BEIRUT — Lebanon is selling five Hawker Hunter fighter jets and three Sikorsky-made S-61 helicopters, the Ministry of National Defense announced, calling for interested parties to bid on the used aircraft.
A source with knowledge of the sales process told Defense News on condition of anonymity that three companies have shown interest in the Hawker Hunter jets in particular: British firm Hawker Hunter Aviation as well as U.S.-based companies Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (a subsidiary of Textron Systems) and Lortie Aviation.
The Lebanese Air Force’s Hawker Hunters have been nonoperational since 2010. The country is keeping two of them to be preserved in a local museum.
Companies tend to purchase old aircraft to refurbish them for use as enemy fighters in training.
The commander of the Air Force, Brig. Gen. Ziad Haikal, told Defense News that the sale is part of the service’s effort to reallocate its assets and restructure its fleets to maximize the utility of available resources.
“The Hawker Hunter aircraft and Sikorsky helicopters have been nonoperational for many years, in the absence of financial resources to maintain them. This public auction will be the first step to restructure the training fleet and fire-fighting capabilities,” he said.
He added that the Air Force has developed a future five-year plan aimed at ensuring the maintenance of equipment, preserving existing capabilities and gradually enhancing its inventory.
“The reinforcement plan depends on doubling the number of light attack A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from six to 12, and [acquiring] MD530F helicopters — six of which are expected to be received by the end of 2021 — in addition to Scan Eagle drones, in such a way that each squadron includes at least 12 aircraft or helicopters of the same type,” Haikal said.
Lebanon operates six A-29 Super Tucano planes that were delivered to the Air Force as a part of a U.S. military aid program. The Lebanese Air Force receives about 30-40 percent of the $50-60 million in annual aid.
Regarding the five-year plan, Haikal said he wants to have “the air capabilities that allow [for] protecting the Lebanese airspace from any aggression or violations, [which] remains one of the strategic objectives of the Army and the Air Force. Achieving this objective requires, securing the infrastructure for the available airports, securing a suitable radar and air defense network, in addition to achieving modern air interception aircraft.”
Lebanon lacks the three primary pillars to effectively secure its airspace; a radar network, missile defense systems and fighter jets are a future aspiration, but the economic crisis pervading the country has served as a roadblock.
The Air Force chief said the existing fleet of UH-1H Huey II helicopters will be used to put out fires instead of the Sikorsky helos.
“An alternative to the Hunters, for close-air support missions, are the Super Tucano aircraft, [which] outperform the Hunter jet by being equipped with advanced weapon systems and laser-guided weapons. As for the classification of the Hunter as a jet plane, there is no current alternative for this class in the Air Force,” he said.
He added that the service is eyeing a contract with American firm Air Tractor for an aircraft similar to the AT-802 that can support the county’s firefighting capabilities as well as for spare parts and pilot and technician training. The money made from selling the S-61 helos would go toward that purchase, he explained. He also said the Air Force will seek initial entry training aircraft after selling the Hawker Hunters.
A decree issued by the Council of Ministers of Lebanon states that the returns are to be allocated for the Air Force to procure new aircraft. Such a statement can’t be annulled except by another government decree.
The Lebanese Air Force previously showed interest in the Pakistani Super Mushshak trainers, but it never received a response from Pakistani authorities. Haikal said the Air Force might now buy additional Cessna or Cirrus trainers.
Asked if U.S. military aid to Lebanon might help the Lebanese Air Force restructure its fleet, Haikal said: “The U.S. aid program depends mainly on plans by the Lebanese Army Command. All these plans are updated and regularized annually or when needed. So far, no American aid has been allocated to complete the set plan after implementing the bidding process. It is possible, if necessary, [that the aid could] support the plan in the future.”
Agnes Helou is a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.