The world's largest drone war 8The world's largest drone war 8

Air power plays an increasingly important role in the bloody civil war in Libya between the UN-recognized Libyan National Government (GNA) and the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) led by field marshal Khalifa

The relatively flat desert terrain in the northern and coastal regions of this North African country means that infantry units are very easy to detect in combat and have virtually no place to hide during combat

Both the GNA and LNA have their own air forces, but they are mainly staffed with old French and Soviet fighters, which are outdated and poorly maintained.

With nearly 1,000 air strikes in Libya carried out by UAVs, UN special envoy on Libya Ghassan Salame called the conflict in this country `the world’s largest UAV battle`.

In modern warfare, UAVs are useful for many reasons.

Not only tracking the enemy, many armed UAVs today can immediately launch air strikes on targets they detect, with a much higher success rate than manned fighter jets.

Since civil war broke out in Libya in 2014, the LNA rebels led by General Khalifa Haftar initially had many advantages on the battlefield thanks to their possession of Chinese-made Wing Dragon UAVs.

First launched into the battlefield during the Derna offensive in eastern Libya in 2016, the Winged Dragon UAV has brought significant changes to the LNA’s military capabilities, helping to change the outcome of the battle.

Winged Dragon UAV operated by UAE pilots flying near Tripoli, June 2019.

These Winged Dragon UAVs are mainly operated by United Arab Emirates (UAE) pilots.

These UAVs were used very effectively in the attack campaign on Tripoli launched by General Haftar in April 2019.

Despite the LNA announcing `precise` air strikes, the number of civilian casualties in attacks on targets in Tripoli is increasing.

However, the battlefield situation changed in December 2019, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that he would increase military support for Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and GNA forces.

The world's largest drone war

Türkiye’s Bayraktar TB2 UAV.

Türkiye’s UAV is smaller and has a shorter flight range than the Winged Dragon, but is capable of attacking and destroying LNA ground forces, harassing supply lines and airstrikes on air bases that were once considered safe.

Hawk air defense missiles and a number of other systems were also transferred by Türkiye to the GNA, meaning that this force’s main air base at Mitiga airport in Tripoli can operate without worrying about being attacked.

The UAV brought impressive results when the GNA launched a quick counterattack campaign and captured the coastal towns of Surman, Sabratah and Al-Ajaylat and the border town of Al-Assah.

GNA captured Al-Watiya air base on May 18, dealing a strong blow to General Haftar’s ambitions in western Libya, because this is not only the LNA’s headquarters in the region, but also a supply center.

LNA units were forced to retreat, many Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft artillery-missile complexes provided to them by the UAE were destroyed, leaving the retreating forces unprotected from air strikes.

The GNA’s counteroffensive operations further south and east of Tripoli caused the LNA’s siege grip to loosen, forcing General Haftar to withdraw his troops.

The world's largest drone war

Map of the attack direction of GNA (green) and LNA (red) in western Libya.

The US Africa Command said a number of Russian fighters from the Hmeymim base in Syria have been deployed to the LNA base in Jufra, central Libya to reinforce the forces of General Haftar and his allies.

`Russia has the ability to control LNA bases on the Libyan coast and permanently deploy anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) assets there, creating a real security threat

US Africa Command released satellite images allegedly showing `Russian military aircraft` in Libya.

Al Jazeera commentator Alex Gatopoulos said that what happened in the Libyan battlefield shows that in the current military conflict, UAVs can quickly turn the tide of the battlefield and bring unprecedented combat advantages.

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By Samuel

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