Recent fixed-wing developments
On 28 May 2018 four A-29B Super Tucanos arrived at Hamat Air Base, North of Beirut. Their delivery, two months ahead of the original schedule, marked the completion of the delivery of a group of six of such aircraft for the Lebanese Air Force.
After the sale being approved by the US State Department in June 2015, the Republic of Lebanon ordered six A-29B Super Tucanos from Sierra Nevada Corporation and Embraer Defense & Security on 8 November 2015. The aircraft were built by Embraer in Jacksonville (Florida) and modified by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in Centennial (Colorado).
Operating from Hamat Air Base, 7 Squadron received its first two A-29s in October 2017. The Jacksonville built aircraft are flown by former AC-208 pilots that have undergone training with 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB (Georgia). The first Lebanese Super Tucano pilot completed the first training flight in March 2017. The delivery of the final four aircraft came just days after the graduation of the second class at Moody AFB.
With an endurance of up to 90 minutes (depending on configuration and fuel) and flying from Hamat the aircraft can reach the furthest point in Lebanon and still have 35 minutes playtime left. Although the Tucano can easily operate from austere airfields, the home base of Hamat currently has some limitations that need addressing sooner or later; the absence of a parallel taxiway, night and IFR capabilities. A public road crosses the runway which can affect flying operations.
While offering low operating cost, the Super Tucano can pack a serious punch. With bolt-on armour plating and flare dispenser for self-defence, the aircraft can carry a payload of 1500 kilograms. The Lebanese Air Force is able to employ two M3M .50-inch machine guns, 70mm rocket pods (for Hydra and APKWS [laser guided]), Mk81 (250lb) and Mk82 (500lb) unguided bombs and GBU-12 and GBU-58 laser guided bombs. The LAF uses the FLIR Brite Star DP system for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and target designation. All in all, the aircraft offers Lebanon state-of-the-art counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities, the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) being one of the major items. While there is a requirement for six more A-29Bs, currently there is no sign of them being acquired any time soon.
The Super Tucanos have joined the three AC-208 Combat Caravans, that operate from Beirut Air Base under 4 Squadron. The Cessnas, delivered in 2009, 2013 and 2017, are used for a variety of roles. Besides cargo and passenger transport, the more eye-catching roles are attack and ISR missions. For the latter two roles the crew consists of three, two pilots and a Mission System Operator (MSO). For attack mission the aircraft carries the AGM-114 Hellfire II missile (one under each wing). The long endurance and low operating cost make this type another valuable asset in the LAF.
Considering that the Lebanese Air Force withdrew its last Hawker Hunter aircraft in 2014, the Super Tucano and Combat Caravan can be considered as up-to-date fixed wing replacement aircraft. Some Hawker Hunters had only been brought back to life in 2008, after the need for fixed wing aircraft had first become apparent during the Nahr al-Bared operations in 2007 (see later).
Three, of originally six, Scottish Aviation Bulldogs have been restored to flying condition around 2008, making up 1 Squadron at Beirut Air Base. These aircraft, initially put in storage in 1995, are being used for training purposes.