Libya (National Liberation Army) M577 Command Vehicle

A photograph has recently emerged from Libya showing a modified M577 command vehicle operated by National Liberation Army/Rebel forces.  The date and location are unstated although judging from the time of circulation it may relate to the battle for Tripoli.

The M577 is a [tactical] command vehicle based on the M113 APC and easily identified by the heightened crew compartment.

The presence of an M577 in Libya is somewhat of a revelation as it was never a known operator of this specific type.  However Libya was known to be a user of the base M113  APC as discussed in this earlier article: http://esotericarmour.blogspot.com/2011/05/libya-m113.html 

Analysis of the image also suggests that this is a very early M577.  This conclusion based upon the thinner headlight guard and the visible weld seams where the chassis has been modified.  This would support the idea that it was probably imported from the US at the same time as the M113s.  However it remains unknown how many examples were received or how many were still operational when the civil war broke out.

The circumstances of the capture of this vehicle are also unclear, although some M113s were known to of seized relatively early on in the conflict their serviceability was questionable and there was no evidence that they were ever put into rebel service.

This M577 has been modified by it’s new operators by adding a turret from a BMP-1, housing a 73 mm 2A28 ‘Grom’ low pressure smoothbore semi-automatic gun.   It is unknown if the turret has been simply welded in place or the turret ring fitting to allow it to be traversed (turned) manually.

The most obvious place for it to be fitted would be above the commanders hatch allowing access and operation of the gun from beneath as designed.  It should be noted that this hatch aperture is quite far forward on the vehicle roof so some further modification to accommodate the turret may be required.  However even if the turret/gun is not fully functional its visible addition to a relatively lightly armoured and armed vehicle such as the M577 could act as a valuable deterrent.

The vehicle has also received a rather unsubtle new paint scheme replicating the flag adopted by the National Transitional Council, which itself is a resurrection of the flag used by the Kingdom of Libya between 1951-1969, prior to the coup that saw Gaddafi come to power.

Any further information or photographs regarding this or other M577s in Libya would be greatly appreciated as would a translation of the Arabic text on the side of the vehicle.


Libya (National Liberation Army) / Qatar Ratel 20

Footage reportedly taken on 31/07/2011 in Benghazi was recently broadcast by an unknown television station and shows  a Ratel 20 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) operating in Libya.   

Libya was not known to be an operator of the South African made Ratel 20 and it was quickly noted on the discussion forums of www.militaryphotos.net that this vehicle had the flag of Qatar painted on the side.  Qatar was also not thought to be an operator of this type, although South African arms export customers are not always openly disclosed.

Some observers have interpreted this footage as evidence that Qatar has deployed forces on the ground in support of the National Liberation Army (rebels) .  However upon closer inspection of the footage I have identified the additional presence of the National Liberation Army/National Transitional Council flag which suggests Qatar were likely the suppliers rather than the current operators.

Qatar and National Liberation Army/National Transitional Council flag visible on the front left of the Ratel 20
The supply of an IFV to the National Liberation Army is potentially controversial.  It is also interesting that no attempt has  been made to hide its origins, especially as Qatar may be in breach of the end-user certificate with South Africa in supplying them to a third party.

One should consider that although produced as an IFV there is evidence that the vehicles prime weapon; a turret mounted 20mm semi-automatic cannon, has been removed and it is unclear if the coaxial 7.62mm machine gun is still present.  This would therefore reduce the its capability and could limit it to the APC (armoured personnel carrier) role as it can carry atleast seven personnel in addition to the standard crew.

20mm semi-automatic gun barrel comparison

Youtube video of the television footage.  The Ratel is first visible between 07:33 - 07:46 and then again at approximately 08:05.  This footage sequence is repeated later in the broadcast.

UPDATE: 29/08/2011 

Another photograph has emerged of a Ratel 20 in Libya.  Although only a partial view of the top of the vehicle, the turret is unmistakeably that of a Ratel 20.  The apparent removal of the main 20mm armament, as discussed previously, has been addressed by the addition of a ZPU-1 AA gun.  This gun has seen widespread use in the Libya civil war often being mounted to the rear of pick up truck technicals.  It remains unknown how many Ratels were delivered to the National Liberation Army or if this is the same one featured in earlier footage.

