Why the West dodged a Russian bullet over Libya

To challenge the no-fly-zone imposed by a Western-led coalition, the Libyan Air Force has not launched a newly-acquired fleet of state-of-the-art four Sukhoi Su-30s and 12-15 Su-35s. It has not activated an integrated network of recently-delivered S-300 air defense missiles. And Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist force have not overwhelmed the rebellion with several dozen T-90 main battle tanks.

Sometimes it’s worth considering the close-calls of history, and a major arms deal between Russia and Libya in 2008 may be one of them.

Slightly less than three years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived at Tripoli’s only five-star hotel, the Corinthia Baab Afriqiya, to meet with Gaddafi. Putin promptly forgave $4.5 billion of Libya’s Soviet-era debt in return for Libya’s commitment to buy a $1.8 billion arms package, which included all of the weapon systems listed in the first paragraph above.

For reasons lost (at the moment) to history, the deal apparently was never finalized. The only contract signed by Libya for new military aircraft since Putin’s meeting in Tripoli involved six Yakovlev Yak-130 jet trainers, and they’re not scheduled for delivery until later this year or next.


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23 Responses to Why the West dodged a Russian bullet over Libya

  1. Aussie Digger 22 March, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    I doubt 16x of any fighter potentially operated by Libya would have seriously made a difference to the 130+ strike/fighter fleet assembled against them.

    The dominance of such a coalition means that they would never have left the ground, just as the current fighter force hasn’t…

  2. Stephen Trimble 22 March, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    You may be right. But even a handful of Flankers and S-300s would have dramatically changed the plans and preparations for the no-fly-zone.

  3. Aussie Digger 22 March, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Would it? Seems to me that the IADS, C4ISR nodes, airfields and fighters of whatever type would still have been targetted by the 100 + Tomahawk attack, followed by the B-2, Storm Shadow and so on attacks.

    Such capabilities on the part of the Libyans may have called for a bit tighter co-ordination, to ensure the higher priority capabilities were hit first, but would any significant difference have occurred?

    Again, it seems unlikely, given the overwhelming situational awareness, information and geographical dominance the Coalition has, not to mention it’s quantitative over-match.

    It is an interesting matter, that Coalition dominance against a foe like Libya is now so pronounced, that the expectation of any success from the other side has been reduced enormously.

    It has basically come to the point of wondering IF the other side can down a single coalition fighter and if so, it is seen as a success. The fact that their entire infrastructure and ability to conduct serious military operations has been completely flattened, is somehow not as important to commentators as to whether or not the other side can achieve a single strategically irrelevent victory?

    This leads back to my point about the ‘what if’ situation of Libya having a relative handful of advanced systems like the Su-30 or S-300. Could those systems along with some degree of professional mastery in the operatinal employment of them allow them to achieve some tactical success? Perhaps.

    Is such likely to make a difference in the overall scheme of things? Nope. Their IADS will still be flattened. Their airbases destroyed, their aircraft and hard shelters scattered all around the ground and the only thing they hear over their airwaves is the EC-130 Compass calls warning them against such foolish acts…

  4. aeroxavier 22 March, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    i have read french jet was over libya than more 2 weeks (when all libyan airplane shooting civilians), nothing was make, just for wait the yes of the Un council

  5. irtusk 22 March, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    If the Libyan forces were better equipped they might have quickly crushed the rebellion before it gained any ground and we wouldn’t be in this mess at all.

  6. Victorinox 22 March, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    With all due respect to the opinions posted here, I agree with Stephen. The presence of such systems in the teather of operations would have likely changed the way the conflict developed.

    Although I agree with the opinions that a reduced amount of state of the art systems is unlikely to defeat the massive inventory commited by the coalition, I think its sole presence would have deterred a significant number of countries from sending their airmen and aircraft to the conflict, or even joined the calls for a no-fly-zone in the first place.

    It is significantly different for a policitian to sell a “humanitarian mission” against an obsolete air force and air defense system, and other to send their boys to face a real threat.

    Do you think the French would be happily sending their Rafales and Mirage 2000 in the first day on their own (in daylight no less), knowing that Su-35 might be in the area, or that S-300 could be operational?. It is easy to market its Rafale as “combat proven” now, even when there was almost no threat for a fighter jet in the whole Benghazi area where they were flying.

    Kind regards to all, and godspeed to the Libyan people. Hopefully, they will join the ranks of the free and democratic countries in the world soon.

  7. sferrin 22 March, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I see it more as an opportunity lost. It’s unlikely they’d have been highly trained on the uber-hardware and it would have been an opportunity to test theory against it. Possibly even capture some of it.

  8. Dr. Grzlickson 22 March, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Everything would have been tomahawked or B-2′s to death on the ground, regardless of whether or it was a SU-30 or a Sopwith Camel.

  9. para 23 March, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    Dont mean to sound too polemic about this. But the only difference it might have made, would be that one or two pilots with more interesting planes would have gone AWOL and landed in Malta.

