Jeffrey LewisLibya’s Scud-B Force

Update | 11:53 pm Looks like three more Scuds now.

I have, on occasion, thought about writing a little post about the disposition of Libya’s force of Scud-B missiles. The apparent collapse of the Qadhafi regime seems as auspicious an occasion as any.

As his regime collapsed, Qadhafi’s forces fired a Scud-B missile at the advancing rebels.  This was same type of missile that Qadhafi agreed to eliminate as part of his renunciation of weapons of mass destruction.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.  So, how did Qadhafi’s Scud force outlast Qadhafi himself?  That’s an interesting story,

Initially, Qadhafi only pledged to “modify” Libya’s Scud-B missiles to comply with the MTCR. According to an April 2004 article by Judy Miller, Libya “had decided to convert the missiles so that their range was less than 185 miles with a payload of less than 1,100 pounds.” Libyan and US officials, according to Miller, were discussing a monitoring arrangement to ensure that the conversion was “irreversible.” If that sounds odd to you, it certainly sounded odd to Paul Kerr who got a US official to admit that “the United States is ‘not sure’ the plan is feasible.”  (Apparently, the Libyans considered reducing the fuel tanks or adding weight to the missile.)

Eventually the United States persuaded Qadhafi to just eliminate the Scud-B force.  In September 2004, the US, UK and Libya signed a Trilateral “Agreement on the Disposition of Scud-B Missiles”  that committed Libya to eliminate its Scud-Bs by a generous September 2009 deadline.

The US offered to take 10 Scud-B missiles off Qadhafi’s hands, according to a February 2005 Yedi’ot Aharonot article (full text in the comments), but “the Libyans seized the opportunity to demand from them to buy all the 417 missiles in their possession at the astronomic total of $834 million.” The US does, on occasion, use live Scuds in missile defense tests, but wasn’t willing to part with more than $800 million for a Scud force that was ” aging and suffers from maintenance problems.”

Once Libya agreed to eliminate, rather than modify, the Scud-B force, Libya began seeking a replacement.  Qadhafi, as Alex Bollfrass reported in 2007 in Arms Control Today, eventually settled on the Russian Iskander-E. Libyan officials may have believed that the United States was obligated to help Libya procure a replacement.  They appear to have been upset to learn that the United States objected to the Iskander sale, instead suggesting shorter-range Russian and Ukranian alternatives that Libya deemed unacceptable.  Washington was also not enthusiastic about Libya’s bid to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, which Tripoli believed would ease future missile procurement.

It seems the United States relented on the issue of the Iskander-E after a few months, but by then the Russian price had doubled. The Libyans were incensed — or at least acted incensed — by all this and refused to eliminate the Scud-B force until a replacement was procured, preferably the Iskander-E at the original purchase price.  The September 2009 deadline came a went.  A pair of cables released by Wikileaks pick up the story at this point and fill in some of the details outlined by the two articles in Arms Control Today.

There are any number of interesting cables that document the broader Libyan disillusionment with the United States, including a standoff over the removal of some highly enriched uranium that Max Fisher detailed in The Atlantic.

The most detailed cable on the Scud-B issue is an account of a February 2010 meeting between General Ahmed Azwai, the head of Libya’s Scud-B destruction program, and Gene Cretz, the US Ambassador in Tripoli, entitled, “Libya Insists Ball in U.S. Court on Scud B Alternative.” Azwai recounts the torturous negotiations over the Scud-B missiles following the 2004 trilateral agreement, ultimately arguing somewhat melodramatically that “I will not allow 12,000 Libyan soldiers to remain unarmed and vulnerable. If I give up their weapons before I have a replacement, they will turn on me.”

Obviously, they may have had other reasons for turning on him.

A second cable adds an interesting wrinkle to this story.  While the US, UK and Libya were formally haggling over the Iskander-E issue, Saif al-Qadhafi approached the US Ambassador in Tripoli in September 2009 and suggested that France might sell Libya the SCALP air-launched cruise missile.  (I have discussed SCALP sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in a pair of previous posts.) France separately, however, told the US that selling SCALP to Libya was “too sensitive.” In the February 2010 cable, Cretz speculated that the “the proposal may have been an independent move by Saif.”

This is, as far as I can tell, basically where we were when the Arab Spring hit, Qadhafi’s grip faltered and allied aircraft started a noncooperative threat reduction program aimed at eliminating the remaining Scud-Bs.  The initial launch of a Scud-B prompted speculation about an impending “blitz” of Scud missiles that never materialized.

