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Yemen Air Force

Yemen's military consists of an army, navy, air force, and reserves. In 2007 total active troops were estimated as follows: army, 60,000; navy, 1,700; and air force, 5,000. The air force includes an air defense force. The air force, including air defense, has 75 combat aircraft and eight attack helicopters, as well as assorted transport aircraft, training aircraft and helicopters, and both air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. There are unconfirmed reports that Yemen recently acquired TOR air defence systems, which would be far more advanced than the current air defense systems in place.

The biggest purchaser of Russian-made aircraft in the Middle East in the mid-2000s was Yemen, which bought 16 MiG-29 aircraft of various modifications in 2002 and signed a contract with Russia for their modernization in 2004. At the beginning of September 2001 Vedomosti reported the sensational news that RAC "MiG" had signed a big contract worth up to $300 mil­lion to deliver an unknown number of MiG-29 fighters to Yemen. The paper's sources said there is also an option to buy another $100 mil­lion worth of jets.

The contract with Yemen, if its financial pa­rameters are correctly reported by Vedomosti, is RAC "MiG"'s biggest since the Malaysian con­tract of 1994, which called for the delivery of 16 MiG-SE fighters and two MiG-29UB for a total of $560 million to $650 million, according to various source. During 2005 the MiG corporation sent 6 MiG-29SMT fighters to Yemen and modernized twelve earlier supplied MiG-29SE. The Russian company also modernized two MiG-29Bs for the Air Force of Eritrea. The shipments cost $300 million.

In 2002 MiG corporation started work on a major package of contracts signed in 2001 for delivering new aircraft and upgrading the old ones. As far as deliveries are concerned, these included the transfer of some 10 MiG-29 fighters to Yemen under a 2001 contract for 14 aircraft for $437 million.

About 90% of the military hardware and aircraft used by the Yemeni Armed Forces were made in the Soviet Union. Yemeni Air Force had 44 MiG-29SMT and MiG-29UBT fighters in service. Yemen and Russia were holding talks to reach an agreement on the maintenance of military hardware, component supplies and training of Yemeni military personnel in Russia.

The Yemen Air Force had only limited capabilities to conduct ongoing combat operations, and it did not have much experience providing close air support to advancing troops.

The Yemen Air Force operated with two C-130 H models, one of which was undergoing major maintenance in 2007. A team of Kentucky Air National Guardsmen from the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron deployed to Sena, Yemen, in late 2007 to help the Yemeni Air Force improve maintenance operations on C-130 aircraft. The six-person team, which was deployed in country from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6, included experts on aircraft engines, electronics, communications equipment and navigation gear. While there, the Kentucky Airmen evaluated all aspects of the Yemeni maintenance operation and offered advice on ways to improve efficiency, using Kentucky's operations as a benchmark, Colonel Gorter said.

By 2009 the Yemen Air Force had 30 MiGs but only 9 pilots (including two Iraqis) to fly them. Yemen also already owed the corporation that builds MiG aircraft money from previous sales, and the company, a private entity, is unwilling to extend the country more credit.

In February 2009 the president of Yemen said his country planned to buy a number of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and other military equipment from Russia. Ali Abdullah Salah, on a visit to Russia, met with President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss military and trade cooperation, as well as tackling piracy and terrorism. "These [the MiG-29] are excellent aircraft. We have had them for a long time and several years ago we brought them to Russia and carried out their modernization program," the Yemeni president said in an interview published by Russia's Vremya Novostei newspaper. "Suffice it to say that we are planning to acquire more of these aircraft and probably MiG-35 fighters as well. We are also in talks on the purchase of Russian helicopters and patrol boats," he added.

Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) for Economic Affairs and the Russian Ambassador to Sana'a both strongly denied press reports of a USD 1 billion arms sale negotiated during the February visit of President Saleh to Moscow. Saleh came to Moscow with a long shopping list, including MiG-29s, but Russia was unable to provide them at this time and likely will be unable to do so for at least 10 years. Its production line is already fully committed to sales to India, Indonesia and others.

By 2010 Yemen Special Operations Forces (YSOF), which had plans to reinvigorate its CT element and build an operations center of its own, was jockeying for the position of Yemen's premier CT force. YSOF and the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) were both seeking to procure communications systems that are interoperable with the Presidential Guard, thus allowing them to become more closely aligned with that well-resourced unit. However, both the CTU and YSOF lack air assets and must rely on cooperation and support from the Yemen Air Force (YAF) to conduct most CT operations.

When President Saleh resigned after 33 years in power, Yemen was left with a number of challenges resulting from government paralysis during the grinding effort to remove him. The military was deeply divided between pro-Saleh and anti-Saleh factions that had, on occasion, skirmished with each other and inflicted some casualties during the last year of the Saleh regime.

While military fragmentation was deep in the army, the situation in the air force had an additional complication. Large elements of this service were conducting a labor strike when President Hadi entered office due to severe problems with their pay. In Yemen, military pay passes through the hands of senior officers before it reaches service- members and is sometimes skimmed.

Strikers claimed that former President Saleh’s half-brother, General Mohammed Saleh, the air force commander, had diverted large amounts of their pay to himself and his cronies making it difficult for them to survive. While Hadi relieved General Saleh from command in March 2012, the general resisted his removal and briefly ordered loyal troops to occupy and close Sanaa International Airport. When Hadi refused to compromise, the former air force commander backed down and left his position.

General Saleh’s April 2012 departure ended the mutiny, but it is difficult to believe that the air force was up to its full operational capability by the time the offensive began less than a month later. Despite these problems, Hadi was not prepared to wait until the military could be rebuilt before liberating the southern territories controlled by AQAP.

President Abdo Rabo Mansour Hadi took ownership of the drone program in Yemen soon after his election in February 2012. Hadi himself repeatedly underscored the lack of viable alternatives to drone strikes. In a September 2012 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington DC, President Hadi acknowledged this, stating that the United States “helped with their drones because the Yemeni Air Force cannot carry out missions at night.” Hadi went on to assert that drones “pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target your aiming at,” and that “the electronic brain’s precision is unmatched by the human brain.”

These advantages are especially clear when compared with the dangers of using the aging Yemen military aircraft in similar circumstances due to its limited ground target identification capabilities as well as the difficulties for any air force in the developing world to use conventional bombing for precision strikes.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi directed the army and popular committees to stand shoulder to shoulder against al-Qaeda. In early March 2015 the Yemeni army, with co-operation from the popular committees and tribesmen, drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters from Mahfad directorate in Abyan province. The Yemeni Air Force intervened in the confrontation, conducting two air raids on the group's positions in Mahfad, which increased the pressure on the assailants and forced them to flee.

But an airstrike targeting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi on 19 March indicated that at least some elements of the Yemeni Air Force (YAF) had switched allegiance. Houthi-commanded Yemeni air force jets on 25 March 2015 dropped bombs on or fired missiles at the presidential palace in Aden for the third time in a week, causing minimal damage and injuring no one. The airstrikes came before reports surfaced of Hadi's departure from Aden. Hadi had been staying at the Aden palace since February, after he fled the capital, Sanaa, following the Houthi takeover there.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2015 20:23:09 ZULU