United Arab Emirates Air Force

United Arab Emirates Air Force

United Arab Emirates Air Force emblem
Founded 1972
Country  United Arab Emirates
Type Military aviation
Role Aerial warfare
Size 368 aircraft
Part of Union Defence Force
Engagements Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen
Military intervention against ISIL
Commander Vice Marshal Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi
Aircraft flown
Attack AH-64D, UH-60M
Fighter F-16E/F, Mirage 2000/2000-9
Patrol AS 550, AS 565
Reconnaissance Dash 8MMA, CN-235MPA
Trainer Hawk, MB-339, PC-7, G 115, AS 350, Alenia Aermacchi M-346
Transport C-130, CH-47, Puma, Super Puma, Bell 214, Bell 412, CN-235, Cessna 208, AS 365, C-130H Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, Airbus A330 MRTT

The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) is the air force of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Its predecessor was established in 1968, when the Emirates were still under British rule. Since then, it has undergone a continual reorganisation and expansion in terms of both capability and numbers of aircraft. Currently, the UAEAF has around 4,000 personnel and operates approximately 368 fixed and rotorcraft.


The UAEAF's history starts in 1968, when the Abu Dhabi Army Air Force was formed under British rule. After becoming the ALRAMS Air Force in 1972, major investment assured an expansion in terms of capabilities, quality and quantity of aircraft.[1] Training and instruction was provided by the Pakistan Air Force. Neighbour Emirate of Dubai maintained its own air component, the Dubai Defence Force Air Wing, until 1999, when the two were effectively merged to become what is now the United Arab Emirates Air Force. Although the integration of the two independent forces has been complete, a small degree of autonomy exists at the operational command level, with the Western Air Command being headquartered in Abu Dhabi and the Central Air Command in Dubai.[1]

Since the 1980s, a combination of regional instability and high oil prices has resulted in an ambitious modernisation of the UAEAF, with the goal of attaining a level of capability matching the highest NATO standards.[1]

In 2014, the United Arab Emirates Air Force along with the Egyptian Air Force carried out airstrikes in Libya against Islamist factions in Tripoli.[2][3][4]

In September 2014, UAE air force aircraft joined in US-led air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq that later became known as Operation Inherent Resolve. These operations were suspended after a Jordanian pilot was captured by Islamic State militants in late December 2014; pending improvements in US search and rescue capabilities in the region.

Personnel and training

The UAEAF consists of about 4,000 personnel.[5]

In the 1970s and 80s, the UAEAF was instructed by Pakistan Air Force pilots on Dassault Mirage IIIs, the backbone of the UAEAF at the time. Even today, many of the personnel are ex-Pakistan Air Force officers and technicians. Most of the flying instructors at Al Ain are from Pakistan, training pilots using Grob G 115, Pilatus PC-7, Aermacchi MB-339, and BAE Hawk 63 aircraft. A few officers of No. 12 Squadron (Hawk 102) at Al Minhad Air Base, are also from the Pakistan Air Force. Some of these officers are on deputation (active service), but most are on civilian contracts with the Air Force Headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Numerous officers of other nationalities have also trained UAE pilots, among them Pakistanis, Moroccans, Canadians, Jordanians, and South Africans.

Women have started training as pilots. The first batch consisted of engineers given approval for flight training. So far, only three women have become actual fighter pilots and one a transport pilot. One woman pilot was grounded due to an ejection from a training flight in a Hawk 63. Instructors at Al Dhafra Air Base are now mainly from the US, as the UAEAF has retired its Mirage IIIs in favour of F-16s.

Currently there are five main air bases operational, split between the Western and Central Air Command. The Special Operations Command has its own airbase and operates a wide range of helicopters.

