Royal Bahraini Air Force / Bahrain Amiri Air Force (BAAF)
The Kingdom of Bahrain has built up a small but professional air force since independence was declared on 14 August 1971. Although Bahrain is the smallest and least populous of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) nations, the Royal Bahraini Air Force is highly efficient, well-equipped, and relatively modern.
The Royal Bahraini Air Force was formerly known as the Bahrain Amiri Air Force, but when Bahrain became a monarchy in the elections of 14 February 2002, the armed forces were renamed accordingly. The foundation of the Bahrain Amiri Air Force (BAAF) came by order of H.H.Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-khalifa the Amir and Supreme Commander with the formation of an Air Wing on the 8th of May 1976 to complement other formations and units already in service in the B.D.F. The formation of BAAF was preceded by several studies conducted of the requirements of the Bahrain Defense Force, as dictated bygeographical location, the strategic position of the country and the standards achieved by advanced countries in this field.
The Bahraini air force began operations in 1977 with a gradually expanding fleet of helicopters. In view of the strategic requirements the national authorities initially adopted a project for equipping the air wing with helicopters. The tasks assigned to the air arm were numerous and important: (1) supportingthe ground forces by quickly transferring equipment whose movement over ground inhigh mountains or water surfaces or sand stretches is difficult, (2) defense of the air space and boundaries of the country on land, (3) defense of territorial waters in conjunctionwith the Navy. At the beginning of May 1979, construction of Al-Riffa Air Base started and on 04 September 1979 the operational helicopter squadron arrived at the new base. On 26 April 1982, H.H. Shaikh Isa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa officially opened the Al-Riffa base. This base, which was designed by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, played an essential role during the first Gulf War. It hosted 250 U.S. and allied combat aircraft that flew over 11,000 sorties against Iraq. This war demonstrates that the size of the country has nothing to do with its international role.
In 1985 the Bahraini Air Force took the road to high-performance fighters, purchasing through US FMS 12 Northrop F-5 E/F combat aircraft. With the acceptance of the F-5 aircraft in October 1985, the BAAF joined the jet age. From the mid-1980s it had been slowly building up its defense assets after the delivery of one squadron of F-5E/Fs. Like the Saudis, the Bahrainis operated the F-5 in a ground attack role, probably minus the manual laser tracker.
The jet-fleet was supplemented by a number of BAE Systems Hawk 100s that were ordered in July 2002. The helicopter fleet consists of 24 Bell AH-1E Cobra attack helicopters. The operational status of the Bell 212s and MBB Bo105s remained uncertain. To supplement the Cobra fleet, the Bahraini government had shown interest in the procurement of 17 additional surplus US AH-1Fs from which 14 would eventually enter service. I-Hawk SAMs were on order as the principal air defense weapon.
By 2010 the Royal Bahraini Air Force was composed of 1,500 personnel and possesses both fixed and rotary wing combat aircraft, including the F-16C/D, the F-5E/F, the AH-1E, and the S-70A. It has two bases; one in Shaikh Isa and the other located in Riffa, and it is considered an effective defensive force among world air forces, although it only has three fighter squadrons and four helicopter squadrons. Bahrain must rely on its GCC neighbors in order to train its air force personnel and also cooperates with the GCC in training exercises such as "Gulf Spears".
After initially being denied shoulder-fired Stinger SAMs by congressional objections, Bahrain was allowed to purchase the weapons on a provisional basis and later to retain them permanently. The main air force base is adjacent to Bahrain International Airport on Al Muharraq. Another base developed for use in the Persian Gulf War is available near the southern tip of Bahrain; as of 1992, it was being used for servicing carrier-based United States aircraft.
On 26 June 2002, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain of a 3 dimensional radar and associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $40 Million. The Government of Bahrain has requested a possible sale of one AN/TPS-59(V)3 3-dimensional land based radar, one Air Defense Communication Platform, spare and repair parts, publications, personnel training and training equipment, technical assistance, contractor technical and logistics personnel services and other related elements of program support.
On July 28, 2006 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain of UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $252 million. The Government of Bahrain has requested a possible sale of nine (9) UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, two (2) T700-GE-701D turbine engines, spare and repair parts, publications and technical data, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services, a Quality Assurance Team, aircraft survivability equipment, tools and test equipment, and other related elements of logistics support.
On August 3, 2007 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain of Bell 412 Air Search and Recovery Helicopters as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $160 million. The Government of Bahrain has requested a possible sale of six Bell 412 Air Search and Recovery Helicopters configured with PT6T-9 engines and electronic engine control, spare and repair parts, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government (USG) support, and contractor representatives’ engineering and technical support services, and other related elements of logistics support.
In 2009 the Bahrain Defense Force General Headquarters requested U.S. Government permission to demilitarize and dispose of three (3) TAH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter airframes. Many components and repair parts for this type of aircraft are no longer available for purchase and repairs are cost prohibitive. All serviceable components have been removed from these aircraft for repair of other aircraft in Bahrain's fleet. The remaining airframes are no longer useful. Bahrain acquired and refurbished the three (3) TAH-1P helicopters under Foreign Military Sales case BA-B-UFX using national funds.
