Libyan forces with the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) are gaining the upper hand in the fight against the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces controlled by General Khalifa Haftar. They have pushed the LNA back from Tripoli, captured the 350 km supply line used by Haftar’s militias, and gained control of the al-Watiyah airbase.
The Turkish-backed troops also accomplished a significant intelligence achievement, capturing an advanced Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air defense system at al-Watiyah airbase. However, despite the recent influx of advanced Russian aircraft introduced into the country to support Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group and Haftar’s forces, this particular antiaircraft system was supplied to Haftar’s forces by the United Arab Emirates, not by the Russian government.
Haftar’s forces are backed by Russia, UAE, and Egypt, while the Libyan government forces fighting for the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations, are supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and others.
The airbase at al-Watiyah was constructed by the United State back during World War II and has remained one of the most important airbases in the country. Haftar’s forces had controlled the airbase for nearly six years; it had been a scene of fighting between the two sides.
Forbes reported that the attack on the Pantsir-S1 system occurred on Saturday. A Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone targeted the Pantsir-S-1 as it arrived at the airbase. The S-1 was quickly driven into a hardened aircraft shelter at the base as it was struck by a missile launched from the drone. The airstrike damaged the S-1 prior to it being placed into operation; the strike destroyed a “technical” armed jeep that accompanied the S-1.
On Monday, GNA troops captured the S-1 which, although scorched appears largely intact. GNA forces then flooded social media with pictures of it and paraded it around as a war trophy. The GNA forces then moved the S-1 to a secure location for a closer inspection and analysis of the unit to better study its strengths and weaknesses.
The Pantsir-S1, known to NATO as the SA-22 Greyhound, was designed to provide point air defense of military, industrial, or administrative installations against aircraft, helicopters, precision munitions, cruise missiles, and UAVs. It can also provide additional protection to air defense units against enemy air attacks employing precision munitions, especially at low to extremely low altitudes.
This particular S-1 is classified as a UAE Pantsir-S1. It is built on German MAN SX 45 8×8 truck. This configuration is used exclusively by UAE forces — which is what revealed that UAE supplied it to Haftar.
The Pantsir S-1 can carry up to twelve 57E6 two-stage solid fuel radio/optical command-guided surface-to-air missiles in sealed ready-to-launch container tubes. The vehicle captured had a fully loaded missile launcher.
The S-1 also has two dual 2A38M 30 mm autocannons, which are fitted with 700 rounds of a variety of ammunition — HE (High Explosive) fragmentation, fragmentation tracer, and armor-piercing with tracer. The ammunition type can be selected by the crew depending on the nature of the target. The maximum rate of fire is 2,500 rounds per minute per gun and its range is up to four km (2.5 mi). The combined gun-missile system has an extremely low altitude engagement capability (targets as low as 0 m AGL can be engaged by the system).
The Pantsir S-1 system has been in use by both Haftar’s forces and the Syrian government forces. The Turkish-made drones, as well as Israeli airstrikes, have frequently targeted these systems in Libya and Syria respectively. Still, the capture of one is a pretty significant coup, despite the damage to the particular unit.