Candidates apply to the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, which is located at the Al Ain International Airport in Al Ain. They first go through a rigorous schedule of academics (Basic Level: Military Sciences), fitness and officer training. Those who are selected as cadets then start the second phase of academics: Flight Sciences (Aeronautical Science). Cadets who pass the assessment period of the second phase are designated aviation cadets and start flight training. The first aircraft cadets get to fly is the Grob G115 TA. Those who qualify then go on to fly the Pilatus PC-7. On this aircraft, they learn the basics of flying, take-off and landing techniques and procedures followed by a bit of aerobatics. Following the Primary Flying Course is the Basic Flight Course, piloting the Hawk 63. Graduates are graded and assigned accordingly to one of three options: the Advanced Strike course at Minhad on the Hawk 102 aircraft, transport aircraft, and helicopters. At Minhad, the new pilots learn Basic Fighters Manoeuvres, drop bombs and learn to fly cross-country to a neighbouring country, commonly Bahrain or Kuwait. Upon completion of the Advanced Strike course, officers are selected either for the F-16 (Block 60) or the Dassault Mirage 2000-9, both at Al Dhafra AB. A few pilots are selected to learn to fly the F-16 with the United States Air Force's 162d Fighter Wing in Tucson, Arizona.

Current state

A Mirage 2000 fighter of the UAEAF

2007 marked the culmination of the largest procurement programmes ever undertaken by the UAE Air Force, with the final deliveries of the 80 F-16E/F Block 60 "Desert Falcons" and approximately 60 upgraded Mirage 2000-9, giving the air force a considerable multirole capability.[6] These two investments represented a total expenditure of around $10 billion, with additional money spent on infrastructure and logistics.[1] A $6.4 billion contract with Lockheed Martin for the supply and support of the 80 F-16s was signed in March 2000, while a $3.4 billion deal for the purchase of 30 new Mirage 2000-9 and retrofitting of the 33 older UAE Mirage 2000s was signed earlier in 1998.[7] Missiles were also purchased: 160 AGM-88 HARMs, 1,000 or more AGM-65 Mavericks, about 500 AIM-120 AMRAAMs, 270 AIM-9 Sidewinders and 52 AGM-84 Harpoons.[7]

After a competition between the BAE Hawk, KAI T-50 Golden Eagle and Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, the UAEAF announced the acquisition of 48 trainer and light attack aircraft, with the first deliveries to take place in 2012.[8] The other training types that are thought to be near replacement are the 30 Pilatus PC-7s and five Aermacchi MB-339s serving with the Air Academy at Al Ain.[9]

The UAEAF has operated 20 IAR 330 Puma helicopters since the late 1970s. These have been recently upgraded to the IAR-330SM standard by IAR Ghimbav in Romania in cooperation with Eurocopter.[10] These aircraft, supplemented by a further ten ex-South African Air Force reworked SA-330s, are expected to remain in service for at least 15 years.[11] Although no replacement for the Puma fleet is required in the immediate future, the force will be supplemented by 26 Sikorsky UH-60M Battlehawks, with 390 AGM-114N Hellfire II missiles.[12] 30 AH-64A Apache helicopters were modernised as well, to the AH-64D Longbow standard, and a dozen Eurocopter Fennecs were recently acquired for special forces use.[9]

The most important facility of the UAEAF is the Al Dhafra Air Base, with almost the entire fighter aircraft fleet located there. However, in order to prevent all of the air defence and strike assets being located at a single base, a $1 billion, completely new facility has been constructed deep in the Abu Dhabi desert,[1] near the border corner with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It is 3,000 m long and has aircraft parking nearly the same size as in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. A 4,000 m runway at Al-Safran air base was built around 2008.[13]


As of 2008, the structure of the United Arab Emirates Air Force is as follows:[11]

