Procurement: Russia Gifts Lebanon


November 25, 2010: Russia has offered a collection of weapons, for free, to Lebanon. This will include six Mi-24 helicopter gunships, 31 T-72 tanks, 36 130-millimeter artillery and 500,000 rounds of ammunition for artillery Lebanon already has. This comes in the wake of a 2008 Russian offer to sell Lebanon ten MiG-29 fighters, at a "large discount" (less than $5 million each). Lebanon in turn asked Russia to provide ten Mi-24 helicopter gunships instead, along with modern missiles to arm them. This made much more sense for Lebanon. The current offer is the result of subsequent negotiation.

The original MiG-29 offer was not as big a favor to the Lebanese as it might appear. Two months before that generous offer, all Russian MiG-29s were grounded until it could be determined if some recent crashes, and other problems, were the result of some fundamental design flaw. There had been several problems with MiG-29s earlier, although all aircraft were eventually returned to flight status. This has not helped sales, as most export customers prefer the larger Su-27 (and its derivatives like the Su-30). The Lebanese knew all this. But even though their air force has no jet fighters at all, some thought that ten MiG-29s would be a major improvement. But then someone pointed out that MiG-29s, operated by poorly trained Lebanese pilots, would not last long against the Israelis. Moreover, the other potential enemy, Syria, has many more aircraft, including MiG-29s flown by experienced pilots. But Mi-24 helicopters are a different matter. These have a better chance of avoiding Israeli air power, and are also more useful against domestic enemies, like the Hezbollah militia, which has been trying to take over the government and establish a religious dictatorship.

The Mi-24 is a twelve ton chopper based on the Mi-8/17 transport. The U.S. did the same thing with the AH-1, developing it from the UH-1 "Huey." But rather than adopt the two seater (one pilot behind the other), and no passengers, approach of the AH-1 and AH-64 Apache, the Mi-24 could still carry troops or cargo in the back, and was not as nimble as the AH-1. But it still got the job done when equipped with autocannon, rockets and missiles.

The T-72 is no help against more modern Israeli tanks, but can stand up to what the Syrians and Hezbollah have. The half million rounds of artillery ammunition are useful against anyone, although this stuff is probably of Cold War vintage and not entirely reliable.





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