That Pantsir-S1 It Acquired From Libya Isn’t The First Russian Missile System The U.S. Has Gotten Its Hands On
Posted – 31st January 2021
The U.S. acquisition of a Russian-built Pantsir-S1 from the Libyan battlefield last June isn’t surprising. After all, Washington has previously seized opportunities to acquire advanced Russian systems in order to attain a better understanding of their capabilities.
The Times recently reported that in June 2020, the U.S. took an intact mobile Pantsir-S1 (referred to by NATO as the SA-22 Greyhound) medium-altitude air defense missile system from Libya. The U.N.-recognized Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) had captured the system from Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) group after taking over al-Watiya airbase the previous month. The victorious GNA fighters triumphantly paraded their trophy down the streets of Tripoli. The Pantsir did not, however, remain in that group’s possession for long.
In a covert operation, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster transport plane picked the point air defense system up from Libya’s Zuwara airport and flew it to Ramstein airbase in Germany. Its present location is unknown.
Several Pantsir-S1s were supplied to Haftar’s LNA by the United Arab Emirates.
The June 2020 operation is the first known case of the U.S. acquiring one of these systems.
“The operation was ordered amid concerns that the Pantsir-S1 missile battery, which can easily bring down civilian aircraft, could fall into the hands of militias or arms smugglers in the war-torn north African country,” The Times report stated.
Washington also most likely had an interest in obtaining the system to thoroughly examine it.
While that particular Pantsir is an export variant, and therefore likely has more limited capabilities compared to Pantsirs in the Russian military, examining it could still, nevertheless, prove beneficial for the U.S. since it might one day need to destroy equivalent missiles in combat. Syria possesses Pantsir-S1s, which were paid for by Iran, and there is always the risk of a non-state actor or terrorist organization getting ahold of such a system in volatile parts of the world.
That June 2020 operation wasn’t the first time the U.S. successfully acquired and studied an advanced Russian missile system.
In 1994, the Defense Intelligence Agency of the Pentagon bought components of a Russian high-altitude S-300 air defense missile system, the most advanced such system in Moscow’s arsenal at the time, from the former Soviet republic of Belarus. The S-300 was delivered by a Russian-built An-124 transport plane to the DIA’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center in Huntsville, Alabama, upon the successful completion of an intriguing secret mission that began two years earlier when the Pentagon sought the acquisition of an S-300 to inspect.
In May 2019, a satellite photo posted on Twitter purported to show an S-300 battery in the U.S., possibly that very same one obtained in 1994.
That also wasn’t the only occasion the U.S. bought an advanced Russian weapons system from a former Soviet republic.
In 1997, Washington was concerned that cash-strapped Moldova might sell its fleet of formidable MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Iran. So it bought them.
In total, the U.S. purchased a total of 21 MiG-29s from Moldova that consisted of six standard A models, a single B model, and 14 C models capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The jets were disassembled and flown from Moldova on C-17 transport planes to Dayton, Ohio.
By procuring Moldova’s Fulcrums, Washington simultaneously denied Iran a potential opportunity to enlarge its MiG-29 fleet and got a unique opportunity of its own to closely examine three variants of one of Russia’s premier fighter jets.
These past cases aptly demonstrate how this Pantsir-S1 acquisition is far from unprecedented. And if they are anything to go by, the U.S. military has undoubtedly examined every nut and bolt of that missile system thoroughly to enhance its understanding of its capabilities and, more valuably, potentially establish new ways of exploiting any of its weaknesses.
FORBES – Paul Iddon
The Libya Consultancy does not imply any association with, nor endorsement by or of the publisher of this article