Western Air Command - HQ at Abu Dhabi

Lockheed L-100 of the UAE Air Force at Geneva International Airport, 2003

Central Air Command - HQ at Dubai

Special Operations Command - HQ at Abu Dhabi

Army Command - HQ at Abu Dhabi

Current inventory

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service Notes
Lockheed Martin F-16E/F block 60 Desert Falcon USA Multirole fighter F-16E
79[nb 1]
An E-model crashed in 2006.[15] One was damaged in the 2011 Libyan civil war.[16] 25 more ordered[17]
Dassault Mirage 2000 France Multirole fighter 2000-9EAD
62[nb 2]
30 new ones were purchased in 1998; another 33 were modernised to an unknown standard by Dassault.[6] One Mirage crashed in Yemen as part of the UAE's intervention in the civil war after a technical problem. Both pilots were killed.[18]
Lockheed C-130 Hercules USA Transport C-130H
3[nb 3]
1[nb 4]
3[nb 5]
One C-130H crashed in 2008.
CASA CN-235 Spain
Transport CN-235-100 7
De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter Canada transport 300 1 An ex-Air Canada aircraft, used by UAE Army's Special Operations Command's 18 Group, out of Sas al Nakhil.
Cessna 208 Grand Caravan USA Utility 208B 7[11]
Airbus A330 MRTT EU Aerial refueling tanker/transport A330-243 MRTT 3 Delivered [19]
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III USA Transport C-17ER 8.[20]

[nb 6]

Piaggio P.180 Avanti Italy Utility/VIP/MEDAVAC P.180 Avanti 2 Ordered at the Paris Air Show 2009.[22]
Boeing AH-64 Apache USA Attack helicopter AH-64D 28 Being converted to the AH-64D "Longbow".[nb 7]
Boeing CH-47 Chinook USA Transport helicopter CH-47D 8 12 acquired from Libya in 2003.[nb 8] CH-47F on order.
IAR 330SM PUMA / Aérospatiale SA-330 Puma Romania/France Transport helicopter IAR 330SM SA.330 35[nb 9]
Eurocopter AS 550 Fennec France Observation helicopter AS 550C3 12[11]
Eurocopter AS 332 Super Puma France Naval helicopter AS 332 2
Bell 214 Huey Plus USA Utility helicopter Bell 214B Huey Plus 4
Agusta-Bell AB-412 Italy Transport helicopter AB-412HP/SP 6 Used for search and rescue.
Eurocopter AS 565 Panther France Naval helicopter AS 565SB 16
Eurocopter AS 365 Dauphin France VIP helicopter AS 365N3 1
Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk USA Transport/Attack Helicopter UH-60L
26 ordered in 2007; 14 more ordered in 2008.[nb 10]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy Search and Rescue, VIP helicopter AW139 15 9 on order[21]
Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer Switzerland Trainer PC-7 30[9] To be replaced by the PC-21.
Pilatus PC-21 Switzerland Trainer PC-21 16/25 [27]
Air Tractor AT-802 USA COIN/Trainer AT-802U 24 [28]
Grob G 115 Germany Trainer G 115TA Acro 12[9]
BAE Hawk UK Advanced trainer Hawk Mk 61/63/102 46 To be withdrawn and replaced by the M-346.[8] Not all in operation.
Aermacchi MB-339 Italy Advanced trainer/Aerobatics MB-339NAT 10 To be withdrawn and replaced by the M-346.[8] Used for the Al Fursan aerobatic demonstration team
Eurocopter AS 350 Ecureuil France Trainer helicopter AS 350B3 14
Bombardier Dash 8 Canada Maritime Patrol Dash-8 Q300 2[nb 11] [nb 12]
Viking Air Canada Maritime Patrol Guardian 400 0/4
Saab 340 AEW&C Sweden Early-warning aircraft Saab 340 Erieye 0/2
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
MQ-1 Predator USA Reconnaissance Predator XP Unarmed export version, unspecified number ordered in February 2013.[30]
Denel Dynamics Seeker South Africa Reconnaissance Seeker II Unknown 11 delivered in 1996, 2003 and 2009 (according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute arms trade register), unspecified number in service.[31]

Future equipment

The UAE has asked Eurofighter, Boeing and Dassault for proposals for a next generation fighter. .

