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The Air Force Secretly Acquired a New Russian Missile System

·3 min read

From Popular Mechanics

Last summer, a secretive U.S. military flight to Libya spirited away one of Russia’s most modern air defense weapon systems. The U.S. Air Force flew the Pantsir S-1 surface-to-air missile system, which Libyan government forces captured, out of the country on a military transport flight for parts unknown.

The acquisition of a Pantsir, designed to defend against U.S. and NATO aircraft, is a windfall to the U.S. intelligence community.

According to The Times, the secret mission to Libya took place in June 2020. The Pantsir, which the United Arab Emirates bought from Russia and gave to the Libyan government, had been abandoned and then captured by a local militia. Government forces eventually got the system back and transferred the system to a base hosting Turkish military forces.

From there, Over Defense explains, the Palantir was shipped to Zuwara air base. Then, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport flew into the airport, picked up the truck-mounted system, and flew it north to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. That's when the trail went cold.

Photo credit: MAHMUD TURKIA - Getty Images
Photo credit: MAHMUD TURKIA - Getty Images

The Pantsir S-1 is one of Russia’s first post-Cold War, low-level air-defense systems. The system consists of 12 57E6 short-range, radar- and electro-optically-guided surface-to-air missiles with a maximum range of 11 miles. The weapons load is rounded out with a pair of 30-millimeter, radar-directed autocannons. The entire system sits on the bed of a 8x8 truck chassis.

The Pantsir is meant to provide air defense to headquarters, supply units, air bases, and other important sites from threats including low-level fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, drones, and even cruise missiles.

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While Pantsir has been widely exported, Russian military forces still use it, making it a system U.S. and NATO forces could face in wartime. U.S. forces have reportedly gained access to Pantsirs in UAE military service during joint exercises, but the Libyan system is the first one the U.S. military and intelligence community get to keep.

The weapon may likely end up at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the home of the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, which maintains a Foreign Material Exploitation center for the express purpose of studying captured, stolen, or otherwise-acquired foreign weapon systems.

The system will likely be dismantled and rebuilt, and the knowledge of how Pantsir engages enemy aircraft will help protect U.S. and allied airplanes in the future.

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