A bu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates—Close to fielding one of
the most advanced air forces in the Middle East, the United Arab
Emirates is pushing to match the aircrews’ proficiency with
their sophisticated equipment.
This need becomes even more pressing as the service fleshes out
plans for ballistic missile defense, improved command and control,
and readies itself for the first delivery of 80 F-16 Block 60 fighters
“In the end state, systems have to be very effective, and
they [become] so by people having the right training and education,”
said Maj. Gen. Khalid Al-Bu Ainnain, commander of the Emirates’
air force and air defense, in an interview with National Defense.
Therefore, aircrew education is gaining importance, Al-Bu Ainnain
explained. “We have to build up knowledge, team work, decision-making
and leadership. The human investment is very important.”
With approximately 5,000 members, the air force has sought ways
to streamline its operations. For one, the service is paperless
and works entirely in an intranet system, he said. “We do
not need more people, but we need to become more efficient in the
way we do daily business.”
Service headquarters are at Bateen Air Force Base, in Abu Dhabi,
but the organization is split into western and central commands
located in the two most powerful sheikdoms of the seven Emirates—Abu
Dhabi and Dubai, respectively.
The UAE is investing in its own training infrastructure, said Al-Bu
Ainnain. Flight training is performed at Al Ain Air Base in the
east, which is near the Omani border. In terms of novice pilot training,
“we are self-sufficient,” said Al-Bu Ainnain. “Since
1982, we have not sent any [new] pilots to train outside.”
Education is mandatory through service life, and is linked to the
promotion cycle, he added. Air force members enhance their capabilities
and specialties by studying and training all around the world, he
In Al-Bu Ainnain’s opinion, aircrews need to be highly specialized
and be part of a “dedicated force.” He said the service
had a bad experience with an experiment called “super-crew
chief,” in which airmen were trained outside their dedicated
field to perform other tasks. “Specialization is very important
in the air force,” he noted.
Working with the other services—the navy, coast guard and
army—also receives considerable attention, Al-Bu Ainnain said.
“Jointness in operations is a nightmare for all modern armed
forces,” he said. “We are struggling, but have done
a good job so far, especially in command and control.”
Even though integration is not at 100 percent, the UAE armed forces
have been able to consolidate their war-planning processes, he said.
“We still need some more time to perfect it.”
With the purchase of new platforms comes the demand for added support,
and aircrews need to prepare for that, Al-Bu Ainnain said.
This month, the UAE is getting ready for the first delivery of
the F-16 Block 60 fighter jets, built by Lockheed Martin in Fort
The fighters are the product of a $6.4 billion contract that was
negotiated in March 2000. The aircraft is tailored to the UAE’s
requirements is the most advanced version of the F-16.
Twenty-five of the aircraft are the two-seat variant, said Del
Spann, Lockheed’s deputy program director for the UAE F-16
Block 60. The final delivery of the aircraft is scheduled for 2007.
The F-16 Desert Falcon is conceptualized as a “flexible and
powerful system for 24-hour operations, including adverse weather,”
said Al-Bu Ainnain. The F-16 Block 60 was specially designed for
the UAE. “Lockheed worked closely with the UAE in what resulted
in the single largest modification to the F-16,” Spann said.
The Desert Falcon has a 32,000-pound-thrust General Electric F110-GE-132
engine and a new avionics architecture, said Spann. The jet also
has an advanced sensor suite and a fiber-optic network. “The
cockpit is brand-new on the Block 60,” he said. It features
three large multifunction displays, picture-in-picture capability
and enhanced automation.
