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.

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