HAWK batteries deployed to UAE bases in Libya

HAWK batteries have been set up at Al-Jufrah Air Base and Al-Khadim Airport in Libya. It is unclear what long-range threat prompted the latter deployment in Libya. 

HAWK surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries have been deployed to two Libyan airbases that are used by military aircraft deployed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force, Maxar satellite imagery has revealed. The first battery was deployed to Al-Jufrah Air Base in north-central Libya in April soon after the UAE-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) faction began its offensive to capture the capital Tripoli and overthrow the Government of National Accord (GNA). A second battery was deployed to Al-Khadim airport in eastern Libya in early September.

Both batteries have three launchers and what appears to be two AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radars: the latest configuration of a system that was originally developed in the 1950s. The HAWK is in widespread service, including with the UAE and Egypt, which also supports the LNA, but was never used by the Libyan military.

Both Al-Jufrah and Al-Khadim have been identified as locations that are used by the UAE to support the LNA. Wing Loong II armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been seen in satellite imagery of both locations in recent months. The UAE is the only known operator of the Wing Loong II.

The Associated Press reported on 8 November that it had seen a copy of a forthcoming UN panel-of-experts report that cited a “reliable confidential source” as saying that Mirage 2000-9 strike jets have also been deployed to Al-Jufrah and Al-Khadim.

The source said an unknown number of the aircraft were at the bases when a migrant detention centre in Tajoura near Tripoli was bombed on the night of 2–3 July. More than 50 people were killed and about 130 injured.

The panel of experts concluded that it was “highly probable” the strike was carried out by a “modern fighter/ground attack aircraft using precision-guided munitions”. It did not identify the operator of the aircraft but the Mirage 2000-9 is only in service with the UAE Air Force.

Deployed HAWK Batteries in Central Libya

The HAWK battery at Al-Jufrah failed to prevent an airstrike against the base on 26 July. The GNA said it targeted a hangar containing UAVs, Il-76 cargo aircraft, and an ammunition store. Maxar satellite imagery from three days later confirmed two Il-76s were destroyed at the base and that one of the two large hangars that was bombed during the NATO-led intervention in 2011 had been hit again by a small precision-guided munition.

This level of accuracy was almost certainly beyond the capabilities of the old Libyan Air Force L-39 jets flown by pro-GNA forces from Misratah Air Academy. It has since been confirmed that Bayraktar TB2 armed UAVs have been deployed in support of the GNA. The Turkish-made UAV is in service with Turkey and Qatar, both of which support the GNA.

Al-Jufrah Air Base is 360 km from Misratah, which is beyond the communication range of the Bayraktar TB2, but a control station could have been forward deployed to carry out the strike. However, Al-Khadim is 580 km from the air academy, putting it beyond the range of any aircraft known to be operating in support of the GNA. It is consequently unclear at this stage what threat prompted the HAWK deployment to Al-Khadim, but one possibility is that Turkey could use Ankara’s UAVs with satellite communications capability to carry out long-range sorties over eastern Libya.

Reported by Jeremy Binnie, further edited for reproduction by Mark Frank of SCF. 

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