The U.S. military reportedly spirited a Russian-made Pantsir S1 anti-aircraft system out of Libya in June last year.
The air defense system was allegedly captured from forces aligned with renegade commander Khalifa Haftar.
A U.S. Air Force C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft carrying the Pantsir took off from Zuwarah International Airport, situated to the west of Tripoli, and flew to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, British newspaper The Times reported Thursday.
It is unclear as to what happened to the system after it arrived in Germany. The Pantsir could have been captured by Government of National Accord (GNA)-aligned forces after an airbase (possibly Al Watiya) was overrun in a counter attack.
Citing online flight tracking data, The Drive wrote that a C-17A plane first left Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina for Ramstein just days after the GNA captured Al Watiya in May 2020. That aircraft subsequently made multiple trips to and from Libya, with at least one additional apparent stop in Turkey, in the first week of June. It then returned to Charleston on June 7, 2020.
No serious consequences for Russia, But international customers could be at risk
The American smuggling of the Pantsir C1 Air Defence System (ADS) from Libya will have no serious consequences for Russia as the smuggled ADS version is different from the one used by the Russian Military, Vice-President of the Academy of Military Sciences (AVN) Sergey Modestov was quoted as saying by Interfax on Thursday.
However, knowledge gained from studying the system could have consequences for those who have a similar export version of the Pantsir C1, he said
"The hardware itself is a good find for the United States. But the question is whether they can use it and how. It will take time for the Americans to understand and implement something. The knowledge gained can be used against those who have the "Armor " in such an export version. By that time Russia will already go far ahead." Modestov said.
Pantsir S1 Missile Systems in Libya
Led by Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan National Army (LNA) use Pantsir systems mounted on German-built MAN SX45 Heavy Mobility Truck as the system’s ground mobility and transporter erector launcher (TELAR) platform. The vehicles are believed to have been supplied by the U.A.E. since only they use this configuration.
Additionally, photographs claimed to have been taken in Libya last year show Pantsirs mounted on a KAMAZ-6560 8x8 truck chassis, which is the standard Russian variant. The vehicle is said to be the primary export configuration.
While the chassis are different, the core system is the same on both variants. The Pantsir-S1 includes a turret that can be loaded with up to six ready-to-fire 57E-series command-guided missiles and that also has two 30mm automatic cannons. Crews use the system's integrated radar and long-range infrared tracking sensor to target aerial threats and the cannons can also be employed against ground targets.
The missiles reportedly have a maximum range of around 20 miles and can hit targets at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, depending on the exact variant and the profile of the threat, but the system is primarily designed for low-altitude, close-in point defense.
Does Russia Know U.S. “Smuggled” a Pantsir?
Export variants of the Pantsir are reportedly stripped of a carefully guarded identification friend or foe (IFF) database with the transponder codes for all Russian Air Force jets.
Citing a Russian official, The Times further reported that Moscow was aware the U.S. had removed the Pantsir system but suggested its capture would be of limited intelligence value, since the U.S. would have the opportunity to study the same system used by Abu Dhabi.
Studying the system would allow Washington know what materials go into building the Pantsir, quality of their manufacture, and develop countermeasures.