The Royal Bahraini Air Force was working towards achieving full operational capability with its new Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, eight of which were delivered in early September 2010. Formed at Riffa air base, the air force's 12 Sqn would operate the Black Hawks as replacements for the service's 11 Agusta/Bell AB212s. One of the type's main uses would be search and rescue operations at sea.
By 2015 the service was about to undertake a two-phased recapitalisation program with some of its current inventory first upgraded, with new platform acquisitions to follow. Phase 1 will first see the RBAF upgrade its fleet of Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. The fixed-wing portion of the Phase 1 upgrade involves upgrading the air force's F-16C/D platforms with new systems, advanced avionics and displays, new sensors, datalinks, and a new active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar.
Phase 2 would see the air force acquire a new attack helicopter type, as well as a new 'generation 4+' combat aircraft. The RBAF had entered into negotiations with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for T129 ATAK combat helicopters. The fixed-wing portion of Phase 2 will see the RBAF look to acquire a new fighter aircraft type "beyond 2025", to augment the upgraded F-16s and replace the F-5s.
Bahrain F-16 Peace Crown
The backbone of the fighter force was formed by two squadrons of F-16C/Ds delivered in two batches between 1990 and 2001. Sheik Isa Air Base is home to the BAAF and is located on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in southern Bahrain. It hosts the BAAF Fighter Wing and the two squadrons that comprise it. The 1st Fighter Squadron operates Block 40 F-16s along side F-5E/F Tiger IIs from the 6th Fighter Squadron.
In March 1987, Bahrain ordered twelve F-16 aircraft through the US FMS, and through a program which became known as Peace Crown. In 1990, the BAAF become the fifteenth operator of the Fighting Falcon. On June 22, 2000 Bahrain received the first of of a further 10 F-16s purchased under the Peace Crown II program.
The LOA was signed in March, 1987 for 12 F-16 C/D aircraft with the first production delivery scheduled for March 1990. The program was a $385 million cash sale without any coproduction. In March 1990 Bahrain accepted the first of their new block 40 F-16 aircraft, comparable to their US counterparts with similar radar warning and self-protection systems. The literature suggests the 12 aircraft package included navigation and targeting pods, but these apparently were not used in the first Gulf War as the jets only flew air-to-air missions. Bahrain showed amazing proficiency with the F-16, flying 167 combat sorties during Desert Storm only months after the introduction and delivery of the first F-16 to their air force.
On 22 June 2000 Bahrain received the first of its new production F-16 aircraft today in ceremonies at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. The aircraft was the first of 10 F-16s purchased under the Peace Crown II program. The new F-16s will supplement the BAAF's existing inventory of 12 Block 40s (eight C model, four D model) that were purchased in 1987 and delivered in 1990. The Peace Crown II program was valued at $303 million, and completed delivery at the end of 2000.
On 21 July 2005, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Government of Bahrain of continuing logistics support services/equipment for the F-16 aircraft and related components as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $150 million. The Government of Bahrain has requested a possible sale of continuing logistics support services/equipment for the F-16 aircraft, ALR-69 radar warning receiver, ALQ-131 electric countermeasure pods, radar systems, and engines. The possible sale also includes support equipment, aircraft engine services/modification, repair/return services; depot level repair support; precision measurement equipment laboratory calibration, spare and repair parts, support equipment, supply support; personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, contractor technical services and other related elements of logistics support and to ensure aircraft operational availability.
On July 27, 2009 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible foreign military sale to the Government of Bahrain of 25 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and associated equipment, parts and services at an estimated cost of $74 million.
The U.S. Air Force (and other F-16 users) have performed major upgrades to their F-16s' avionics systems. The BDF has been offered a similar upgrade, but balked at the $300M to $400M price tag. The US had briefed the BDF leadership on several occasions that the current avionics system in their aircraft will become ever more difficult to maintain and could be unsupportable in 10 years due to parts obsolescence. By 2013, Bahrain will be the only country using this old configuration. As the system ages, maintenance costs will increase and combat effectiveness will decrease. Eventually, with no pipeline to support them, the viability of the BDF's 21 F-16s will become increasingly uncertain. Furthermore, the upgrade kit production line is scheduled to close in the near future. This would effectively leave the Bahrain Defense Force with no commercially available means to upgrade. If Bahrain chose to wait and production of the kits ends, costs would increase even further.
In addition, F-16 engineers estimate that Bahrain's aircraft engines began to reach cycle limits in June 2009, necessitating overhaul and replacement of some key parts. The relatively high ($60M to $80M) cost of these replacement parts has figured into the Bahrain Defense Force's decision to postpone the upgrade purchase. Some aircraft could be grounded if the decision to purchase the overhaul kits is not made within the next twelve months. The BDF has already begun to reduce its flying schedule and it has some capability to rotate engines with low flying hours through the fleet. This will delay the first groundings, but ultimately require subsequent groundings to happen more quickly.