    On a related note, if you dig deep enough, I am sure you could find any number of “plans” for Russian military exports to a number of suspect countries. Now how high the likelyhood of such a deal would be to actually go through (and result in deliveries), is quite another matter.

    Looking at such theories from a different point of view, it would be quite ironic, would the French now have to try and destroy Libyan Rafale jets.

  10. para 23 March, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    “Do you think the French would be happily sending their Rafales and Mirage 2000 in the first day on their own (in daylight no less), knowing that Su-35 might be in the area, or that S-300 could be operational?. It is easy to market its Rafale as “combat proven” now, even when there was almost no threat for a fighter jet in the whole Benghazi area where they were flying.”

    The Rafale has zero sales to date. In fact I believe, the French would have been quite eager to engage a Libyan Su-30 etc and potentially have a game-changing PR gain in efforts to sell their aircraft. A Libyan Su-30 is still being operated by a Libyan pilot. And their Air Force has not exactly much operational credibility.
    The British perhaps would have had second thoughts, because the Typhoon is in a slightly different situation. But overall I believe it would have changed nothing, except of course on an operational level. Ie. a specific effort would have been made to find and destroy these aircraft, preferably on the ground.

  11. aeroxavier 23 March, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    you think USA make war against great country? against great army?
    The last time who USA was involved against one “modern” country was irak in 1991.And in this time all modern fighter jets and helicopters (and others stuff) don’t was used by saddam, like mirage f1.Can you say me the last were one plane was shoot by one american plane? when one modern fighter like the super hornet or the f-22 and in future the f-35 was opposed against massive country?

    This conflict make the rafale in the front, and he was see by all.That’s marketing

  12. Royce 23 March, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Speaking of deals that might have changed history, would France have pushed for the no-fly zone if Libya had ordered Rafales? There were deals under negotiation in 2007 and last year, according to the trade press. Forging a closer military alliance with France might have been the way to go.

  13. Kay 23 March, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    In Soviet Russia, the bullet dodges you.

    In all seriousness, one can never predict what would have happened (how the forces would have prepared) if Su-30′s were in the air, even the ones operated by Libyan pilots. It would have made things harder but the organization and network centric platforms the NATO(well,i mean the US) have would be more than a match for any Libyan hardware.

  14. jetcal1 23 March, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    What it all really means is that fewer unmanned/stealth assets needed to be used and the potential for death by active duty members on both sides somewhat reduced.

  15. Aussie Digger 25 March, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    And here it begins, the Rafale fanbois will be gloating enormously that their favoured craft has finally joined the not so exclusive club of having a targetting pod operable and being able to self designate their own PGM’s and strike a few ground targets with standoff weapons.

    No disrespect intended but it will be amusing to see how ‘combat proven’ the Rafale will now become in it’s marketing campaign, especially given that ‘America doesn’t fight real wars’ and thus it’s combat experience doesn’t count but Rafales sure does…

    LOL as they say…

  16. LOL 28 March, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    What fanbois? Where? Where?

  17. fred 28 March, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    is it true, that the f-15 was shot down by a mig-25?

  18. TLAM Strike 28 March, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    The Strike Eagle lost over Libya? No. Libya’s MiG-25s were all grounded before this conflict started.

  19. maurice 29 March, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    well a few customer T90′s die just as quickly if your tankers have forgotton what the panzer crews learned in normandy about overwelming air superiority.

    the old monty python sketch about not being seen comes to mind.

  20. Peet 29 March, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I personally have new found respect for the French, while they normally sit on the sidelines and protest at involvement in foriegn conflicts, this time they got stuck in. Tres bien!
    The Rafale’s demonstrated stand-off air-to-ground capability really shows up the Typhoon and F-22, both of which still lack this ability even though they are so-called ‘operational’.


    Nations on the cusp of buying new fighters, notably Brazil and India, will notice this, and will only help their export potential.

  21. Atomic Walrus 30 March, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    You don’t need to self-designate if you’re using GPS-guided weapons, like JDAM on the F-22.

  22. John 30 March, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    The French dont “normally sit on sidelines”. They are on our side in Afghanistan since the beginning, were involved in GW 1, have fought Gaddafi’s boys in Chad not mention Kosovo, Ivory Coast, somali pirates and so on…
    We are US centric people blaming the one who has not followed us in Irak.

    ” If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking” George S. Patton.

  23. amirizar 18 May, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Some day there will be Airship-Hospitals hovering above the clouds, near the warfront,as large as aircraft carriers. Others will trnsport paying customers across the entire planet, or hauling all sort of merchandize. Others the size of a private yacht will be seen every where, including resting on the sea near a beach.
    More scenarios, and descriptions of all sort of airships, including [for example] “Floaing Cities” where coupled dozens of these can be observed floating by, across the sky, around the world. (amirizar10@yahoo.com)

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