Kuwait enhances fighter force
While continuing to search for a new fighter to replace its ageing F/A-18C/D Hornets, Kuwait is pressing ahead with plans to upgrade 39 aircraft. Jon Lake reports.
Unlike most Hornet operators, the Kuwait Air Force (Al Quwwat Aj Jawwaiya Al Kuwaitiya) did little to upgrade its aircraft after delivery of 32 F/A-18Cs and eight F/A-18Ds from October 1991.
The aircraft remain relatively spartan in terms of equipment, avionics and weapons, with no procurement of the kind of advanced weapons that other Hornet operators have embraced in recent years.
However, there are signs that this may be changing and that the KAF may be about to upgrade the Hornet capabilities.
On June 28 this year the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale of 43 joint helmet mounted cueing systems – including spare parts, support equipment, tools and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, US Government and contractor technical and logistics personnel services and other related elements of program and logistics support – to the Government of Kuwait, at an estimated cost is $51 million.
The provision of the joint helmet mounted cueing system would dramatically improve the air-to-air combat capability of the Kuwaiti Hornets, especially if combined with a modern high off-boresight missile like the AIM-9X version of the Sidewinder. Helmet mounted cueing systems also improve air-to-ground capabilities.
At the same time, Kuwait continues to explore the possibility of acquiring new fighters to replace its two squadrons of F/A-18s (No.s 9 and 25 at Ahmed Al Jaber airbase), and recently evaluated a pair of Italian air force Eurofighter Typhoons from the 4° Stormo that were deployed to Kuwait during July.
Despite very high ambient temperatures (reportedly 53°C) and high winds (40mph), the Typhoon impressed, though some of the industry personnel involved were surprised at the Kuwaiti emphasis on the carriage and delivery of dumb bombs.
Kuwaiti interest in a new fighter began a few years ago and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that discussions had begun on the sale of between 14 and 28 Rafales during his visit to the Gulf in February 2008. But, in March 2010, the proposed Rafale buy was derailed and questions were asked in the Kuwait Parliament by the four-man Islamist group known as the Development and Reform Bloc.
Jamaan al-Harbash, of the Development and Reform Bloc, claimed that unnamed officials with “vested business interests” were trying to influence the ministry to buy the Rafale, and highlighted the appointment of the former head of the Kuwait military office in Paris (who favoured the Rafale) to command the air force, contrasting this with the ministry technical team that had recommended against buying the Rafale, labelling it as being technically inferior to other aircraft on offer and more expensive.
By March 2011, the Kuwait Air Force was said to have told the Pentagon that it intended to order the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, in its Block II form with the Raytheon AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
By December 2011 it was being reported that Boeing was offering the F-15SE Silent Eagle to Kuwait as well as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and in February 2012 there were reports that the Kuwaiti Defence Ministry had received calls from the French side to reactivate contacts on the Rafale aircraft. These calls were obviously successful, as Kuwait then scheduled a flight evaluation of the Rafale in June 2012.
Kuwaiti sources suggest that neither Defence Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak, nor the Emir, Sabah Al-Ahmad, are in any hurry to decide which fighter to procure and that evaluation and analysis of alternatives is continuing.