There are any number of really interesting aspects to this story.

The most interesting aspect to me is Libya’s insistence on getting as close to the MTCR threshold as possible.  It seems likely that Libya intended to reduce the amount of conventional explosive in the warhead of any replacement system, as Iraq did with the al-Husayn missile, to maintain a conventional deterrent at ranges significantly in excess of 300 km.  I had forgotten that, after the 1986 US-led bombing raid on Tripoli, Libya fired two conventionally-armed Scud-B missiles at US naval facilities on the Italian island of Lampedusa. “If we had a deterrent force of missiles able to reach New York we would have directed them at that very moment,” Qadhafi explained.

I am always struck at how much value certain Middle Eastern potentates place in conventionally-armed ballistic missiles.  I have never really understood the Saudi decision to purchase medium-range ballistic missiles from China because such missiles are simply too inaccurate for a conventional warhead to offer much military utility.  Perhaps, however, I might feel differently about the political value of such weapons if I had, as the Saudis did, a front row seat for the War of the Cities. Saddam certainly decided that 190 kg of explosive was enough as long as it got there.

This is, in a way, the question that Brian Palmer at Slate attempted to answer in his essay “Why Do So Many Dictators Use Scud Missiles?”  Palmer’s conclusion is that a Scud is “the easiest way to terrorize nearby enemies.” It is easy to forget that the first use of ballistic and cruise missiles — the V weapons — were Nazi efforts to terrorize the British during World War II. It seems Middle Eastern leaders value being able to shoot back, if only for the sake of reprisal.  Libya’s interest in SCALP — a very expensive air launched cruise missile — as a replacement for the relatively low-tech SCUD-B casts recent cruise missile purchases by the UAE and Saudi Arabia in this somewhat different light.

Perhaps there is a missile race underway in the Middle East, but we just haven’t noticed it.

Late Update | August 23, 10:33 am A colleague objected to my “assumption that the NKs had provided Scud-B” force.  I don’t think I assumed that, but just to be clear I was under the impression that Libya’s Scud B purchases were a mid-1970s acquisition from the Soviet Union, while North Korea supplied the Scud C program.


  1. Stephen Young (History)

    Interesting stuff, but I’m intrigued by the photos. Are those brand spanking new photos of an abandoned Libyan Scud, or something else?

  2. John Schilling (History)

    Assume, hypothetically, Libya had been in a position to drop a hundred V-2 class payloads into each of Rome, Madrid, Paris, and London last March. Would NATO have gone ahead and implemented the “No-fly zone”? Gone ahead and turned that into a “Close air support for revolutionaries” zone?

    The answer, to me, is not obvious. It’s a safe bet, though not a certain one, that actually carrying out such a retaliation would have increased the urgency with which NATO pursued regime change in Libya. But the unrealized threat might have been an effective deterrent. And in hindsight, Libya’s actual strategy for defense, deterrence, and/or diplomacy was obviously inadequate to preserve the regime.

    I suspect many regimes in the Middle East will be looking to Libya for lessons on what not to do in the future. I do not thing the lessons they will learn are going to be the lessons we would like them to learn.

    • Hairs (History)

      I agree!

      Iraq gave up WMDs prior to 2003 (although in retrospect it seems they tried to maintain some ambiguity about their WMD status) and ended up being invaded.

      Libya gave up its centrifuges and putatuve WMD programme, and in return the regime is close to being toppled while its airspace has been controlled for months by NATO.

      Meanwhile North Korea violates no end of international standards for civilised behaviour, and all but boasts of having nuclear weapons, yet remains untouched by foreign military force.

      Similarly there’s been no attempted land invasion of Israel by her enemies since Israel developed nuclear weapons.

      And here we in “the West” sit, wondering why Iran could possibly want to further develop long range missiles and uranium enrichment technologies…

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      the lesson we would really like the worlds nastiest regimes to learn is that there are limits to acceptable behaviour that the world will tolerate. These include brutalising your own population, causing diplomatic incidents, sponsoring terrorism as well as procuring seriously scary weaponry.

      Surely there has to be a trade off at some point. Although nobody is arguing that the price for non-proliferation should be immunity for some of the worlds nastiest regimes on human rights abuses, strategically it is clear there is a conflict here.

