BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army received the first two A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft Monday afternoon, after Lebanese Air Force personnel spent several months in the U.S. completing in-flight training. “Additional [acquisitions] that could enhance our capacities, especially in the Air Force and Navy, are more than welcome,” Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf told The Daily Star after the aircraft reached Hamat Air Base in northern Lebanon.
“We look forward to receiving more in the future [to aid] our five-year capacity-building project.”
Monday’s procurement was the most recent addition to the military’s small air force of armed, fixed-wing aircraft. The arrival comes after the Army sent 12 pilots and 20 maintenance workers to the U.S.’ Moody Air Force Base in Georgia last March to undergo training in aircraft operation.
“These guys will be fully trained, operational combat pilots in the A-29 aircraft,” an American trainer said, according to a U.S. military statement released at the time. Delivery of the aircraft was contingent on the Lebanese crew having completed their training. Moody Air Force Base and the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon were closed Monday in observation of a national holiday, and could not be reached for comment.
Four additional A-29 Super Tucanos are expected to arrive in Lebanon in the next 12 months as part of an American aid package. All aircraft will be armed with a pair of .50-caliber machine guns and the capability to fire 70-mm rockets and a laser-guided “Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System.”
According to Aram Nerguizian, senior associate with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the A-29 acquisition follows years of bilateral dialogue.
“As far back as 2009, the [Army] was considering U.S. solutions for an aircraft that could both do ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] and CAS [close air support], in support of [Army] ground forces,” Nerguizian told The Daily Star via email. “The [Army] ... determined that an aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano would be ideal if properly equipped. However, no such aircraft was either in service or in production in the U.S. at the time.”
Lebanese military needs in 2009 closely mirrored American interests in building their own CAS operations, Nerguizian said. This demand led to a design contest, from which the A-29 eventually emerged as one of the winners.
While the A-29 has been labeled a “budget” plane, Nerguizian remarked that “one should not judge an aircraft by appearance,” before detailing its capabilities.
The U.S. along with the United Kingdom remain the Army’s principal foreign supporters.
Local media reported Sunday that Army head Gen. Joseph Aoun was set to take a trip to Washington “in the last week of this month.”
Gen. Aoun, who visited Washington upon his appointment as Army commander in April, was supposed to make a second visit in the summer. The trip was delayed due to the military’s “Fajr al-Joroud” operation on the northeaster border, conducted in August.
An Army spokesperson reached Monday evening could not corroborate the veracity of the reports regarding the visit's timing.