The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 9/17/20
A Look into Libya: The Current State of Play and Implications for Regional Stakeholders
Jesse Berman, Market Analyst
Since April 2019, Libya’s UN-recognized government in the west, the Government of National Accord (GNA), has found itself engulfed in an armed struggle against the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, operating out of the east. The ongoing conflict between the GNA and LNA has compelled numerous external state actors, chief among them Turkey, Italy, and Qatar (who back the GNA) and Egypt, France, the UAE, and Russia (who back the LNA), to venture into Libya for an array of self-serving purposes. Though Haftar’s incursions west have been stymied as of late and discussions of a cease fire abound, the conflict is unlikely to fully conclude in the near-term. As such, the political will of each nation to partake in the quarrel could influence the course of their near-term defense investments.
Both Italy and France have a deep-seated interest in Libya’s stability. Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, has gained access to Libyan oil reserves under the GNA and renewed an agreement with Tripoli last year to stem migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Rome must also be cognizant of how Libyan geopolitics could impact recent contracts with pro-Haftar MENA countries, such as Egypt, which is slated to receive two Italian-made FREMM-II frigates in the coming year. Similarly, France sees stability in Libya as key to countering extremism both within its own borders and the broader European continent. Though France has publicly supported the GNA dating back to 2011, it is thought that Paris privately supports Haftar because it sees him as a stronger bulwark against extremism. In any case, both nations’ involvement in Libya will likely be limited to modest military assistance and diplomatic maneuvering, with neither country likely to rearrange top-level defense priorities in response to on-the-ground developments in the conflict.
The same could not be said of Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE, to whom Libya’s future presents dire security threats. During the past year, Turkey has emerged as the preeminent international supporter of the GNA because the Tripoli government supports the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely pro-Turkish culturally, and has permitted Ankara to claim gas-rich parts of the Eastern Mediterranean as its own. Turkish influence in Libya is also crucial for gaining diplomatic leverage with Russia over the future of Syria, whose instability poses a direct threat to the Turkish mainland. Egypt and the UAE are vehement opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, who they view as a terrorist organization, and regard Haftar as the best option to lead Libya given his successful record countering extremism. Last month, Egypt’s parliament even passed legislation permitting President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to deploy troops to Libya as he saw fit should the conflict come too close to Egypt’s borders. Thus far, Turkey has deployed many domestically produced Bayraktar TB2s UAVs to Libya—Turkey has evolved into a global UAV industry player in recent years, and its continued presence in Libya could serve to further this trend. Egypt, for its part, might feel compelled to invest in modernizing and augmenting its land combat capabilities should it decide to invade Libya in support of Haftar. And the UAE could feasibly redirect national priorities toward increased UAV capabilities, such as the Chinese Wing Loong-II, which it has already used to conduct upwards of 850 strikes in Libya.
Some observers also point out that the Libyan battlefield could be a harbinger for how external state actors might engage in regional conflicts using lower-risk, lower-cost strategies. For instance, Russia, and to a lesser extent Turkey, have turned to mercenary fighters as a cheaper means of advancing their interests without suffering the political drawbacks associated with deploying actual soldiers. In that vein, Turkey and the UAE have emerged as prolific users of UAVs which, in the case of Ankara, has helped to completely rebalance the momentum of the conflict in favor of the GNA while minimizing risk to Turkish lives. And lastly, disinformation has emerged as a crucial tool particularly on the LNA side. In one striking example, the pro-Haftar Arabic-language hashtag, “#WeSupportTheLibyanArmy,” was reportedly retweeted 20,000 times the day the Field Marshall announced his offensive on Tripoli. This is not to say that those nations with the most to lose or gain in Libya are not willing to increase their defense expenditure to pursue their interests, but rather that they simply might not need to.
On September 15, the South Korean government announced a plan to invest $2.3 billion over the next 10 years in the development of new military unmanned aerial technologies. These new systems are expected to vary from reconnaissance drones to assault drones armed with rifles and grenade launchers. According to the announcement, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration expects to have smaller assault drones in development by 2022. South Korea has expressed interest in developing indigenous UAVs since at least 2013, but official commitments of funding were relatively small and commentary on those efforts has been minimal until recently. These included a planned MALE/HALE UAV whose development began in 2013 and plans for an armed drone which began in 2015. The new drones will likely be used for operations oriented towards North Korea.
Greece has announced that it will be augmenting its air forces with the purchase of 18 Rafale aircraft from France. The purchase would allow Greece to overhaul one of its Mirage 2000 squadrons as Greece faces increased tensions with neighboring Turkey. Details of the sale remain uncertain and likely still subject to final negotiations, as Greek press reports allege that the squadron would be receiving six new Rafales, while the other 12 would be procured secondhand. Meanwhile, French sources have argued that the squadron would be receiving 10 new Rafale F3Rs and eight secondhand aircraft. As part of the same announcement, the Greek Prime Minister also announced that they would be procuring additional missiles for the aircraft, four MH-60R helicopters, upgrades to its four MEKO frigates, and four new frigates along with other supporting armaments over the next five to seven years.
Strengthening innovation has become a key priority for the French Ministry of Defense. Anticipated in the 2019-2025 Military Programming Law, the French MoD has confirmed earlier this week the government’s intent to increase by 25% annual credits in military R&D to reach €1 billion ($1.18 billion) by 2020. In comparison, France spent more than € 821 million ($971 million) in military R&D in 2020.
In recent years, the French MoD has concentrated its R&D efforts around hypersonic and directed-energy weapons, unmanned systems, counter-UAS technologies, and cyberwarfare (offensive and defensive). However, the digital shift is progressively embedding civil technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart sensors, and Qantum Computing into the military ecosystem.
For this reason, the French MoD has also announced the launch of Definnov, an investment platform that will work jointly with the French financial investment bank BPI France*. With an initial capital of € 200 million ($230 million), Definnov mission will be support future investments in dual-use technologies. The military industry will also be able to rely on Definvest, a €100 million ($118.3 million) equity fund focused on start-ups and subject matter experts providing strategic equipment and support to French armed forces. The Defence Innovation Agency is expected to also play a greater role in piloting research programs on future warfare and threats. These R&D incentives are perceived as crucial by the French government to remain independent and preserve country strategic sovereignty.
On September 15, Germany selected C.G. Haenel GmbH to provide the army’s new assault rifle. The company, a subsidiary of the UAE based EDGE group, entered its MK556 rifle which beat competition from Heckler & Koch’s HK416 and HK433 rifles. Approximately 120,000 rifles are to be procured to replace the H&K G36 under a deal expected to be worth up to EUR245 million ($290 million). The procurement process has been underway since 2017 with Germany looking to replace its G36 after reports that it had not performed as expected in the high temperatures in Afghanistan. Originally the H&K and Haenel rifles were competing with the RS556 offered by Rhienmetall and Steyr Mannlicher, FN Herstal’s SCAR and Sig Sauer’s MCX however the program was halted in 2018 and the subsequent re-bid process did not include the latter competitors.
The Belgian government has approved the procurement of 322 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) for EUR 135 million ($160 million). Belgium will be replacing the older Iveco IMV Lynx. This would make Belgium the fourth European customer of the JLTV, following orders for 38 from Slovenia, 67 from Montenegro, and 200 from Lithuania. Further European orders are possible as well. The United Kingdom may procure a modified version of the JLTV, with up to 2747 approved by the US State Department in 2017. Portugal has also expressed interest in up to 250 units. The Oshkosh JLTV competes with a number of other designs competing for tactical vehicle orders in Europe such as the Thales Australia Hawkei, the Tatra Husar, and GDLS Eagle V.