      Taken to it’s extreme, one could equally suggest that an exaggerated hands off approach to regimes that have faithfully implemented non-proliferation agreements would lead to regimes learning lessons we do not wish them to learn.

      For example if a regime like that in Rwanda in 1994 had first adopted and then agreed not to abandon nuclear weapons, could we sit back and comfort ourselves that all the people butchered there (considerably more than died in Hiroshima and Hagasaki) were a down payment on future lives saved by non-proliforation efforts avoiding a nuclear war?

      Gadaffi did not get attacked by NATO because he didn’t have WMD, (he is surrounded by neighbouring states that also do not have WMD and have not been attacked), he was attacked because he was making verbose threats of a bloodbath, and because he has a history of ordering attacks in Europe and in the wider region: Aside from the airline bombings, we have the provision of explosives to terrorist groups, we have the assassination of dissidents on European soil, and the gunning down of a policewoman in the streets from the Libyan Embassy. And that’s just to the UK. The French have a longer list of grievances apparently.

      Under the circumstances, European governments determination to avoid a protracted bout of instability in that region which could easily suck in armed Islamist resistance to his regime in the way that Chechnyas conflicts did looks pretty reasonable. Gadaffi was attacked by NATO because he has a history of making dangerous and aggressive moves, because he was already tied into the European economy in such a way that he couldn’t easily be ignored in the way Syria is, and because he handled the situation in Libya badly in such a way there was no confidence he could deliver stability in the longer term. Sure, if he had some weapons sufficient to threaten Europe, then the European powers would probably have weighed all things in the balance and decided to put up with the instability he was creating.

      If some regimes are dead set on causing conventional havoc inside or outside of their borders, should we be contributing to a culture of impunity for other crimes against humanity for fear of undermining non-proliforation?

    • John Schilling (History)

      “The lesson we would really like the worlds nastiest regimes to learn is that there are limits to acceptable behaviour that the world will tolerate”

      This statement is rendered utterly meaningless by the use of the conspicuously vage formulation, “limits to tolerance”. Or, more precisely, the percieved meaning by the intended audience is almost certainly, “Oh, great – they’re going to have Hans Blix write us another letter telling us how very angry they are”. For more effective communication, you might want to talk about specific consequences.

      Also, your discussion of Libya’s past foreign interventionism conspicuously fails to note that Libya, A: promised to stop doing that more than a decade ago, and B: actually did stop doing that. The recent NATO intervention in Libya was motivated, at least officially, entirely by havoc inside Libya’s borders.

      Which brings us back to the key question: Presuming the next Libya, Rwanda, or whatever takes the elementary precaution of deploying not just IRBMs but nuclear-tipped IRBMs before machine-gunning protesters or whatever, and confines the latter outrage within its own borders, what specific actions do you believe the rest of the world A: should and B: actually will, take to demonstrate its intolerance?

      Yes, we all want the world’s nasty dictators to not obtain nuclear weapons, not slaughter protesters, and quietly surrender to the ICC to stand trial for their lesser crimes. How, specifically, do you propose to make this happen?

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      I just lost a very long post. Annoying. Let me try again:

      “This statement is rendered utterly meaningless by the use of the conspicuously vage formulation, “limits to tolerance”.”

      Absolutely, it’s vaugely forumulated in my post as there isn’t great agreement within the West (cf. the US and UKs disagreement in policy regarding the ICC or France and Germany vs. US and UK on the Iraq War), let alone within the UN on everything that constitutes tollerable behaviour. I could refer you to the Rome Statutes as a starting point… but rather than get into what is a very long discussion, I left it vague trusting you would know what I was talking about. The details don’t seem particularly relevant to me: do we at least agree that it has been established that there are such things as crimes against humanity that form a basis for an internvention sanctioned by international law?

      When saying something like:

      “I do not thing the lessons they will learn are going to be the lessons we would like them to learn.”

      one seems to be arguing that attempting to prevent one kind of security threat is foolish as it provides an motivation for people intending to do the kinds of thing Gadaffi was doing and explicitly threatening to do with a motivation for obtaining weapons. Glibly, the magnitude of the crimes in Rwanda are not lessened by the fact they were carried out with Machettes rather than biochemical wepaons. Nor is it obvious that acting in Libya means a mass nuclear arms race is any more a proposition than it was after the Iraq war (or had the Iraq war not happend at all, whether this would similarly catylse lots more programmes), nor that the implications of such an arms race would be worse than a world where genocidal mass killings and the wider regional instbaility they trigger are always ignored in order to prevent countries obtaining the bomb.

