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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.



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