An UAE F-16 after being refuelled by a USAF KC-10A Extender (Image © Michael B. Keller / USAF)

Overview: Yemen Air Strikes

UPDATED 21APRIL 2015 | The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) led air strikes on Houthi rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen has got a broad military support from many other Arab nations. As Airheadsfly.com got new data the RSAF F-15S (Strike) Eagles and EF2000 Typhoons didn’t fly into combat alone at all.

If our sources are correct the United Arab Emirates Air Force sent 30 of its fighter jets, mainly Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcons and possibly a number of Dassault Mirage 2000s. The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) and Kuwait Air Force both said to have contributed about 15 combat jets each. If true, the relatively large RBAF contribution is remarkable, since the country has only about 15 to 17 operational F-16Cs and eight remaining and aging Northrop F-5Es.

The Kuwait Air Force used almost half of its 35 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The Qatar Emiri Air Force scrambled up to ten of its Mirage 2000s, while the Royal Jordanian Air Force flew six of its Lockheed Martin F-16s into combat in the Yemen.

Air Assets Operation Restoring Hope (known as Decisive Storm until the end of April 2015)

  • Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF):
    100 aircraft, including Boeing F-15C Eagle air-superiority fighters, Boeing F-15S (Strike) Eagles, Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon multi-role fighters, Panavia Tornado interdictor / strike aircraft, Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters (unconfirmed), Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopter) AS532M Cougar CSAR helicopters
  • United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF):
    30 fighter jets of Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Desert Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000 type
  • Kuwait Air Force (KAF):
    15 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornet multirole fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
  • Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF):
    15 aircraft of the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 type
  • Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF):
    10 Mirage 2000-5 fighters. Some or all operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia.
  • Royal Jordanian Air Force (RDAF):
    6 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16A/B Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
  • Royal Moroccan Air Force:
    6 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon multirole fighters
  • Sudanese Air Force:
    3 to 6 Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft. Operating from King Khalid Airbase (Khamis Mushayt) in Saudi Arabia. Moreover the Sudanese Air Force has likely deployed some of its four C-130 Hercules and possible its two Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft in support
  • Egyptian Air Force:
    contribution unknown
  • US Air Force (USAF):
    Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.

Focusing
The air strikes are focusing on Houthi rebel positions, air defence sites, air bases and Sanaa international airport, command-and-control locations and army camps in Sanaa, Saada and Taiz. The first strikes were launched on 25 or 26 March 2015, with ground forces engaged as well in what has been dubbed Operation Decisive Storm. Officially it takes place under the flag of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the members.

Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube

Saudi Arabia has said to have committed a 100 aircraft, as well as 150,000 ground forces. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcons that the Royal Moroccan Air Force already had in the United Arab Emirates to fight ISIS in Iraq have also been retasked with supporting the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. Sudan committed three combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-24s (“Fencer”) sources say. Egypt pledged its support as well, but there is no information yet on how many and which aircraft it will sent.

The US Armed Forces are not directly taking part in the military ops, but do provide essential tanker support, according to sources to USA Today.

A Royal Saudi Air Force E-3 Sentry taking off (Image © Boeing)
Although its involvement has not been officially confirmed, it is very likely that the Saudis use their E-3 Sentries to provide a complete radar picture of the operations zone in Yemen (Image © Boeing)

Conflict
The conflict in Yemen is between loyalist forces that support fled president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi / Zaidi Shia rebels. Main focus is the western part of the country. There the loyalist forces have the most support in the Sunnis south – with Aden as the principal city. Whoever control Aden, controls the sea lanes to/from the Red Sea – a main supply route for oil and other goods. The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia is said to be pushing towards Aden with a ground force of about 5,000 troops.

The Houthi forces have a strong control of the northern part of the west, mainly north of the capital of Sanaa. They easily took control of the capital last September and are known to be an effective fighting force, meaning the Arab coalition will very likely deploy combat aircraft and maybe helicopters in the close air-support role. In fact, the Saudis deployed armed helicopters (likely Apaches, but this is unconfirmed) on the border when its ground forces clased with Houthi forces.

Footage posted by AlAribya on YouTube

Iran
During a large part of the 20th century there were two Yemens. North Yemen became a state in 1918, while South Yemen freed itself from colonizer Britain. The two united on 22 May 1990, but unrest has plagued the country since 1993. In the current conflict Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia support the loyalist forces – including military ground and air ops since this week. Iran is opposing the use of weapons by its Arab neighbours, but has so far stayed out of the conflict militarily.

Houthi rebel combat planes
Officially at least, since some sources indicate that Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force pilots are flying combat planes of Yemeni Air Force units who sided or were overrun by Houthi rebels. One or more Iranian ships have also docket in Hudaidah with military equipment and ammunition on board earlier this March.

But with the Royal Saudi Air Force controlling Yemeni air space since Thursday 26 March, it is unlikely that Houthi planes with Yemeni or Iranian pilots will stand much of a change. In fact, according to several sources on 30 March 2015 the Saudi-led air strikes have destroyed at least 11 fighter jets of the Houthi rebels. The rebels got quite a prize in the third week of March, capturing Yemeni Air Force Al Anad Airbase with apparently up to 21 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets. Some sources say that the Houthis never had more than 16 combat aircraft in total, so the exact details are somewhat sketchy.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A UAE F-16 (Image © Michael B. Keller / USAF)

Related: Saudis use Typhoon and F-15 in Yemen strike

A Jordan F-16, bought from surplus Belgium inventory. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Jordan F-16, bought from surplus Belgium inventory. (Image © Elmer van Hest)