      The specific consequences seem obvious: military intervention. It happens much more easily when you don’t have a deterrent than if you do. That is the basic premise both of our comments take for granted. Strongly worded lettes from Hans Blix are ineffective.

      My point is that when deciding wheter or not to intervent in specific events like Libya, there is a series of things to consider in the context of a long term strategy attempting to achieve peace, stability and security. One element of this is non-proliferation. There exist other elements that must be weighed in too, finally leading to a decision that factors the dammage done to international law and the actual deaths caused by failure to intervene against crimes against humanity with the dammage done to non-proliforation regimes and potential future problems that may arise from that, as well as the narrow self interest (i.e. why Libya and Kosovo but not Syria and Darfur… something must be done but not necesarily by us).

      So I can’t agree with the implication (though perhaps I am reading too much into your statement) that it was inherently wrong to intervene in Libya simply because other regmimes also intent on committing similar crimes and spread similar chaos will now consider a deterrent to ensure that option remains more open to them. Actually, if such regimes are so intent on slaughtering sections of their population that they feel they need to get a nuclear bomb to keep the option of “going house by house to kill the rats” open to them, it might actually be beneficial that they are forced to count that investment and subsequent isolation as part and parcel of maintaining coercive aquiesence as opposed to simply making sufficient reforms to compromise with their own populus. Indeed, this kind of “just enough reform to buy off the population” has actually been the historical path to modern liberal democracies, allowing us to develop traditions of both strong institutions, rule of law, loyal opposition and limits on executives power.

      Now, the second part, I think you massively misunderstand what I was getting at with Gadaffis past actions. I think this is possibly because you are approaching the question of Libya from a rather US centric approach (my appologies if you are not!) when actually the specific motivations you need to consider are Europes, as they dragged the US into this. I think a lot of that is not really discussed in the US media and blogosphere (and is not really openly approached in the European media either).

      Firstly, let me say, this is not Iraq 2003 here: what Gadaffi was doing and what he was threatening to do clearly constituted the basis for charges of several crimes against humanity under the Rome statutes, and there was a UNSC mandate (albeit being somewhat stretched in application) to intervene. Moreover, it was an accute situation, not some vague future threat to be confronted now. Compare this, for example, to the criteria set by Blair in his Chicago speech:

      In an ideal and unrealisitc world, I believe that such an intervention ought to happen simply because of the flagrantly criminal acts taking place. Otherwise, we might as well rip up all of the laws on crimes against humanity because they are meaningless nonsense.

      However, interventions happen not just when there is a just and legal cause (as there was here) but also normaly only when there is sufficient motivation to actually do something. The motivations may appear obscure from a US perspective, and you say what the havoc was internal.

      This isn’t true at all: perhaps overlooked, the exodus of refugees, largely from Libya, has created a political crisis and the possible collapse of the Schengen zone rules (basically, freedom of movement within most of the continental EU) and a major diplomatic spat between France and Italy. Moreover, large floods of refugees is a domestic political issue in itself, particularly during an economic crisis: perhaps under reported is the wind this has been giving to far right parties, which of course threaten most of all the electoral base of the present conservative governments in France, Italy, and also the UK.

      That is just part of the immediate self interest aspect that translate a mere diplomatic response into a need to actually do something about the situation. Had Libya’s immediate impact been truly local, as Syrias is and Darfur was, then I think there would have been no European interest in the present and probably little thought to the long term strategic impact for the region, and thus no intervention at all.

      What about longer term considerations? Here is where Gadaffis record comes into play. Yes, he has agreed, and for about a decade refrained from causing direct trouble to the west. Why did he agree to do all that, humiliate himself with Lockerbie compensation and give up his WMD? Firstly, the immediate threat of intervention post Iraq perhaps, but also the reward of being accepted back into the international community access to the west again: he could go to the UN and make his absurd speeches, host summits in his tent, play the elder statemen of the AU, and his sons could shop for banks in Switzerland, clothes in Paris, and degrees in London.

      Do you think that this situation was remotely possible once he started killing his own people en mass and threatened to go house to house killing people in Benghazi? Not a chance. He gave up his WMD programme and compensation for Lockerbie to get re-accepted before, what could he offer up now? Nothing, except perhaps if he went down the North Korea path of making trouble solely in order to bargain good behaviour for a degree of tollerance, a path that has actually seen North Korea undo all its NPT compliance, build a bomb and detonate it! Even so, would there even be the correct political conditions as there were during 2000’s to make some kind of deal viable for western leaders?

