United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence
  • القوات الجوية والدفاع الجوي الاماراتي
  • Al-Quwwāt al-Jawiyah wa al-Defa' al-Jawiy al-ʾImārāty
Badge of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence
Founded1968; 56 years ago (1968)
Country United Arab Emirates
TypeAir force
Size552 aircraft[1]
Part ofUAE Armed Forces
Vice Marshal Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
FighterF-16 Fighting Falcon, Mirage 2000
HelicopterCH-47, Bell 214, Bell 412, AS 350, AS 550, AS 565, Puma, Super Puma, AS 365, UH-60M
Attack helicopterAH-64D
ReconnaissanceDash 8MMA, CN-235MPA
TrainerHawk, MB-339, PC-7, PC-21, G 115, Aermacchi MB-339
TransportC-130 Hercules, CN-235, Cessna 208, C-17 Globemaster III, Airbus A330 MRTT

The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) (Arabic: القوات الجوية والدفاع الجوي الاماراتي, romanizedal-Quwwāt al-Jawiyah wa al-Defa' al-Jawiy al-ʾImārāty) is the air force of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), part of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. Its predecessor was established in 1968, when the Emirates were still under British rule. Since then, it has undergone a continual reorganisation and expansion in terms of both capability and numbers of aircraft. Currently, the UAEAF has around 4,000 personnel and operates approximately 552 fixed wing and rotorcraft.


The UAEAF's history starts in May 1968, with the formation of an Air Wing of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force (ADDF) under British rule. Its key roles being to provide both a transport service and a ground attack support capability for ADDF land forces.[2] Major investment in the early 1970s assured an expansion in terms of capabilities, quality and quantity of aircraft.[3] It also led to the renaming of the Air Wing to the ADDF Air Force in 1972. Training and instruction was provided by the Pakistan Air Force. During the 1973 Arab-Israel War (6-25 October 1973), the ADDF Air Force's Caribous served as air ambulances in Jordan.[4]

The Emirate of Dubai maintained its own air component, the Dubai Defence Force Air Wing, until 1999, when the two were effectively merged to become what is now the United Arab Emirates Air Force. Although the integration of the two independent forces has been complete, a small degree of autonomy exists at the operational command level, with the Western Air Command being headquartered in Abu Dhabi and the Central Air Command in Dubai.[3]

Since the 1980s, a combination of regional instability and high oil prices has resulted in an ambitious modernisation of the UAEAF, with the goal of attaining a level of capability matching the highest NATO standards.[3]

In the 1991 Gulf War, the UAE helped other countries by carrying out airstrikes against Iraqi forces.

In 2014, the UAE Air Force along with the Egyptian Air Force carried out airstrikes in Libya against Islamist factions in Tripoli.[5][6][7]

In September 2014, UAE Air Force aircraft joined in US-led air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq that later became known as Operation Inherent Resolve. These operations were suspended after a Jordanian pilot was captured by Islamic State militants in late December 2014; pending improvements in US search and rescue capabilities in the region.

In 2015, UAE Air Force dropped bombs on ISIS targets in Syria. One of them was Major Mariyam Al Mansouri, the first female UAE Air Force pilot.[8]

The UAE military is also part of the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.

Personnel and training

UAEAF crew chief communicating during an engine test at Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag 11–2 on February 2, 2011.

The UAEAF consists of about 4,000 personnel.[9]

In the 1970s and 80s, the UAEAF was instructed by Pakistan Air Force pilots on Dassault Mirage 5s, the backbone of the UAEAF at the time. Even today, many of the personnel are ex-Pakistan Air Force officers and technicians.[citation needed] Most of the flying instructors at Al Ain are from Pakistan, training pilots using Grob G 115, Pilatus PC-7, Aermacchi MB-339, and BAE Hawk 63 aircraft. A few officers of No. 12 Squadron (Hawk 102) at Al Minhad Air Base, are also from the Pakistan Air Force. Some of these officers are on deputation (active service), but most are on civilian contracts with the Air Force Headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Numerous officers of other nationalities have also trained UAE pilots, among them Pakistanis, Moroccans, Canadians, Jordanians, and South Africans.

