LONDON, ROME and PARIS — Libya’s new government is discussing a potentially multibillion-dollar program with at least three European governments to provide sensors and other equipment to secure its borders, industry executives said.
Britain, France and Italy have all had discussions with the Libyans in the past few months about possible government-to-government arrangements. EADS Cassidian, Finmeccanica, Thales, BAE Systems, KBR, QinetiQ and General Dynamics are among an array of companies positioning to bid either as part of a consortium or alone once the Libyans firm up their requirements.
Timing of the project remains uncertain even though securing the border against illegal immigrants, terrorists and others is a top priority for the new government in Tripoli, industry executives and others said.
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which left four people dead, including the ambassador, has focused attention on the inability of a still-fragile Libyan administration to provide security, including on its borders.
Libya’s land borders run for more than 4,000 kilometers with neighbors Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt. It also has a long coastline. A security program aimed at sealing what has always been a highly porous border would target sub-Saharan immigrants transiting through Libya en route to Europe and extremist Islamist terrorists.
European executives said the maritime security issues first identified by the Moammar Gadhafi regime remain unresolved but it is likely the new government will give it a lower priority than the land border.
Although no tender document has been released, Italian sources said, the land deal could eventually cover radar, helicopters, UAVs, ground vehicles, command-and-control and other assets.
Any program will likely be done in phases, in part because Libya remains subject to a U.N. arms embargo.
A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the arms embargo is still in force, but “there are a number of exemptions — for example, relating to provision of equipment and security assistance to the Libyan government — which require approval from the U.N. Sanctions Committee before they can be used.”
“The Libyans are talking to people trying to work out requirements, time scales and other issues,” said one executive familiar with the scheme. “It’s likely, though, they will phase in this program beginning with a large static component which can’t be moved and is therefore clearly border security.”
Some executives said the program could fragment into a series of small deals if the Libyans fail to establish a comprehensive plan with a credible timeline.
The Gadhafi government had plans for an ambitious border security program before it was toppled last year in a war that included a NATO air and maritime campaign, in which Britain, France and Italy played a leading role. That border project was expected to cost in excess of $4 billion, and while the new requirements have yet to be set, it’s likely the program would have a similar price tag.
Italy’s Finmeccanica secured a 300 million euro ($389.5 million) contract to supply cameras, radars, command-and-control and other systems to help the Gadhafi regime monitor its vast southern land border. An initial 150 million euro tranche was signed off and went into effect in October 2009. The equipment had not been installed before Gadhafi was overthrown.
Since the end of the conflict, Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi has said talks were back on with the new government to resurrect the border control contract.
“There is a technical proposal for the continuation of the contract and the start of the second tranche, plus added elements, as well as the resumption of the helicopter work,” said a source close to the company.
But even if the border control contract were reactivated, it is still unsafe to work on the southern border, the source said.
Finmeccanica also sold Libya an ATR 42 aircraft for border control, while AgustaWestland, a unit of Finmeccanica, set up a joint venture with the Libyans to assemble civil helicopters locally.
Thales CEO Luc Vigneron declined to comment on Libya but said of border control, “That is part of our security business.”
The situation in the Libyan defense and interior ministries is unstable, with constant staff changes, a French analyst said. With the moves in personnel, Libyan officials “over-promised” on the border control award to Britain, France and Italy, and a tender is needed to arrive at a “normal procedure,” the analyst said.
One of the attractions of a security system is to re-employ thousands of armed fighters who took part in the insurgency and post them on the borders far from Tripoli, the analyst said.
For the French offer, EADS and Thales will have to combine forces if there is to be a single national team offer. It will be the job of the international development director at the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office to lead the common effort, once industry has agreed to cooperate.
EADS and DGA declined to comment.
In Britain, the Defence Security Organisation (DSO), the export arm of the British government in the sector, has been encouraging companies to merge their capabilities to address possible Libyan requirements.
DSO declined to comment.
Industry sources said a consortium known as the Integrated Border Security Alliance (IBSA) has been formed to offer a Team Great Britain approach. The team involves KBR UK as a prime contractor along with BAE, Cassidian, QinetiQ, Northrop Grumman UK, Selex Galileo, Ultra Electronic and possibly Lockheed Martin UK.
As an arm of Finmeccanica, Selex Galileo’s role in IBSA would be limited to the force protection, sensor and other capabilities supplied by the company’s U.K. operations.
A second British executive said IBSA would likely operate differently from a conventional prime contractor.
“They could select a prime contractor, but the scheme is also structured so that particular contractor strengths would be brought to the fore, depending on who is the best placed to respond,” the executive said.
KBR is known in Libya for managing the construction of the Man Made River project, which brought vast amounts of water from wells in the Sahara Desert to populated areas on the coast.
An odd man out in the British consortium approach is General Dynamics UK. It has opted to go it alone rather than throw in its lot with IBSA. The U.K. arm of General Dynamics previously secured substantial business supplying tactical communications to the Libyan military.