      Long before the intervention, he had made himself a pariah again.

      The other benefit he got: arms sales! Much is made of how he is using snipers etc. But these are weapons recently sold to him by European coutnries, and used by soldiers recently trained by Eruopean armies. Could this continue under the present circumstances? No, of course not. What does this say for the long term stability of his regime in Libya? What is the liklihood of East Libya ending up like some sort of re-run of Chechnia, with fundamentalist Islamists dragged in to help resist Gadaffi? Do you think that would have been remotely acceptable, particularly given Libyas mediterranian coastline and what is going on off the horn of Africa now thanks to the lack of a strong government in Somalia? That is doubtless going to focus minds.

      Finally, in the past he has never let such rebellions remain purely internal affairs: he has pursued his enemies abroad, killing police and civilians on the streets of European capitals… hence I cite his rap sheet not as past crimes now in need of punishment, but as a guide to the expected course of events. The deal was unsustainable: he was isolated through his actions, he wasn’t getting arms deals, and so there is actually a high liklihood of him reverting to the same kinds of behaviour as the last time he was isolated. That on top of the other negatives described above.

      “Presuming the next Libya, Rwanda, or whatever takes the elementary precaution of deploying not just IRBMs but nuclear-tipped IRBMs before machine-gunning protesters or whatever, and confines the latter outrage within its own borders, what specific actions do you believe the rest of the world A: should and B: actually will, take to demonstrate its intolerance?”

      In the situation you describe, naturally, very little action could be taken. But the alternative where we take very little action even if a country has no deterrent, is in my view even worse. We end up living in a world that is functionally identical for the most part to one full of despots with nuclear arsenals.

      At least in the current case we have a chance to establish a norm of behaviour, and it forces regimes to pick “all in or all out” with respect to the international community. They can have the nukes and security, but economic and diplomtaic isolation; or they can ballance their relationship with their populus in order to avoid situations that taken them outside of what is in theory a very broad and tollerant framework where they limit their opression to just short of anything forbiden by international law, but in practice broader still if they ensure they don’t impact powerful countries in a negative way sufficient to motivate them to back those ideals and principles up with guns.

      The role of the west then with regard to intervention should be to keep strictly within what is permitted by international laws (accepting that the reality is we will only ever spend blood and treasure when we have a real concerete interest in the outcome, so we will ignore plenty of situations), not to sit in a corner adopting a purely passive stance and let the worlds nastiest regimes have everything their own way.

      As I said orriginally: you have to ballance non profliforation, which is one element of global security and stability, with other elements.

  3. kme (History)

    Isn’t …being able to shoot back, if only for the sake of reprisal. the very essence of deterrence?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I would say not in the US tradition, which has tended to emphasize that credible threats are only possible if linked to some conception of victory.

      Note for example Gray and Payne’s 1981 claim that “there can be no such thing as an adequate deterrent posture unrelated to probable wartime effectiveness,” which followed Kahn’s emphasis in On Thermonuclear War on restoring a concept of “victory” in nuclear war planning.

      There is something to this view, even if I think Kahn and his acolytes make entirely too much of it.

  4. A Complete Stranger (History)

    This is a little like asking how many angles can dance on the head of a pin but… Do you think Libya knew how hard it is to increase the range of a SCUD by reducing it’s payload? It involves serious changes to the SCUD’s thrust termination mechanism. I doubt Libya could have done it.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I think they may have done it. A UK official told Paul Kerr that, despite official US estimates of the Scud B range, the missiles could actually fly further than 300 km.

      And then there is the issue of the Scud C missiles that Van Diepen told the Russians were really Scud D missiles. Estimates range between 700-800 km. One explanation was provided by the late Ze’ev Schiff who noted that the North Koreans may have helped with the range extension.

      Syria adds new long-range Scud to arsenal

      By Ze’ev Schiff
      Ha’aretz Military Editor

      North Korea has supplied a new, longer-range Scud ballistic missile to Syria and is in negotiations to sell the weapon to Egypt as well.

      The Scud D, whose range is estimated to be 700 kilometers was unknown until recently. The original missile, which was made by the Soviet Union, is known as the Scud B, and most Arab countries with Scuds have Scud B missiles in their arsenals. Its range is approximately 300 kilometers.