The Block 60 configuration is the most extensive change in the
history of the F-16 program, according to Lockheed Martin. The unique
features include Northrop Grumman’s APG-80 multimode radar
with an active electronically-scanned antenna and a forward-looking
infrared navigation and targeting system. The fighter jet also has
the Falcon Edge internal electronic countermeasures system. The
Block 60 can carry conformal fuel tanks, and the two-seat version
will feature a dorsal avionics compartment and a fully mechanized
Lockheed has received more than $2 billion in foreign military
sales funding from the U.S. government for providing training and
installing all the weapon systems, said Spann. “Some are weapons
that the U.S. Air Force and the Navy have been employing,”
The Desert Falcon will be outfitted with Raytheon’s AIM-120
advanced medium range air-to-air missile and the high-speed, anti-radiation
missile. Air-to-surface weapons include Raytheon’s AGM-65
Maverick infrared guided missile and Boeing’s AGM-84 Harpoon
anti-ship missile. According to European conglomerate MBDA, the
UAE F-16s will receive the company’s so-called Precision Guided
Munition—a family of standoff weapons.
UAE pilots currently are being trained to fly the aircraft by the
U.S. National Guard in Tucson, Ariz., said Spann.
As part of the contract, the UAE also will receive flight simulators,
he said. The pilots will practice in unit-level and weapons trainers
with a dome-type visual system. The training systems will include
many of the features of the U.S. Air Force F-16 mission-training
center. The simulators will interface via local and long-haul networks,
and will work with UAE’s existing Mirage 2000-9 training systems.
The fleet of F-16 Block 60 will complement the 30 Mirage-2000-9,
built by Dassault Aviation. The UAE bought the new aircraft in 2003,
and also requested the upgrade of 33 existing Mirage 2000-5 aircraft
to the 2000-9 version. The contract for the new and upgraded Mirages
is worth approximately $3.4 billion.
Also a multi-role aircraft, the Mirage 2000-9 carries air-to-air
weapons, which include the MICA multi-target air-to-air intercept
and combat missiles, and the Magic 2 combat missiles, both made
by the European conglomerate MBDA.
The Mirage is equipped to carry a range of air-to-surface missiles
and weapons, such as laser-guided bombs. These include the MBDA’s
BGL 1000 laser-guided bomb, Armat anti-radar missile, AM39 anti-ship
missile, rocket launchers, Apache standoff weapon and the stealthy
cruise missile, SCALP. The Mirage 2000-9 aircraft ordered by the
United Arab Emirates carries the Black Shahine missile being developed
by MBDA. The MBDA Precision Guided Munition package also arms the
With the introduction of the multi-role fighter jets comes the
need for trainer aircraft, said Al-Bu Ainnain. The UAE air force
has been using the BAE Systems Hawk trainer aircraft, but currently
is shopping for more advanced trainers to suit its supersonic fighters,
The UAE’s rationale behind buying the most advanced versions
of the F-16 and the Mirage was its need to respond quickly and support
its allies in the region, said Al-Bu Ainnain. He explained that
these multi-role fighter acquisitions are contributing to the security
not only of his own country but other Arab nations in the region.
The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with
Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
“The UAE has a defensive responsibility with the GCC, which
is to secure the lines of communications as well as ensure the security
of the region,” he said. “We have to be alert all the
time, and also have effective aircraft command-and-control and infrastructure
to maintain that immediate response.”
Therefore, air-refueling tankers would play a pivotal role in ensuring
the readiness of the force, he added. The service is in its final
talks for a tanker aircraft deal, and has been reviewing proposals
from Airbus and Boeing, said Al-Bu Ainnain. The plan is to buy three
aircraft. “They are very expensive,” he added.
The development of ballistic missile defense also is on the table.
“We are in the final stages of our studies,” he said.
“We are just finishing up our requirements.” An early
warning system is part of a BMD framework, but the UAE has had to
back-pedal as its intention to acquire Northrop Grumman’s
E2-C Hawkeye command-and-control aircraft fell through.
The UAE’s fleet also includes Eurocopter’s Cougar and
Gazelle helicopters, IAR S.A. Puma helicopters, as well as Boeing
Apache Longbow AH-64As. The force operates two C-130H transport
aircraft, the CASA 212 Aviocar for light transport and the CASA
CN 235, which is a high-wing, pressurized twin turbo-prop tactical