Fighting to preserve Lebanon’s territorial integrity is hard enough without unforeseen glitches that may delay if not derail a pending sale of critical equipment to Lebanon. It is essential for the Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] to have an “air platform” for border defense. The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, are strung along the Lebanon-Syria border and even overran the Lebanese village of Arsal on August 2, 2014, before being repulsed by the LAF after five days. The militants are dug into the forbidding Anti-Lebanon Mountains and are ensconced in caves excavated by Palestinian militants after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Fighters even emerged from some of the 39 Syrian refugee “makeshift settlements” in and around Arsal to attack LAF posts last August. Both of these movements continue to probe the LAF’s defenses and there have been numerous skirmishes since last year, with casualties. It should be noted that Lebanon is an ally of the US and other countries in the coalition to combat the Islamic State.
To provide it with “eyes” on the ground and the ability to repulse incursions, the LAF requested six Super Tucano (A-29) aircraft, which the Obama administration has approved and to which Congress appears to have no objection. The Super Tucano is a small, fast, and maneuverable turboprop and a useful aircraft for light attack, close air support, and reconnaissance against a nimble foe. The planes must be built from scratch by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an American company, and were slated for delivery in 2017.
The $205-million price tag for the six Super Tucanos was to have been paid from a combination of a portion of the $1 billion Saudi bequest to the Lebanese security services and Foreign Military Financing, the US program for defense-article procurement. For some unclear reasons, the needed funding has not been forthcoming at this time, and this is causing a problem. Due to a lack of other pending orders after the current run, the Sierra Nevada Corporation assembly line will be shut down if the financing of the Super Tucanos is not secure. This will result in an inevitable hold-up before production can be resumed. This could push back delivery of the aircraft by as much as 18 months from the original due date, a lapse the LAF can ill afford while confronting the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nahra, who have been emboldened by the recent battlefield losses of the Syrian government.
As a stopgap until the Super Tucanos are delivered, the US is arming the three Cessna Caravan airplanes and the Huey II helicopters that it has supplied or will be supplying to the LAF.
We hope that the funding delay is nothing but a bureaucratic snag and that the matter is resolved quickly. Stay tuned…