      North Korea developed a newer version, the Scud C, with a range of 500 kilometers. Syria acquired that version and has begun assembling them in a local plant set up by the North Koreans. It is also possible that Syria has begun producing Scud parts. Western sources estimate that Egypt has also become involved in producing Scud C missiles.

      The Scud D is believed to have been sold to Syria and Libya. While its range is estimated at 700 kilometers, Syria only needs a 500-kilometer range to cover most of Israel, although it seems that Damascus’ intention is to be able to deploy the new missile deeper in its territory while keeping Israel within range.

      It is not known whether the payload of the new missile is any different from its predecessors or if its guidance system is any more accurate.

      What is certain is that Syria has taken a great leap forward in terms of its missile arsenal. Before, Damascus assembled missiles from parts purchased from other countries – none of the missile parts were produced in Syria. Now Syria has acquired the ability to make some missile parts on its own, though it still must buy some parts from other countries. In its efforts, Syria is closely cooperating with Iran, which is providing Damascus with rocket fuels.

      Syria also possesses chemical warheads for its missiles. It is estimated that Damascus has more than 300 missiles and 26 launchers, in addition to dummy launchers.

      Libya is also showing renewed interest in acquiring and developing missiles. After sanctions for its role in the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 were lifted, Tripoli renewed its missile-acquisition efforts. The Libyans are also showing interest at North Korean missiles with a 1300-kilometer range, which served as the prototype for the Iranian-made Shehab-3.

  5. Jeffrey (History)

    Israel: US Rejects Demand To Buy Libya’s 417 Scuds at $2 Million Apiece

    GMP20050203000215 Tel Aviv Yedi’ot Aharonot in Hebrew 01 Feb 05 p 19

    [Report by Itamar Eichner: “Fire Sale — Scud for $2 Million”]

    Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi demanded from the United States to buy from him all his 417 Scud missiles at $2 million a piece, according to secret reports reaching the senior political level in Jerusalem in recent days.

    According to these reports, it seems that the question of disarming Libya of its missiles has not yet been solved. The Americans initially sought to buy 10 missiles to be used in tests, but the Libyans seized the opportunity to demand from them to buy all the 417 missiles in their possession at the astronomic total of $834 million. Furthermore, they demanded assurances that the United States would come to Libya’s defense in the event of an attack by an hostile element. The reports arriving in Jerusalem note that the Americans told the Libyans they didn’t intend to comply with any of their demands.

    [Description of Source: Tel Aviv Yedi’ot Aharonot in Hebrew — Independent, centrist, largest circulation Hebrew-language paper]

  6. Alex (History)

    It’s interesting that aircraft weapons don’t seem to attract the same kind of political panic-reaction that even pretty ineffective ballistic ones do. I would think that going from Scud to Storm Shadow is a very significant increase in actual capability.

    For example, if Qadhafi had had a few dozen Shadow available, does anyone think that Rebel HQ and the oil refineries in their territory would be standing? They had already flown a number of air missions before NATO got involved.

    I suppose it’s the difference between a highly visible system – great big TELs and moonshot test launches – and something you stash in your air force’s munitions dump. Also, people associate Scud with WMD – but for some reason not Storm Shadow with S-RAM, which brings us back to the beginning.

    In terms of deterrent stability, is this something like the distinction between animals with overt, visible armour and those without? Lorenz thought the first group made displays of aggression *in order to manage escalation* while the second had to actually *fight*.

    The other issue here is the aircraft, of course. Is anyone planning to flush their fleet in the near future? Saudi Arabia, of course, has ordered Typhoon, which comes with Storm Shadow integration in their version.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      What would one of those cruise missiles do to a French aircraft carrier?

    • John Schilling (History)

      A Storm Shadow would provide the crew of a French aircraft carrier an interesting diversion from their routine, but lacking a guidance system capable of engaging moving targets would be most unlikely to actually hit anything.

      Cruise missiles with guidance systems optimized for engaging ships do exist, are quite common, and are not generally referred to as “cruise missiles” but as “anti-ship missiles”. Libya has (or had) substantial numbers of 1970s and 1980s vintage antiship missiles, and no effective means of launching them against NATO warships operating far offshore.

      Had they managed to do so, it is possible that the antimissile defenses on French aircraft carriers would have simply shot them down – they have demonstrated this capability in tests, but there has been no operational use of similar defenses anywhere so the reliability of such systems in combat is unknown.

