Libyan Rebels' DIY Arsenal

Homemade rocket launchers? Backpack-mounted drones? Improvised tanks? Inside the weird and wonderful world of weapons from the Libyan revolutionary war.

The Libyan Revolution is over. Libyan rebels, with no small bit of help from NATO, have conquered Tripoli and are now on the tortured path to reconstruction. Even the staid Associated Press Stylebook, the journalists' bible, is telling us to call them "former rebels." But as Muammar and Seif al-Islam Gadhafi depart to points unknown, it's important to remember one thing: The ex-Libyan rebels who helped drive them there did so with some extremely strange and incredibly fascinating weapons.

During the "Brother Leader"'s long rule, the Libyan military was purposely kept divided into a motley array of state forces and militias, which meant that the larger population was relatively inexperienced in military tactics. CIA, British SAS, and French special forces advisers reportedly eventually helped train the rebels. But before they arrived in significant numbers and began launching drones, missiles, aircraft, and ships, the Libyan rebels built an array of DIY weapons that would make any militant geek proud.

Despite Gadhafi's fearsome reputation, rebels who raided government weapon storehouses found that much of the booty was damaged and unusable. A certain degree of creativity was needed in order to create workable weapons; rebels also had to work around the fact that much of the government's arsenal was stashed in the capital of Tripoli, which was in pro-Gadhafi hands until recently. Serious concerns also now exist that mustard gas and other weapons could disappear from warehouses and be sold to terrorists for use outside of Libya.

But while post-conflict concerns exist, the weapons used in the conflict itself are proof that creativity exists... even in war zones.

In the early months of the war, Libyan rebels took any weapons they could find and jury-rigged them for their immediate needs. Above is a UB-32 rocket launcher pod, designed to be mounted on an aircraft, that's been attached to a pickup truck to create a DIY mobile missile launcher. Rebels fighting the Gadhafi regime used these impromptu missile trucks for both anti-aircraft fire and attacks on government positions.



Another engineer created a more advanced pickup truck missile launcher with a converted UB-16-57 rocket launcher pod. These Soviet-made launchers are normally attached to helicopters; in this case, they were used for ground attacks.

A homemade rocket launcher like the one above, encountered by a journalist outside the town of Brega, used a screwdriver handle to adjust the azimuth of artillery. While extremely simple and low-tech, the improvised aiming system seems to have been usable.

Rebels appear to have had a hard time obtaining binoculars during the war's early days. In this picture, a rebel uses a T-55 tank periscope as an impromptu pair of binoculars.

By the summer, the Libyan rebels had gained the upper hand in their fight against Gadhafi's forces. The National Transition Council, which has been functioning as Libya's interim government, purchased backpack-mounted drones from Canadian firm Aeryon. The three-pound Aeryon Scout UAV has a flight range of approximately two miles and does not carry any weapons. Rebels used the drones to spy on enemy positions and to gather intelligence. Before obtaining the drone, rebels reportedly tried unsuccessfully to mount cameras to the bottom of toy helicopters.

NATO also deployed some interesting weapons in the Libyan conflict. Libya, with its vast coastline, has provided opportunities to Western militaries to test out drones and missiles in an entirely different context than in reconstruction-era Iraq or landlocked Afghanistan. In June, a Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopter drone was shot down by Gadhafi's troops in western Libya. Essentially an unmanned helicopter, the MQ-8 is frequently used by the Navy for anti-drug trafficking and counter-piracy operations. NATO Wing Commander Mike Bracken told reporters that the drone was being used for "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance."

[Images: Getty Images]

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  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Very cool. I hope our guys are paying attention and learning, so that they can use this sort of thing in the next conflict.

    David Kaiser, PhD
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