Military Aviation

The MiG-29s deployed to al-Jufra Air Base may belong to Libyan National Army Air Force but it doesn’t really matter: they are in Libya ‘in the name of Russia’

It doesn’t matter if the MiG-29s are operated by or on behalf of the LNA, Belarus, Vanuatu, or Mars People. Just, have no illusions: they are there ‘in the name of Russia’.

Few things regarding the appearance of MiG-29s in Libya – because I’ve concluded there is a sort of misunderstanding in regards of what I’m trying to explain.

First of all, photos available in this very moment do not enable any clear identification of the MiG-29s in question. As Piotr Butowski has correctly observed, only one thing is sure: given the standard concrete slabs on such air bases like al-Jufra/Hun are 7.5m long, one can conclude that the MiG-29s in question have a wingspan of less than 11.5m. This is making it sure: they’re no Egyptian MiG-29M2s, because these have a wingspan of 12m.

Sure, the Libyan National Army (LNA) is telling us these MiG-29s have been bought by the UAE from Belarus and now belong to Libya. Perhaps this is truth: no idea, because there is no documentation confirming or denying this, not even photos that would clearly point out their identity. I can have my doubts about Libyan National Army Air Force (LNA/AF) having the pilots and ground personnel qualified to fly them, but absence of evidence is no evidence of absence.

However, my actual point is this: unless somebody provides some really darn good evidence for something else being the case, there is simply no way to convince me that this affair is one ‘alone between LNA, Belarus and the UAE’. Even less so that Lukashenko woke up on some Sunday morning and decided something like, ‘Ah wait… how about establishing Belarus as a new superpower with global reach, and the power-broker in Libya…?’.

Mind: even IF this would be the case, Belarus could still not deploy its MiG-29s to Libya – without extensive Russian support.

And, as should be known from related reports of the last two weeks (see transfer-flights on 12 and 14 May), the MiG-29s in question were flown in from Astrakhan, in Russia, via Iran to Syria (and then to Libya). i.e they were deployed to Libya via Russia and with the Russian support.

Finally, the entire quasi-clandestine appearance of these jets in Libya, is much too reminiscent to a similar, quasi-clandestine deployment of the VKS jets to Syria, back in September 2015, but to be ‘accidental’: in same style of an ad-hoc exercise that is, in military terms, almost pointless. Haftar is lately losing the war (like Assad was losing the war back in 2015), and no amounts of Emirati money, Egyptian special forces, Russian and Syrian mercenaries, or Israeli equipment and advisors can change anything about this. Indeed, no two regiments/wings of MiG-29s could win this war for Haftar (because this war is unwinnable): they could not do anything more than what the Egyptian and Emirati Rafales, F-16s and UCAVs aren’t already doing.

BUT, if ‘somebody’ deploys few MiGs to a distant base in Libya, and these are then considered ‘Russian’, then there is an entirely different situation. They need not even being armed: nobody is going to dare shooting at them – and Russia is promptly positioned as the ‘decisive-power-broker on Haftar side’.

Thus, the way I see it, it doesn’t matter what’s the origin and ownership of these MiGs. It doesn’t matter if they are operated by or on behalf of the LNA, Belarus, Vanuatu, or Mars People. Just, have no illusions: they are there ‘in the name of Russia’.

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: DigitalGlobe, Inc., a Maxar company and MIL via Wikipedia

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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017.

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