Women have started training as pilots. The first batch consisted of engineers given approval for flight training. So far, only three women have become actual fighter pilots and one a transport pilot. One woman pilot was grounded due to an ejection from a training flight in a Hawk 63. Instructors at Al Dhafra Air Base are now mainly from the US, as the UAEAF has retired its Mirage 5s in favour of F-16s.

Currently there are five main air bases operational, split between the Western and Central Air Command. The Joint Aviation Command has its own airbase and operates a wide range of helicopters.

Candidates apply to the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, which is located at the Al Ain International Airport in Al Ain. They first go through a rigorous schedule of academics (Basic Level: Military Sciences), fitness and officer training. Those who are selected as cadets then start the second phase of academics: Flight Sciences (Aeronautical Science). Cadets who pass the assessment period of the second phase are designated aviation cadets and start flight training. The first aircraft cadets get to fly is the Grob G115 TA. Those who qualify then go on to fly the Pilatus PC-7. On this aircraft, they learn the basics of flying, take-off and landing techniques and procedures followed by a bit of aerobatics. Following the Primary Flying Course is the Basic Flight Course, piloting the Hawk 63. Graduates are graded and assigned accordingly to one of three options: the Advanced Strike course at Minhad on the Hawk 102 aircraft, transport aircraft, and helicopters. At Minhad, the new pilots learn Basic Fighters Manoeuvres, drop bombs and learn to fly cross-country to a neighbouring country, commonly Bahrain or Kuwait. Upon completion of the Advanced Strike course, officers are selected either for the F-16 (Block 60) or the Dassault Mirage 2000-9, both at Al Dhafra AB. A few pilots are selected to learn to fly the F-16 with the United States Air Force's 162d Fighter Wing in Tucson, Arizona.


A UAEAF Mirage 2000 fighter.
A UAEAF Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 developed specifically for the UAEAF. It is also called the F-16 Desert Falcon.

2007 marked the culmination of the largest procurement programmes ever undertaken by the UAE Air Force, with the final deliveries of the 80 F-16E/F Block 60 "Desert Falcons" and approximately 60 upgraded Mirage 2000-9, giving the air force a considerable multirole capability.[10] These two investments represented a total expenditure of around $10 billion, with additional money spent on infrastructure and logistics.[3] A $6.4 billion contract with Lockheed Martin for the supply and support of the 80 F-16s was signed in March 2000, while a $3.4 billion deal for the purchase of 30 new Mirage 2000-9 and retrofitting of the 33 older UAE Mirage 2000s was signed earlier in 1998.[11] Missiles were also purchased: 160 AGM-88 HARMs, 1,000 or more AGM-65 Mavericks, about 500 AIM-120 AMRAAMs, 270 AIM-9 Sidewinders and 52 AGM-84 Harpoons.[11] In November 2017, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces announced their intention to sign a contract with Dassault Aviation for the upgrade of its Mirage 2000-9 aircraft. French newspaper La Tribune reported the modernization would cost roughly €300 million.[12]

After a competition between the BAE Hawk, KAI T-50 Golden Eagle and Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, the UAEAF announced the acquisition of 48 trainer and light attack aircraft, with the first deliveries to take place in 2012.[13] The other training types that are thought to be near replacement are the 30 Pilatus PC-7s and five Aermacchi MB-339s serving with the Air Academy at Al Ain.[14] The MB-339 is also in use with the UAEAF flight display team, Al Fursan.[15]

The UAEAF has operated 20 IAR 330 Puma helicopters since the late 1970s. These have been recently upgraded to the IAR-330SM standard by IAR Ghimbav in Romania in cooperation with Eurocopter.[16] These aircraft, supplemented by a further ten ex-South African Air Force reworked SA-330s, are expected to remain in service for at least 15 years.[17] Although no replacement for the Puma fleet is required in the immediate future, the force will be supplemented by 26 Sikorsky UH-60M Battlehawks, with 390 AGM-114N Hellfire II missiles.[18] 30 AH-64A Apache helicopters were modernised as well, to the AH-64D Longbow standard, and a dozen Eurocopter Fennecs were recently acquired for special forces use.[14]

