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Lebanese Navy to Soon Receive 3 Protector Class Boats From the US, Eyes 3 More

“Since these boats have limited capabilities to navigate in difficult weather conditions, the Navy has a plan to get large-sized patrol boats that can navigate in difficult weather conditions, and have greater firepower,” the head of Lebanon’s navy told Breaking Defense.

The Lebanese navy expects to receive three Protector-class patrol boats in coming days as part of US military aid, but the country’s naval commander said Beirut will need twice that number — plus larger patrol boats — to better secure its maritime borders.

“This number is not sufficient to meet the needs of the navy to protect the country’s natural resources and sovereign rights in its economic waters,” Lebanese navy commander Adm. Haissam Dannaoui told Breaking Defense. “Since these boats have limited capabilities to navigate in difficult weather conditions, the navy has a plan to acquire large-sized patrol boats that can navigate in difficult weather conditions, have greater firepower, and can transport more equipment and items.”

He told Breaking Defense that larger vessels are also more effective in search and rescue operations and protection of oil platforms.

But before any additional ships, Lebanon expects to accept the first three Protector-class vessels on Aug. 21, a source told Breaking Defense. Earlier in 2023, Lebanese navy teams were trained for operating these vessels in the US.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Beirut declined to comment on the timing of the ship delivery. Another US State Department told Breaking Defense, “The United States is providing maintenance and training to support the transfer of protector class patrol boats to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Crew training began earlier this year. The U.S. takes a total package approach to Foreign Military Sales to ensure customers are able to fully employ capabilities to meet their security requirements.”

When asked about the possibility of increasing the number of vessels, the official said, “At this time we are focused on transferring and building up the LAF’s capacity to employ the protector class patrol boats.”

In May this year, during Border and Vital Installations Security Symposium a Lebanese navy spokesperson said that the service is also expecting delivery of four rigid hull inflatable boats (RIBS) sometime this year.

Currently, the navy’s fleet consists of outdated vessels, some aged more than 30 years, which makes the navy’s plan to upgrade its fleet and add new vessels to it a necessity as the country will start drilling for oil and gas in September this year.

“These vessels will boost the LAF’s Navy capabilities to a higher level. But a higher capability implicates a higher responsibility. I’m sure that, in very short period of time, if those vessels are not correctly supported, their efficiency will fall short of executing the mission they are intended to execute,” retired Lebanese Army Brig. Gen. Maroun Hitti, who served as the director of operations and the deputy chief of staff for planning, told Breaking Defense.

Still, he said the first new ships will help “protect the Lebanese Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone and all the resources. Also, the Lebanese Navy is already doing its best to control illegal immigration and other smuggling activities. I’m sure that these three vessels will be an efficiency multiplier,” Hitti said.

From his point of view, Aram Nerguizian, a senior associate with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, told Breaking Defense that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) never stopped reinforcing its border control capabilities.

“It is important to recall that maritime development is one of the most resource-intensive aspects of military development in any country,” he said. “Country partners like the US are helping up to a point through the donation of surplus equipment, but ultimately, the LAF need the Lebanese government — and the Lebanese political establishment — to get the country and the military on a stable and predictable financial and fiscal footing before the LAF can seriously attempt to focus beyond just sustaining itself.”

The LAF is slated to receive some $150 million in foreign military funds (FMF) from the United States for the fiscal year 2023, though the State Department official said that figure isn’t final.

“The U.S. remains committed to providing security assistance for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty, secure its borders, counter internal threats, and disrupt terrorist facilitation,” the official said.

The official also said the US expects to request $150 million in FY24 as well.

Nerguizian said, “LAF continues to enjoy the confidence and support of a broad cross-section of the US government — and of both houses of the US Congress — because the force has managed to remain professional, accountable, and a reliable steward of assistance received from the United States.”

But Nerguizian, too, emphasized that those dollar figures can change, however, for better or worse for Beirut when it’s actually time for the assistance to arrive, after snaking its way through Congress and the Executive Branch’s bureaucracy.

With America’s focus on other theaters, Nerguizian said there’s unease that the upcoming FMF figures could drop.

Strategic “drift” is “not a fundamental change or shift in policy; rather it reflects the need for the Lebanese to engage proactively and in a ways that are sustained on aid — not unlike Jordan and other FMF recipients — and it represents the challenge of reduced focus at the civilian interagency policy planning level versus [US Central Command] — which remains firmly engaged on supporting the LAF,” Nerguizian added.

Source : Breaking Defense