Royal Bahraini Air Force
سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني
Emblem of the Royal Bahraini Air Force
Founded1976; 48 years ago (1976)[1]
Country Bahrain
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size1,500 personnel[2]
118 aircraft[2]
Part ofBahrain Defence Force
Engagements
Commanders
Current
commander
Major General Sheikh Hammad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa
Insignia
Roundel
Fin flash
Flag
Aircraft flown
FighterF-16 Fighting Falcon, F-5
HelicopterBell 212, Bell 412, Bell 427, MBB BO-105, UH-60
Attack helicopterAH-1E, AH-1P, TAH-1P
TrainerBH-129, T-67
TransportC-130, BAE-146

The Royal Bahraini Air Force (Arabic: سلاح الجو الملكي البحريني, abbreviated as RBAF, formerly known as Bahrain Amiri Air Force)[1][3] is the aerial warfare branch of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). Originally formed as the BDF Air Wing in 1976, it became an independent service branch in 1987. The RBAF was involved in combat operations during the Gulf War and the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

Bahrain has developed a well-equipped air force and was the second country in the Gulf Cooperation Council after Saudi Arabia to acquire advanced fighters, namely the F-16C/D in 1989, which have been the RBAF's main combat aircraft since then.[4] Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf to use the F-16.[5] In the early 2010s Bahrain decided to replace its older F-5E and F-5F fighters with more modern planes, as well as to modernize its existing F-16 fleet.[4] It ordered 16 new planes of the F-16 Block 70 variant, which it expects to acquire in 2024.[5]

History

Founding and early expansion

A Bahrain Air Force Agusta-Bell 212 Twin Huey in flight over the Persian Gulf during a training mission in 1991.

The Bahrain Defence Force, which itself was formed in 1968, just before the country became independent from United Kingdom in 1971, first organized an air wing in May 1976 at Riffa Air Base, which received its first aircraft, four Bo 105 helicopters, in February 1977. This occurred after Bahrain sent the air wing's future members to receive training from allied countries in 1974. The small force grew gradually, receiving 12 Augusta Bell Twin Huey helicopters in 1978, and in the mid-1980s the air wing became the new Bahrain Amiri Air Force (BAAF). In the early years the Bahraini Air Force participated in training with other countries and helped recover U.S. Navy sailors after the USS Stark incident during the Iran-Iraq War.[1][3] Because of regional conflicts like the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War, during the 1980s and 1990s Bahrain expanded its military with the assistance of the United States, including its Air Force.[6]

In 1985 Bahrain acquired its first fighter jets, the F-5, and established the 6th Fighter Squadron at Muharraq Air Base. After Bahraini air crews became familiar with the F-5, they underwent training to prepare to use the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The first Bahraini F-16s, the F-16C/D variants, were acquired in 1990.[1] This made Bahrain the first Gulf country to use the F-16.[5] Before this, the country considered several American and European advanced fighter aircraft, including the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, Mirage 2000, and Tornado. Bahraini pilots were trained on F-16 operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida in 1989, and the first F-16 formally was handed over to the BAAF in March of that year. The first four F-16s were sent to Bahrain, flown by Bahraini pilots, in May 1990.[7]

A Northrop F-5E Tiger II of the Bahrain Amiri Air Force in 1986.

Around this time the construction of Isa Air Base was complete,[1] which is where the Bahraini F-16s have been based.[8] Both the F-16 and the F-5 were operated by Bahrain in the Gulf War,[1] during which the BAAF carried out air strikes against Iraq.[6] The new Bahraini F-16s were flown by the 1st Tactical Fighter Squadron in Operation Desert Storm, operating alongside coalition forces, which included 200 American aircraft based out of the Isa Air Base, along with the BAAF. The operations lasted from 25 January 1991 until the end of the war, with an average of six sorties per day.[9]

