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Military Cooperation with the Soviet Union


A Soviet-supplied Su-22 fighter of the Libyan Air Force
Courtesy United States Department of Defense

Because of Libya's forcing the evacuation from Libya of British and United States military personnel in 1970, the Libyans were rebuffed in a renewed effort to obtain military equipment from the West, except for limited British help with the developing navy. Therefore, Libya turned elsewhere for aid. In December 1974, Libya disclosed a large-scale arms purchase agreement with the Soviet Union, involving Tu-22 bombers, MiG-23 fighters, helicopters, T-62 tanks, and antitank and antiaircraft missiles. A second agreement in May 1975 heralded an even greater flow of Soviet arms and military advisers to Libya throughout the 1970s. Included in the agreement were submarines, of which a total of six were eventually transferred. Subsequent agreements followed in 1977, 1978, and 1980. The value of these transactions was estimated at over US$20 billion between 1973 and 1985.

The new round of arms purchases in 1978, precipitated by the clashes with Egypt in the preceding year, included the MiG-25 Foxbat in its fighter, reconnaissance, and training configurations. This sale to Libya was the first recorded time the Soviet Union furnished the MiG-25 to any country not participating the Warsaw Pact. Deliveries of sophisticated military hardware were accompanied by Soviet and East European technicians estimated by the United States Department of State to have numbered 2,600 in 1984. In late 1985, these technicians were augmented by a considerable number of specialists to install and help operate the new SA-5 missiles. Approximately 7,600 Libyan military personnel had received training in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe by 1984.

Deliveries of modern Soviet armaments continued during the early 1980s, although they tapered off markedly between 1983 (US$2.9 billion) and 1985 (US$1.3 billion), according to estimates compiled by ACDA. Libya was the first non-Warsaw Pact recipient of Haze antisubmarine helicopters. Natya-class minesweepers and Nanuchka-class fast-missile corvettes helped expand the navy. The three batteries of SA-5 missile launchers, including early warning and surveillance radar, delivered toward the close of 1985 failed in their purpose of deterring maneuvers by United States naval elements in the Gulf of Sidra. Nonetheless, when Jallud visited Moscow several months later, it was officially announced that the Soviets had agreed to a new request for aid. Included were an improved version of the SA-5, new monitoring and early warning radar, antijamming devices, M-24 helicopters, and additional gunboats and fighter planes. By early 1987, major arms shipments reportedly had been cut off, either because of Qadhafi's failure to make promised oil deliveries or because of Soviet disillusionment over Libyan performance against United States planes and the abandonment of vast amounts of modern equipment in Chad.

The massive Libyan purchases brought the Soviet Union economic gains and enabled the Soviets to extend their strategic influence farther into the Mediterranean while appearing to reward the antiimperialist and Arab unity stance of the Libyan regime. Nevertheless, Qadhafi's increasingly undependable behavior, his estrangement from other Arab and African nations, and his setbacks in employing modern Soviet weaponry apparently made the Soviets skeptical of Qadhafi and reluctant to be closely identified with him. Although in 1984 the two countries issued a joint declaration in principle to enter into a treaty of friendship and cooperation and confirmed their intention in 1986, such an agreement, which would obligate the Soviet Union to come to Qadhafi's aid if attacked, had not been concluded by early 1987.

As of early 1987, Qadhafi had refrained from granting the Soviets permanent shore facilities or air bases on Libyan territory; Soviet combatant ships had paid frequent port calls, and antisubmarine planes of the Soviet naval aviation branch had occasionally been rotated to Libyan airfields.

Data as of 1987

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