It has been an impressive couple of months for Middle East air forces. The US Government approved deals with Qatar for 72 F-15QAs and also Kuwait for 40 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in mid-November, but in early December came a bonanza of possible helicopter sales valued at more than $7 billion. Alan Warnes reports.
A request by the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence (UAEAF&AD) for 37 AH-64E Apache helicopters was approved on December 7, while the same day saw the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) given the go-ahead to purchase 48 CH-47F Chinook helicopters.
It has been an impressive few weeks and looks like a bid by the current US Government to wrap up foreign military sales before the new Trump administration takes office on January 27.
It would appear that the GCC air forces are taking plans to strengthen their air forces, seriously.
The war in Yemen has highlighted the need to work together and Arabian Aerospace was told at Bahrain International Airshow (BIAS) in January that it would happen “soon”. These deals illustrate that the GCC nations are taking care of their own tactical inadequacies, in the light of the operations in Yemen as well as any increased threat from Iran.
A proxy war has been raging in Yemen since 2014 between Shiite Iran and the Saudi Arabian allied force, supported by most of the Sunni-led GCC countries. These intended acquisitions will support all their needs.
The proposed $3.5 billion Apache sale includes the remanufacture of the UAEAF&AD’s 28 existing AH-64Ds into AH-64E configuration, together with production of nine new AH-64Es. It comes after several years of negotiations over the purchase of, arguably, the best gunship in the world. The UAE originally operated 30 AH-64As, which were later upgraded to AH-64D Block II standard.
On November 4, 2010, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) had notified the US Congress of the planned contract to upgrade all 30 of the UAEAF&AD AH-64Ds to the AH-64D Block III (now AH-64E) but nothing progressed until now.
The Apaches were delivered between 1993-96 and modernised from AH-64A to D standard between 2008-10. The 2010 notification also indicated the UAE’s intention to buy an additional 30 new-build examples.
While the announcement on December 7 confirms the upgrade is finally moving ahead, only nine are being purchased as new builds. It is unclear if there is still a need for 30.
The intention to upgrade just 28 would indicate there have been two attrition losses. One of these was involved in a crash during operations in Yemen on June 13, 2016, which resulted in two fatalities. It is unknown when the other loss occurred.
In addition to the helicopters, the contract will see many other major items including 76 T700-GE-701D engines (56 remanufactured and 18 new with two spares) as well as 39 AN/ASQ-170 modernised target acquisition/designation sights (28 remanufactured, nine new with two spares.
The UAEAF&AD’s Joint Aviation Command (JAC), based at Sas Al Nakheel Airbase, operates the majority of tactical helicopters in the UAE, including all the AH-64D Apaches. It took on the aviation assets of the UAE Land Forces, Special Operations Command and Naval Squadron in mid-2012.
According to the JAC, this was done for better command and control reasons as well as logistics support, and is based on the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command. Senior officers serving the JAC and educated in military leadership at the UK’s acclaimed Royal College of Defence Services (RCDS) Shrivenham, Oxfordshire were impressed with the way the JHC operates.
Meanwhile, the Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre (AMMROC), which has recently built a state-of-the-art MRO at Al Ain, could remanufacture the helicopters.
The other proposed helicopter deal announced on December 7, valued at $3.51 billion, was for the sale of 48 CH-47F Chinooks to Saudi Arabia. It marks the biggest foreign military sale to date, with the only other country in the region operating the CH-47F being the UAEAF&AD, which took delivery of 20 during 2012-2014.
According to a US Army spokesman, the sale will help to bridge the gap between the end of the CH-47F Block I production in 2018 and the initiation of CH-47F Block II production in 2021.
The contract also includes 112 4,733hp Honeywell T-55 engines, as well as common missile warning systems (CMWS) and M240H 7.62 machine guns.
The helicopters are to be operated by the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command (RSLFAC).
The CH-47F will increase its interoperability with US forces and advance the development of a heavy-lift helicopter capability, which, oddly enough, Saudi Arabia does not possess. Until now they have concentrated on using the Sikorsky UH-60 to transport troops. However, with the Yemen conflict showing no sign of ending, and the need to transport equipment and troops as quickly as possible, an alternative was required.
Most of the RSLFAC aviation assets, which comprise Bell 406CS Combat Scout, Schweizer 333s, S-70A-1 Black Hawk, UH-60L Black Hawks and AH-64 Apaches, are headquartered at Hafr Al-Batin in King Khalid Military City, although they deploy all over the country.
The CH-47Fs will undoubtedly join them there, as well as up to 60 US Government and contractor representatives for up to 60 months, for equipment de-processing, fielding, system checkout, training and technical logistics support.
The CH-47F is the latest derivative of the hugely successful Chinook and has a payload of around 21,000lbs (9,500kg). When fitted with an extended range fuel system it has a mission radius of more than 400 miles (644kms).