The most important facility of the UAEAF is the Al Dhafra Air Base, with almost the entire fighter aircraft fleet located there. However, in order to prevent all of the air defence and strike assets being located at a single base, a $1 billion, completely new facility has been constructed deep in the Abu Dhabi desert,[3] near the border corner with Saudi Arabia and Oman, near Al Gharbia, housing at least one Mirage 2000 unit. Al-Safran is believed to have opened between around 2008.[19] It is 3,000 m long and has aircraft parking nearly the same size as in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. A 4,000 m runway at Al-Safran Air Base was built around 2008.[19]


As of 2008, the structure of the United Arab Emirates Air Force is as follows:[17]

Western Air Command - HQ at Abu Dhabi

UAEAF Lockheed L-100 at Geneva International Airport, 2003

Central Air Command - HQ at Dubai

Joint Aviation Command (JAC) - HQ at Abu Dhabi





A United Arab Emirates Mirage 2000 in flight
An F-16E on take-off
A Lockheed C-130H Hercules
An AW139 on lift off
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat aircraft
IOMAX Archangel United States COIN / attack UAE AA 20[21]
Dassault Mirage 2000 France multirole 9/EAD/RAD 59 15 9/DAD variants provide training[21]
Dassault Rafale France multirole F4 80 on order[21][22]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States multirole E Block 60 56 [21]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States conversion trainer F Block 60 22 [21]
Bombardier Global Express Canada AEW&C GlobalEye AEW 3 2 on order[21]
Bombardier Global Express Canada reconnaissance / ISTAR 6000 2[21]
Maritime patrol
Bombardier Dash 8 Canada maritime patrol MPA-D8 2[21]
Bombardier Challenger 600 Canada maritime patrol Challenger 650 2[21]
Airbus A330 MRTT Europe aerial refueling / transport KC-30A 3[21] 2 on order [23]
King Air United States utility 350 5 three 90 variants provide training[21]
Quest Kodiak United States utility 100 1[21]
DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada utility 1[21]
PAC P-750 New Zealand light utility 1[21]
Boeing C-17 United States heavy transport 8[21]
Piaggio P.180 Italy VIP transport 2[21]
CASA CN-235 Spain transport 9[21]
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H/L-100 8[21]
Bell 412 United States utility / SAR 4[21]
Eurocopter AS350 France utility / trainer 3[21]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy utility / VIP transport 8[21]
Trainer aircraft
Bell 407 United States trainer / utility 14[21]
BAE Hawk United Kingdom jet trainer Hawk 61/63/102 12[21]
Grob G 115 Germany light trainer 12[21]
Pilatus PC-7 Switzerland advanced trainer 31[21]
Pilatus PC-21 Switzerland advanced trainer 25[21]
Aermacchi MB-339 Italy jet trainer 12[21]
Denel Dynamics Seeker South Africa surveillance Seeker II 11[24]
MQ-1 Predator United States UCAV Predator XP [25]
Wing Loong II China MALE UCAV [26]
Baykar Bayraktar TB2 Turkey MALE UCAV [26]

Joint Air Command

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Cessna 208 United States surveillance / utility 8[27]
DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada surveillance / utility 3[27] STOL capable aircraft
DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada transport / utility 7[27] STOL capable aircraft
Bell 407 United States light utility 29[27]
AH-64 Apache United States attack AH-64D/E 30 10 on order[27]
CH-47 Chinook United States transport / utility CH-47C/F 28[27] 12 obtained from Libya[28][29]
UH-60 Black Hawk United States utility UH-60L/M 80[27]
Eurocopter AS565 France utility / SAR 12[27]
Eurocopter AS350 France utility / rotorcraft trainer 15[27]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy utility / SAR 6[27]


