The missile, originally belonging to Qatar, was sold to a friendly nation before being found in Italy.
As you probably know by now, on July 15, 2019, the antiterrorism section of DIGOS (Italian acronym for General Investigations and Special Operations Division), a specialized unit of Polizia di Stato (the Italian State Police), carried out a raid against a neo-nazi gang and retrieved an arsenal of various weapons, weapon parts, munitions and, notably, a Matra R530F radar-guided air-to-air missile.
The investigation began last year while monitoring Italian foreign fighters involved in combat operations in the Dombass region in Ukraine. While monitoring telephone communications of one of the suspects, the Police discovered the presence of the missile and some attempts to sell it to an unknown client for 470,000 Euro. The Police then proceeded to retrieve the missile in a warehouse near Voghera-Rivanazzano Terme airport, in northern Italy.
The missile is a French-made Matra R-530F (also known as Super 530) semi-active radar homing (SARH) short to medium range air-to-air missile and was found in its original container, whose markings identified it as belonging to the Qatar Armed Forces.
The entire markings stated:
“Contract dated 10th October, 80
State of Qatar
Qatar Armed Forces
MIS A/A MP EM F20 S530
LOT:83, SER N: 5284”
Based on the markings, the missile is an R.530 F20 version with serial number 5284, belonging to the production lot 83 and sold to the Government of Qatar on Oct. 10, 1980.
The missile is marked as a “live” (not inert) as shown by the presence of a yellow band, that is used to highlight the presence of an explosive warhead, and a red band, meaning the presence of rocket fuel; however, during the inspection, it was found that the warhead was missing. The Police didn’t provide additional details about the fuel and the guidance section.
The Super 530 missiles were meant to arm the 14 Mirage F1EDA fighters bought the same year by the Qatar Emiri Air Force. The F20 version was specifically designed to be carried by Mirage F1, while the D version was designed to be carried by the newer Mirage 2000. In 1994 Qatar replaced the Mirage F1 with the Mirage 2000, selling its old fighters to Spain and the Super 530 missile to an unknown nation. It not clear yet how the missile came in the hand of the neo-nazi gang and how it crossed the Italian border undetected. Still, it is possible that the missile is one of those that were sold to Spain, even though the Spanish missiles were retired and reportedly demilitarized” along with the Mirage F1 type in 2013.
Qatar foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah Alkhater said in a statement: “The authorities in Qatar have immediately started an investigation alongside the respective Italian authorities and the authorities of another friendly nation to which the Matra missile was sold 25 years ago. The captured Matra Super530 missile was sold by Qatar in the year 1994 in a deal that included 40 Matra Super 530 missiles to a friendly nation that wishes not to be named at this point of the investigation. Qatar is working very closely now with the pertinent parties including Italy to unveil the facts and it is very concerned as to how a missile sold 25 years ago ended up in the hands of a third non-state party.”
Some days after the raid, the reasons why the far-right group acquired an air-to-air missile is still a mystery. Someone believes they were trying to sell the missile to one of the few remaining air arms that are currently flying the aircraft (especially Libya, where the Government of National Accord still operates at least an F1 and might be interested in using it against Haftar’s Libyan National Army) or to organizations that may be interested in either studying or reverse-engineering/modifying the missile (although it won’t be an easy endeavour, unless done by someone with significant expertise and skills).
Among other weapons recovered in the raids were 20 guns, including nine assault rifles, one submachine gun, three hunting rifles and seven pistols, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts, including silencers and rifle scopes, and 831 bullets of various calibers.
The footage released by the Italian authorities shows also an F-104 Starfighter simulator that has no intelligence/military significance (it’s just a collector item considered that the aircraft has been withdrawn from operational use some 15 years ago):
By the way, there’s a cameo of an F-104 Starfighter simulator in the video of the Italian police showing the seized Matra R530F air-to-air missile. pic.twitter.com/mXheqgSgNV
— David Cenciotti (@cencio4) July 15, 2019
The entire inventory can be found in the official statement released by the Police (link in Italian). The F-104 simulator is not included: most probably it was just hosted in the same place as the seized weapons.