Libya: How the opposing sides are armed

image captionA rebel fighter in Libya fires a rocket propelled grenade during clashes with pro-Gaddafi forces

Fighting for control of the Libyan capital Tripoli began on Sunday 21 August when rebel forces entered the city. Forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are battling rebels in several parts of the city.

The BBC's Jonathan Marcus looks at some of the weaponry available to both sides. Months of NATO air attacks will have destroyed a lot of Gaddafi's weaponry so it is not clear if his forces are still able to use every weapon listed here. Images of rebels fighting with various weapons are more readily available as the world's media has generally had better access to areas under their control. Some of these images are library shots from Libyan military parades.

Rebel forces

Main battle tank

This is a T55 and the picture illustrates that the rebel forces have some armour at their disposal.

The daubings and slogans are presumably a way of marking this out from a government vehicle. This is a pretty basic weapons system by today's standards but in the Libyan context is still capable. It offers high protection from small arms fire and carries a big gun. Operating and sustaining tanks in the field requires significant training and logistical support.

Multiple rocket launcher

This looks to be a Type 63 107mm Multi-barrel rocket launcher. It has twelve tubes arranged in three lines of four. It could be of North Korean or Chinese manufacture.

It is among the heavier pieces of equipment used by Colonel Gaddafi's opponents. It is essentially an artillery rocket system firing a high-explosive fragmentation warhead in a barrage or ripple effect reminiscent of the famous "Stalin's Organ" of World War II.

The design is old - they first entered Chinese service during the 1960s - but they are sturdy and serviceable and capable of delivering intensive fire at a range of up to around 8km. They are not especially accurate, more of an area weapon, best used in batteries for mass effect. However most photographic evidence from this conflict shows them being used individually.

DShK 12.7mm heavy machine gun

The DShK heavy machine gun is a staple of Soviet-bloc forces and those who have purchased their weaponry from such sources.

Also manufactured in China and Pakistan, this is a weapon that can be seen mounted on vehicles (so-called technicals); at the commanders hatch of armoured vehicles, and also as here on ground mounts. It could be effective against helicopters and light vehicles. This is probably one of the main support weapons being used in the current conflict.

Anti-aircraft gun

This is a multi-barrel heavy machine gun on an anti-aircraft mount. It is one of the principal weapons used in the conflict, which can be seen mounted on wheels or on the back of civilian pick-up type vehicles.

The Libyan military on both sides are using single, two and four-barrel weapons of this type, again typically of Soviet or Chinese manufacture like the ZPU-2 or ZPU-4.

Recoilless rifle

Libya's armed forces operate two types of recoilless rifle. This looks like a US-built 106mm M40A1.

The Libyans also use the much more portable 84mm Swedish Carl Gustav.

It is an old-style anti-armour weapon which tends to make a huge blast on firing thus giving away its position to an enemy.

Wire-guided anti-tank missile

This looks like a version of the Sagger wire-guided anti-tank missile, said to be the most widely produced anti-armour weapon of all time. Once fired, a thin cable unravels behind it which the operator uses to guide it to its target.

It dates back to the 1960s but was widely used during the Sinai campaign in 1973 when Israeli armour was faced with large numbers of Sagger-equipped Egyptian anti-tank units.

Israel's initial counterattack towards the Suez Canal was halted in its tracks and Israeli tank commanders spoke of coming out of the battle with their tanks festooned with the cables from the Sagger missiles. An effective weapon but the operator needs a cool head and a high degree of proficiency on the small joystick with which he guides the weapon to its target.

Light machine gun

This is the sort of weapon that would be used in an infantry squad to augment the fire-power of the individual soldiers.

This one has a small bipod at the front to steady the weapon when fired. Ammunition is belt fed into the gun. It provides a much heavier rate of fire than an assault rifle such as the ubiquitous AK47 but is still light enough for one person to carry.


A very good example of the "technical" - the adapted civilian pick-up truck, often Toyotas - that seem to be a basic weapon in so many African and Middle Eastern conflicts, from Mogadishu to Benghazi.

Essentially the tool of irregular forces and sometimes even gangs, the light vehicles have great mobility and the heavy machine guns, in this case one of Soviet origin, give them some significant fire-power.

But they have absolutely no protection at all. Their greatest benefit is their mobility and the fact that they may be available in significant numbers.


