Libya 'plans to spend $4.7B on defense'

March 26, 2013 at 3:49 PM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, March 26 (UPI) -- Libya, still gripped by fierce militia rivalries 18 months after the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi, is reported to be planning to spend some $4.7 billion on upgrading its dilapidated military forces over the next year, including purchases of fighter aircraft and warships.

Libyan officials have disclosed that the procurement program represents at least 10 percent of the national budget approved earlier this month after months of wrangling.

The National, a daily published in the United Arab Emirates, quoted a senior Libyan air force officer, Col. Abdel Nasser Busnina, as saying that the new regime in Tripoli is prepared to allocate the $4.7 billion in energy revenues to acquire advanced weapons systems.

"We have 2,000 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline to defend and six borders with African countries," he said during a recent arms exhibition in Abu Dhabi. "We need to rebuild our armed forces. The equipment we have is old and in need of repair."

Amid the surge of jihadist operations in North Africa, much of it a result of the large amount of arms plundered from Gadhafi's armories during Libya's 2011 civil war, Libya's General National Congress is particularly concerned about its porous desert frontiers with Egypt, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria.

It's not clear whether Tripoli has drawn up a formal program since post-Gadhafi Libya is subject to a U.N. embargo imposed during the country's eight-month civil war in 2011.

But the sanctions were eased two weeks ago to allow the new government to buy non-lethal military equipment to help boost security.

It's understood that could include aircraft, naval vessels and military vehicles provided they remain unarmed.

During Gadhafi's 42-year rule, Libya acquired most of its military hardware from the Soviet Union and much of its current inventory dates from the Cold War era. The Soviet collapse and international sanctions on Libya during the 1980s because of Gadhafi's support for terrorism, choked off military modernization.

The need to upgrade the oil-rich state's military forces is made more acute by the lawlessness and militia violence that persists, particularly over the country's extensive oil and natural gas resources, its economic mainstay.

However, weapons sales to unstable Middle Eastern countries and unsavory regimes have come under increased scrutiny since the wave of pro-democracy uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen began in January 2011.

All arms exports to Libya were halted when the anti-Gadhafi revolution erupted in February 2011.

Indeed, military analysts suspect Middle Eastern and African states may increasingly look to Russia and China for arms, even though these are generally below the standard of Western systems.

"The temptation will be for these governments to look further afield," Oxford Analytica observed in a recent assessment of the global arms market.

"They will want to buy their weapons from states that neither apply caveats to the use of such weapons, nor pull out of deals when ethical questions are raised," it said.

But it concluded this trend will likely not last long, since Middle Eastern and African states produce much of the world's oil, gas and raw materials.

"It is likely that as soon as the furor over regime change in Africa and the Middle East has died down, normal service will be resumed ... The stakes -- in terms of energy resources and even counter-terrorism -- are too high to do otherwise."

Besides, the defense industries of the United States, Europe and Russia depend on foreign sales because of heavy cutbacks in military spending by their governments.

Still, a major shift may be under way: China was listed as the world's fifth largest arms exports this month, elbowing Britain out of that ranking.

For now at least, though, Europe's defense companies are scrambling to re-equip Libya's military.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, like traditional rival France, maintained an ambiguous relationship with Gadhafi's rogue regime, recently flew to Tripoli to promote the United Kingdom's weapons systems.

France, whose warplanes like Britain's played a key role in driving Gadhafi from power, is reportedly close to sealing the first significant postwar military contract with Tripoli to train Libyan naval officers.

In February, Italy's Consorzio Iveco-Oto Melura delivered more than 20 Puma armored cars to Libya. Britain's sending a frigate to Tripoli in April to support a "defense and security industry day" in Libya's capital.

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