By December 2009 there were concerns about Bahrain's ability to fund the USD $400 million Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) avionics upgrade for its existing fleet of F-16s. It was important for Bahrain to extend the viable service life of these aircraft as long as possible, as the Kingdom could not afford to purchase new aircraft. There was a difficult budgetary environment for defense expenditures in Bahrain, with most government funding going to social programs. Brigadier General Yousef Ahmed Malalla, Director of Planning, Organization, and Information Technology for the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF), indicated that Bahrain had already allocated USD $55 million to pay for the basic Service Life Extension (SLE) for the aircraft's engines, but the budget would not support additional expenditures to support CCIP. Brigadier General Shaikh Hamad Abdulla Al Khalifa, Commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force, said Bahrain needed assistance in modernizing its F-16s in order to continue to support coalition operations.
One hundred jet fighters from 10 friendly countries took part in the "Initial Link" exercise 2012, organized by the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF). The major military exercise is one of the Royal Bahraini Air Force's (RBAF) training schemes in collaboration with fraternal and friendly countries to maintain security and stability in the Gulf. It aims to enhance competence of pilots and technicians in air forces as well as support and contingents. This year's drill was the biggest since 1988. RBAF held a preparatory meeting with representatives from participating countries including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the USA and the host country Bahrain. Preparations were reviewed alongside with combat readiness.
The State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain for F-16 follow-on support and associated equipment, parts and logistics for an estimated cost of $150 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on August 4, 2015. The Government of Bahrain requested a possible sale of follow on support for Bahrain’s existing F-16 fleet. Support will include support equipment, communications equipment, ammunition, personal training and training equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Program, U.S. Government and contractor technical, logistics, and engineering support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. The estimated cost is $150 million.
The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping improve the security of a Major Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Ally, which has been and continues to be a key security partner in the region.
The follow-on support is required to maintain the operational readiness of the Royal Bahrain Air Force’s (RBAF) F-16 fleet. The RBAF’s F-16s are aging and periodic maintenance is becoming increasingly expensive. The age of the fleet, combined with an increased operational tempo due to recent involvement in Operation Inherent Resolve has led to increased focus on maintenance and sustainment. Bahrain will have no difficulty absorbing this additional support into its armed forces. Contracts will be awarded when source of supply determines that defense articles and services are not available from stock or considered lead-time away.
A replacement for Bahrain’s fleet of 12 ageing Northrop F-5E and F-5F Tiger II lightweight fighters was once expected in the 2010 timeframe, and it was then widely anticipated that the most likely replacement would be further F-16s. It was thought that these would form an additional squadron of about ten more F-16s to augment the 21 that are currently in service. (One F-16 was lost, with its pilot, on 27 September 2003, the RBAF’s sole fast jet loss since 1985). But in mid-2012, reports started to emerge that Bahrain was looking at acquiring a squadron of more advanced fighters. -
Due to the extremely high cost to upgrade and sustain the F-16 fleet, the option to acquire new aircraft has been discussed by BDF leadership. While the purchase of any new aircraft would be much more expensive than upgrading their F-16s, the idea of having a completely new fighter may be more acceptable in this culture, than the perception of pouring money into an "old aircraft." While there is no immediate Bahraini requirement for a new fighter, elsewhere in the GCC a number of aircraft types are in contention to meet a number of near- and medium-term requirements in the region and nearby - BAE Systems with the Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing offering the F/A-18 E/F and the F-15, Dassault with its Rafale, Lockheed Martin with the F-16 and F-35, and Saab offering the Gripen NG.
Bahrain’s interest in the Eurofighter Typhoon was believed to have been encouraged by neighboring Saudi Arabia, itself already a Typhoon operator. Some reports suggested that Saudi Arabia could fund Bahraini Typhoons and that 12 or 14 (reports differ) be added to the next (unannounced as of 2014, but widely expected) Saudi order for 48 additional aircraft.
Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa met with British Prime Minister David Cameron while he was in London over the summer of 2013 to discuss the deal. King Hamad al-Khalifa had told British Prime Minister David Cameron that the Gulf state was interested in buying Eurofighter jets to “create a cohesive defense system between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)” nations. The proposed deal with the Gulf monarchy which had been rocked by protests in 2011 is thought to be worth more than £1 billion and is part of a concerted effort by Gulf countries to strengthen military ties with Britain.
Little was said about the talks since, however, and it was feared in December that any possible deal might be under threat after talks between the Eurofighter consortium and the UAE fell through.
Bahrain’s government faced condemnation and accusations of brutality for its repression of protests led by the island’s Shia majority in early 2011, but still considers Britain one of its closest international allies. Amnesty International claimed the arms negotiations showed human rights worries were once again playing second fiddle to British business deals. Tim Hancock, Amnesty International’s UK campaigns director said: “Bahrain’s human rights situation is appalling and it’s worrying that the UK appears to be taking a ‘business as usual’ approach to selling the country high-tech weaponry.
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa was said in May 2015 to be disagreeing with Bahraini PM Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa on the Saudi role in plans to buy the Eurofighter Typhoon for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF). By June 2015 Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa was said to have decided to keep contact with the Pentagon on a new offer from Lockheed Martin to sell more F-16 fighter jets for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF). In October 2015 Bahraini PM Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa is said to have received a delegation from the Pentagon in Manama for talks about a deal for the F-16 aircraft in favor of the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF).
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