      There is substantial experience with antiship missiles striking ships other than aircraft carriers, one antiship missile hit on a sort-of-aircraft-carrier (the Atlantic Conveyor), and several aircraft carriers damaged by bombs of similar yield. Bottom line: a Storm Shadow class weapon will probably inflict only minor damage on a modern aircraft carrier, but if the weapon hits the flight deck while a strike is being prepared, fires and secondary explosions can put the ship out of action for days to weeks.

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      “but there has been no operational use of similar defenses anywhere so the reliability of such systems in combat is unknown.”

      Hmm, I don’t know if this qualifies, but a shore battery in Iraq fired a silkworm at USS Missouri and was shot down by a sea dart from a UK destroyer in 1991. Though I imagine this is several generations out of date in both attack and defence technology.

      Atlantic Conveyor was a container ship, (I had thought it was just ferrying helicopters and harriers to the real carrier ships rather than having stuff fly off of it, but there are pictures of harriers and helicopters hovering over it so now I am not so sure). It was suggested the warhead of the exocet did not explode (like in the case of Sheffield) but I imagine it faired relatively badly compared to a ship actually designed with the thought of being shot at in mind.

    • rwendland (History)

      The Sea Dart that downed the Silkworm was a tail-end interception (outbound) after the Silkworm had flown past the Gloucester on route to the Missouri, according to Lewis Page (RN Officer turned journalist):

      So not an operational use of ship self-defending. Still, good for a 1970s+updates missile.

  7. Seb (History)

    “but there has been no operational use of similar defenses anywhere so the reliability of such systems in combat is unknown.”

    Hmm, I don’t know if this qualifies, but a shore battery in Iraq fired a silkworm at USS Missouri and was shot down by a sea dart from a UK destroyer in 1991. Though I imagine this is several generations out of date in both attack and defence technology.

    Atlantic Conveyor was a container ship, (I had thought it was just ferrying helicopters and harriers to the real carrier ships rather than having stuff fly off of it, but there are pictures of harriers and helicopters hovering over it so now I am not so sure). It was suggested the warhead of the exocet did not explode (like in the case of Sheffield) but I imagine it faired relatively badly compared to a ship actually designed with the thought of being shot at in mind.

    • Ano. N. Ymous (History)

      The Atlantic Conveyor had a temporary take-off pad built at her bow, but it was only used for allowing aircraft to transit to the carriers which would have been only a few nm away. Well within visual range. No operational flights were launched from her.

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      Thanks for the clarification!

  8. mamdali (History)

    I’d like to add that deterrence is not only about the technical capability to retaliate but also the national psychological capability to do so. In this context, one can additionally delve into the various overall capabilities ME countries will be able to bring to bear. Libya, in retrospect, although talked a big talk, clearly was unable to walk the big walk. This obviously cannot be applied universally to ME countries.:)


  9. Steinbock (History)

    The problems that you would encounter going from a highly mobile long range ballistic missile to a shorter range,tho more acurate,air launched cruise missile is that you need at least some functioning aircraft and airbases to deploy these things and considering the state of the libyan airforce after 10yrs+ of sanctions and more importantly the loss of all those eastern bloc techs and engineers,throw in the nato strikes against said bases and you can see that he would have slim hope of deploying these weapons I think he would have been better off with his scuds.What interests me is why he never used them against the rebels in bengazi and other cities,it could well have been that his scuds and launchers were as clapped out as the rest of his war machine,now had he possesed shahabs or seijls able to reach nato capitals then I have a feeling nato may have thought better of getting involved.Qhadafy made many mistakes but the one that ultimately did him in was trusting the west without a means to retaliate if the west turned against him

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      The mistake that did Gadaffi in was not greeting the initial clamour for reforms with some serious compromises. He could easily have avoided this situation, but he chose to send soldiers to the East instead of go there himself and make relatively minor concessions that would have satisfied protestors.

      There was never an open ended blank cheque from the West to Gadaffi: the deal for giving up his WMD programme was acceptance back into the international community, not a free pass to remain there indefinitely.

  10. rwendland (History)

    There have been a few news reports that a Scud was shot down by “a NATO warplane”. I assume this is mis-reporting, unless anyone knows better.

    eg Reuters/Jerusalem Post and AGI:

    • John Schilling (History)

      The press reports lack detail, but are not implausible. The use of aircraft – both high-endurance UAVs and conventional air-superiority fighters – for boost-phase intercept has been studied for at least a decade, and the US NCADE missile is being developed specifically for that purpose.

