The Libyan National Army (LNA) held aerial dominance last year in its effort to topple the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), in part due to the LNA’s use of vintage Russian MiG-21/23 fighters and Mi-24/35 attack helicopters supplied to former Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi, killed in October, 2011 during popular unrest after the Arab Spring. Other systems the LNA took advantage of included the Chinese Wing Loong II combat drones, likely supplied by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Russian Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile.
While the LNA had aerial superiority last year, the GNA gained the upper hand this year in retaining control of Tripoli due to Turkish drones and anti-aircraft systems.
Such systems included Aselsan‘s Koral Electronic Warfare System (EWS) used for suppression of enemy air defenses, such as the Pantsir-S1; Baykar Defense‘s Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV); and the Turkish Aerospace Industries‘ (TAI) Anka-S unmanned air system (UAS).
“The recently concluded War for Tripoli was the first of a new kind of military conflict,” according to Turning the Tide: How Turkey Won the War for Tripoli, a study published this month by the Middle East Institute (MEI). “The way in which drones and counter anti-aircraft capabilities were decisively deployed by Turkey is surely to be studied and likely imitated in other theaters…Over the last months the KORAL EWS, TB2s, Anka-S, and mini-UAVs have left their imprint on Libya’s future and shown new aspects of how airpower will likely be used in non-state and extraterritorial warfare in the mid-2020s.”
At least 95 countries have active military drone programs, a 58 percent increase from 60 countries over a decade ago, demonstrating the now common usage of unmanned aircraft globally, according to a recent study by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College (Defense Daily, Sept. 25). The center said that at least 16 countries are deploying 21,000 military drones overseas and that eight countries—Iran, Italy, Iraq, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Britain and the U.S.—have drones in Iraq and Syria.
The incoming administration of Pres.-elect Joe Biden is likely to restrict U.S. advanced technology sales to Middle Eastern countries outside of Israel. Canada and European countries also have economic leverage in the Middle East and Near East, as, for example, those countries’ engine and sensor technologies are employed on Turkish military drones so that an arms/technology embargo would hit Turkey hard within several months.
“Going forward the eastern Mediterranean is a theater of warfare, not conflict or Cold War, but actual warfare, and the Biden administration is going to need to step up to the plate and work with a range of factors and countries who are all our allies,” said Jason Pack, a non-resident scholar at MEI and a co-author of this month’s MEI study on Libya. “Turkey is a U.S. ally, but the UAE is also a U.S. ally, and Israel is a U.S. ally, and Egypt is a U.S. ally. We need to step to the plate and mediate between our allies. Otherwise, they’re going to find military means to try to secure their interests, be they strategic or oil and gas, or who controls Libya. That’s not the world that we want to live in where everything is fought via drones and anti-aircraft systems. I would like to hope that the Biden administration will use diplomacy so that there won’t be future wars.”