Previous aircraft operated by the Air Force were the Dassault Mirage 5, Boeing 707, Aeritalia G.222, CASA C-212, SF.260T, Alouette III, SA 342 Gazelle, Bölkow Bo 105, Bell 206 & Bell 214 helicopter.[30]

Future equipment

Future programs include the Next-Generation Fighter, request for proposals has been sent to Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and Sukhoi Su-57.[31]

On 3 December 2021 it was announced that the UAE had signed an order for 80 Rafale F4s.[32]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ "2021 United Arab Emirates Military Strength". Archived from the original on 2020-09-13. Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  2. ^ Yates, Athol (2020). The Evolution of the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirtates. Warwick: Helion & Company. ISBN 9781912866007.
  3. ^ a b c d e AirForces Monthly, p. 60.
  4. ^ Yates (2020). The Evolution of the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates. p. 213.
  5. ^ "Egypt, UAE carried out Tripoli air strikes: U.S. officials". Reuters. 25 August 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Libya crisis: US 'caught off-guard' by air strikes". BBC News. BBC. 26 August 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  7. ^ Kirkpatrick, David; Schmitt, Eric (25 August 2014). "Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S." The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  8. ^ "UAE fighter pilot awarded at UN". Archived from the original on 2021-05-13. Retrieved 2021-05-15.
  9. ^ "Background Note: United Arab Emirates". US Department of State. Archived from the original on 6 June 2002. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  10. ^ "UAE eyes France's Rafale fighter". AFP. Archived from the original on 28 January 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  11. ^ a b AirForces Monthly, p. 61.
  12. ^ Tran, Pierre (14 November 2017). "Dassault to modernize UAE's Mirage fleet for a reported $350M". Defense News. Paris. Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  13. ^ "UAE Gives M346 a LIFT". Defense Industry Daily. Archived from the original on 2009-08-27. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  14. ^ a b AirForces Monthly, p. 62.
  15. ^ "Pictures of the Day: 4 February 2018". The Telegraph. 4 February 2018. Archived from the original on 2018-09-30. Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  16. ^ "Eurocopter Romania awaits UAE contract". Jane's Intelligence Weekly. Archived from the original on August 7, 2003. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  17. ^ a b AirForces Monthly, p. 63.
  18. ^ "UAE Ordering Weaponized UH-60M 'Battlehawk' Helicopters". Defense Industry Daily. 17 September 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-09-21. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  19. ^ a b Osborne, Tony (2 April 2015). "UAE's Mysterious Airbase". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  20. ^ "Orbats". www.scramble.nl. Archived from the original on 4 Feb 2023. Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa "World Air Forces 2023". Flight Global. Flightglobal Insight. 2022. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  22. ^ "Press kits - Dassault Aviation". Dassault Aviation, a major player to aeronautics. Retrieved 2021-12-05.
  23. ^ "United Arab Emirates orders two additional Airbus A330 MRTT". Airbus. 2021-11-14. Archived from the original on 2021-11-27. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  24. ^ "SIPRI Arms Transfers Database". SIPRI. Archived from the original on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  25. ^ "General Atomics confirms UAE Predator delivery | IHS Jane's 360". archive.ph. 2017-02-16. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  26. ^ a b Binnie, Jeremy (2023-03-07). "UAE displays new UAVs". Janes Information Services. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "World Air Forces 2021". Flightglobal Insight. 2021. Archived from the original on 8 December 2020. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  28. ^ "UAE awards contracts for CH-47 upgrade". flightglobal.com. Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  29. ^ "World Air Forces 2020". Flightglobal Insight. 2020. Archived from the original on 10 December 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  30. ^ "World Air Forces 1983 pg. 374". flightglobal.com. 1983. Archived from the original on 2018-04-13. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  31. ^ "defense-watch.com". ww1.defense-watch.com. Archived from the original on 2018-12-24. Retrieved 2019-02-04.
  32. ^ John Irish (3 December 2021). "Cementing ties, UAE buys 80 French-made Rafale warplanes". Retrieved 3 December 2021.