ZPU-1 with standard AA mount, welded on top of  the stowage rack of Ratel 20.  The effectiveness of this addition beyond  long range suppressive fire may be compromised due the obstructive positioning behind the turret and the obviously vulnerable position of the gunner.
UPDATE: 29/08/2011

Another day and yet another photograph of a Ratel 20 in Libya.  This photograph was reportedly taken on or before 24/08/2011 in relation to the battle from Tripoli and clearly shows the turret of a Ratel 20..  This example has been modified with the addition of a russian made UB-16-57UMP rocket pod housing S-5 unguided rockets.  This pod is normally mounted on aircraft and no doubt taken from captured Libyan Air force stocks.

A Libyan rebel poses on rocket pod mounted above the turret of a Ratel 20.  The rocket pod is a believed to be a UB-16-57UMP, the 16 referring to the number of rockets and the 57 referring the diameter (mm) of the launch tubes.  Also apparent is the removal of the 20mm gun barrel normally fitted to this variant.
UPDATE: 03/09/2011

Further footage has emerged courtesy VOA (Voice of America) News showing what appears to be the modified Ratels mentioned in the previous two updates.  Note the apparent absence of the Qatar or NTC flag.

Youtube video of original broadcast:


Libya Maz-543 TEL Scud-B

Libya received a total of 288 SS-1C Scud-B  (R-17) missiles from the former Soviet Union along with 72 Maz-543 TEL (9P117 Uragan) designed specifically to deploy these missiles.  Libya has also sought to acquire further Scud missiles through other means and sources.  This article covers both the Maz-543 TEL and associated Scud missiles in Libyan Service.

Maz-543 TEL Scud-Bs during a 2009 parade in Tripoli celebrating the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought Libyan leader Gaddafi to power.

The Scud-B is a tactical ballistic missile that entered service with the USSR in 1964 and like most ballistic missiles of that era it's lineage owes much to German V2 missiles captured after WWII.  It is capable of carrying a large 985kg warhead to a range of around 300km.  However by modern standards it is very inaccurate with a CEP (Circular Error Probability) of 450m.  This means that only an estimated 50% of missiles will impact within a 450m radius of their intended target.  As well as conventional high-explosives it was also deigned to be capable of carrying a nuclear or chemical warhead, where accuracy would be less of a concern. 

In Libyan Service 

In 1975 Libya ordered 27 Maz-543 TELs and 108 Scud-B missiles, with deliveries completed the following year.  This was to be followed up with a second larger order in 1980 consisting of 45 TELs and 180 missiles (SIPRI.org).  This equates to an initial one to four ratio of launchers to missiles.

Following the 1986 US airstrikes on Libya at least two Scud-Bs were launched in retaliation at the Italian Island of Lampedusa, where a USGC (United States Coast Guard) navigation station was based.  All missiles failed to hit the 20.2km island and landed harmlessly in the sea.

Maz-543 TEL Scud-Bs during a 1999 parade in Tripoli celebrating the 30th anniversary of the military coup that brought Libyan leader Gaddafi to power.

 Due to the deteriorating international relations and consequent arm embargos Libya sought to maintain and enhance its ballistic missile capabilities from other sources, often covertly. 

One such source was North Korea who produced their own copy of the Scud-B called the Hwasong-5. North Korea also developed the Hwasong-6 (Scud-C), whereby in exchange for a slightly reduced warhead (~800kg) the range was extended to 700km.  The accuracy was also greatly improved, with a CEP of only 50m claimed. 

Libya is believed to of acquired a small number of Hwasong-6, possible only five, in the late 90s.  These missiles retained the same dimensions as the Scud-B and therefore their integration with the Maz-543 TEL platform would have been feasible.

