NEWTOWN, Conn. --- Lebanon has reached an agreement with Russia for the supply of Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters rather than the MiG-29 fighters Moscow originally offered to donate to Beirut. Lebanon will receive 10 Mi-24 helicopters under an agreement reached between Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and his counterpart, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on February 25.
Russia offered 10 MiG-29 air superiority fighters to Beirut in late 2008, but the Lebanese Armed Forces have little practical use for such aircraft as the tiny complement of fighters would do little to protect Lebanese airspace against the air forces of Israel or Syria. Further, the cost of maintenance on the MiGs would tax Lebanese defense finances while absorbing the fighters into an air force with extremely limited capabilities, thus rendering the acquisition impracticable. Instead, the LAF has sought a more practical aviation solution in the Mi-24s, which can be used in the attack or in the transport role.
The LAF has had to display a degree of resourcefulness with its aging platforms in order to utilize air power during internal security undertakings. For instance, during the fighting at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 against Fatah al-Islam militants, the LAF modified its UH-1H Huey utility helicopters as bombers in order to have an air-strike component after failing to restore its 30-year-old Hawker Siddeley Hunter aircraft to operational status.
With the donation by the UAE of nine Westland SA342K Gazelle helicopters (equipped with 12.7mm machine guns and HOT anti-tank missiles) in 2007 and now the Mi-24s, the LAF will have more air support to bring to its ground forces in the event of another militant uprising.