Royal Bahraini Air Force History
lthough the Kingdom of Bahrain is a small country geographically, several characteristics have allowed it to become one of the more progressive nations in the Middle East and Asia. Due to its unique location and industrial status, many banks and international corporations decided to make Bahrain the center of their Middle East operations. In addition the country also processes natural resources such as oil and natural gas and hosts industrial operations, which include a petrochemical plant, an aluminum factory, a dry-dock site for ship maintenance, and oil refineries. Furthermore, Bahraini citizens—the country’s human resource—are well versed in all of the professions associated with these activities and are capable of protecting the country’s resources and preserving its freedom. A dedicated and capable military force composed of Bahrain’s own citizens ensures the safeguarding of those assets and the defense of the country.
The Bahraini Defense Force, established in 1968, includes modern air force, infantry, and naval forces. Taking a first step toward developing itself, the Royal Bahraini Air Force sent many of its personnel to friendly countries in 1974 to receive training in aviation and aircraft maintenance. At the same time it procured jets, the Air Force purchased support equipment and other necessary materiel. When this materiel began arriving in Bahrain, the air and maintenance crews were completing their training courses abroad. These events successfully concluded the first stage in establishing the Air Force, and many other developments soon followed.
In 1976 the Air Force established an Air Wing at Rifa’a Air Base (see fig.) with a modest flight of four German-made Bo-105 helicopters.1 Operations soon began, and because of Bahrain’s location, these aircraft became critical to many successful search-and-rescue missions. In 1978, 12 Agusta Bell AB-212 Twin Huey helicopters became part of the Air Wing. Since the pilots and technicians were already qualified and prepared to operate these aircraft, operations commenced as soon as the crews joined the wing. These helicopters joined with platforms from neighboring countries and other friendly forces in several local and regional search-and-rescue operations as well as training exercises, including the rescue of a number of US Navy personnel after a missile attack on the USS Stark during the Iraq-Iran War.
During the development of the Defense Force and the introduction of several modern weapons systems, Bahraini officials recognized the importance of possessing fighter jets capable of defending the country’s airspace. Consequently, in 1985 Bahrain acquired the F-5, the best export fighter jet available, and formed the 6th Fighter Squadron at Muharraq Air Base (see fig.). Bahraini pilots and technician crews underwent training concurrently and prepared to conduct operations when the jets arrived. This young force, initially called the Bahrain Amiri Air Force, conducted operations in helicopters and fighter jets and began construction of Shaikh Isa Air Base (see fig.), which would become one of the region’s largest bases.2 After pilots and technicians had mastered F-5 operations, training commenced on the F-16, an even more modern fighter aircraft. In 1990 the F-16s arrived, and Shaikh Isa Air Base opened in southern Bahrain. During the following year, these new Bahraini F-16s, alongside the F-5s, joined in the war to liberate Kuwait.
Training and Joint Exercises
Because of the fundamental role of training in the preparation of Royal Bahraini Air Force members to operate the modern systems they employ, the Royal Bahraini Air Force Technical Institute was created to offer instruction at all levels—from basic subjects to highly technical courses needed for specialized skills. The institute also offers courses to prepare officers and other members for educational opportunities abroad. For example, to further develop and prepare its future senior leadership, the Royal Bahraini Air Force selects several officers each year to attend specialized and advanced courses in the United States as part of the annual training plan. Some of those courses are offered by Air University’s Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College, located at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Moreover, under the guidance and with the blessings of the Supreme Commander, His Majesty, the Air Force founded the Training Wing, which currently uses Firefly aircraft to provide instruction in basic aviation.3 Advanced training will soon include the more sophisticated BAe Hawk trainer.4
Because exercises lend a spirit of realism, reinforce integration throughout the various command levels, and play an important role in preparing for successful operations, Bahrain has emphasized participation in all training exercises with its neighbors and other friendly nations. Exercises such as Peninsula Hawk and Gulf Spears, conductedannually, involve forces belonging to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who share a sense of cooperation and common interests. Initial Link, another exercise in which Bahrain participates, helps organize and manage the air forces of the GCC, the United States, and other friendly nations. Additionally, Bahrain joins the US Air Force in Blue Flag, a command and control exercise held in the United States.
Since Bahrain fields ground forces equipped with the most modern weapons and armored vehicles, it formed squadrons of AH-1 Cobra helicopters to provide direct and close air support for those forces.5 Specifically, the year 1994 marked the establishment of the 8th Helicopter Squadron, followed in 1997 by creation of the 9th Helicopter Squadron, both units flying this important weapons system. Alongside the ground forces, the Cobras create a significant deterrent force.
