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US deal takes LAF to a new level

Posted 9 October 2018 · Add Comment

Having taken delivery of the last four Embraer EMB 313/A-29 Super Tucano light-attack and reconnaissance aircraft, Lebanon has now announced a further $120 million defence aid package from the United States. Jon Lake reports.

Six A-29s were originally ordered as part of a $340 million US assistance package intended to improve the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) counter insurgency capabilities.
The aircraft will augment the air force’s small fleet of three AGM-114 Hellfire-armed Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravans, which serve with the Fourth Squadron.
The US aid package also included 32 surplus M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, which are still being delivered.
The new agreement will see the LAF receiving six MD 530G light attack helicopters, six ScanEagle unmanned air vehicle (UAV) systems and a $16 million package of communications and electronics equipment, night vision devices, and associated training.
The latter elements are intended to enable Lebanese Army ground troops to call in air strikes more quickly and effectively.
The US Embassy in Beirut confirmed that the US has now given the LAF more than $1.5billion in assistance over the past decade.
The first two A-29s were delivered to Hamat Air Base, in Lebanon’s northern city of Batroun, north of Beirut, in October 2017. The final four followed on Tuesday June 12 this year. They now form the Seventh Squadron at Hamat.
US Ambassador, Elizabeth Richard, described the delivery as “a game-changing acquisition that takes the Lebanese Armed Forces to the next level of combat capability”.
LAF commander, Joseph Aoun, hailed the arrival of the four new aircraft, pointing out that it “endorsed the USA’s constant support for the Lebanese army in the fight against terrorism as well as its commitment and eagerness to preserve the stability of Lebanon”.
The helicopter and UAV acquisitions were first announced on December 13 2017 by General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command (Centcom), during a visit to Beirut. Procurement of the three systems was discussed during a meeting between himself, Richard and Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri.
US aid to Lebanon has been focused on reviving the Lebanese army, equipping it to reassert control over the south of the country from the Shia Hezbollah militia. The Lebanese army effectively disintegrated during the civil war (1975-90), sidelined by various religious-based militias.
Since then, the army has been resurrected and has conducted limited operations against Hezbollah and against Israeli incursions. More recently, it has been involved in operations against Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups, trying to stop the spread of violence from neighbouring Syria.
US aid is primarily intended to boost Lebanese border security and counter-terrorist capabilities, and to help the army become the sole military force defending the country and the people of Lebanon.
The latest aid package will include six MD530G helicopters, equipped with an L-3 Wescam electro-optical sensor turret (probably incorporating a laser designator) and a Moog stores management system.
The helicopters will be armed with two 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun pods, or two 70mm rocket pods (seven or 12 rockets each) or four Hellfire missiles. The MD530G can also carry six troops externally on fore-and-aft plank seats.
The US will also supply the LAF with six further Boeing Insitu ScanEagle UAV systems at an approximate cost of $11 million, augmenting four earlier deliveries. A complete ScanEagle system consists of four air vehicles, a ground control station with a remote video terminal, a SuperWedge pneumatic catapult launch system and a Skyhook recovery system.
The ScanEagle vehicle carries a stabilised electro-optical and/or infrared camera on a lightweight inertial stabilised turret system, and an integrated communications system. It has a range of more than 62 miles and an endurance in excess of 20 hours, flying as high as 20,000 feet and cruising at 48 knots (with a maximum speed of 80 knots).
The ScanEagles are expected to be delivered to Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley.
 

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