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Tunisia - Air Force

The 3,500-man Tunisian Air Force (TAF) had some 700 conscripts. It had slowly developed relatively effective manpower policies and was gradually developing the capability to train and retain competent pilots and air crews. It was expanding steadily, and had 29 combat aircraft and 15 attack helicopters in early 2004.

In the 1980s the air force was receiving new equipment and training to enable it to more adequately perform its principal missions. As the sole operator of military aircraft in Tunisia, the air force was responsible for the aerial defense of national territory, close air support of the army, air transport for the army and the police, and assistance to the navy in air-sea rescue operations. In 1985 the force had a personnel strength of some 2,500, about 500 of whom were conscripts.

The last of the ANT elements to be established (in 1960), the air force has since received valuable assistance from a variety of Western sources. It commenced operations with the arrival of 15 Saab primary trainers and a contingent of instructors from the Swedish air force. In the mid-1960s a limited French training program coincided with the delivery of several French-built light fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. In 1966 the Italians provided, along with training, eight Aermacchi M.B.326 trainer/light strike aircraft of a type still used in Tunisia. Subsequently, the United States agreed to assist in training, supplying equipment, and establishing the air force's technical support system. in 1969 Tunisia took delivery of 12 F-86F Sabre jet fighters from the United States to establish the air force's first front-line combat squadron.

By the mid-1970s, however, aging equipment, shortages of highly trained technicians, and the low government priority given to defense had led to stagnation, if not deterioration, in the quality of the air force. The high costs of new equipment delayed efforts to modernize the force. Initially, when the Sabres were grounded at the end of the 1970s, they were replaced by new M.B.326s, which were relatively low-performance aircraft. Largely because of the high costs, a full decade passed after the Tunisian government first expressed an interest in purchasing Northrop F-5E and F-5F fighters, and they were finally delivered. By the end of 1985, however, the air force had largely completed the modernization begun in the late 1970s under the impetus of the Libyan threat.

The combat units of the air force included one fighter/attack squadron composed of 12 F-5s and one counterinsurgency/light strike squadron equipped with the M.B.326s. Two C-l3OHs delivered in 1985 provide a transport capability, the need for which had been pointed out in 1980 by the army's difficulty in moving units to Gafsa to counter the attack on that town by Libyan-supported insurgents. The air force's training unit operated various types of aircraft, including 1940s vintage T-6 Texans delivered almost two decades earlier from France. The helicopter wing also used a wide variety of aircraft, mainly of French origin.

The air force units operated from facilities established by the French during the protectorate period and further developed by them for use by the Tunisian squadrons of the French air force during World War II. In the 1980s the main base was at Sidi Ahmed near Bizerte, but other air bases were located near Tunis, Sfax, and Gabs. The air force could also use the runways and support facilities of the country's major commercial airports.

To protect its airspace, Tunisia in 1980 acquired from Sweden LM Ericcson Giraffe radar systems designed to be used in concert with fighter aircraft and surface-to-air-missiles. The air force had not been able to use its air defenses effectively to prevent reported incursions of Libyan aircraft or stop the Israeli warplanes that raided PLO headquarters at Hammam-Lif in 1985. In the latter instance, it was believed that not more than one F-S was able to scramble, and this did not occur until the Israeli aircraft had left the area. It should be noted, however, that at the time of the raid the F-5s were newly delivered and that pilot and technical training were incomplete.

The United States Liaison Office Tunisia (USLOT) Tunisian Air Force (TAF) section managed 117 cases in 1992 valued at $210 million, of which 75 were supported by USAF logistics, 26 by US Army logistics, and 17 by U.S. Navy logistics. The cases supported by U.S. Army and Navy logistics involve support for the UH~lH and UH-1N helicopter programs. Overall program objectives for FY 1990-92 were significantly altered as a result of the dramatically reduced FMF funding levels. The main focus of program objectives shifted from procurement to sustainment, with the aim of keeping U.S.acquired systems viable and active. To relieve the funding crunch, the TAF, with the help of USLOT, sought alternate sources of funding. A primary source of alternate funding was reprogrammed funds made available through case closures.

The majority of closures were processed with the aim of recouping idle funds and reprogramming them to fund active sparescases. Significant progress was made in reducing the number of TAF FMS cases. In the year 1991 alone, 34 case lines were processed for closure, bringing the total number of cases processed for closure since January 1990 to 76 case lines. The overall result of the case closure effort was that all U.S. acquired systems remained fully active. An additional benefit realized from the reduction in cases was the resultant simplification in program management.

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Page last modified: 27-09-2018 18:40:05 ZULU