A second batch of ten F-16s commenced delivery in 2000 under the Peace Crown II program. The new aircraft represented a further increase in the air force's combat capabilities, as they were equipped to carry the AMRAAM missile, first used by the USAF in 1992. Air-to-air armament had been limited to the short-range AIM-9M Sidewinder missile and internal cannon through the Gulf War. After the war, the country began to acquire more advanced weapons, including the AIM-7M Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missile and LANTIRN navigation and targeting pod for air-to-ground weapons that would also be acquired such as the GBU-10/12 laser guided bombs and AGM-65D/G Maverick air-to-ground missiles.[7][9]

In 1994 the 8th Helicopter Squadron was established with Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, followed by the 9th Helicopter Squadron in 1997, for the purpose of providing close air support to the Royal Bahraini Army. In 1999 the Air Defense Wing, equipped with the Hawk missile system, was brought under the control of the Air Force.[1]

21st century

In July 2000, Bahrain signed a deal with BAE Systems to establish a pilot academy based around the Hawk Trainer, similar to the NFTC in Canada. Subsequently, orders were placed for Slingsby T67 Firefly and BAE Hawk trainers. The first trainers were delivered in October 2006.[10]

After Bahrain became a monarchy on 14 February 2002, the BAAF was renamed the Royal Bahraini Air Force.[1]

Upgrade of the helicopter force has included new utility transports, and on 19 June 2007, Bahrain signed a letter of offer and acceptance for nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to be purchased as part of the Foreign Military Sales program through the United States Army. These are designated for use in a variety of roles, including combat search and rescue. They were the international launch customer for the UH-60M variant of the venerable S-70 helicopter family.[11] Deliveries commenced on 1 December 2009[12]

A single Sikorsky S-92 VVIP helicopter was purchased by the Air Force in 2007 and placed in service with the Bahrain Royal Flight.[13]

Bahrain would again engage in combat operations as part of the Saudi Arabia-led Operation Decisive Storm, operating from bases in Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebel forces in Yemen during March and April 2015. Initially, fifteen F-16 aircraft were deployed as the RBAF contribution to combat forces in the operation. Bahrain's forces remained in Saudi Arabia in assistance of the coalition through 2015.[14] An RBAF F-16 was lost when it crashed after a technical problem in December 2015.[15] The Bahraini Air Force ended its participation in the operation in Yemen in February 2016.[16]

In 2018, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to produce 16 F-16 Viper Block 70 fighter aircraft for Bahrain, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a release.

Work under the $1,124,545,002 fixed-price-incentive-firm contract is expected to be complete by 30 September 2023, the Friday, 22 June release said.

In October, the government of Bahrain announced that it had finalized a $3.8 billion deal with Lockheed for the F-16 purchase. Bahrain Royal Air Force commander Major General Shaikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said the Gulf state hoped the first planes will be delivered in 2021.

The sale of F-16 Vipers and related equipment to Bahrain was first approved by the U.S. State Department in 2016 during the Obama administration but it was delayed over human rights concerns. President Donald Trump dropped the human rights conditions last year.

The State Department then approved the sale of 19 aircraft worth $2.78 billion, and another $1.1 billion to upgrade Bahrain's existing fleet of 20 F-16s to the Viper configuration in September 2017. The proposed sales also include additional equipment and support. Hamid said in October that the purchase of the other three aircraft was still a possibility.[17]

Incidents and accidents

Organization

Structure

Squadron Wing Aircraft Base Ref
1st Tactical Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing F-16C/D Isa Air Base [8]
2nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing F-16C Isa Air Base [8]
3rd Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AB 212, UH-60M Riffa Air Base [8]
4th Squadron Training Wing T67M260 Isa Air Base [8]
5th Squadron Training Wing Hawk 129 Isa Air Base [8]
6th Tactical Fighter Squadron Fighter Wing F-5E/F Isa Air Base [8]
7th Transport Squadron Transport Wing C-130J Sakhir Air Base [8]
8th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AH-1E, TAH-1P Riffa Air Base [8]
9th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AH-1E, TAH-1P Riffa Air Base [8]
10th Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing Bo 105C Riffa Air Base [8]
22nd Helicopter Squadron Helicopter Wing AH-1Z Riffa Air Base [8]