Air Defense Systems and
the Air Operations and
Air Defense Center
In 1999, due to the need for coordination between the Air Force and Air Defense Systems, the Air Defense Wing—consisting of HAWK Phase III missiles—fell under the umbrella of the Air Force.6 The wing works in coordination with the various other Air Force wings to ably and efficiently secure the Kingdom’s domain. Additionally, the availability of early-warning radars led to formation of the Air Operations and Air Defense Center, which connects the various Air Force sectors during air operations and maintains continuous coordination with operations centers belonging to neighboring and friendly forces.
Due to the importance of air mobility, the BAe146-RJ85 aircraft became the foundation of the Mobility Wing of the Royal Bahraini Air Force.7 Other mobility aircraft will join the wing’s inventory in the near future.
Via these modest phases of development since the mid-1970s, the Royal Bahraini Air Force has become an effective force in the region. The loyal men of the Air Force exhibit the spirit of perseverance and determination to perform their national duty to protect Bahrain’s cultural assets, which have accumulated through many years of nurture. Throughout this time, Bahrain has diligently worked on providing everything that would help its citizens realize their dreams of a free and abundant life and contribute to our Kingdom’s honor and glory, while following the example of our highest role model, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain and Supreme Commander of the Defense Force. God save and protect him; he ignited the initial flame that formed this force.
1. The Bo-105 is a twin-engine helicopter manufactured at the time by Messerchmitt-Bolkow-Blohm in West Germany. Forces all over the world still utilize it in medical evacuation, mainly because of its reliability, main rotor clearance of over nine feet, and tail rotor clearance of over seven feet. Its rear clamshell doors allow for easy loading and unloading.
2. The Royal Bahraini Air Force was formerly known as the Bahrain Amiri Air Force, but when Bahrain became a monarchy in the elections of 14 February 2002, the armed forces were renamed accordingly.
3. The US Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command also uses the T-3A Firefly, a propeller-driven aircraft that replaced the T-41, to screen pilot candidates by exposing them to military-style traffic patterns, aerobatics, and spins.
4. In early 2003, Bahrain signed a deal for six BAe Hawk 127 two-seat jet trainers, manufactured by BAe Systems. The British Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows Aerobatic Team has flown the Hawk family of aircraft since it entered service in 1976. Since then BAe Systems has built over 800 Hawk trainer and operational aircraft and has exported some of them to 15 countries.
5. The AH-1 Cobra evolved from the UH-1 Huey,
originally developed for the US Army in the mid-sixties. The original Cobra retained the Huey’s engine, transmission, and other major parts but replaced the Huey’s bulky fuselage with a thin profile fuselage with tandem seating. . . . Primary missions of the Cobra are helicopter Close Air Support (CAS), escort of transport helicopters and ground convoys, armed reconnaissance, helicopter air-to-air attack, anti-shipping operations, and coordination and terminal control of fixed wing CAS, artillery, mortars, and naval gunfire. It is the only western attack helicopter with a proven air-to-air and anti-radar missile capability.
“AH-1 Cobra,” GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/ah-1.htm.
6. The Homing All the Way Killer (HAWK) surface-to-air missile system “provides medium-range, low to medium altitude air defense against a variety of targets, including jet and rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles.” Its Phase III configuration also includes a defensive capability against tactical missiles. It is a highly lethal, mobile, all-weather, day-or-night system that is reliable and effective against electronic countermeasures. “HAWK,” GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/systems/hawk.htm.
7. The BAe146-RJ85 is normally used as a regional airliner, carrying 70–82 passengers.
Col Hamad Abdulla Al-Khalifa (BS, King Faisal Air Academy, Saudi Arabia) is commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force. He has served as firing flight commander in Bahrain’s Air Wing, transport and search-and-rescue squadron commander, Helicopter Wing commander, and deputy commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force. In 1987 he led the team that rescued five US Navy personnel from the sea after a missile struck the USS Stark in the North Arabian Gulf. During the war to liberate Kuwait, he successfully led the Helicopter Wing during search-and-rescue operations and armed patrols in support of coalition forces. He has received numerous national and international decorations for his distinguished military contributions. Colonel Hamad, who continues to train numerous new helicopter pilots, completed military basic and advanced helicopter flying training at Oxford Air Training School, United Kingdom, and instructor and test-pilot training at Fort Worth, Texas. He is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
Source : Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2005- 1 September 05
Origins of the Royal Bahraini Air Force -
Col Hamad Abdulla Al-Khalifa, Commander, Royal Bahraini Air Force