After a tactical strike drone, MQ-9 Reaper was shot down in Libyan airspace by the Libyan National Army (LNA) using a Pantsir-S1E air defence missile system supplied by Russia, the Government of National Unity began looking for this air defence system. The Libyan military captured video footage of a Bayraktar TB2 strike drone rising into the sky as bait for the Pantsir system in one of the air bases.
The United States was extremely displeased with the Libyan National Army, and discussions were held with the Libyan Government of National Unity to eliminate this danger. This is the first time the Bayraktar TB2 attack drone has been used since the beginning of the year.
There are currently no public pronouncements from Libya’s Government of National Unity on the subject. However, the Libyan side has previously complimented Turkish combat drones for battling the LNA’s Pantsir-S air defence missile systems.
Bayraktar TB2 vs Pantsir-S
Bayraktar TB2 is a poor nation MQ-9 Reaper used by the lower rung armed forces, mostly in Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It is a well known drone but has poor sales. In a decade, only about 350 have been supplied, which translates to just about 35 drones per year.
A Bayraktar TB2 drone kit costs around $5 million, compared to over $32 million for American Reaper drones. After the United States denied Turkey access to Reaper drones, the Bayraktar TB2 was developed. It makes the drone expendable and can be used as bait.
Though the Bayraktar TB2 drones were very effective for Azerbaijan against Armenia in November 2020 as there was no credible air defense, they have performed average or poorly against Libya, Syria and Russia. It is claimed that Bayraktar TB2 drones have destroyed over 3 Pantsir-S systems, but the claim is not verified. The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Turkish drones damaged two Pantsir-S systems and were repaired. As per the Russian Ministry of Defense paper Red Star (Krasnaya Zvezda), the export version of the Pantsir air defense system has only an optical control system and is “therefore ill-equipped” to fight such targets as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2. Nevertheless, the Russian Pantsir-S air defense missile system has been the nemesis of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones.
Bayraktar TB2 has a limited load of bombs and must carry out the strike at a mid to low altitude. The projectile weighs 45 to 65 kilos, and the entire flying range does not exceed 150 kilometres (the total endurance is around 350 kilometres), limiting the UAV’s mobility and effectiveness. The American “Grey Eagle,” for example, can fly for 400 kilometres continuously while carrying weapons weighing more than 300 kg.
Bayraktar TB2 drones have also been facing failures in the past due to faulty ground terminals. A website called Nordic Monitor published secret documents by the Turkish forces showing the issues with the ground terminals.
MQ-9 Reaper vs Pantsir-S
As mentioned, on August 23, the LNA was reported to have shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper UAV over Benin in Benghazi. The conclusion was based on video recordings taken by local residents of a burning drone after it was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
The UAV was nearly entirely destroyed, although the chassis and engine are said to be remarkably identical to those of the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. According to reports, the Pantsir-S system was employed to shoot down the drone.
Earlier on August 22, 2022, the spokesman for the Libyan National Army (LNA) General Staff, Major General Ahmed al-Mismari, said that LNA air defense units had detected and shot down an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle.
According to al-Mismari, an attack UAV armed with two missiles was found southwest of the Benin region of Benghazi. The air target was detected at 16:53 local time. The target was identified, and it was decided to destroy it. At 17 hours and 5 minutes, the LNA air defense forces hit the UAV. The drone was shot down near the LNA military base in Benghazi.
The Military Africa website writes that the MQ-9 Reaper UAV is operated not only by the United States but also by France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is possible that one of the NATO countries monitored the Libyan National Army or the activities of the Russian PMC “Wagner” in this region without prior permission from the Libyan authorities.
The latest shooting down of the MQ-9 Reaper drone by Pantsir-S systems is not the first. On November 20 and 21, 2019, an Italian MQ-9A Predator-B drone and American MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance drones were lost in the Tripoli region. According to a number of media outlets, both devices were shot down by the Russian Pantsir-S1E air defense missile system, which is in service with the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar.
The Associated Press reported that the shooting down was a mistake. The agency claims that units of Khalifa Haftar’s army mistook the American MQ-9 Reaper drone for a Turkish UAV, which is actively used by their opponents. After the discovery of the downed vehicle and its identification, representatives of the Libyan National Army contacted the US military and apologized.
In 2020, the US Air Force announced the purchase of new strike UAVs MQ-Next. They are designed to replace the MQ-9 Reaper with a more modern one. The reason for this new requirement was the incident in Libya, as per the media.
The Americans are still grappling with the question of the supply of MQ-1C Gray Eagle to Ukraine.