Bahrain 2012: Kingdom's fast-jet fighters on show
Bahrain's Fighter Wing has dispatched examples of the F-16 and F-15 to BIAS, where they are on display in the static park.
The wing is also planning to provide one of the unique highlights of the flying display, when some of its F-15s and F-16s will escort a Gulf Air Airbus A330.
Though the Royal Bahraini Air Force’s three-squadron fast jet force is one of the smallest in the region, and though its aircraft are among the oldest, the wing has an enviable reputation for professionalism, capability and competence.
Unlike some others in the region, the Royal Bahraini Air Force views itself as a defence force, and has no aspiration to engage in coalition-led expeditionary operations.
“Our job is the protection of Bahrain and the GCC, otherwise we’re not interested,” said Lt Colonel Jaber Al-Khalifa, the wing’s safety officer and a qualified F-16 pilot, although he highlighted the major role the wing played in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 – when the RBAF’s effort was singled out for particular praise by Allied air commander General Chuck Horner – and spoke proudly about the RBAF’s role in the GCC protection force in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
The wing shares the commitment for defending the GCC’s Sector B, covering Bahrain, Qatar and parts of Saudi Arabia’s air space, with the Royal Saudi Air Force’s F-15C squadrons at Dhahran, and maintains aircraft on quick reaction alert.
The wing currently consists of three frontline squadrons, the Sixth Squadron flying the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II, and the First and Second equipped with Block 40 Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds.
The F-5E does still have an operational capability but most F-5E/F flying time is devoted to training, and the primary task of the Sixth Squadron is to give fast jet experience and lead-in fighter training for pilots destined for the F-16, all of whom must gain at least 300 hours on the Tiger II before converting to the F-16.
Some pilots stay on the F-5E, and others are re-streamed, but the majority move on to F-16 training. About half are trained in-country, and the rest by the USAF, usually with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport. “Ultimately, we would like to send all pilots to the USA for F-16 training,” Colonel Al-Khalifa said, “because that would take a load off the air force and would take away operational flying hours”.
The First Squadron concentrates on training, while the Second is more operational, though both units do participate in both roles and share a common, pooled fleet of aircraft.
The RBAF aims to meet US and NATO training and hours requirements, and shadows the USAF’s training and operational practises. The result has been an enviable safety record, with just one fast jet lost in 27 years of fast jet operations.
“We really adhere to all of the rules,” Colonel Al-Khalifa said, “and all flying is closely monitored and supervised. Our pilots are very thoroughly trained, and we avoid situations that are likely to result in impaired safety.”
The RBAF has an advanced simulator for its BAE Hawk trainers and is aiming to replace its current F-16 simulator with a more modern and more advanced training synthetic device.
The F-16 force maintains currency in all roles, though the majority of tasking consists of day air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Colonel Al-Khalifa anticipates a mid-life upgrade for the F-16s, with eventual replacement, he hopes, by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in about 15 years.