In 1999 and 2000 there were a number of interceptions of missile parts that were believed to be destined for Libya, often mislabelled automotive parts in order to escape detection.  One such interception involved a North Korean flagged freighted stopped by the Indian authorities.  It contained not only missile parts but also machine tools and detailed plans for the  Scud-B (Hwasong-5) and Scud-C (Hwasong-6).  It is therefore likely that Libya intended to setup domestic production of these missiles.  The initial small batch of Hwasong-6 were probably for reverse engineering and research purposes only. 

Although these interception provide an insight it fails to provide a comprehensive view of Libya’s Scud missile program.  It remains unknown how many parts or complete missiles did make it to Libya from North Korea or from other sources, nor Libya’s own domestic capability to maintain and increase it’s scud missiles inventory. 

There are also uncorroborated reports that some  Libya Maz-543 TEL may have been transferred to Iran, which produces it's own Scud-B (Shahab-1) and Scud-C (Shahab-2) variants.

Disposal plans

On 19/12/2003, following secret talks with the US and UK, Libya formally renounced its pursuit of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and agreed to dismantle any current capabilities. This included any missile with a range of over 300km and payload of over 500kg that could be used as a potential WMD delivery system.  

The Scud-B with a 300km range was therefore excluded from this agreement but recent wikileaks documents show arrangements for their disposal followed.  They also indicate delays in this process stemming from Libya’s unwillingness to retire the system without US approval and possible assistance in procuring a suitable [non WMD] replacement, Libyas first choice being the Russian SS-26 Stone (9K720 Iskander), the export (E) variant falling within the 300km, 500kg limit.

In 2005 Libya reportedly offered to sell all 417 Scud missiles to the US for $2m USD a piece. It is unknown how accurate the 417 figure was nor if it may have included other ballistic missiles beyond the Scud-B and/or any Scud-Cs.

The picture below, reportedly taken in 2007 indicates Libya still maintained some operational capacity regardless of any planned disposal process.  A number of Maz-543 TEL Scud-B were also displayed during a 2009 parade in Tripoli.

Libyan M-543 TEL launching a Scud-B, during a joint military exercise with Algeria in 2007. (AFP/Getty Images)

 Libya Civil War

It is unknown how many Maz-543 TEL Scud-Bs were operational at the start of the civil war. Whilst there has been rumours that Libyan forces have used Scud missiles against rebel/national liberation army forces these remain unconfirmed.  There could also be some confusion with other Libyan army systems such as the Frog-7 missiles and the widespread use of the term “Scud” to generically describe any type of large surface to surface missile.  The accuracy of the Scud-B would also limit it’s effectiveness in such a conflict and would likely strengthen NATO/Western resolve if used in urban area.  Additionally, due to their range, they would be kept way back from the front and thus not been widely seen or captured on camera.

Libya’s Scud capability has however been targeted by NATO forces, including a strike by the RAF on 05/05/2011 where a large number of scud canisters (30-40) were reportedly destroyed at a site South of Sirte.

At least one Maz-543 TEL Scud-B potentially fell into rebel hands during the fall of Benghazi. Google Earth images indicate a military base to the South of the city centre where there is indications of Maz-543TEL Scud-B activity here between 2004-2009.
Three Maz-543 TEL Scud-B seen at a military base in Benghazi in 2009, images of the same base in 2007 and 2004 show various numbers of these vehciles in different positions. (Google Maps )
The photographs below were taken on 22/02/2011.  The exact circumstances of this scene are unclear but the vehicle would appear to be stuck in the mud, possibly abandoned by retreating Libyan forces.
Maz-543 TEL Scud-B photographed in Benghazi on 22/02/2009.  "Direction of Artillery and Missiles"  badge is visible on the side.  Note the kitchen sink in the foreground!

Sunken tread marks are visible some distance behind vehicle, suggesting it unidentionally dug itself in . Recent evidence of wheels spinning in mud, bricks under the wheels and tow rope show the unsuccessful efforts to rescue the vehicle.

Although the vehcile shows some signs of superficial damage this could of been simply vandalism after it had been abandoned. However any damage that could of been inflicted since the photos could render the vehicle unusable operationally.

The fate of this vehicle after these photographs were taken is unknown.

It remains to be seen if either side will use such a missile system as the civil war continues.