DAVID CAMERON'S Government used serving soldiers as salesmen to try to persuade Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to buy British weapons.
The Army specialists were sent to Tripoli just five months ago to act as "demonstrators" to convince the regime to invest millions in British-made battlefield equipment.
They were deployed to an arms fair organised by a senior Libyan general and ordered to use their expertise and experience to help sell items including unmanned spy-in-the-sky drones and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons suits.
The disclosure shows that, despite previous criticism of Labour over its alleged "back door" trade deals with Libya, the Coalition was happy to continue to try to cash in on improved links with Col Gaddafifollowing the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber.
Last year Britain sold more than £200million of military and so-called "dual use" equipment to Libya - a 10-fold increase on the previous year and the trade's best year ever. The deals included £112million of "information security ware" and £41million of "cryptography" equipment that is believed to have been used to upgrade Libya's command and control systems.
It is likely that this specialist equipment would have been destroyed in the first waves of Allied attacks on Libya earlier this month.
The deals were done in the nine months before the Government sent the Army specialists, including a highly trained bomb disposal expert, to the four-day Libyan Defence, Security and Safety Exhibition (Libdex) arms fair held at Tripoli airport last November.
Depending on the success of the show, defence exports to Col Gaddafi's regime in 2010 - full figures for which are not yet available - could have topped £300million.
Libdex was attended by more than 50 British firms, including leading defence manufacturers such as General Dynamics UK, which recently upgraded the communications of Col Gaddafi's elite armoured brigade in a deal worth £100 million.
At the centre of a large British pavilion was the official Government stand run by the Department of UK Trade and Investment's Defence Security Organisation. Pictures show it was decorated with the insignia of the Army and was bristling with the latest battlefield technology.
Working alongside a team of civil servants were "three or four" serving British soldiers sent to Tripoli "not as salesmen", says the department, but as "end users" to "explain the equipment and promote its capability".
Sending the team of soldiers, who are seconded to the Government's arms sales team from their units for two years, and exhibiting at the fair cost the British taxpayer £55,000.
Last night a UKTI spokesman said that the decision to send the servicemen to Libya had been approved by the department and had been cleared by the Foreign Office.
The four-man team at the exhibition was drawn from a 23-strong contingent of servicemen on full-time secondment to UKTI. Defence ministers are not routinely made aware of their day-today work and they do not report to the Chief of the Defence Staff. Instead, they are under the direction of a civilian civil servant at UKTI.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "It is a longstanding practice for a small number of military personnel to be attached to UKTI to support the UK defence industry; this has no impact on operations."