Bases

Base Location Runway Units
Isa Air Base 9.7 kilometres (6.0 mi) south of Jaww, Southern Governorate 1 x 3,800 metres (12,500 ft) concrete Fighter Wing[8]
Training Wing[8]
379th Air Expeditionary Wing (USAF)
Sakhir Air Base 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) east of Zallaq, Southern Governorate 1 x 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) paved
2 x helipad
Bahrain Amiri Royal Flight[19]
Riffa Air Base 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south east of Riffa, Southern Governorate 1 x 175 metres (574 ft)
multiple helipads
Helicopter Wing
Muharraq Air Base Bahrain International Airport, Muharraq 1 x 3,956 metres (12,979 ft) asphalt Aviation Support Unit Bahrain (USN)
former Royal Air Force station

Personnel

The air force had 650 personnel in 1992[20] and 1,500 in 2009.[21]

Aircraft

Current inventory

A Bahraini F-16 lands at Edwards Air Force Base
A Bahraini BO-105 helicopter
A Bahraini C-130J over RIAT, 2022
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States multirole F-16C 17 16 V variants on order[22]
Transport
Cessna 208 United States transport / utility 1[22]
C-130J Super Hercules United States tactical airlifter C-130J-30 2[22] former RAF aircraft[23]
Helicopters
Bell 212 United States utility 21[22]
Bell 505 United States / Canada utility 3 [24]
Bell AH-1E/F[22] United States attack FB[25] 17[25] Turkish upgrade
Bell AH-1Z Viper United States attack 12[26]
Sikorsky UH-60 United States utility UH-60M 8[22]
Sikorsky S-92 United States VIP transport 1[27]
Trainer Aircraft
Bell AH-1 United States trainer AH-1P 8[22]
T67 Firefly United Kingdom basic trainer 3[22]
BAE Hawk United Kingdom jet trainer Hawk 129 6[22]
MBB Bo 105 Germany training / utility 4[22]
Northrop F-5 United States conversion trainer F-5E/F 12[22]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States conversion trainer F-16D 4[22]

Personnel

The personnel of the RBAF are trained at the Royal Bahraini Air Force Technical Institute and the Training Wing. Every year a number of Bahraini officers are also sent to the United States for additional training, which can include the U.S. Air Force's Air University's Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College, or the Air War College. The RBAF also takes part in training exercises with other air forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council.[1]

Ranks

Officer ranks
Rank group General / flag officers Senior officers Junior officers Officer cadet
 Royal Bahraini Air Force
مشیر
Mushir
فريق أول‎‎
Fariq 'awal
فريق
Fariq
لواء
Liwa
عميد
Amid
عقيد
Aqid
مقدم
Muqaddam
رائد
Ra'id
نقيب
Naqib
ملازم أول
Mulazim awwal
ملازم
Mulazim
Enlisted and NCO ranks
Rank group Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Enlisted
 Royal Bahraini Air Force
No insignia
رقیب أول
Raqib 'awal
رقیب
Raqib
عريف
Earif
جندي أول
Jundiun awwal
جندي
Jundiun‎‎‎‎

