PARIS --- The Lebanese army will today take delivery of 48 MBDA Milan short-range anti-tank missiles which are the first installment of a $3 billion arms package financed by Saudi Arabia and supplied by France.
The total value of the Saudi financing package is $4 billion, of which France has the largest share, while the United States is also delivering surplus military equipment. The overall goal is to recreate the Lebanese armed forces as a functioning entity after decades of neglect.
Today’s initial delivery, held on an air base near Beirut, was attended by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, his Lebanese counterpart Samir Mokbel, the commander in chief of the Lebanese armed forces, Gen. Jean Kahwaji, and other Saudi, French and Lebanese officials.
Saudi Arabia first asked French President François Hollande to provide Lebanon with weapons and training in December 2013, and agreed to pay $3 billion towards the cost of providing a comprehensive weapons package, related training and sustainment.
The contract for the arms package put together by France was signed in Riyadh on Nov. 4, 2014 by Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf and Édouard Guillaud, chief executive of ODAS, the company acting for the French government. Guillaud, a retired admiral, is a former chief of the French defense staff, while ODAS, formerly known as Sofresa, is a French company jointly owned by the French state and a dozen of the country’s largest defense makers, and tasked with promoting defense exports.
The Lebanese contract is code-named Donas (DON Arabie Saoudite, or Saudi Arabian donation), and also includes a 10-year support package.
An extensive training package
At the time when the contract was signed, Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam welcomed the “absolutely exceptional generosity of Saudi Arabia” in financing weapons deliveries worth “$4 billion, of which $3 billion through a direct agreement with France,” L’Orient-Le Jour reported.
France will provide training services from mid-2015 to mid-2018. Lebanese officers and NCOs will attend various French military schools, and in addition 50 French instructors will deploy to Lebanon for hands-on training. Several hundred other soldiers will be trained in Lebanon over several years.
Equipment deliveries will be completed in 2018; to allow early delivery, some of the most urgently-needed equipment, notably the Milan missiles, will be taken from French military inventories.
In addition to today’s shipment, France will also deliver additional Milan missiles, “several dozen VBCI and VAB armored vehicles,” Le Drian said during the ceremony. Also included are other armored vehicles of various types, heavy artillery, very short-range air-defense missiles and 6 armed Airbus HC Cougar battlefield helicopters for the Lebanese army, according to a French defense ministry briefing paper and to Le Drian’s speech.
French media report generally refer to 250 armored vehicles, and according to the French “Lignes de Defense” blog they will comprise a mix VAB wheeled armored personnel carriers, VBL light armored vehicles, Sherpa light MRAPs as well as some older VBC-90armored cars, armed with a 90mm cannon. The number of Caesar SP guns s is set at 24.
Other sources have mentioned observation drones for targeting, and MBDA Mistral very short-range air-defense missiles.
The Lebanese navy is due to receive four FS-56 variants of the Combattante III fast patrol boats, armed with Simbad launchers for Mistral missiles and a 76mm automatic gun turret. The first boat will be delivered in late 2017.
France will also provide air and naval surveillance radars as well as tactical and strategic communications systems, night vision equipment, eavesdropping devices as well as other, unspecified equipment for counter-terrorism operations.
US supplies surplus equipment
Since 2006, the United States have provided Lebanon with military equipment worth $1 billion, according to a Feb. 8 statement issued by the US Embassy in Beirut.
The latest delivery took place on Feb. 8, and was valued by the US Embassy at $25 million. According to US Ambassador David Hale, it comprised 70 M198 towed 155mm howitzers and almost $26 millions’ worth of ammunition.
With some exaggeration, Hale claimed in his speech that day that “This is top of the line equipment, the best that is on the market. It is what our soldiers use, and we’re proud to know that very soon, your brave soldiers will be using it too, along with other U.S.-supplied equipment, to defeat the terrorist and extremist threat from Syria.”
Given that the M198 howitzer has long been retired, and that photographs of the ones delivered to Lebanon show signs of rust, Hale would have been better inspired to speak of the low price rather than the newness of the equipment supplied by the United States.