A relatively well-equipped rebel fighter since he looks to have some kind of body armour, helmet and that staple of conflicts the world over, an RPG or rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

This is really the modern-day son of the US bazooka and the German panzerfaust of World War II. It is shoulder-fired and highly portable.

Very effective against armoured carriers and light vehicles, the basic munitions would be hard put to penetrate the main armour of a tank but they can certainly cause damage to tracks, sights and other vulnerable points.

Gaddafi's military

Fighter/bomber jet

This picture shows a Libyan Sukhoi jet flying over the oil town of Ras Lanuf on 9 March before bombing rebel positions.

The Sukhoi SU-22 is a robust and effective Soviet built ground attack aircraft. The SU-22 is designed to hit ground targets with a variety of weapons; bombs, guided missiles and rockets. It also carries two potent 30mm cannons.

The IISS believes that Libya has up to 45 of these jets though how many are serviceable is uncertain. Analysts have also raised questions about the capabilities of Libyan pilots. There have been numerous reports of planes dropping their bombs well away from their targets. Some suggest this may be deliberate but it also may well reflect poor training and inadequate flying hours to maintain the high-level of proficiency that a fast jet requires.

Air power is certainly Colonel Gaddafi's strongest hand in contrast to the rebels, but experts say that so far it has not proved a decisive factor in the fighting. As discussions continue at NATO on potential military options like a no-fly zone, Nato is already closely monitoring Libyan air operations, both to get a picture of how a no-fly zone might be enforced but also to get a sense of how significant the Gaddafi regime's use of air power really is.

Main battle tank

The Libyan Army deploys a large number of Soviet-era battle tanks like the T55, the slightly more modern T62 and the much more capable T72. This photograph is of a T72 which is the most modern tank in the Libyan arsenal.

Tanks are best employed in open warfare where they can manoeuvre effectively. They can be vulnerable in urban areas even to improvised weapons. There have been reports of gas cylinders being used as an incendiary weapon against one government tank.

The very best Libyan tanks - the T72s are likely to be with the elite 32nd Brigade led by one of Colonel Gaddafi's sons. Though, as with so much of Libyan hardware, it's hard to know how much is serviceable. Western experts caution that "elite" in this sense is only a relative term. The 32nd Brigade is better equipped than other Libyan units but its purpose is essentially to protect the regime and its war fighting capabilities are uncertain.

Attack helicopter

This is a Mi-25/Mi-35, essentially the export version of the Soviet-era Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship. This Russian-built helicopter represents the flying cavalry of the Libyan Air Force.

It carries a crew of two, in a stepped, tandem arrangement, with the weapons operator sitting just ahead of and below the pilot. It is armed with a multi-barreled machine-gun or cannon and it can fire anti-tank missiles and deliver other munitions against ground targets. In addition it can also carry up to eight infantrymen in its rear compartment.

It gives Colonel Gaddafi's forces tactical mobility and relatively heavy mobile fire-power. NATO aircraft found it quite difficult to track and destroy Serbian helicopters during the imposition of "no-fly zones" in the Balkans. While the terrain in Libya is very different, halting all local helicopter flights might be a difficult task for the commanders of any future "no-fly zone".

Self-propelled howitzer

his is the heavy fire-power of the Libyan Army - a 155mm Palmaria self-propelled howitzer. This is a model specifically built for export by Oto Melara of Italy. So it is a relatively modern weapon very much to NATO standards.

Libya is listed as having around 160 of these long-range guns. Maximum range is some 24 km though it can fire even further with rocket-assisted munitions though it is not clear if the Libyans have this specific ammunition. Maximum rate of fire is six rounds per minute.

This photo is of a parade with the main gun reversed to face the rear of the vehicle. No images of this weapon in action during the current conflict have been seen but it is among the most modern artillery systems available to the Libyan Army.

BMP-1 infantry combat vehicle

A Soviet-designed infantry combat vehicle dating back to the 1960s which, along with the vehicle's crew, can carry eight infantrymen. They are armed with a medium-calibre smooth-bore gun and machine gun and can also fire guided anti-tank missiles.

They are not especially heavily armoured and vulnerable to relatively light anti-armour weapons like the RPG or rocket-propelled grenade.

Libya is listed in the Military Balance of the IISS as having over 1000 BMP-1s though it is not clear how many are serviceable and how they may be distributed between the Gaddafi loyalists and the rebels.