Shaikh Isa Air Base / Sheik Isa Airbase, Bahrain
Shaikh-Isa Air Base [Sheik Isa Airbase] is located on the 240-square-mile island nation of Bahrain, situated off Saudia Arabia's eastern coast. Sheik Isa Air Base located on the shore of the Arabian Gulf in southern Bahrain. It hosts the BAAF Fighter Wing and the two squadrons that comprise it. Any visitor to this spacious, modern air base may not believe that Bahrain's air power capability less than fifteen years ago consisted exclusively of rotary aircraft.
In March 1987, the government of Bahrain signed a letter of agreement for 12 F-16C/D Block 40 fighter aircraft under the Peace Crown Foreign Military Sales program. The first aircraft were accepted in March 1990, and arrived in Bahrain on May 23rd of 1990. With US assistance, Sheik Isa Air Base, at Sitrah, south of Manama on the main island of Bahrain, was built especially to house the F-16s.
Bahrain's first F-16 was formally handed over at ceremonies in Fort Worth on 22 March 1989. When the Bahrain pilots completed training, they ferried the first four BAAF F-16s from Fort Worth in May 1989 to their brand new home base. The 1st Fighter Squadron was established. A few weeks later, the Bahrain ruler, Emir Sheik Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, after whom the base was named, inaugurated the air base. Sheikh Isa ibn Salman al-Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain, suffered a heart attack and died 06 March 1999. Since he became ruler in 1961, His Highness Shaikh Isa had been a strong and loyal friend to the United States and particularly to the US Navy. As of October 1999 the 1st Fighter Squadron operated twelve Block 40 F-16s alongside twelve F-5E/F Tiger IIs from the 6th Fighter Squadron.
Under Peace Crown II, 12 new F-16C/D Block 40 aircraft were ordered in the 1999-2000 time period. For these new jets, the BAAF will establish another F-16 squadron aptly identified as the 2nd Fighter Squadron. At Sheik Isa, preparations for the new jets are running at full speed already. New facilities are being constructed, including hardened aircraft shelters and a squadron building for the 2nd Fighter Squadron.
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, coalition forces poured into the region in the ensuing months under Operation Desert Shield. Sheik Isa was inundated with military aircraft. Close to 200 US aircraft filled the ramps F-4Gs, F-18s, AV-8Bs, A-6Es, EA-6Bs, KC-10s while the base transformed into a small city of 12,000 military personnel. An AN/TSC-85 hub was established at the 7th MEB Headquarters at the Port of Jubayl. AN/TSC-93 Spokes were installed at the Seventh Marines Headquarters, and at the MAG-70 headquarters at Sheik Isa Airfield.
During the Gulf War, in keeping with a Naval expeditionary posture, USMC aircraft were based both on amphibious ships in the Gulf and at bases ashore. The main operating bases ashore for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) aviation combat element, were at Shaikh Isa, Bahrain, and at Al-Jubayl Naval Air Facility and King 'Abd Al-'Aziz Naval Base, Saudi Arabia. The "Shamrocks" of VMFA-333 from MCAS Beaufort transitioned to the F/A-18A Hornet, then deployed to Sheik Isa, air base in Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm. The VMA(AW)-533 'Hawks' flew the A-6E Intruder out of MCAS Cherry Point, NC, and deployed to Sheik Isa air base, Bahrain for Operation Desert Storm.
At the time of Desert Storm, the F-4G was the only Wild Weasel aircraft available to the USAF. The F-4Gs of the 35th TFW played an important part in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when they cut a path through Iraqi air defenses during the initial attack on January 17. The F-4Gs of the 52nd TFW based at Spangdahlem in Germany were also added to the assets of the 35th TFW based at Sheik Isa AFB in Bahrain and to the 7440th Composite Wing based at Incirlik AFB in Turkey. On 19 December 1990 RF-4C's deployed to the UAE repositioned to Sheik Isa Air Base in Bahrain.
