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Oman's new generation takes off

Posted 23 January 2018 · Add Comment

The Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) has inducted the first of its newly acquired Eurofighter Typhoon swing-role fighters and BAE Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers, ushering in a new era for one of the UK’s oldest and closest regional allies. Jon Lake reports.

The Sultanate of Oman signed a £2.5 billion ($4.06 billion) contract for the purchase of 12 Typhoons and eight Hawk Mk 166 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft, along with in-service support, in December 2012, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2017.
Oman thereby became the seventh customer for the Typhoon (of which 624 have now been delivered or are on order).
The Hawk has been delivered to 18 nations and remains in service in 14, and the total number of Hawk aircraft sold, or on order, has now reached 1,020.
The RAFO already operates 23 Block 50 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons (of 24 originally ordered), and the order for the second batch of these aircraft was interpreted in some quarters as indicating that Oman’s long-standing plan to acquire the Typhoon had been abandoned. In the event, though, the Typhoons will replace the RAFO SEPECAT Jaguars that were withdrawn from use in late 2014.
The new Hawk Mk 166 trainers will probably replace some or all of the RAFO’s fleet of about four legacy Hawk 103s and 12 single-seat, radar-equipped Hawk 203s, delivered in the mid-1990s.
The order strengthened the long standing relationship between the UK Government, BAE Systems and the Sultanate of Oman, which dates back more than 50 years, and which has seen the supply (through BAE Systems’ predecessor companies) of Scottish Aviation Pioneers, Percival Provosts, BAC Strikemasters, Hawker Hunters, BAC One Elevens, and SEPECAT Jaguars, as well as older variants of the BAE Systems Hawk.
On February 18 2016, BAE Systems announced that final assembly of the first Eurofighter Typhoon for the RAFO (the programme’s seventh customer air force) had entered final assembly at its Warton factory in Lancashire, with the start of the marry-up of the fuselage, wings and undercarriage.
The aircraft was identified as being one of three two-seat trainers in the order. This first Omani Typhoon made its maiden flight on November 15 2016.
The first Omani Hawk Mk 166 jet trainer (ZB123/161) completed its maiden flight from BAE Systems’ Warton factory airfield on May 6 2017.
The first Eurofighter Typhoon and Hawk advanced jet trainer aircraft for the RAFO were formally rolled out and presented to the customer in a ceremony at Warton on May 15 2017, in front of an invited audience of more than 100 dignitaries. The guests included the RAFO commander, Air Vice-Marshal Mattar bin Ali bin Mattar Al Obaidani, and His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Saud al Busaidi, Oman’s minister responsible for defence affairs. A fly-past by a RAFO Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft concluded the ceremony.
The Omani Typhoon was painted in an overall air superiority grey colour scheme, similar to that used on RAF Eurofighters, but the Hawk wore a three-tone sand, stone and olive drab colour scheme, similar to that applied to the Jaguars at the end of their service in Oman.
The first pair of Typhoons for Oman (both two-seaters) departed Warton on their delivery flight at 0910hrs on June 19 this year. The two aircraft arrived at the RAFO’s new Adam Air Base on June 21, where the force commander greeted them. Oman is expected to receive four additional Typhoons – three single-seaters and a dual-seater – by the end of 2017.
The first pair of Hawk Mk 166 advanced jet trainer aircraft were delivered to Masirah Air Base on July 29, and four of the eight are now in service.
Britain’s defence relationship with Oman continues to strengthen. During a recent visit to the Sultanate, Defence Minister Michael Fallon praised its role, under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, in reducing tension in the region.
During his visit, Fallon signed a memorandum of understanding covering the use of some facilities at Duqm Port, and to finalise the supply of a number of vessels to the Royal Navy of Oman.
He also announced a major exercise between the two countries and confirmed that the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, would perform a formation display over Muscat on October 3 2017 as part of its Middle East Tour, which will also take in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE and is intended to be a visible demonstration of UK engagement in the region.
The BAE Hawk and Eurofighter Typhoon have been particularly successful in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) market. All six nations operate the Hawk, while Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar are also current (or future) operators of the Typhoon.
Saudi Arabia is the largest Typhoon export customer, having received 72 aircraft – one aircraft was lost on September 13 2017, with its pilot, during a close air support mission against Houthi fighters in Yemen – and the Saudis are reportedly in talks with the UK Government for another batch of 48 Typhoons.
The final 24 Saudi Typhoons were built to tranche 3 standards, and these are fully capable of swing-role operations, including long-range strike with stand-off weapons.
The weapons package being procured with the Typhoons has not been detailed, but is likely to include ASRAAM rather than IRIS-T short range air-to-air missiles, and may include the new MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), as well as Paveway IV dual-mode bombs initially, probably followed by Brimstone and Storm Shadow.

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