The United Arab Emirates Air Force has decided to buy another 25 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 fighters[17]

Two Bombardier Global 6000 with Saab Erieye have been ordered for delivery around 2018-2019.[32]

Historic equipment

Fixed-wing aircraft

Rotary-wing aircraft

See also


  1. Sole operator of the F-16E/F - 25 "F" Model two-seater's, 55 "E" Model single-seaters.[15]
  2. EAD's are single-seat multirole, RAD's are the reconnaissance variant, DAD's are two seat trainers, 2000-9 are new builds and 9D's are new build two seaters
  3. 1211 (cn 382-4983), 1213 (cn 382-4879), 1214 (cn 382-4882)
  4. 312 (cn 382-4961)
  5. 311 (cn 382-4834) , 1216 (cn 382-4895), 1217 (cn 382-4691)
  6. 1223 (cn F-234/UE-1), 1224 (cn F-235/UE-2), 1225 (cn F-237/UE-3), 1226 (cn F-238/UE-4)
  7. Remanufacture and delivery has begun in May 2008 and will end in November 2009, with support activities continuing through November 2010.[23]
  8. Upgraded in 2005 by Agusta Westland and Piaggio Aero under a $72 million programme.[24]
  9. Ten planned to be donated to Lebanon and 25 scheduled to remain in service for at least 15 years.[11][25]
  10. Fourteen will be the weaponized UH-60M Battlehawks and will operate alongside the Ah-64Ds.[12]
  11. 1320 (cn 610), 1321 (cn 624)
  12. Ordered in early 2009 - to be built on used airframes under a $290 million contract.[29]
  1. 1 2 3 4 5 AirForces Monthly, p. 60.
  2. "Egypt, UAE carried out Tripoli air strikes: U.S. officials". Reuters. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  3. "Libya crisis: US 'caught off-guard' by air strikes". BBC News. BBC. 26 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  4. Kirkpatrick, David; Schmitt, Eric (25 August 2014). "Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  5. "Background Note: United Arab Emirates". US Department of State. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  6. 1 2 "UAE eyes France's Rafale fighter". AFP. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  7. 1 2 AirForces Monthly, p. 61.
  8. 1 2 3 "UAE Gives M346 a LIFT". Defense Industry Daily. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  9. 1 2 3 4 AirForces Monthly, p. 62.
  10. "Eurocopter Romania awaits UAE contract". Jane's Intelligence Weekly. Archived from the original on August 7, 2003. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 AirForces Monthly, p. 63.
  12. 1 2 "UAE Ordering Weaponized UH-60M 'Battlehawk' Helicopters". Defense Industry Daily. 17 September 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  13. Osborne, Tony (2 April 2015). "UAE's Mysterious Airbase". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  14. "Airframe Details for F-16 #00-6027". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  15. 1 2 "F16 crashes in capital; no casualties". Khaleej Times. 10 January 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  16. Lekic, Slobodan (27 April 2011). "NATO: UAE F-16 crashes at Italian airbase". Air Force Times. Associated Press.
  17. 1 2 Archived June 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Binnie, Jeremy (13 March 2016). "UAE Mirage crashes in Yemen". IHS Jane's 360. IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2013.
  20. "Boeing Delivers UAE Air Force and Air Defence's 6th C-17". Boeing, 20 June 2012.
  21. 1 2 http://worlddefencenews.blogspot.com/2015/02/united-arab-emirates-announce-purchase.html
  22. "PARIS AIR SHOW: UAE selects Piaggio Avanti for multi-utility role". Flightglobal. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  23. "UAE's 30-Helicopter Apache Upgrade Program Underway". Defense Industry Daily. 10 May 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  24. "UAE awards contracts for CH-47 upgrade". Flightglobal. 15 March 2005. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  25. "LEBANON: UAE GIVES 10 PUMA HELICOPTERS TO ARMY". ANSAmed. 11 February 2009. Archived from the original on June 15, 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  26. Sas Al Nakhl - UAE, fightercontrol.co.uk
  27. "Welcome to Pilatus Aircraft Ltd". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  28. Reed Business Information Limited. "PICTURE: AirTractor delivers UAE's first AT-802Us". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  29. "UAE adds Dash-8 Q300s for Maritime Patrol". Defense Industry Daily. 2 March 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  30. UAE to purchase General Atomics Predators - Flightglobal.com, February 19, 2013
  31. "SIPRI Arms Transfers Database". SIPRI. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  32. http://aviationweek.com/dubai-air-show-2015/uae-saab-strike-127-billion-erieye-deal
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