During Operation Desert Shield in 1990, Air Force RED HORSE units constructed a taxiway and hard stands to help protect fighter aircraft which had been parked wingtip-to-wingtip at Shaikh Isa AB in Bahrain. Virtually every square inch of ramp space in Saudi Arabia had already been taken or spoken for. Central Command assigned Marines two small airfields in the Jubayl area: Jubayl Naval Air Facility and King Abdul Aziz Naval Base. Even with these, there was no room for most of 3d Marine Aircraft Wing's fighter and attack aircraft. Marine MajGen Jeremiah Pearson, Deputy Commander, Marine Forces Central Command, approached an old friend, Shailth Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, minister of the Bahrain Amiri Defense Forces. The Shaikh immediately offered use of a base nearing completion of construction, Shaikh Isa Air Base, plus space at the already crowded Balirain International Airport. The lack of ramp space required the services of another traditional partner of Marines in combat: the SeaBees. Captain Michael R. Johnson, USN, commanded the four naval mobile construction battalions that were forward deployed from the US Pacific Fleet. One of the first of their many engineering feats was the enlargement of ramps at Jubayl Naval Air Facility and King Abdul Aziz Naval Base and at Shaikh Isa Air Base on Bahrain.
On October 22, 1991, Bahrain signed a ten year bilateral agreement, expanding the US military presence in Bahrain. The agreement expanded US prepositioning in Bahrain, and the US now has several warehouses of prepositioned equipment and supplies at Sheik Isa Air Base.
The first expeditionary force went to Shaikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain in October 1995. The 366th Air Expeditionary Wing deployed to Shaikh Isa AB [aka Sheik Isa / Shaikh Asa], Bahrain from 24 September 1997 through 02 Octber 1997, with 6 F-15C, 6 F-15E, 10 F-16, 2 B-1B, and 2 KC-135. The 366 AEW from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, deployed F-15s, F-16s, B-1 bombers, and KC-135s to Shaikh Isa, Bahrain. During its deployment, the wing flew 444 sorties in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Elements of a Patriot Battery from the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Fort Bliss, Texas, were also sent to Bahrain to provide ground air defense for the AEW. Enhanced Southern Watch activities included deployments to Prince Sultan and Eskan, Saudi Arabia; Al Jaber and Ali Al-Salem, Kuwait; Al Dhafra, United Air of Emirates; Seeb, Oman; Al Udeid, Qatar; and Shaikh Asa, Bahrain.
At Sheik Isa Airfield, Camp Trueheart was the tent city home to most of the 1,500 soldiers in the 347th Air Expeditionary Wing, the Air Force combat group ordered to the Middle East in November 1997 to prepare for a possible strike on Iraq. As of 24 February 1998 about 40 US warplanes, including A-10s and 2 B-1 bombers, were deployed to Sheik Isa Airfield. Officially, there were no US warplanes or pilots preparing to bomb Iraq on this Persian Gulf island. For the record, Information Minister Mohammed Mutawa said that Bahrain "will not allow its lands to be used for any military action" to hit Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons sites. The US Air Force buildup consisted of 24 F-16 jet fighters, 12 F-15s, three B1-B bombers on their first combat deployment, and four KC-135 aerial tankers. The Army moved in a battery of Patriot air-defense missiles.
Following the arrival of the 366th Wing's 44 aircraft and 1,200 personnel at Shaikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain, in March 1999 the 366th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron developed an environmental program that utilized available host nation resources. For the next 75 days, the wing met the stringent requirements of the Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document (OEBGD) and the Air Force Handbook 10-222 Volume 4, Environmental Guide for Contingency Operations. Their efforts resulted in the operation of a highly effective hazardous waste management program and the Air Force's first-ever full-scale recycling program for an Air Expeditionary Force (AEF). The 366th Wing processed more than 70 hazardous waste increments and recycled more than 50 tons of material within 45 days. To accomplish this task, the wing sought out existing resources and formed proactive partnerships with the US Navy Administrative Support Unit (ASU) Environmental Office in Manama, Bahrain, and a scrap recycling firm in the host nation.
When the Commander in Chief called for redeployment of Operation DESERT THUNDER troops and equipment, 60,000-pound Aircraft Cargo Loader/Transporter "Tunners" were pressed into action. They deployed to Shaikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain to support outload operations.
By March 2000 efforts continued towards establishing the Marine Corps as an important component player within the CENTCOM AOR. Base Support plans for Bahrain included the deployment of Marines to build 6 K-spans to support beddown plans at Shaikh Isa Airbase.
As of March 2000 the development of Sheik Isa Airbase to the standards required for large aircraft operations was estimated to take up to three years. Thus, the possible move of military assets from Muharraq Airfield, Bahrain to Sheik Isa Airbase will not take place in short to medium term.
Some reports suggested that as of August 2002 the US Air Force had bombers, tactical fighters and air refueling tankers in place at Shaikh Isa Air Base, and that an Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) also is likely to be sent there. Although these claims are plausible based on prior deployment patterns, in fact there are no indications that US forces have deployed to Shaikh Isa as of mid-September 2002.
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