The US smuggles Russian made air defence system out of Libya

In fear of Russian-made military systems falling into the wrong hands, the US conducts a covert operation to smuggle them out of Libya

Russian-made defence system smuggled out of Libya in fear it may fall into the hands of militia groups. [Photo: Internet]
According to British Newspaper the Times, the United States of America in a covert mission smuggled a Russian made air defence system out of Libya to a US army base in Germany.

According to the report, the system was flown intact and was removed as a result of concerns that Pantsir S-1 missile battery, which can easily bring down civilian aircraft, could fall into the hands of militias or arms smugglers in the war-torn north African country.

The report also added that the mission took place in June of 2020 where a US Air Force C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft flew to Zuwarah International Airport, situated to the west of Tripoli, picked up the Pantsir-S1, then flew it to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

It has not been made clear which model of the Pantsir-S1 was recovered as Haftar’s forces have received several of those systems by way of the UAE which purchased a distinct version that uses German-made 8×8 MAN SX truck chassis.

“The Pantsir was captured after an airbase was overrun in a counter-attack by the Government of National Accord’s force.” The Times reported.

The Pantsir-S1 includes a turret that can be loaded with up to six ready-to-fire 57E-series command-guided missiles and that also has two 30mm automatic cannons. Crews use the system’s integrated radar and long-range infrared tracking sensor to target aerial threats and the cannons can also be employed against ground targets.

The missiles reportedly have a maximum range of around 20 miles and can hit targets at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, depending on the exact variant and the profile of the threat, but the system is primarily designed for low-altitude, close-in point defence.

Russian mercenaries the Wagner Group are believed to be the ones to have operated all of the Russian-made systems in Libya in support of Haftar’s attack on the country’s capital.

“A Russian official said Moscow was aware the U.S. had removed the Pantsir system but suggested its capture would be of limited intelligence value, since the US would have the opportunity to study the same system in the UAE,” The Times added. “Export versions, such as the one captured in Libya, are supposedly stripped of a carefully guarded identification friend or foe database with the transponder codes for all Russian air force jets.”

The immediate reasoning for the US’s removal of the system from Libya is fears that it could fall into the wrong hands, just as previously various weapons have been smuggled out of Libya in the country’s continued state of chaos for a decade now.

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