th 2019., further airstrikes were conducted by both pro-GNA and pro-LNA air forces across western Libya. On April 18th 2019., pro-GNA sources claimed that their forces managed to attack and briefly capture the pro-LNA Tamanhit air force base in central Libya, capturing or destroying a large quantity of pro-LNA military equipment in the airbase before pro-LNA forces managed to recapture it. On that same day on April 18th, unknown combat UAVs bombed pro-GNA positions near the town of Rabi'a and Tajoura, south-east of Tripoli - according to libyan sources, the drone strikes were carried out by French air force MQ-9 Reaper UCAV, but other observers believe that's not the case, instead claiming that UCAVs of United Arab Emirates air force, which are known to be stationed at pro-LNA al-Khadim air force base in western Libya, have conducted those drone strikes on pro-GNA forces on April 18th 2019.
On 24 April 2019, a Misratan jet crashed south of Al Ajaylat. That same day, a Mirage F1 was lost near Al-Watiya airbase, shot down by pro-LNA forces, while pro-GNA air forces were bombing the pro-LNA Al-Watiya airbase. At first, pro-LNA sources claimed it was a pro-GNA Mirage F-1AD shot down after bombing the pro-LNA forces in that area. However, analysis by foreign experts revealed it to be actually an Mirage F1-AD serial number 402, and initially suggested it was previously in the possession of the LNA, and that it was shot down by its own pro-LNA anti-air defences. Serial number 402 was later shown to be operational; however, the LNA claim regarding the pilot of the plane and ejection seat remained unproven, and the plane was an F1AD, with the only Mirage F1 previously confirmed to be active in GNA service being an F1ED. Therefore, the original owner of the plane remains unclear. It was unknown whether that Mirage F-1AD that crashed at Al-Watiya air force base on April 24th was shot down by pro-LNA forces, or whether it crashed due to technical problems while repelling the pro-GNA air force attack, but a consensus later emerged that (in the absence of an official refutation of the LNA's claim) the Mirage lost must have been a GNA plane. On that same day on 24 April 2019, pro-GNA air forces also bombed the pro-LNA Al-Jufra air force base, and according to pro-LNA sources, pro-LNA forces shot down during the bombing a pro-GNA air force fighter jet, however this claims remain unconfirmed. On April 30, the GNA revealed it had shot down a UAV, likely to be a Russian-made Orlan 10, a day after missile remains revealed that Wing Loong drones were also probably being used by the LNA.
On May 7, the LNA shot down a GNA Mirage F1, and recovered its reportedly Portugese pilot. As only one Mirage F1 was confirmed to still be in service with the GNA at this time, this was its sole operating F1ED.
Both pro-GNA and pro-LNA air forces suffer serious lack of qualified air force personnel, especially the pro-GNA Libyan air force - most of their pilots are over 50 years old, well above air force retirement age, and very few have high-quality flight skills. Because of that, and due to many of its libyan pilots being killed in the war, both sides, especially pro-GNA air forces, are relying more and more on foreign mercenaries to both fly and repair their fighter jets, with mixed results.
Military air force bases include:
- Al-Jufra Air Base (near Hun)
- Okba Ibn Nafa Air Base (50 km south of Zuwara), Also known as "Al-Watiya Air Bas"
- Benina (near Benghazi)
- Gamal Abdul El Nasser Air Base (near Tobruk): formerly RAF Station El-Adem, 1942-1970.
- Ghadames Airport
- Ghardabiya Air Base Map near Sirte
- Ghat Airport
- Al Abraq International Airport (near Bayda)
- Maaten al-Sarra Air Base
- Misrata Airport
- Mitiga (near Tripoli): formerly USAF Wheelus Air Base, 1948-1970.
- Sabha Air Base
Active inventory of the Libyan Air Force, which is controlled by the (formerly internationally recognised) House of Representatives
|Dassault Mirage F1||France||fighter||2||1 F1AD, 1 F1ED|
|MiG-21bis/MF||Soviet Union||fighter||3-11 (no more than 11 in total with the MiG-21UMs)|
|Sukhoi Su-22UM-3K||Soviet Union||fighter-bomber||2|
|C-130 Hercules||United States||transport||C-130H||1|
|Mil Mi-8||Russia||utility / transport||Mi-17/171||1|
|MiG-21UM||Soviet Union||conversion trainer||0-8 (no more than 11 in total with the other MiG-21s)|
|Aero L-39||Czech Republic||trainer / light attack||L-39ZO||1|
Libya Dawn Air Force
|J-21 Jastreb||Yugoslavia||light attack||1|
|G-2 Galeb||Yugoslavia||light attack||3|
|SF.260||Italy||basic trainer||An unspecified number - together with the L-39 and G-2s, 11+|
|Aero L-39||Czech Republic||trainer / light attack||L-39ZO||Up to 8|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Libyan Air Force.|
- Libyan Air Force article, Air Forces Monthly, September 2010