      NCADE is probably still several years from deployment, but agains relatively low-performance missiles like Libya’s Scuds, stock AMRAAM missiles or the like could probably be used. Would require a fighter within ~10-20 kilometers at the time of launch, plus appropriate surveillance assets and established doctrine and training for such engagements. I have not heard of such a capability being actually deployed by any NATO power but it might not be something they would advertise.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I’ve been looking into the NCADE issue. I can’t find any evidence of a rush deployment for Odyssey Dawn.

    • rwendland (History)

      The Irish Times, and others, said “a US defence official confirmed” this; so not a misreport it seems.

      “A Nato warplane shot down a scud missile fired from Sirte, Muammar Gadafy’s home city east of Tripoli, a US defence official confirmed.

      The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, could not immediately say what the intended target was.”

      The details would be interesting!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      The problem is that the story is an amalgamation of wire service reports (note that the byline is “Agencies” as in Reuters, AP, etc.)

      The Reuters story sourced to an anonymous defense official who did not know the intended target, which is often cited as “confirming” the intercept, doesn’t mention an intercept. (There is another Reuters story that says “Al Jazeera reported,” but Al Jazeera cited the Libyan opposition forces.) The story also notes that “Two other of Col Gadafy’s sons, Saif and Mohammed, are also in rebel hands” — so, you know, you can’t believe everything your read in the papers.

      AP and AFP are also silent on the issue of an intercept.

      The most recent NATO briefing discussed the Scud launch but makes no mention of an intercept.

      I think we all remember the GBU-28 in Desert Storm, but I don’t see any hard confirmation that the Air Force rushed NCADE into deployment. Right now, I am leaning toward incompetent reporting, while asking around.

  11. Nuno Rogeiro (History)

    The Libyan SCUD-B remaining assets are supposed to be dug in Sirte and Sabha, and there are no indications of many hits from NATO planes on that shadowy arsenal, before Tripoli felt to the NTC and allies.Chasing SCUDs also proved illusive for a much bigger although less modern air force, during Desert Storm.
    The “terror” or psychological element involved in buying and using SCUD, its indiscriminate (thus possible mass) effect, already rightly mentioned in other posts, is only one element. Others are stealthiness, survivability, mobility and relatively easy maintenance.

    Nuno Rogeiro, Lisbon, Portugal

  12. Ian (History)

    Something worth thinking about in the context of the next phase of the G8 Global Partnership. Is there a merit in a collective diplomatic, financial and technical programme to try and mop up short-range ballistic missile inventories? They are not only present in Libya and most of them frankly seem to be Cold War legacies rather than assets of current operational value.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Hmm, Russia could offer to put up 25% of an International Scud Byback Fund in 2012, then quietly let Scud owners there will be a special offer on brand-new Iskanders in 2013…

      “Current operational value” is debatable, but it certainly seems to be the case that many Scud owners do find percieved value in being able to lob half-ton lots of explosive over a few hundred miles with great speed and mediocre accuracy. I suspect that they will not divest themselves of such capability cheaply or easily.

    • P (History)

      Possibly such a programme could prevent incidences such as Iraqi terrorists shooting Scuds at Kuwait yesterday.

      Or? Well, never mind:

      More seriously, not only would Russia be able to offer the Iskander to fill up the void, the USA could sell ATACMS-ER (like the UAE will receive), F-15 Silent Eagles (which Saudi Arabia wants) and F-35s (like the ones Israel just ordered) to those who wants something accurate and re-usable, the UK and France could sell Storm Shadows (like Saudi Arabia and he UAE receive or received), China B-611s (like Turkey has received) etc.

      Only Iran and may be Syria would have a hard time finding an alternative to their Scuds. And obviously be unlikely to give them up because the G-8 politely asks them to do so.

  13. Nuno Rogeiro (History)

    Let’s not forget that a form of Cold War is still going on in the Broader Middle East (from North Africa to Central Asia). See the “ideological” roots of tensions between Israel and Arab Countries, Iran and other neighbours, Pakistan and India, etc.

    Nuno Rogeiro

  14. not a wonk (History)

    I am ammused by the fact that the mobile launcher appears to be stuck in the mud. Surely there are times when there is alot of mud in eastern europe. What does tell us of actual opearability of the system?