Future

Bahrain is planning to recapitalize its fighter fleet. Replacement of the F-5 fleet is to be accomplished with additional F-16 orders in the near term, while longer-term plans call for a more capable aircraft to be acquired to add to or replace the F-16 fleet. Bahrain is considering buying the Eurofighter Typhoon, the JAS 39 Gripen, the Dassault Rafale, or the F-35 Lightning II.[28] The British government is in early talks with Bahrain over a potential order for the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter.[29] In September 2016 it was announced that the sale of up to 19 further F-16s had been submitted to the US Congress for approval, however the White House later advised that it would not complete the approval unless it showed progress on human rights issues arising from the Bahraini protests of 2011.[30][31] In September 2017, the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of up to 22 F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft, as well as the sale of 20 upgrade kits to upgrade Bahrain's existing F-16 fleet to the F-16V Viper variant, the most advanced variant of the F-16, featuring the AN/APG-83 active electronically scanned array radar, a new mission computer developed by Raytheon, modern cockpit displays and other electronics upgrades.[32] In October 2017, Bahraini officials announced that Bahrain had signed a deal worth $3.8 billion with Lockheed Martin for upgraded F-16s, as well as upgrade kits for the Air Force's existing F-16 fleet.[33][34]

Bahrain has confirmed its order for 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper, six months after the US Department of State approved the deal, worth an estimated $912 million, under the Foreign Military Sales process. The attack helicopters will be delivered from the second half of 2022.[35]

Helicopters Enhance Training Proficiency of Royal Bahrain Air Force. Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company, announced the delivery of 3 Bell 505 helicopters to the Royal Bahrain Air Force. Bell delivered the aircraft during an inspection and acceptance event in February 2023 at Bell's Mirabel facility[36]

In March 2023, Bahrain has requested the purchase of 24 surplus Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters from the US, via a Foreign Military Sales deal worth an estimated US$350 million.[37]

References

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  2. ^ a b IISS (2023). The Military Balance 2023. p. 319.
  3. ^ a b Royal Bahraini Air Force. Bahrain Defense Force. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  4. ^ a b Lake, Jon (2014). Bahrain Airshow: A look at the Royal Bahraini Air Force. Times Aerospace. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  5. ^ a b c Losurdo, Marnee (10 March 2023). AFCENT celebrates key partner FMS success. U.S. Air Combat Command. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  6. ^ a b Background Notes: Bahrain, October 1996. U.S. State Department. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  7. ^ a b "Royal Bahraini Air Force". F-16 Users. F-16.net. Archived from the original on 5 January 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
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  10. ^ "Bahrain". Armed Forces Overviews. Scramble. Archived from the original on 5 January 2017. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  11. ^ Sikorsky (19 June 2007). "Bahrain Agrees to Purchase Nine Sikorsky UH-60M Helicopters; Becomes International Launch Customer". Paris, France: helis.com. Archived from the original on 5 January 2017. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  12. ^ Sikorsky (1 December 2009). "Sikorsky Aircraft Delivers UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter to Bahrain Defense Forces". Horseheads, New York, United States: helis.com. Archived from the original on 5 January 2017. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
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  24. ^ AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. May 2023. p. 21.
  25. ^ a b AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. January 2023. p. 24.
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  27. ^ "Sikorsky S-92A – Aeroflight".
  28. ^ Bahraini Air Force Typhoon Order In Prospect Archived 10 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine - Armedforces-Int.com, 8 August 2013
  29. ^ "Bahrain, UK Discuss Possible Typhoon Sale". defensenews.com. Archived from the original on 10 August 2013.
  30. ^ "Fighter Jet Sales to Gulf Allies Backed by U.S. After a Wait". Bloomberg. 29 September 2016. Archived from the original on 28 September 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
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  33. ^ "Bahrain says it signed $3.8 bn deal for F-16 fighter jets". Defence Talk. Agence France-Presse. 18 October 2017. Archived from the original on 19 October 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
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  35. ^ "Bahrain confirms purchase of 12 AH-1Z Vipers". Archived from the original on 15 November 2018. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  36. ^ "BELL 505 HELICOPTERS DELIVERED TO THE KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN". Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  37. ^ Hoyle, Craig (30 March 2023). "Bahrain targets purchase of 24 ex-US Marine Corps AH-1W attack helicopters". FlightGlobal. Retrieved 30 March 2023.