Fighter jet deals worth billions of US dollars hang in the balance in the Middle East as they have been doing for a number of years, but things could be moving along now following the apparent ease between Iran and the West. Or did Kuwait and Qatar already make up their mind?
It is no secret that Kuwait is looking to purchase 28 Boeing Super Hornets to replace its fleet of older F/A-18C/D Hornets, and that Qatar has been seeking to buy up to 72 variants of Boeing’s F-15 Strike Eagle.
Both orders would come in handy to keep production lines in the US open, particularly the Super Hornet line. A batch of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) EA-18 Growlers is now in manufacturing and after that it will likely be the end of production for the F-18 Hornet and its variants.
Unless of course Kuwait indeed orders its Super Hornets. A deal never seemed close however, and the reason could very well be that the US did not want to spoil improving relations with shia-Islam orientied Iran by supplying advanced warfare machines to opposing sunni countries such as Qatar and Kuwait.
That standpoint may change now that the relationship with Iran seems on its way to normalization. On the other hand however, there’s also Israel to be taken into account. That country upgrading its F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) jets and won’t be very happy to see more Arab states getting similar capabilities, also considering the fact that Saudi Arabia already has an impressive fleet of F-15s – and another 84 new-build F-15SAs (Saudi Advanced) are on their way between now and 2019. The US may be sensitive to this also.
The coming months should tell if there will ever be Qatari F-15s and Kuwaiti Super Hornets. And finally, if there will ever be Iraqi Air Force Mirage 2000s, as the United Arab Emirates are reportedly looking to hand over some of their Mirages to Baghdad.
After 21 years and 279 aircraft procuded, the curtain falls for Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production in Long Beach, California. The final C-17 left the production facility on Sunday 29 November on it’s way to another Boeing facility in Texas in preparation for delivery to the Qatar Emiri Air Force next year.
Qatar is one of nine operators of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, the military transport aircraft that first flew on 15 September 1991 from Long Beach. The US Air Force is the largest operator by far, taking 223 aircraft. The last USAF-delivery took place in 2013.
Over the last decade, India quickly became the second largest operator, counting 10 Globemaster. Australia and the UK both operate eight aircraft. Other operators are Canada, NATO, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Along with the UAE, Qatar was one of the operators to snatch up some of the last Globemasters remaining for sale. Ahead of closing down production, Boeing decided to produce a dozen or so ‘white-tail’ C-17s; aircraft with no formal customer. Other countries to take some of these aircraft were India, Australia and Canada.
Another major success for Dassault’s Rafale in just three months: following Egypt’s and India’s earlier order, Qatar is now ordering 24 Rafale fighter aircraft, with an agreement to be signed on 4 May in Doha.
The Qatar order is worth 6.3 billion EUR and also involves training of 36 pilots and 100 mechanics, Paris confirmed on Thursday 30 April. News about a possible purchase from Qatar has been doing the rounds for a long time already. Qatar has been using Dassault Mirage 2000s for a long time already.
The sale marks the definitive end of Dassault’s difficulties in selling the Rafale outside France. After years of marketing talk and endless negotiations with several interested nations, the French company finally sold 24 Rafales to Egypt earlier this year. More recently, India ordered 36 Rafales.
Turn of events
Over the last decade, foreign Rafale sales seemed a myth, with the type loosing out to either Saab Gripen or the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The remarkable recent turn of events is explained by another turn of events: the advance of Islamic State forces in the Middle East, forcing Egypt and Qatar to speed things up. Both French Air Force and French Navy Rafales have been actively fighting IS forces over Iraq.
Also, continuing teething problems on the F-35 – issues with flight control, maintainability, sofware and weapon system – made it clear that the US fighter is far away from being a reliable aircraft, deleting it as an option. An option which maybe was never very likely in the first place for Egypt and Qatar, since the US has already sold the 5th generation fighter aircraft to Israel.
Reliability is also a problem with India’s Su-30 fleet, reinforcement of which was named as an alternative to buying Rafale. Talks about a larger purchase from India are said to continue.
The Rafale still has more cards on the table: the latest F3 R type is also on offer to Belgium. The Belgians seek to replace their F-16s, starting in 2023.
Currently, the only nation flying the Rafale is France, with well over 135 aircraft delivered out of 180 ordered. The original Rafale prototype first flew on 4 July 1986.
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:
US Air Force (USAF):
Boeing KC-135 Stratofortress upon Saudi request. First refuelling mission flown on 8 April 2015.
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 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
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.
While Dassault is actively lobbying to get its Rafale sold to India at the current AeroIndia 2015 fair – neglecting the involvement of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for that deal somewhat according to eye-witnesses at the Rafale stand – the second export customer of the French multi-role fighter is closer to Paris than New Delhi. Qatar is about to sign a deal, according to sources in France.
As Airheadsfly.com reported in November, the Qatar Emiri Air Force opts for 36 Rafales to beef up its fighting capabilities and replace a dozen aging Mirage 2000s. French sources initially thought the deal would be signed at the end of 2014, but a reason for stalling has not been disclosed.
Clever negotiations between France and Egypt kicked down the doors of the Rafale export hangar earlier this month, when Cairo agreed to purchase 24 Rafales, becoming the first export customer for the French combat aircraft that did very well in capabilities test of the Swiss Air Force earlier.
Out of budgetary and constitutional reasons the Swiss didn’t choose a fighter replacement yet, but the government in Doha is less constrained by money or people’s opposition against a purchase – as was the case in Switzerland where Bern went for the Swedish Gripen (almost as good, but cheaper) but was called back by the result of a people’s referendum.