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Defence battles on

Posted 25 September 2020 · Add Comment

Military aviation in the MENA area has not been entirely unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some analysts expect a slowdown in sales of new equipment as a result of stagnation in the oil market, while others think countries like Saudi Arabia will continue their procurement plans at any cost, determined to ensure their security and to maintain influence.

Wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen have continued, with air power still playing a pivotal role. Developments in these campaigns have included the arrival of MiG-29s and Su-24s to support Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), while the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) has been able to call on Turkish unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and F-16s.

In Yemen, the air war has ‘hotted up’ and gained a new dimension, with Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15s scrambling to deal with bomb-carrying UAVs dispatched by the Houthis against Saudi targets, including cities. Saudi air defences have also had to destroy dozens of incoming ballistic missiles.

The Saudi-led coalition had announced a unilateral ceasefire in early April after calls from the United Nations (UN) to halt conflicts during the coronavirus pandemic. But, after Yemen resumed rocket, drone and ballistic missile attacks, Saudi Arabia launched a new military operation against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Saudi military spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Maliki, said: “Targeting civilian facilities is a red line. We won’t allow this to happen.” He added that the Yemeni rebels were not capable of producing their own ballistic missiles and drones and laid the blame for the new round of attacks firmly at Iran’s door.

More constructively, a number of air forces across the MENA region have pressed military transport aircraft into service to deliver aid, medical supplies and protective equipment. Turkey’s new Airbus A400Ms have been particularly busy, flying medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to a number of European nations.

On June 25 the Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported the delivery of three ‘domestically built’ HESA Kowsar fighters, though accompanying photos showed these to be refurbished Northrop F-5s, and not the new indigenous Kowsar 88 trainer.

But any indigenous Iranian programmes may be rendered superfluous, if, as is widely expected, the current 13-year arms embargo ends in October.

If this does happen, Iran is expected to ‘go shopping’ for combat aircraft, air defence missiles, anti-ship missiles and even submarines, probably from Russia and China.

Kuwait’s air force modernisation is continuing apace, with the Kuwaiti-standard Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon now flying.

Kuwait’s permanent parliamentary committee is reportedly looking into the price being paid for the Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as allegations of “large-scale misappropriation of state funds” in connection with the procurement of the two new fighter types.

While the price being paid by Kuwait for its Typhoons is higher than that being paid by Qatar, the deal includes significant amounts of infrastructure, training, support and weapons integration, and thus is not directly comparable on an aircraft unit cost basis.

But Kuwait is sensitive to pricing, after the controversies surrounding the country’s procurement of the Airbus Helicopters H225 Caracal, and after allegations that kickbacks were paid associated with a Kuwait Airways acquisition of 15 Airbus A320neos and 10 Airbus A350 aircraft.

On June 25, Boeing confirmed that the Kingdom of Morocco has signed a US foreign military sales (FMS) contract for 24 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, plus 12 options, with manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) 2 kits, spares, and support.

A weapons package also included AGM-114L and -114R Hellfire anti-tank missiles, APKWS laser-guided rocket kits, and AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, along with unguided 2.75in rockets and 30mm ammunition for an estimated cost of $4.25 billion.

With its new Dassault Rafales now in service and working up to full operational capability, Qatar is preparing to induct its next two new fighter types.

The Boeing F-15QA is now flying in the US, and recent US Department of Defense (DoD) notifications seem to indicate that more of these aircraft will be acquired than was originally expected.
Under the deal signed in December 2017, Qatar was due to receive 36 F-15QA Advanced Eagles, but recent statements suggest that FMS contract may be for 48 aircraft.

There has also been progress with the third of Qatar’s planned new fighter types, with a joint UK-Qatari Typhoon squadron having begun flying as an integrated unit.

On June 19, the British Ministry of Defence announced that the Royal Air Force and Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) Typhoon Squadron, known as No12 Squadron had “marked an important milestone” by commencing flying as a joint squadron.

No12 Squadron is a unique initiative between the UK and Qatar and will provide the QEAF with valuable experience operating the Typhoon as it prepares to receive its first aircraft in 2022.

The announcement is understood to indicate that the first Qatari pilots are now working up to combat-ready status, having completed conversion training.

No12 Squadron was stood up on July 24 2018 and is the first Joint Squadron in the RAF since World War II.

Following the example set by the US Air Force Thunderbirds formation aerobatic display team and the US Navy’s Blue Angels, the UAE Air Force’s Al Fursan aerobatic display team flew a series of displays over some of the nation’s main hospitals.

By doing this, the Al Fursan team showed their appreciation of the UAE’s doctors, nurses, paramedics, and administrative and technical staff, who were saluted as the nation’s real “first line of defence”.

The displays were mounted at the request of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who invited the public to share these moments of pride and unity in appreciation of the nation’s healthcare professionals working round the clock to ensure public safety in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The displays began on Sunday June 21 in Abu Dhabi. Al Fursan flew over the Al Rahba Hospital, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Zayed Military Hospital, Emirates Humanitarian City, Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, and Al Ain Hospital in Al Ain.

On the second day, Al Fursan flew over Al Dhafra Hospital in Madinat Zayed and on the third day, it toured the Kuwait Hospital in Dubai, the Al Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah, the Sheikh Khalifa General Hospital in Ajman, the Field Hospital in Umm Al Quwain, the Field Hospital and Ibrahim Bin Hamad Obaidullah Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, and the Khorfakkan Hospital, the Field Hospital and the Masafi Hospital in Fujairah.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention publicly saluted the flypasts, saying that they had carried an inspirational message of thanks and gratitude to the frontline medical, nursing and administrative staff.

The UAE armed forces have not been neglecting their operational training during the pandemic. The United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command conducted combined naval and air training operations in the southern Arabian Gulf with elements from the US Naval Forces Central Command and US Air Forces Central Command, from June 21-25.

A combination of aircraft and surface assets tracked and engaged simulated fast-attack craft during the air operations in maritime surface warfare (AOMSW) training exercise.

Emirati Boeing CH-47F Chinook, Northstar/Bell 407, Boeing AH-64D Apache, and Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters practised operating from an expeditionary sea base, the USS Lewis B Puller.

UAE pilots successfully completed deck landing qualifications aboard the Puller, and conducted day and night landings and refuelling operations.

The training exercise was intended to maintain and enhance interoperability and to demonstrate UAE and US resolve to respond to threats in the region, preparing forces to meet the challenges of ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in what are some of the world’s busiest waterways.


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